Once upon a time there wasn't all that much wrestling memorabilia to be had. Photos and the old "arcade cards" were around, but you can forget about items like t-shirts, action figures, and foam fingers. They just didn't exist in the wrestling world. It's not like they would have had trouble selling. Wrestling figures would have been just as popular as figures that did exist in the day like Bonanza's Cartwright clan or Fonzie from Happy Days. Remember, wrestlers were tv stars, too!
The problem was that it simply wouldn't have been cost effective for the regional promoters of the era to produce such extravagant souvenirs. Also taking into consideration the fast rate in which many stars jumped from territory to territory, promoters would have frequently been stuck with outdated merchandise.
In lieu of all of the modern items, there is one item that both old and new fans alike have always had available to them. The program!
A good wrestling program served a multitude of purposes. Of course it was cheap to produce, but it also featured pictures of nearly every wrestler, manager, and even referee in the promotion. Whether printed in black and white or color, the program provided each fan a remembrance of what stars they saw in the ring that night as well as something to be autographed should they have a chance encounter with one of those stars.
The program could be used to forward existing storylines, start new ones, or introduce new faces into the territory. In some cases the program could even be used to damn stars who left the territory under less than favorable circumstances.
Most important of all, a program had a complete lineup of the nights matches. Collectors buying old programs will frequently find fan-written notations of winners, losers, match times, and other circumstances that would otherwise be lost to time. Although some collectors would disagree, I view this as an added bonus and an almost comforting validation of wrestling cards long gone by.
The program still exists via both WWE and TNA. Both companies produce large sized program books on heavy stock paper. Usually the books no longer have lineups of the shows, but instead they almost serve as directories for the promotions current rosters. Thanks to the large, high quality photos of the entire roster, fans will often turn the books into autograph "projects" trying to procure as many signatures as they can in a particular program.
Selling prices for programs vary literally from day to day. As always with our MarketWatch entries, we'll now take a look at some recent auction prices for a variety of different programs. Although some examples shown are autographed, the prices noted were for unsigned examples unless otherwise noted.
*Where better to begin than WrestleMania? Nearly every WrestleMania has had an individual specialized program. Availability has changed dramatically over the years with early Mania programs being sold not only at the events but at newsstands as well. That practice ended after WrestleMania X with many after only being available at the event. In the modern era, with programs being sold at all events during WrestleMania weekend, attendees often snap up several copies to sell on eBay. While there is an initial frenzy, the price usually bottoms out significantly.
Today we're looking at the programs for WrestleMania VI and XV. VI is a standard magazine-sized program featuring an iconic cover shot of "The Ultimate Challenge." This program, which was available at the event and at newsstands, recently sold for $58. These earlier Mania programs have been trending higher as of late, which usually happens after WrestleMania season.
The program for WrestleMania XV is oversized and features a cover full of Attitude Era stars. Complete examples will include a full-color glossy photo of Steve Austin and the Liberty Bell sponsored by the Philadelphia Daily News. This program recently sold for $61.
*Moving onto the event that has become my personal "WrestleMania," we take a look at a program from NWA Fanfest. For those of you who haven't been to Fanfest or read one of my reviews of this amazing weekend, be sure to check out our archives. Be warned: you may begin to make plans to attend the 2012 weekend.
Promoter Greg Price always goes to great lengths to make sure each Fanfest weekend is nothing less than extraordinary. The program book for the event is no exception. In addition to including a complete itinerary of events for the weekend, photos of each and every star to appear are featured inside. Many fans attempt to get the program signed by every wrestler to appear all weekend.
With or without the autographs, the program automatically becomes a collectible in itself. Nothing but high quality photographs of the legendary stars makes it into the book. Mr. Price also goes to great pains to ensure a cover photo that captures the spirit of the event.
In 2010, the cover photo featured three of the most revered NWA Champions of all-time: Harley Race, Terry Funk, and Dory Funk Jr. An example that was signed on the cover by all three of these legendary champions recently sold for $50.
*In some cases programs can be some of the most affordable vintage items to collect. In turn, many stars who otherwise didn't appear on all that much merchandise usually had a program cover or two. Many regional programs can often be had for under $10 per item. A Mid-South program featuring The Fantastics, Tommy Rogers and Bobby Fulton, recently sold for just $6.25. A program like this features a great, large color cover photo and many photos on the inside. On a side note, the photo featured on this particular cover was actually taken inside the home of "Cowboy" Bill Watts. Dig the groovy shag-carpeted staircase behind Rogers and Fulton.
*The '80s and '90s WWF pay-per-view programs seem to be doing just as well as the WrestleMania programs. Every WWF pay-per-view event until 1993 had a program and truly capture the amazingly talented, charismatic, and colorful WWF roster of the era. The 1991 Royal Rumble program, featuring many top talents right on the cover, recently sold for $41. Reflecting the television promotion of the event, the program indicates that Andre the Giant and "Playboy" Buddy Rose would be appearing in the Rumble which ultimately did not occur.
*Perhaps no one appeared on more program covers than Bruno Sammartino. It was a wise decision, as obviously that would quickly move the programs into the hands of fans. One such WWWF program that featured Sammartino and fellow Italian (and Pittsburgh resident) Dominic DeNucci recently sold for $19. The program includes a feature highlighting "Great Italian Wrestlers." Who better to star on that cover than Sammartino and DeNucci?
There really isn't any downside to collecting wrestling programs. Tons of photos and history coupled with some monetary value. Of course, I always remind you to collect for yourself and not for value, but when the two collide you really can't go wrong. If anything, maybe this entry will incite you to slap a ten down in front of the vendor the next time you hear the ubiquitous cry of, "PROGRAMS! PROGRAMS HERE!"