Shows, real and virtual

I’ve been on eBay since 1998, but my frequency of visits since last July, both as a buyer and as a seller, is ridiculous. I’m checking in all day, all the time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I remember the hassles of card shows.

Starting in 1973 (yes, 1973!), I attended at least one big show per year. Back then, there were only one or two big shows in all of New York, either at a church whose name escapes me or the Roosevelt Hotel. We would drive in from Long Island for the day and I’d spend my dearly saved $100 very carefully. I got some good stuff back then, missed out on more.

By the mid-‘80’s, I started frequenting shows a bit more, both locals and nationals. The Chicago National shows were impressive, maybe too big, and while it was fun to see all the merch on display, it could get grueling to go from table to table, looking for what I needed, haggling with dealers who held all the power and, by the end of the day, I was usually pissed off and had a headache.

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A small story: I used to go on Sundays because you could get deals. Dealers wanted to sell rather than pack up. I forget what year it was, but one dealer had an unopened box of cards I wanted. Let’s say it was $75. Another dealer came up to him and said, “I’ll give you $35 for each box.” He had three. “Sold,” and that was that.

“Can I buy one?” I asked. Maybe I offered $35, maybe $45.

“No, they’re $75 each.” You can imagine my response.

So card shows were a mixed blessing. I’d often find a lot of what I set out for, usually got as good a price as I could, but the power balance was way off. Buyers had no power other than to walk away.

eBay is great for truly sussing out what is rare and what isn’t and, even better, getting a true sense of supply and demand. Something rare may not be expensive if nobody wants it. Case in point: I’ve been working on the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set (yeah, I know that’s outside our blog’s purview) for 15 years and still need five of the short prints (1,972 of each made). I usually pick them up for $4-6, but I STILL NEED FIVE!

Having a vast amount of listings, easily found, is a  buyer’s paradise. I’ve been working on the 1949 Remar Bread set. The Billy Martin rookie is the only card that is relatively expensive, but the rest of the 32 card set won’t set me back much. In the last week, three listings for an Artie Wilson card, of varying quality, were up for auction. Wilson was a Negro League star, so there’s some additional interest there. I watched them all – one went for $20, another went for almost $40 – and the third popped up because I’ve got it tracked as a “followed search.” I bought it for $10.

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From a seller’s point of view, shows were a disaster for a normal non-dealer type person. Though I never sold anything to dealers, I watched one scene consistently unfold. Someone comes up to a table with, say, a 1952 Mantle. Dealer says, well, I can only give you $100 for it. Person says, but it’s worth $1,000. Dealer says, it’s going to be hard for me to sell, I have to keep it in inventory, I don’t have the kind of customers who pay a lot for cards, blah blah blah. Person either walks or gets ripped off.

Between eBay and PayPal the seller will give up a meaty percentage of the sale price, but it’s a fraction of what dealers would skim off the top. I’ve been selling more doubles and triples (sometimes quadruples and quintuples) to pay for cards I need. It feels great, like a solid trade, and the market rules. I usually get around what I want.

I don’t miss much about real card shows. Dealers tended to be unfriendly, fellow collectors absorbed in their quest. Even went I went with a friend we’d go our separate ways, with different want lists in hand. What’s there to miss? Plus, I can go to a card show on eBay whenever I want. In fact, I bought 4 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D cards at dinner last night, right in the middle of my Chicken Tikka Masala!

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

2 thoughts on “Shows, real and virtual”

  1. I think a lot depends on the shows you are attending. We have a twice-monthly show here in Atlanta where the prices tend to be quite reasonable, dime boxes, quarter boxes, and dollar boxes are the norm, and you can always find interesting oddballs.

    Now, can you find everything? Of course not. It’s a smaller show. But, I think that smaller show atmosphere — where the sellers and the buyers know each other and see each other regularly — lends itself better to the community aspects that are missing from the larger shows.

    It’s a trade off, definitely, between the type of inventory available and the camaraderie of the group attending. I know I get some deals from these guys and gals because they see me all the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you that ebay is an asset, even if it is IMO a declining one. Nowadays, I look for cards on ebay, see what dealer (if any) has listed the card(s) and then go to his or her website and buy it for quite a bit less. I know — this is how brick&mortar stores are being destroyed, but hey, my budget is limited. It used to be that ebay was like the stock exchange — it set the price. It may be less so now.
    As far as card shows, I got into the game late on those. I’ve been to a few of the Philly card shows, and my experience has been much different. A couple of the smaller scale sellers were very helpful and extremely nice in sharing their experiences. Not to mention that I picked up a raw ’79 Yastrzemski for less than a buck that turned into PSA 9. I also like being able to get an autograph authentication on site, while I’m wandering around just looking at a lot of amazing stuff. Sure, the shows are fading, but I hope to go to a few more.

    Liked by 1 person

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