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Meet Derby Harry, a collector with thousands of Derby items

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By Tracy Harris

When he began collecting Kentucky Derby memorabilia 14 years ago, Harry Goldberg though it would be a fun, cheap hobby.

At the time, the La Grange resident worked for an auction house and would see Derby collectibles come through. 

Now, Goldberg has more than 4,700 collectibles, including 1,800 drinking glasses and almost every Derby Festival pin.

“All I’m missing is ‘73,” he says. “It’s the rarest.”

It is also the first pin, and according to the Kentucky Derby Festival website, it will cost about $1,000.

He has all but eight of the prize-winning gold pins and the special return pins a winner gets after redeeming a gold pin.

In fact, there are boxes and boxes of pins stacked on the floor and in display cases in a guest room of his La Grange home. There are metal pins, pins featuring different sponsors and pins for specific events.

Out of all his pieces, a pin is Goldberg’s favorite item: the 2009 instant win gold pin that brought him the grand prize, a Honda CRV.

Hanging on the wall is the official certificate he received recognizing him as one of 15 grand prize winners, although the Honda was the biggest of the prizes.

Goldbert didn’t take the car — the taxes were too expensive and he already had two fairly new cars — and took a cash option instead.

He even traded a second gold pin for the actual winning pin so he could keep it — usually the gold pin has to be redeemed, but Goldberg usually has several since he buys dozens each year.

He’s already snagged a gold 2012 pin, along with multiples of the five available colors.

But glasses dominate Goldberg’s collection. From shot glasses to wine glasses, plastic to aluminum, the variety is stunning.

Some of his favorites are the mistake glasses — variations with typographical errors, like Triple Crown titles attributed to the wrong horse, or differences in the image, like a horse missing a tail.

Goldberg is fascinated by the glasses that one would think are less of a keepsake since they’re incorrect.

But Goldberg says that isn’t true — they’re more valuable because they are more rare.

He prefers to hunt for his collectibles as opposed to spending thousands of dollars on them, and stays away from places the dealers go.

“Dealers know what they have,” he said, “And they’ll charge you for it.”

His most valuable item didn’t cost him a dime, he said. A friend knew Goldberg collected Derby memorabilia and spotted a glass as part of an inexpensive auction box lot. 

The glass is made of Bakelite, an early plastic used to make Derby glasses in the early 1940s.

Goldberg’s friend asked if he had a Bakelite glass, and Goldberg said he didn’t, nor did he think he ever would because they’re so expensive.

The friend handed him the glass.

Goldberg said he couldn’t afford it, and was surprised when his friend said, “Well, nobody asked you to pay for it, did they?”

Through his friend’s generosity, Goldberg has the Bakelite glass — worth more than $2,300.

There are numbered jockey’s club glasses, signed shot glasses and more.

There is an extensive collection of Louisville Stoneware pottery — including coffee mugs, an ashtray and a lemonade pitcher.

“That was expensive — (my wife) got it for me at the Derby Museum, so you know it was expensive,” he says with a laugh.

It’s not just official merchandise, either. If it has to do with horse racing, it’s in the room somewhere. Or the shed, where another 74 boxes of collectibles are housed.

There are several shelves of bobble-head dolls, representing trainers and jockeys. There are Secretariat figurines of all sorts — that horse still holds the record for the fastest Kentucky Derby, set in 1973 — and trinkets commemorating Secretariat’s win.

There’s a note from jockey Pat Day that Goldberg received after helping cook a church breakfast Day attended. It says, “God bless you, John 3:16.”

There are media passes, owners passes and ticket stubs tucked in a drawer.

For Goldberg, the hunt for items is part of the fun. Tracking down treasures for a steal is as much a love as the collection itself.

When asked what his wife, Bonnie, thinks of the collection, Goldberg laughs.

“She tells me to keep the door shut.”