Endless stream of cards and magazines

Picking up a Street and Smith Yearbook from the newsstand or drug store was an annual rite of spring for many baseball fans.  Since ESPN and the internet were nowhere in sight, annuals were one way to obtain updated rosters and prognostications for the upcoming season.  Of course, the information was several months old by the time it reached the magazine rack. However, those of us in a non-Major League markets or rural areas especially relied on these publications to set the stage for the season.

In the 1970s, Street and Smith produced regional covers designed to attract fans of the local team.  Prior to the Mariners arrival in 1977, Washington State baseball fans received covers featuring California teams.  For instance, I bought this 1976 edition with Davey Lopes on the cover.  But New England fans would find the same content covered with the photo of 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP, Fred Lynn.

While looking through both versions, I was drawn to the advertisements for sports card dealers. Obviously, sports magazines were an excellent method of reaching the customer base.  The 1976 Street and Smith Yearbook has numerous ads for dealers across the nation.

For example, mail order stalwart (still going strong in 2019) Larry Fritsch Cards in Stevens Point, WI, has an ad. The 1976 Fritsch ad is filled with tempting choices including the complete 1976 Topps baseball set for $12.95 plus postage.  This is on the expensive side, since most of the other ads offer the set for less.  Incidentally, $12.95 in 1976 dollars has the buying power of $58.44 today.  Thus, a kid had to mow several lawns or, in my case, return a huge number of beer bottles to the recycler to afford the complete set.

I distinctly remember ordering my 1976 complete set from G. S. Gallery in Coopersburg, PA.  The set was $7.95, plus a dollar postage.  I remember the postal worker (Mr. Copeland-it’s a small town) at the Selah, WA, post office having to redo the money order after accidentally putting “Cooperstown” on it instead of Coopersburg.  By the way, $8.95 has the 2019 buying power of $40.39 when adjusted for inflation.

Two other dealers in the magazine offer examples of the price range for the complete set.  Stan Martucci of Staten Island-who urges buyers to “Go with Experience” based on his 22 years in the business-priced his set at a whopping $14.  Meanwhile, collectors could shell out $9.99 to obtain the same cards from the only West Coast dealer in the magazine, Will Davis of Fairfield, CA.

In addition to new sets, the dealers offered sets from previous years.  Wholesale Cards of Georgetown, CT, offered complete sets from the 1970s in all four major sports.  Plus, you could pick up Topps Civil War, 1966 English Soccer or the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set.

Another merchant with a tantalizing selection of cards was Paul E. Marchant of Charleston, IL. The 1964 Topps “Giant” set was available for only $3.00. Also, SSPC sets could be had along with an address list for autograph seekers.

This ad uses the card of Glenn Abbott as an example for the 1976 set.  An odd choice since Glenn was just starting out.  I must point out that he would be the “ace” of the original Seattle Mariners in 1977, winning 13 games.  At the time, his win total tied the record for most wins on an expansion team.  The first to do it was Seattle Pilots hurler, Gene “Lerch” Brabender.

The Sports Hobbyist in Detroit offered a different way for collectors to obtain a complete set of 660 Topps cards in 1976.  For $10, they sent 1,000 cards and guaranteed that “just about” a complete set could be assembled.  A 50-cent coupon was included to purchase up to 40 cards to help complete the set.

Once a complete set was obtained, the collector needed some place to store the cards.  A nifty tote box, divided into 26 compartments, was one solution.  It was available for a mere $4.00 from ATC Sports Products of Duluth, MN.

Along the same lines, a Major League Baseball card locker could be had from the Royal Advertising Corp. for $2.95, plus 36 cents postage.  You could even send cash!  Note that Seattle Pilots outfielder Steve Whitaker’s 1967 card on the Yankees is front and center in the ad.

Although cards are not offered, there is an ad for the hobby publication, “The Trader Speaks.” I never subscribed to this trade paper but went with “Sports Collectors’ Digest” instead.

One negative feature of all these offers was the fact you had to wait four to six weeks to receive the merchandize in 1976.  There was no expectation for faster service, and no reason given for the protracted processing time.  My recollection was that it always seemed to take closer to six weeks than four.  This process explains why I am such a patient man to this day.

I will close with two advertisements that were ubiquitous in magazines of this era:  Manny’s Baseball Land and Charles Atlas.  Manny’s had the same format for years with many of the same products offered as well.  Of course, Charles Atlas offered to “make a man out of Mac” for decades.  I’m still trying to get his body building method to work, and I’m damned tired of bullies kicking sand in my face at the beach!

A Hinton Price Discovery (or, Causey effect)

One of the nice things about pursuing sets that are out of the mainstream is that there’s a real chance for bargains. I need an ungraded 1956 Topps Mantle in VGEX. It’s going to cost me $350-450; maybe more, unlikely less.

