Iron Man

Photo by James BunoanMike Jacobson has $1 million in assets in his three-car garage, and unless people get tired of Black Sabbath, Bowie or T-shirts, he'll leave this world a rich man.

Whenever he feels like it, Jacobson tosses a few vintage iron-ons from his stash onto eBay, and hipster kids across the country usually give him $10 or more each.

“I don't really do much with it, compared to what I could do,” he admits—back in that garage, he has 100,000 more iron-ons from the iron-on company he ran in the '70s. They're all originals from 30 years ago, all probably worth an easy $10 or more. You do the math.

Or ask Jacobson to do it for you. Less than 1 percent of original iron-on T-shirts survive, he thinks, and if you were born before the Challenger blew up, you remember why: picking at that Knight Rider shirt at recess, watching Spiderman or the Hulk warp and melt as you fished the laundry out of the dryer, or seeing Ted Nugent go from sleeved to ratty and sleeveless to the free box at the church on Sunday. Thanks again, Mom!

The things were as delicate as poodle puppies, and without proper care—gentle cold-water washing, says Jacobson, who's got the decade-old Lugosi-as-Dracula shirt to prove it—99 percent of your vintage shirts go extinct. And when supply goes that far down, demand, naturally, goes way up.

A vintage Bowie iron-on—sans shirt, which is $10 extra—might suck $80 out of you, if you can find it. Ozzy could come in around $70, and from there, you sink back to the $30-to-$40 plateau where everyone wears Sweet and Queen shirts and things look gooooooooood. But Jacobson is there to provide the happy medium, selling direct from his garage stock to you, the identity-hungry consumer.

He's one of an elite few: an iron-on magnate during the '70s boom, he ran Nice iron-ons [CAP THE I?], one of several colorful companies like Roach and the Rat's Hole on the crest of the nationwide trend.

At the time, says Jacobson, there were an infinite number of iron-ons—every town, no matter how small, had an iron-on store (gotta be true: this reporter grew up in a town with zero traffic lights but one iron-on store).

But the trend died in the '80s, suffocated by overcompetition and the vagaries of fashion, says Jacobson—and when it died, it died hard. Everyone sold their stuff, except for Jacobson, pretty much. He's got boxes of them in his garage, just waiting for you, your T-shirt and your iron to get together.

Why? He sighs a little.

“I was too stupid to sell 'em,” he says.

Stupid like a fox.

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