At the 1991 Chiba, Japan World’s a Mr. Yu Tanaka had hoped to spur the establishment of an ITTF Museum in the Nagano Prefecture by arranging a large Hall-of-Fame-like exhibition in the Chiba Stadium. ITTF President Ichiro Ogimura had wanted this Museum, and though there was an international call for display items—particularly, photos, medals, biographies, and memorabilia of past champions—Museum plans had to be, if not abandoned, put on hold.
Meanwhile, an American sports antiquarian collector (table tennis, tennis, and badminton) was amassing an unequaled collection of his own. His name was Chuck Hoey, and for a time he’d been an enthusiastic table tennis player. At the Central Ohio Intercollegiate’s, held Jan. 9-10, 1965 at the Columbus courts, Capt. Tom Banks helped his Ohio University Team win the title—but one of Bank’s losses was to Hoey, then attending Marietta College.
Roy SeGuine, a friend of Chuck and the current USATT’s web master, described Chuck’s style as “defensive except for an occasional ferocious contorted backhand smash from the forehand side which he attributed to the great Zoltan [Hungary’s renowned player/coach Zoltan Berczik].” Scott Gordon, another friend of Chuck’s who did the Introductory Speech for his Induction at the U.S. Hall of Fame, speaks of him at one time winning a tournament with a sandpaper racket (still his preferred surface!); as well as distinguishing himself in his Army years by dominating Fort Gordon, Georgia tournaments; and, by at least partially adapting to the technology evolving in the Sport, going on to win two strong Northern Virginia Club tournaments.
Tim Titrud, in one of his “Net Serve” articles for the USATT magazine, quotes Chuck as saying, “I developed an old-fashioned chopper/pick-hit style back in my college days, preferring a Hock hard bat. But the sponge players [especially, as he said, those with their “long pips junk rubber”] were very difficult to compete with, though I used anti-spin for a while.” SeGuine said, “Playing this old school chopper (with junk on one side) proved invaluable in my learning to play against this type of player. It brought me patience and how to set up balls for the final put away, so when I played at the club I didn’t have a hard time against the defensive style.”
When a serious back injury ended Chuck’s playing days, he of course began to concentrate the more on his collection. Indeed , he went at it with the kind of intensity and thoroughness that also made him, as SeGuine says, “a very gifted chess player, whose games were sometimes published in Chess Life magazine, and who once beat Bobby Fischer in an exhibition.” Titrud quotes Chuck as saying, “I started collecting gradually—it progressed from a casual hobby, to a strong interest, to a great passion…and finally to utter servitude—often requiring many personal sacrifices to pay for all the acquisitions. The collection goes well beyond the usual technical (equipment) coverage, focusing on vivid evidence of society’s love affair with the new game, and its blossoming into a world-class sport.”
Table Tennis Topics readers first see Chuck’s passion for collecting with his series of articles—Sept.-Oct., 1979, Nov.-Dec., 1979, and Feb., 1981—that “detail [showing copies of various stamps] the philatelic history of Table Tennis.” He writes, “Stamp collecting can be a ravaging disease, whose possessed victims will do virtually anything short of armed robbery to fill a space in their collection. It has been known to reap great profits for some, financially ruin others; but for those of us somewhere in between, it is a source of constant relaxation and pleasure, worldwide friendships, and just plain fun….In contrast to other types of stamp collecting, a topic such as Table Tennis does not require an expensive investment. Nearly all the stamps cost less than $2 and some as little as $.10. The most costly items are the souvenir sheets from Nicaragua 1949 ($235) and the souvenir sheet from P.R. China 1961 ($85).”
Collecting stamps 30 years ago may have been “constant relaxation,” but his later “servitude” to compulsively collecting every imaginable table tennis item of historic importance was anything but relaxing. It eventually led him, with his fabulously unique and expensive collection, to becoming the curator of the ITTF Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. No man less driven to appreciate “find” after “find” could have made that journey to such a time and place. “I scoured the globe looking for treasures,” Chuck once said. “My sources have ranged from antique shops, antique shows, auctions, estate sales, trades with other collectors, veteran players, tips from friends around the world, and, more recently, the internet.”
