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Nate Sanders, owner of Nate D. Sanders auction house sits next to some memorabilia at his office in Brentwood Friday afternoon. Sellers of rare collectibles have seen an increase in business despite the poor economy. (photo by Brandon Wise)

SANTA MONICA BLVD — For some they’re an investment, a valuable that holds great potential for future returns.

For others they’re a fond reminder, a piece from the past worth preserving.

For sellers of rare memorabilia and collector’s items, they’re helping to keep their business going during a troubling economic crisis.

In a time when auto dealerships are reporting losses, homes are going into foreclosure and businesses are shuttering for good, local auction house Nate D. Sanders finds itself unaffected by the recession, continuing to sell its collection of movie props, autographs and original book editions.

“It’s because there was no bubble,” said Nate D. Sanders, who owns the Brentwood-based auction house. “We just never had a ton of speculators in our industry and we never got rich quick in the past so maybe it’s helping us now.”

Nate D. Sanders, which has been in business since 1986, located just a few blocks east of Santa Monica, recently sold a baseball signed by late major league pitcher Cy Young for more than $15,000, while Mickey Mantle’s 1959 baseball contract pulled in more than $14,000. An autographed copy of Martin Luther King Jr’s book “Stride Toward Freedom” in which the author handwrote a quote, “The strong man is the man who can stand up for his rights and not hit back,” came in at more than $27,000.

Much of the company’s collection, which stands at approximately a million items, is made up of rare pieces, such as manuscripts, letters and historical autographs. An upcoming auction is set to feature an April Fools’ Day comic strip by Charles M. Schulz, which was published in 1973, and a letter written by George Washington. The strip, which has never been on the market, is expected to sell for more than $50,000.

“(The business) has done quite well, especially with the one-of-a-kind items,” Sanders said.

The same could be said for Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica where original editions of books have continued to sell well while other parts of the business have suffered.

“I can only guess that it’s because the demographics of our clientele for that little inventory sector is so tightly defined and so small,” co-owner Bob Hennessey said. “There are a lot of other things that are going to be pared away from their budget before they get to the heart of their budget, which includes this.”

Hennessey said he is among the avid collectors of rare comic books.

“It’s pretty high on the list of priorities for this very tiny group of people,” he said.

The store recently sold the first issue of “Captain America” for about $60,000. But most books in that category are under $100 at Hi De Ho comics while many of the newer ones are less than $10.

Not all similar businesses are experiencing the same good fortune.

Barry R. Levin Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature, which is located in Santa Monica, sells rare first edition science and horror books, manuscripts, art and film props. Business has gone down over the past six to eight months.

The shop has been in business for 36 years, selling a large collection of rare items that owner Barry R. Levin has been accumulating since he was 13.

“We are usually first to see the downturn in the economy and the last to see an upturn,” Levin said. “People don’t need to buy rare books, they need to pay their rent, buy clothing and food.”

“It’s just a pure luxury item.”

melodyh@smdp.com