The Collector

Robert T. Franklin is a maniac for Baltimore sports memorabilia and die-cast model trucks

Published in 2009 Maryland Super Lawyers — January 2009

He knows how it looks, Bob Franklin does. He knows only a few other souls who truly appreciate his passion, and he knows what you're thinking about the photograph that accompanies this story:

Nutjob.

"My wife once said I can't do anything like a normal person," says Franklin. "I don't have a dial with notches; I just have a switch: ‘Off' and ‘Maniac.'"

Robert T. Franklin has been general counsel to the Maryland Motor Truck Association since the mid-'80s. He was drawn to working with the trucking industry because of the specialized lingo, the competition and the chance to represent businesses he believed in.

"These are hard-working, entrepreneurial-type people, and I enjoy that," he says. "It's a tough business; it's a very competitive business. And these family-run businesses that we work with, these people are first or maybe even second or third generation, they have a lot of pride—their family's name is often the name of the company—and they work very hard and they need lawyering, not just paint-by-the-numbers [lawyering] but a little creativity."

That would be the sane Franklin speaking. Once upon a time, clients started giving him 1/64-scale die-cast model trucks of their fleet, which is the most popular-sized collectible model truck out there. In the late '90s, his son introduced him to eBay, and he's been a serious collector ever since. During the last 10 years his collection jumped from 40 to 2,000—all of which is housed in glass cases throughout the offices of Franklin & Prokopik on Charles Street in downtown Baltimore.

"One of my partners, Mike Prokopik, says something about ‘no jury will convict [me].' I don't really know what that means, but I've taken over the wall space. They're everywhere. They're painstakingly organized. I've got all the package-delivery [trucks] together, all the tankers together, all the food-grade tankers. Then you get into chemicals and gasoline. As I've expanded, I've had to reorganize them and add cases and that takes a lot of time. If I added up all the hours I've spent over the years, I'd probably cry."

The tears don't stop there. Franklin is also an obsessive collector of Baltimore sports memorabilia that dates back to the 1800s and fills two rooms in his home. (The most valuable stuff is kept in a safe deposit box off-site.) Not only mainstream teams, such as the Colts, Orioles and Bullets; his most prized possessions are the stuff of teams long forgotten by almost everyone but him.

"They don't have a lot of commercial value, but I just really enjoy finding that stuff," he says. "There are teams like the Baltimore Banners, which were in the World Team Tennis league for half a season. Jimmy Connors played for them. I found their coach, and once I convinced him that I was not some stalker, he found in his attic a box that had their uniforms, their warm-ups, their contracts, everything. I bought it all.

"I have things from the Baltimore Claws, which existed in the American Basketball Association for five weeks. [Former Denver Nuggets great-turned-GM] Dan Issel signed with them, but when his first paycheck bounced, he left. Then there's the Baltimore Monuments, which were in the slow-pitch softball professional league. I've got Orioles stuff from the 1890s when Wee Willie Keeler and John McGraw were on the team. That stuff is really hard to find."

Franklin may be under-selling it when he calls his collection "The Shrine." To enter, one can walk through an original turnstile from Memorial Stadium and check out a piece of an old goal post from the Colts' glory years; a Colts locker, one of only three in existence; and, inside the locker, several hanging Colts jerseys.

He knows how it looks, Bob Franklin does. He knows what word you use to describe him. He does not back away from it. He owns it. He says it loud and proud and with a truckload of good humor.

"Deranged."

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