A Born Sleuth

Bill Panagopulos knows a fake when he sees one, whether it’s a very good forged signature or a reputedly authentic artifact.



Bill Panagopulos has the story behind every article he buys (to sell, of course) — among them are the baseball inscribed “Ted Williams”; a bow tie once worn by Humphrey Bogart; a gavel presented by Harry Truman made of wood from the White House; even a Colt “Peacemaker” revolver carried by General William T. Sherman’s bodyguard.

Photograph by: John Rizzo

(page 1 of 4)

In a world of cyclical economies, Basil Panagopulos rides an industry of endless growth. Someone’s always making history, and someone’s always buying it.“I’ve got a bottle of Scotch here that was in North Africa in World War II,” Panagopulos explains. “First Rommel captured it from the British, then the British captured it from Rommel. Stationery from Bill Haley’s estate, with ‘Bill Haley & The Comets’ letterhead. Go ahead, take a sheet. I got one guy whose crazy about Nixon. Anything Nixon I find, he’s interested.”

Panagopulos’s third-floor corner office off I-95 overlooks a pungently stagnant Stamford canal, but the business he operates is in constant flow. Alexander Autographs, in just its second decade of operation, has built an impressive reputation in the memorabilia-collecting market, noted for well-stocked online auctions and accompanying catalogs jammed with hundreds of historical curiosities. Autographs are a specialty, though hardly the limit.

Looking for a doctor’s kit used for hacking off mangled limbs during the Battle of Gettysburg? Panagopulos is your man. A note from a dying P. T. Barnum could be yours for $400 to $600; a penny shot through by Annie Oakley for eight to ten times that.
Over the last two decades, memorabilia has moved from attics to the world stage known as the Internet. Riding this wave, Panagopulos,
a garrulous giant from Cos Cob with a graying beard and a twinkle in his eye, known to all as Bill, has established himself as one of the trade’s most enthusiastic middlemen.

“Some think it’s a passion, some think it’s a disease,” he says. “It all depends on the level of the passion.”

The state of Panagopulos’s office suggests that passion can run high indeed. A row of slot machines stands along one wall. Lying on the floor beneath them is an old “Apple Computers” sign, the first-ever Apple signage, he says, used at a 1982 trade show and bought from a former Apple employee who also sold Panagopulos one of Steve Wozniak’s tool kits from the same period.

There are framed autographs of everyone from General Douglas MacArthur to Frank Zappa. Brian Williams and Bill O’Reilly are represented, too, but their signed glossies are actually addressed to Panagopulos, gestures of gratitude for items he helped them acquire.

 

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