Sneak Preview of Geppi’s Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – September 2006
The completion of Geppi’s Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards, set to open on September 8, represents the culmination of a lifelong dream for Baltimore businessman Stephen A. Geppi, president and CEO of Diamond Comic Distributors. Located in the second and third floors of Baltimore’s historic Camden Station – a handsome brick building immediately adjacent to Oriole Park that also houses the Sports Legends at Camden Yards attraction – the 17,000-square-foot museum known by the acronym “GEM” contains an incomparable array of vintage collectibles.
The core of this unique grouping is Geppi’s own extraordinary private collection. Additionally, elements of a number of other distinguished collections have been loaned to GEM. In all, it is an assemblage of archival material the likes of which have never before been seen in one place. Steve Geppi serves as the museum’s president and CEO, while Diamond International Galleries’ president, John K. Snyder Jr., is GEM’s executive vice president. Wendy Kelman, formerly manager of sales and marketing for the state of Maryland’s Office of Tourism, was named executive director of GEM.
Rare toys, comic books, animation cels, movie posters, oil paintings and other pop-culture artifacts will be on permanent display, arranged in a sequence that takes the visitor through each period of United States history in a chronological progression. The museum’s staff worked closely with experts from other Geppi companies to ensure the displays are within their correct time frames and that their descriptions are correct. The amusing, colorful exhibits double as teaching tools. Accordingly, museum officials have extended a special welcome to school groups that may wish to organize a field trip that is both entertaining and educational.
GEM is groundbreaking in its approach to, and presentation of, the history of popular culture, effectively spelling out in a highly compelling fashion how entertainment was conceived, developed, marketed and tested by the marketplace throughout our nation’s evolution. In its well-designed, era-by-era staging, the museum gives special focus to the creation of items both entertaining and educational for children, providing a crucial insight into the key reasons why our culture is the way it is today. To do this, GEM not only displays significant items from each of the periods it covers, it also puts those items in context.
From incredibly rare 18th-century marbles to Star Wars action figures, the artifacts shown at GEM encompass both obscure, early characters and international icons, such as Mickey Mouse and Superman. Because of its concept, with a presentation that spans multiple generations, the museum is an appealing attraction to people of all ages and a destination for the whole family.
The museum’s exhibits span 230 years of American life, and are as up to the minute as the latest adventures of such contemporary box-office hit makers as Spider-Man and Batman. To ensure there is always something fresh and exciting for returning visitors to enjoy, GEM will feature changing exhibits in addition to its permanent displays.
Within the museum, each period of American pop culture’s progression is portrayed with an exhibit focusing on the significant characters that rose to fame during that period. For instance, the earliest exhibit begins with a phenomenal display of articles showcasing the first successful recurring characters used in toy manufacturing and advertising: Palmer Cox’s Brownies. The second period is anchored by the Yellow Kid, the first successful regional comic character to appear in a newspaper. Following closely behind the Yellow Kid, timewise, and the focus of his own memorabilia display, is Buster Brown, the first comic character to be incorporated in newspapers on a national level.
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum also showcases the changing trends as America went to war, as comic book characters and pop culture heroes enlisted – and examples of these characters who turn in their ink-and-paint civilian life can be found in the displays at Geppi’s. The influence of other major 20th and 21st century life is also reflected in the displays – fanciful space toys of the 1950s become realistic rockets and lunar rovers in the 1970s.
Even the rare comic books on display at Geppi’s are more than just superhero adventures. Geppi’s has on display the rare Action Comics #1, the comic book featuring the first appearance of Superman – and Geppi’s copy of Action #1 was the same copy used by the United States Government in Congressional hearings about the inherent dangers of comic book contents on young minds (the cover of Geppi’s Action #1 is stamped with an evidence number).
The museum also shows pop culture items based on historic events, events that captivated the worldwide imagination – including, for example, a display dedicated to the solo trans-Atlantic flight of Charles Lindbergh. Walk into the 1950s room and see, first hand, the amazing appeal of America’s first marionette hero, Howdy Doody. With rare kinescope broadcasts emanating from restored 1950s television sets, one can witness firsthand the appeal of a talking puppet and his buddy Buffalo Bob Smith.
A collection of rare mechanical banks rest on glass-encased shelves – but in anticipation of young museum patrons asking about the appeal of the banks, Geppi’s has set up a video display showing, in slow motion, the kinetic coin-operated contraptions. With the video display, patrons can watch the baseball pitcher in Darktown Battery firing a knuckleball nickel into his teammate’s mitt, or see Teddy Roosevelt shooting pennies at a tree stump.
For many people, their pop culture revolves around a turntable. For that, fans of popular music will appreciate that the evolution of recorded media is also on display at Geppi’s. From the earliest Edison cylinder recordings to huge displays of Elvis Presley memorabilia and Jackson 5 trading stickers, Geppi’s also acknowledges the level of commitment from fans of recorded sound.
Part of the appeal of an entertainment and pop culture museum is the ability for the modern generation to see what appealed to popular tastes in generations past. Also, says Geppi, “With increasing frequency and demand, the mainstream is becoming aware that pop-culture history and general history are deeply entwined, and that artifacts such as those in our auctions are an essential link to our past. With the ability of enthusiasts and newcomers alike to come see these types of treasures firsthand, in a setting that will help give them context, I believe we’re on the verge of a new era in understanding.”
Geppi’s Entertainment Museum at Camden Yards is located at 301 W. Camden St., Baltimore, MD 21201. GEM is only a short walk from Baltimore’s famous Inner Harbor and a brief car ride from historic Fort McHenry. For more information visit geppismuseum.com or contact Julie Meddows, associate director of sales, at (410) 625-7064 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
An exciting trip through more than 200 years of American pop culture is about to begin at historic Camden Station in Baltimore, Maryland
The journey starts September 2006!
Although of humble origins, Steve Geppi has always dreamed big. He was born in the Little Italy section of Baltimore, where his love of comic books was kindled. His first job was handling the comics for a local store, and Geppi devoured his favorite Archie comics and others.
He left school to support his mother, eventually winding up, as a young man, with a job in the United States Postal Service. After a coincidental reintroduction to comic books through a nephew, his career took a major turn. He began setting up at comic book conventions as a part-time dealer. Soon he recognized that he could make more money with his comic-book business than he could as a postman, so he quit. “I remember when I left the Post Office, some of the people there said, ‘See you in September,’ since they were so sure I’d be back,” he said. But Geppi never returned to the postal job.
In 1974, he opened his first Geppi’s Comic World store. While most of his interest was in older, collectible comics, he began carrying new comics, chiefly as a means of attracting regular customers to the store each week. Soon he had four stores.
When he noticed his distributor’s business was failing, Geppi seized an opportunity and founded Diamond Comic Distributors, now the largest distributor of English-language comic books in the world. From its headquarters just outside Baltimore, the company today represents many of the industry’s top publishing powerhouses, including DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Image Comics and Wizard Entertainment.
During Diamond’s period of early growth, Geppi, an avid baseball fan, was quoted as saying he dreamed of owning his hometown Baltimore Orioles. In 1993, Geppi saw his dream come to fruition as he became part of the ball club’s local ownership group headed by Peter Angelos. In 1995, though, Geppi might have tipped his hand about his wider dreams of seeing collectibles attain serious respect when he opened Diamond International Galleries, the first-of-its-kind showplace for comic character collectibles.
In 2004, Diamond International Galleries acquired one of the country’s first, and most respected, collectibles auction houses: Hake’s Americana & Collectibles. The following year, the company purchased Denver, Pennsylvania-based Morphy Auctions.