The cards I tend to go for have relatively little demand and, even when there’s somewhat less supply, the paucity of interest works in my favor.

I just nailed down the final coin I needed for the 1964 Topps set. If you read my last post, you know what it is.

Fine, I’ll tell you again; it’s the Wayne Causey All-Star coin, NL back variation. I’ve seen them go for $20 and up, but was holding out for $20. I picked it up for $13.50, plus postage.

The reason I was holding out was because of the other “NL” variation, Chuck Hinton. Both errors (they were corrected to AL backs, but not before some NLs got out) are harder to find than the other coins (even the Mantle variations, which were purposeful), but neither is more or less scarce than the other. So why did I get Hinton for $6, and have to wait awhile to get Causey for less than $15?

Patience helps, but lack of interest helps more. People are not really running after these variations, so, in time, they settle to a price I can be happy with. My goal was to get them both for a total of $20. I came close.

It’s easy to assume sellers/dealers are very knowledgeable, but many aren’t. The guy I bought my coin from knew he had an error, and listed as such. Last month someone listed three Causey All Star coins and two of them were of the NL kind. He had no idea. I tried to swoop in cheaply, but someone else in the know grabbed them in the final seconds. At the recent Boston show, I talked to a guy selling coins and a guy looking to buy them. Neither knew about the variations! I told them all about them (after I had looked through the dealer’s stock), but I was shocked at their ignorance.

Here’s some good background on the whole set (and other coins), but I’m still puzzled. The Causey and Hinton All-Stars, #161 and #162, are at the end of the set, with all the other NL stars. Why are the fronts blue, like all the AL All-Stars? If Topps (wrongly) assumed they were NL players, they should have had red fronts. If Topps knew they were actually AL stars (or what a KC A and Washington Senator came close to in 1964), why were they numbered with the NL guys? The linked post has a guess, but I’m not so sure there was a reason. I can’t figure it out.

Lack of consistent price discovery can bite as well. When I was finishing up my 1952 Parkhurst set, I tired to get a seller to pull a Bob Betz card from his lot. He wanted to charge me $100 for it and I was in disbelief (and told him so). He went through a whole rigmarole about how Betz was moved off the Ottawa Athletics quickly and, as a short print, it was tough to come by. I argued that there were other players in the same boat and they cost me between $5-15. I came away from that exchange knowing that guy was a dope.

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Then a Betz card came up on eBay. I figured, OK, I’m getting down to the end of the set so I’ll pay $20. I ended up paying $80-something. I was bugged that, 1) someone else was forcing me to pay more and, 2) that other guy was right!

So it works both ways, but usually I get the best of the deal. I’m waiting for delivery of a 1963 Bazooka All Time Great Babe Ruth card. I fully expected to pay $35 if I was lucky, $50 if I wasn’t. I got it for $19. It helped that the guy listed it as “Bazooke.”

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.

Al Rosen: 1980’s Card Icon

al-rosen-headshot-264x300Late last month Al Rosen lost a long-term battle with leukemia. He was 71 years old and although two decades past his peak as a card dealer, much of his influence remains in the sports card and memorabilia business. Since I lived less than a half hour from Al, I would see him quite frequently at local New Jersey/New York events and seeing him in action was a site to behold. Many collectors and dealers both bought and sold from Al over the years. I did a few small deals with him and every one was handled very professionally.

He could be abrasive to people who offended him in some ways and, as arguably the most powerful card dealer of the 1980’s, when Al spoke the card collecting community listened. But I prefer to think of the positive aspects of his personality. If you had a chance to talk to Al, as I did, without the benefit of a large crowd at a show or when he felt he had to perform, you talked to a man who understood his business and his role within the card collecting community.  I knew I was seeing the real Al Rosen when we sat next to each other flying home from the National Convention in 1985, 1986 and 1987. This ended in 1988 when the National was in Atlantic City, a drivable distance.

During his peak, Al would get so many calls and letters that he was constantly on-the-go buying and  selling. I know members of his coterie who would finally get home for a day of rest and be called to go back on the road. Al never seemed to tire of looking at new collections as each deal truly excited him.

How did he know what to pay for collections? It all came down to the simplest terms he once imparted on me nearly 35 years ago. The most important aspect of this business is knowing what to pay for material. That simple sentence is pure genius. Why? Because if you pay correctly for an item, even if the value (real or perceived) goes down, you still have room to make a profit. And if you are a dealer, knowing how much room you have into an “piece” allows you to make a deal which may seem equitable for both buyers and sellers but also allows you to put money into your pocket. Sounds simple, but in actuality, it is the hardest thing for most dealers who are collectors to understand because they get smitten by seeing additions to their collections.

