I am sure most of you have something you kept as a remembrance a big race, favorite horse, or a big win at the track. It may have been a glass like the Kentucky Derby mint julep glasses, a program, a pin, or even a $2 tote ticket. We all like to have a souvenir to help us remember certain events.
One thing you may not know is collecting and selling this stuff is actually big business. I have a href="http://members.xoom.com/derbyglass/">a huge collection of many different items: glasses, pins, programs, advertising signs, plates, games, casino chips, postcards, etc. Take a look at it for an idea of just how many different items are out there. While most people are a bit more specialized in what racing memorabilia they collect than I am, there are quite a few other collectors out there who are serious about it.
After glasses, the most commonly collected item is probably programs. Programs from the Triple Crown races are most popular with any race a Triple Crown winner ran in a close second. Many run $200-$300 each in nice condition, while older ones can run over $1000 easily. To the right is a beautiful program from Regret's Kentucky Derby win in 1915 which I saw at the Louisville flea market in December. While this one was not for sale, the estimated value was at least $1500. Condition is all important for value in paper items like programs, although racing collectors are a bit more accepting of flaws in old or very desirable programs than most paper collectors. Newer programs are so plentiful that to have any value they need to be in nearly perfect condition. The tracks wised up that people wanted these as souvenirs so many more have been made and put away than in the 60's and earlier.
Postcards are a fun and cheap way to build a nice collection. Most are under $5, even for older ones since postcard collectors are not very interested in them. If you want to see a large selection of them, check my postcard
One of the hardest parts of collecting this stuff is trying to figure out what is a fair price. There are a few price guides out there, but they mostly deal with glasses. The one I find to have the most items (glasses, programs, pins, and games) is Malloy's Guide to Sporting Collectibles by Alex G. Malloy. Although it is a bit dated, the prices are still fairly close to real market values and it is usually available in most book stores. For an online guide to values, check the Equillector, a price and identification guide to all types of racing memorabilia. This is a collaboration between me and fellow collector Tom Sporney with prices based on actual sales, mostly from auctions of racing memorabilia.
One of the most frequent questions I get is "Where to do I find this stuff?". First step is to hit the yard sales, flea markets, and antique malls. This is where you may run across a good bargain, and the treasure hunt aspect is fun in itself. If you want a really old or rare item, your best bet is to try one of the various mail/phone auctions of racing memorabilia. There are several that are run on a roughly quarterly schedule with many interesting and hard to find items in each.
Here are some useful links to aid in your quest: