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Collector Spotlight: Fred Weichmann


Fred Weichmann collects diecast vehicles (among other objects) and has celebrities autograph them for a one-of-a-kind collection. Here, Weichmann shares details about his collecting adventures and explains how his passion led him to meet Adam West, Frank Gorshin, Van Williams, Larry Dixon, and other recognizable personalities.

How do you describe your collection?

I collect toys and memorabilia and get them autographed by celebrities who have an association with the item, and I have photos taken of the signing event so there is picture proof for authentication purposes. I have 5,000 picture-proofed autographs.

The oldest toy in my collection is a Cox-branded gas-powered 1/18-scale model diecast car from the 1960s. Cox was a company known for making Slot Cars and model gas cars. I found the car for one dollar in a resell shop. It looked like it had been sitting on the shelf for 40 years. I cleaned it all up; the car had a beautiful plastic pearl white body. I took it to an NHRA drag race to ask some of the drivers to sign it. The last driver to sign it was Larry Dixon that had just finished his last run. He went over 300 miles per hour in that race and took first place. He was walking back to the garage when I spotted him and approached him for an autograph. He said, “I had one of these as a kid!” This guy just took first place in his race and here he was talking with me about toys.

When and why did you start collecting toys and pursuing autographs?

When I was five years old, my dad took me to a hobby shop for my birthday and told me I could pick out any five Matchbox cars. This was in 1960 and I continued collecting Matchbox cars for a while. Then at age twelve, I began making my own money at a newspaper stand and started buying Hot Wheels. To me, Hot Wheels were much better than Matchbox, with the paint jobs and jazzed wheels. I mostly lost interest in collecting cars as I went through school but my dad held on to a big bag of my cars.

By the time I was 22, I started collecting diecast NASCAR cars and went to my first NASCAR race in Rockford, Illinois. I have cars signed by Richard Petty, David Pearson, Buddy Baker, and Cale Yarborough. I went to Herocon in Chicago in the 1990s and had Adam West sign a Batmobile. I also got a vehicle autographed by Frank Gorshin, who played The Riddler in the Batman television show and Van Williams and Wende Wagner of The Green Hornet signed a Corgi Black Beauty diecast for me that day. This was a time before fans had to pay for autographs and photos with celebrities. The admission fee to Herocon was $15 and I met all these people! If I tried to do the same thing today, it would cost me over $500. After NASCAR, I was hooked on taking photos of celebrities signing the cars. I did it for authenticity but it also makes for a great display. To be honest, I just thought everyone did that. I figured there was no other way to ensure authenticity. I realized that wasn’t the case and kept on doing it anyway.

How do you display and store your collection?

My wife, Luana, worked at Woolworth department store while she was in college. She worked her way from assistant manager to manager. She was really good at her job but eventually the stores all closed. She had access to old Timex cases and other display and storage units that were perfect for my collection. I use the glass cases to display my 1/18-scale NASCAR and movie cars. I’ve taken up most of the basement for storage.

I don’t have much time to collect autographs these days and have changed jobs. My current job gives me more access to resell shops in the area and I started collecting action figures, Transformers, Power Rangers, and other toys. In my early days of collecting, hardly anyone went to resell shops. That’s changed. I hated the internet and eBay for collecting in the beginning because I thought it ruined collecting. It was no longer about the find but rather who could afford to pay the most money for something. But now I use it for research — when I find something I like in a resell shop, I just get out my phone. Luana often reminds me that my toys aren’t worth anything unless I start selling them.

I went from Matchbox to Hot Wheels to NASCAR and my collection got pretty out of hand. I ran out of space in my toy room. Luana doesn’t mind my collection as long as it doesn’t come upstairs. I had to make a choice: collect toys to have them autographed or get rid of my Hot Wheels collection. My whole room was Hot Wheels but I had to make a choice. I boxed them up and took them to a local auction house. It worked out pretty good — I did lots of advertising for the auction and there was standing room only at the event. The auction house wasn’t used to that. When I told them what I had they asked me to give them an idea of the prices I wanted. It was funny.

What do you consider to be the Holy Grail of your collectibles?

I don’t have any one thing that I’m looking to add to my collection. I like 1/18-scale cars from movies but they can get expensive nowadays at $200 to $300 each. Of the items I have, my Holy Grail would probably be the American Muscle diecast car I have signed by Dale Earnhardt. His autograph is the best you’ll ever see.

What advice would you give to someone interested in starting a similar collection?

Just buy what you want but don’t try to buy everything. You’ll run out of money trying to collect every single Hot Wheels car; it’s the most expensive hobby that only costs you a dollar to start. They don’t tell you that when you buy your first one!

Peruse an immense selection of Weichmann’s picture proofed collection on Flikr.

Uncover objects of play through the eyes of collectors.