Card Shows — Who Needs ‘Em?

On February 9, 2017, I declared eBay the clear winner over card shows. The hassles, unfriendliness and time spent (as well as back pain) that come with card shows was, for me, a thing of the past. Didn’t miss ‘em, didn’t care.

Then I went with my friend Greg to the East Coast National in White Plains and, as to be expected, had a lot of success, whittling away at my 1960 Topps, 1964 Coins and 1971 Kellogg’s want lists. It was, I’ll admit, kind of great.

More surprising was a local show in Albany that I went to earlier this year. A fine show – manageable, with binders of commons. Right up my alley. I made huge headway with my 1968 and 1969 lists. Yesterday there was another Albany show put on by the same promoter. I had high hopes. Why wouldn’t I?

Sheets of paper in hand, I had already played out in my mind that I’d get the last cards I needed to wrap up a few sets and, once I did that, I could really focus on the remaining commons and semi-stars I need for my 1956 Topps set. My son Joey, his interest in cards recently revived, came along. Everything seemed the same to me; Joey pointed out it was a new hotel and, when we walked in, it was a new cast of dealers. A cursory walk around showed that this was going to be a colossal disappointment. It was.

It took a ton of work to find 2 1969s and 3 1956s that I needed, at good prices. Best find – a ’69 Ed Charles, which goes for $4 or so on eBay, was mine for a buck. (I’m now down to one – Tug McGraw. I feel I should pay a buck for it; I’ll end up paying $5. It’s the premium of the last card which we all have paid.).

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All of my show gripes from Feb ’17 came roaring back. I went through a small stack of 1956s and pulled out a Billy Martin, Ted Kluszewski and Giants team, all in EX (maybe EXMT) to me, all unpriced.

“How much for these three?” I asked.

The dealer opened his book (not sure what it was) and said “They book for $245.”

“Not in this condition,” I said.

“I can give you 40% off.”

“No thanks.” He was shocked I walked away from such a deal.

But it wasn’t a deal, never is. He took NM book prices, slashed a big percentage off, but the result was a specious bargain. The price was still too high. I know I can get all three for $75 tops, with some patience, but why even play this game. It made no sense to offer him $60; he was already a self-proclaimed martyr because of the price drop he deemed enormous.

Joey, freed from my world of lists and completion needs, found a dealer with a solid assortment of old non-sports. He picked up some Horrors of War and Red Menace cards. Very nice.

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I left the show pretty down, trying to come to some conclusion on how I feel about shows. I still don’t miss them that much, but a good one is worth it. Once I got home I headed to eBay to see if I could work on what I’d hope to accomplish at the show. I immediately nabbed a couple of cards, bid on some more that I think I’ll get and knocked another 5 1969 Topps decals off my list. By the end of the day the bad vibes of the show had gone.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former 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.

20 thoughts on “Card Shows — Who Needs ‘Em?”

  1. This was a bad dealer trick even back in the 1980s. I recall dealers displaying binders with huge signs that said “Entire book — 50% off.” What they meant was the prices were 50% off the high-end Becket price, and the cards were all VG. In reality, the market price should have been 50% the low end, so a “sale price” would be even lower than that.

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  2. I can understand the frustration, but for every dealer like that, I’ve found two great ones. I much prefer shows, but it could be because of “how” I collect. I’m not a set builder, it’s just if something catches my eye. I find many more deals at shows that I ever find online.

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    1. That’s my problem. It’s easy to justify a 3 1/2 drive to the East Coast National. You know it’s going to be great. But driving 1 1/2 hours to Albany for a hit or miss show sucks.

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      1. They were talking about the Boston show at the Albany show. This weekend won’t work for me. Is it always worthwhile? Are the dates of the next one already set?

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    2. There are two modest size shows in the Seattle area each year. Some great long time dealers who are not adverse to making deals. I enjoy the experience, since the opportunity to attend a show is limited in the PNW. It is well run by the Washington State Sports Card Collectors Association. It is on the same weekend as the upcoming NWSABR chapter meeting. It is held north of Seattle in Lynnwood at an elementary school close to I-5 with ample free parking.

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  3. I went to some great card shows in Albany in the 90’s where guys like Berra and Scooter signed for $15. I do rely on ebay now. White Plains is still a great show and so is the GBSCC (Greater Boston) every first Sat in November. Have you attended the GBSCC, Jeff? They hold it in Wilmington, MA at the Shriners Hall. Enormous show. Predominantly vintage.

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      1. It’s usually April and November. They are run by two different guys. I actually like the November show better. But they’re both good

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  4. That’s a bummer, If I can’t figure out prices in the first couple of cards, I walk away. The most economical way to build a set is likely via ebay, but the shows are more fun for me currently. But my show is only 15 minutes away which is a huge factor.

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  5. I’ve walked away from tables feeling as you did. Usually, though I’m bemused by it all once I remember that the dealers think EVERY buyer is a nitwit, not just me. One thing different for me is that shows are pretty convenient since I’m in Houston. A long distance drive to one would certainly multiply my disappointment in a bad one. My gripe has long been the cost of the major shows. TriStar shows at the NRG complex cost $15 to walk in the door after paying $10 to park. I’m down $25 before I look at the first table.

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  6. The Boston/Wilmington (Shriners Aud) shows in November (first weekend) and in April (usually last weekend) are very good and BIG. The November one seems bigger, but you’d think it would be smaller, being post-season. Loads of stuff, can’t see how you’d not be able to get whatever you wanted, at decent prices, especially on Sunday. It is always mind-numbing and I’ve been going for years, more often than not in November but this Sunday it might be raining and cold so it will be perfect for walking around looking for various deals. Bought five small 2018 Heritage boxes at YAZ Store in Cooperstown last week while at the 19th Century Conference. No one in Boston has any except at double the price. If anyone needs to trade later on I should have plenty of doubles. Have loads of Heritage 2017 doubles if you have holes to fill, as I do still, but not many. Last year these size boxes were selling at Target for $20, YAZ price was $25, considering it was already double here, I planned to buy even more, but had to leave Sunday before the store opened at 1. I figure the price per card was 35 cents, here 70 for the one Hobby Box I bought for 150. I hope Topps people burn in hell for their cute “short prints.”

    dx

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