An atom ray gun! The king glows!
Gary Sohmers makes a living selling people back their youth. And he stores it all in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Framingham.
He's got the very first issue of Playboy magazine from December 1952; over 400 concert posters, from the Grateful Dead to Tiny Tim; memorabilia from television shows like "Lost in Space" and "My Three Sons," and an original hand-colored prospectus of Disneyland.
Sohmers himself is an icon. He is known in the antique and collectible industry as the "King of Pop Culture," an appellation he's earned for his three successful decades in the business. He can tell you the going rate for an original Dick Tracy doll; that a Cox/Roosevelt campaign button can bring in $10,000; and that the value of an authentic poster from the Beatles concert in Shea Stadium is worth over $100,000.
And if you turn on the PBS television series "Antiques Roadshow," there's a good chance you'll get to see Sohmers in action. He's been a regular for the past 10 years, traveling across the nation doing on-air appraisals.
Marsha Bemko , executive producer of "Antiques Roadshow ," has worked with Sohmers for the past eight years. She says his area of appraising is especially difficult, as the items are newer and often undocumented.
"What's so nice about watching Gary on 'Antiques Roadshow' is his enthusiasm and passion," she said. On a recent filming in Honolulu she witnessed that excitement when a guest walked in with a Hiller Atom Ray Gun from 1948.
It was in pristine condition, complete with the original packaging. And anyone who's seen the TV show knows that the original box adds a tremendous amount to the value of a collectible.
A delighted Sohmers appraised the toy at between $4,000 and $5,000.
Sohmers, a 55-year- old Hudson resident, is not one to blend into a crowd. From his long silver ponytail to his neon-orange Converse Chuck Taylor high-top sneakers, he's the type of guy you take in and wonder "What's his story?"
It's a long and complex one that began in Houston, where he was born. Sohmers said that by the time he turned 14, he'd lived in five cities, moving each time his father, a musician and artist, changed jobs.
In the 1950s, Edward Sohmers tried his hand as a songwriter, and the family moved to New Orleans; when Dick Clark started "American Bandstand," they followed him to Philadelphia; and when Edward had hopes of selling a musical, they headed to New York City. During the transient stays Edward Sohmers worked as a traveling salesman, and collected campaign buttons and the like.
"He would bring home little cigar boxes full of goodies and teach us about history, about politics and about money," Gary Sohmers recalled. Lessons included how he purchased a box of items for $100 and turned it into $1,000 by finding interested buyers.
Sohmers said he adapted the marketing plan to his interests, which between the ages of 8 and 12 were toys. He often haggled at garage sales, selling what he had tired of and replacing the old with something new. As his interests evolved, so did his wares.
"I was very influenced by music, the Beatles, Dylan, the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, so I would buy and sell things that I was educated about," said Sohmers. He began collecting records, posters, handbills, and other items from the evolving pop culture.
Some of the same items he sold for $10 in 1973 are now worth $1,000, he said.
Passionate about music, Sohmers played in a band, was a roadie for other groups, and eventually landed a job as a booking agent at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.
"I brought in acts nobody had ever heard of, like Bob Seger, Tim Buckley, Ted Nugent, and Little Feat ," he said.
He then headed to Madison, Wis., to promote three other unknown bands: REO Speedwagon, Styx, and Cheap Trick.
"All three of them became huge at the same time I was promoting concerts," Sohmers said. But he said he made his money from selling collectibles.
Sohmers said that at that time, people called it junk because there was no marketplace for toys and other items from the 1950s and '60s, so he set out to create one. Keeping in touch with former band members didn't hurt.
"When musicians reach a point where they don't have an IRA but a house full of garbage, I make them money!" Sohmers says.
He recalls attending a record collectors show in Springfield and running into the drummer from the 1960s band NRBQ, one of the first to play the old Boston Tea Party club in Boston. Sohmers helped him sell 40 concert posters bringing in close to $10,000.
"Often people don't know what they have," he said, and are easy targets for those who do know.
These days, in addition to traveling with the "Antiques Roadshow," Sohmers does private appraisals, both online with photos and by phone description, which he calls "psychic appraisals." He also makes house calls.
Sohmers said that last month he was flown to a home in Las Vegas to appraise original Jimi Hendrix, Beatles and Rolling Stones photographs from the 1960s.
"I give paperwork that's us able for taxes, probate, insurance or whatever," he said. What irks him is when he gets requests for freebie services from people who say "I'm gonna sell this on
"Once eBay became a dominant player in the resale of second hand goods, it leveled the playing field," said Sohmers. The buyer and seller can now meet without the help of an expert go-between, and the prices of some collectibles dropped with the rise in supply.
The most common item Sohmers sees these days are phonograph records.
"There are 78s that are worth tens of thousands of dollars, but most are worth a quarter," he said. Things to look out for, he said: Robert Johnson's blues 78s from 1910, or '50s doo-wop groups that had only a hundred records pressed, like the Prisoners, who were in fact inmates in the Tennessee State Penitentiary .
Sohmers is preparing for next season's "Antiques Roadshow," performing standup at the Comedy Studio in Cambridge, serving on the board of the Music Museum of New England, and working on his online business -- streaming live autograph-signing events.
"Customers will actually see and hear musicians and actors speak to them as they sign their autograph, which is then shipped to their home with a DVD," said Sohmers.
His Framingham time-capsule warehouse is open by appointment only. A sign outside reads "Wex Rex Collectibles," the name of his company and a derivative of the Boston slang term "wicked excellent."