By 1996, the year that Hoey’s Hall of Fame presenter Scott Gordon met Chuck, SeGuine was acting as his agent, offering a takeover opportunity for what was being called “The Racket Sports Heritage Collection.” Chuck was seeking “corporate or private sponsors who could acquire the collection and provide for its future.” Here’s how it was generally described in the March-April, ‘96 issue of Editor Larry Hodge’s Table Tennis World (there were also a number of specific descriptions of items in the collection, and, along with a May-June follow-up article, photo reproductions of early Ping-Pong/Table Tennis books, postcards, greeting cards, sheet music, beautiful porcelain trophies, and rare boxed sets featuring long-handled rackets):
“The collection traces the early years and evolution of Lawn Tennis, Badminton, and Table Tennis through hundreds of original rackets of amazing variety, along with a handsome and diverse selection of rare fine art, stained glass, porcelains [at least 20 matching pieces, including a two-handled chocolate cup], prints and engravings, early books, medals, games, antiques advertising, and memorabilia. With its unprecedented breadth, depth, and historical texture, the collection has attracted international recognition and accolades from the Smithsonian, the Olympics President, Wimbledon, sports journals and magazines, and even Royalty.”
Gordon said that Chuck did sell “his huge tennis and badminton collections to their respective associations,” but wanted to hold on to the table tennis, hoping to find a suitable place for it in the U.S. After all, as Scott said, “The collection was put together in America, by a native-born American citizen.” “Having built a collection worth hundreds of thousands of dollars that very much interested Asian buyers, Chuck knew that any acceptance of a bid would represent significant financial security for him. But the collection was his love, and he wanted to ensure that it was kept intact and shared with the world, not be hoarded away by some rich collector.”
Eventually the ITTF came to its senses—bought the collection, and hired Hoey “to oversee it and ensure its proper maintenance and presentation.” This Chuck would do by moving from the U.S. to live in a chateau in Lausanne, bought by the ITTF, which would become the famous Museum. Gordon, after visiting it in person, said, “I never learned so much about the history of the game as I did during Chuck’s colorful tour.” That reminded me of Chuck’s on-the-road shows, his moveable mini-Museums in Guangzhou and Shanghai, in Zagreb and Bremen (13,700 visitors there, many of them enjoying like me, the “Mini Theater,” where I was fascinated to see again Bobby Gusikoff’s Legends showing the greats of yesteryear). I sure echo Scott’s admiration for Chuck—the more so when I think how much work he faced in any Tour Exhibition start-up and take-down, and how much tension he endured worrying that priceless items might be lost or stolen in transit.
A year or two into the new millennium, only parts of Hoey’s extensive collection were viewable on a website, but now coverage has been greatly expanded, new prized pieces are constantly being added, e-mail volume is up, and Gordon, as Chuck says, “has provided invaluable assistance by converting old films to dvd, and preparing highlights for the Museum video exhibits. Also, Table Tennis Collector magazines are available for downloading. And ever since the formal opening of the Museum on May 18, 2004, the ITTF magazine, Table Tennis Illustrated, has carried articles and photos giving us more and more knowledge about what wonders the Museum holds (for example, “the only known example of the first game of table tennis, Foster’s Parlour Lawn Tennis, made in 1990”).
Of course, whether one tours the Museum in person or via the web, he/she can understand how paragraphs, even pages, can be written about the history of many an item (the strange uses of ping-pong balls, for instance). But though nothing can take the place of the reader actually seeing the presentations, here’s Gordon’s but-touched-upon summary of what the Museum contains:
“The scope of the Museum is staggering….Nearly every conceivable artifact is there—equipment from every era, documents, carefully catalogued and computerized, going back over 100 years, ephemera of every imaginable type—china, jewelry, crystal, clothing, photography, ornaments, music, artwork from around the world, autographs, etc. And of course every major player scrupulously chronicled and featured. Life-size figures, trophies, medals, and programs from every major tournament in history. There are even touch-screen flat television monitors suspended from the ceiling allowing visitors to select and watch great players and events from the past to the present.”
As Chuck says, “The workload in creating a world-class Museum is an ongoing challenge. It requires a large dose of passion, positive thinking, perseverance, patience, and a little help from our friends [sponsors Liebherr, DHS, and Joola]. Let’s hope that Chuck, who’ll be 65 next December, doesn’t give himself (certainly no one else will) the Christmas present of retirement. But then how could he retire from something that every day is genie-magical to him, with the never-ending thrill of wishes and surprises waiting to be discovered, seen, treasured—shared.