His name is TJ Kaye. His job is identifying, authenticating and certifying championship rings, trophies and awards for PSA and PSA/DNA. He’s been working for the industry’s top authentication and grading company for nearly 14 years although he’s been honing his craft for more than three decades. A native of Long Island, New York, he now resides in Boca Raton, Florida, where he serves as Founder, President and CEO of TJ’s Memorabilia, Inc., and his reputation in the hobby – like many of the rings he examines – is stellar.
Kaye grew up a fan of every downstate NY team: Mets, Yankees, Giants, Jets, Knicks, Rangers, and, of course, the Islanders. By his own admission, during the mid-‘70s: “It was an exciting time to be a fan of New York teams. Every team had legendary players.”
He attended college, where he majored in business administration and accounting, and immediately went into his family’s real estate business. Before long, however, Kaye followed his dream and began dealing in high-end sports collectibles. As a lifelong sports collector who focused on Mickey Mantle memorabilia, he eventually took his passion to the next level.
“In the late ‘80s, I also started collecting autographs,” said Kaye. “Then I purchased my first championship ring. That first ring got me hooked and it led me to my current career as the top championship ring dealer in the country.”
The first ring Kaye bought was a salesman sample version of Hall of Famer Gil Hodges’ 1969 New York Mets World Series ring. It was a sample ring that most manufacturers used to make so their sales personnel could show other teams or colleges what types of rings they made. Today the practice of producing salesman sample rings has stopped, according to Kaye, “since both manufacturers and teams didn’t want World Series and Super Bowl championship rings getting out to the public.”
Despite the prohibited practice, there are still unscrupulous dealers and individuals who have rings made through private jewelers that are nearly identical to the genuine articles.
“They are almost perfect,” said Kaye, “right down to having fake manufacturer markings on them to including genuine diamonds. The average person would have no idea how to tell the difference with these replica salesman sample rings and/or a replica staffer/player’s ring.
“It’s why authentication is vitally important when purchasing these collectibles.”
Asked what the most difficult aspect of his job is when trying to authenticate an item, Kaye responded: “The most difficult aspect would be authenticating a vintage item. The older the piece, the further [I need] to follow the timeline of its history to determine its authenticity, roots and provenance.”
He has held some of the most valuable championship rings ever made. He’s been asked to determine not only their authenticity but to assess their value in the secondary market.
“There are many remarkable items that I’ve had to authenticate during my years with PSA,” he said. “I’d say a few of the more memorable ones include a 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl XX ring [48 grams, size 25] belonging to William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry, the 1998 New York Yankees Commissioner’s World Series Trophy, and Nate ‘Tiny’ Archibald’s ’50 Greatest NBA Players’ championship ring.
“I have been privileged to put my stamp of approval on these and many other items throughout the years.”
When it comes to gauging the popularity of rings in today’s industry, Kaye provides a unique perspective.
“In terms of popularity, it would be Super Bowl rings first followed by NCAA Football championship rings, then World Series rings and finally NASCAR,” he shared. “These will always be in demand because they are unique and are one of the few memorabilia items you can wear. Plus, they will likely continue to increase in value as there are only a certain amount made compared to the thousands of autographs you can find in the market.”
As one can imagine, through 30-plus years of working in the business, Kaye has amassed an impressive collection of his own including a 1972 Miami Dolphins Super Bowl Championship ring from the NFL’s only undefeated (17-0) season; full size New York Yankees Commissioner trophies, and even an original Peanuts hand drawing from the late author and cartoonist Charles M. Schulz that features the famous burnt, engraved bat given to Charlie Brown from Lucy.
But when pressed for what he would consider his most cherished piece above all the rest, Kaye did not hesitate: “This is so unfair because I cherish all my items, but my favorite would have to be my 1999 New York Yankees World Series Championship ring. It is by far my most favorite.”