Celebrity gamer Ben Gold has started a new venture called the International Video Game Auction House (ivgah.com), whose mission is to “promote and preserve the heritage of gaming through the creation of a vibrant marketplace for unique gaming items.”
Ben Gold is hardly a household name, but video game fans who were around during the early 1980s—the Golden Age of the arcades—may remember him for his 1983 appearance on That’s Incredible, where he won the first televised video game championship.
Prior to that, Gold appeared in a group photo in the January, 1983 “Year in Pictures” issue of LIFE magazine, along with such high score champions as Ned Troide, who once played Defender 62-and-a-half hours on a single quarter, and Billy Mitchell, world-class Centipede, Pac-Man, and Donkey Kong player.
That LIFE magazine photo was shot in Ottumwa, Iowa, a.k.a. “The Video Game Capital of the World,” which was an actual mayoral decree issued on November 30, 1982 by Ottumwa Mayor Jerry Parker. Ottumwa was dubbed as such because of Walter Day and his late, great Twin Galaxies arcade, where Day essentially invented the now-commonplace phenomenon of tracking high scores on video games.
The first IVGAH auction ended Saturday, December 15th. Several of the marquee pieces went unsold, including two Walter Day items: his iconic referee uniform ($5,000), which he wore during the filming of Chasing Ghosts (2007) and The King of Kong (2007), and his Lifetime Achievement Award Trophy ($1,000), which was given to him in 2010 by the International Video Game Hall of Fame.
Another big ticket item that didn’t get any bids was a neon Aladdin’s Castle sign ($4,000), which hung over the door of an Aladdin's Castle arcade in Southeastern Pennsylvania from 1994 until 2004.
Whether these items were overpriced, or they were simply not viewed by enough hardcore collectors, is unknown at this point—the industry itself only goes back a little over 40 years, so the sale of unique video game memorabilia is in its infancy—but, as with any new auction house, it takes time to get the word out, so a lack of publicity for these items could be the overriding factor.
Fortunately, certain key items did sell, including the cabinet Hank Chien used to break the Donkey Kong world record at the first Kong Off competition in 2011. It sold for $3,500.
Other sales realized include: a Rastan world record PCB/motherboard signed by Rastan champion Cliff Reese ($200); a “Team Chien” Kong Off T-shirt signed by Chien and Billy Mitchell ($100); a trio of Tron items—a plastic movie cup, an arcade game sales brochure, and an arcade game operation manual ($100); a Space Ace coin-op press kit ($100); a grouping of Nintendo promotional brochures ($100); and a copy of the 1983 “Year in Pictures” LIFE magazine signed by 30 world class gamers ($275).
Gold has big plans for the fledgling site, which he’s confident will grow as more and more video game collectors learn about it, and as video game collecting itself matures as a hobby.
“There are people who collect this stuff, and there are many sites that promote the sale of video games and cartridges,” Gold said. “However, until now, there has never been a centralized community that promotes not only the collector of such hardware as arcade cabinets and console systems, but also those that want to collect important items in the culture of gaming, such as rare posters, early competition artifacts, prototypes and early designs from manufacturers, and other eclectic items that help make the tapestry of video game history.”
Gold got the idea for The International Video Game Auction House from a conversation he had with his good buddy, Walter Day, in which Day kicked around the idea of selling Gold’s medal he won on That’s Incredible.
“Walter told me he thinks the medal is worth around $15,000,” Gold said. “My medal from when I won That’s Incredible is the first medal ever given for a video game competition. I never say I’m a big deal or anything, but that medal is historically significant. If promoted correctly, maybe it would sell for that amount. Memorabilia is all about presentation and connection to a bigger thing.”
Mulling over the possible sale of the medal, Gold asked Day what high-end auction house dealt in video game memorabilia, but Day had nothing.
“Walter told me no such place existed, that nobody was doing it,” Gold said. “There are so many eclectic items out there, but no centralized location to sell them. There are manuals, posters, motherboards, rare cartridges and consoles, demos, prototypes, hand-written notes by designers…so many interesting historical items.”
Prestige auction houses like Heritage sell thousands of pop culture items every year, including records, baseball cards, comic books, and celebrity autographs, but none of them have a video game division. Gold views this as a serious oversight, but is confident he can fill the gap nicely.
“Fine antiques have Sotheby's,” he said. “Super high grade sports cards have Lelands. Rare autographs, movie posters, and other historical memorabilia all have special auction houses where collectors and sellers know they will find the finest selection of items relative to their interests. It is my hope that IVGAH site will become the place where gamers, collectors, and people interested in video games gather to consign or bid on rare pieces that have defined gaming over the years.”
Even so, Gold knows it’s an uphill battle and that his idea is a bit ahead of its time. “I think Walter’s jersey will one day be worth fifty or a hundred thousand dollars,” he said, “but today most people don’t understand the historical importance of the jersey. Part of the challenge is branching out beyond the hardcore gamer.”
Gold acknowledges that certain items, such as rare, factory sealed Nintendo NES games, sometimes go for thousands of dollars on eBay, but he believes his auction house will one day be the preferable way to sell video game memorabilia.
“EBay is a marketplace, he said, “but there’s no interest on behalf of the site to in any way promote the culture and history of video gaming.”
*Gold is preparing for the second IVGAH auction, which will begin January 26th. For more information, contact Gold at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (469) 767-1358.