Rich Klein is a catalog maintenance expert for COMC and lives in Plano, TX with his wife and two dogs.

 

 

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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!

Dream a Little Dream: the Day I Became a Baseball Card Manufacturer

Baseball cards weren’t just a part of my childhood, they were the defining object of my childhood, along with superhero comic books from Marvel and DC. But the cards were more important to me than anything else: they were my passport to baseball.

In the 1968 Mel Brooks film, The Producers, one of the characters, Franz Leibkind, expresses his joy at the realization of one of his life’s goals, “Oh, day of days! Oh, dream of dreams!…” Last week I repeated that incantation when I put my hand on a rock a decided I would produce a set of my own baseball cards.

Why? I thought it would be a fun way to promote my latest baseball documentary project, The Sweet Spot: A Treasury of Baseball Stories. The Sweet Spot is the first streaming TV channel dedicated to baseball to launch on multiple streaming outlets (you can find it on Roku, Vimeo on Demand, and, very soon, on Amazon Prime); it features our signature original documentary series, which features people from across the baseball spectrum to take the pulse of the national pastime in the 21st century. Players, coaches, bat boys, artists, fans, actors, authors, umpires, etc. share their baseball stories…it’s kind of a cross between The Glory of Their Times Meets Studs Terkel’s’ Working.

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The conceit was to feature some of the subjects I’d interviewed on cards with sexy graphic design on the front and a mini-bio on the back. I had some interesting subjects to choose from: Mudcat Grant, Dodgers superfan Emma Amaya, Topps photographer Doug McWilliams, pioneer Justine Siegal, umpire Perry Barber, and official scorekeeper Ed Munson (the “Iron Man” of scorers, who went 2,003 games without missing a game).

I’ve been collecting cards since 1965 and enjoy keeping many cards from the 1950s up until today. I have some strong opinions on my favorite Topps designs (1959, 1965, 1972), as well as many horrible designs (the 1981 set comes to mind) that resemble a dog’s breakfast. This card’s design had to reflect a vintage, nostalgic feeling, promote our brand, and feature The Sweet Spot logo.

As a producer who’s worked with world-class graphic designers and artists much of my career, I knew exactly how to get this job done, but there was a wrinkle. The designer I like to work with is not built for speed, and I needed to get the card designed and printed in 7-8 days in time for a presentation I was making about the project on SABR Day. I turned to Upwork.com to hire a freelance designer. I hire freelancers all the time, but this was a new and different method. I posted the scope of work, noting “being a baseball fan is helpful”, and got ten quick replies. A couple designers were fans, and the one I hired had been designing for over 20 years and had his own card collection.

unnamed-1I prepared reference/inspiration images of some of my favorite Topps designs from my youth: the woodies of ’62, the dual image fronts of ’63, and the wondrous Peter Max-infused ‘72s. We met daily to hammer out thumbnail designs for the front and back, starting with the front. I wanted to make sure we tied in the colors of the logo into the design, and how can you go wrong with the good ol’ red, white and blue? I love bunting seen in the post-season, so we integrated that notion into the design via a banner atop the card.

I allowed a couple of days of design iteration in thumbnail form until I arrived at a direction I liked and then we could dial in the rest. We arrived at the “archway” design inspired by the 1972 Topps set and the text bounding box at the bottom from the 1963 set. I wanted a banner at the top to make the card seem special, sort of like those MVP cards Topps would issue in the sets of the 60s. The card front would proclaim our featured “players” as “Heroes of the Sweet Spot”. There was always something heroic about the presentation of those players in those cards of the 50s and 60s, so that concept seemed a good fit.

A key component to the front of the card was a good photograph of the individual. I felt we had good photos for most of them, and the rest would work well enough. One of our interviewees was Doug McWilliams, with whom I’ve become friends, and Doug was kind enough to allow me to use a fantastic photo he’d taken of Mudcat Grant in 1957 when Mud was on the PCL San Diego Padres. Doug is also in this set of cards, #14 of 15.

I was very pleased with the final design of the front, so we moved on to the back of the card.

unnamed-2Again, we referenced the backs of cards from the 1960s, and I liked the idea of rounded boxes to display the text. While producing a major attraction about the life of Walt Disney for Walt Disney Imagineering, one of Walt’s designers, John Hench (whose first gig was Fantasia) told me the reason Mickey Mouse succeeded over another character of the day, Felix the Cat, was that Mickey had round features, while Felix had points. We went with a red, white, and blue color scheme to make the text pop and tie to the design scheme, tell a story, and sell our brand. The artist, Brian Kruse, came up with the smashing idea of balancing the baseball with the card # with a sphere on the right side of the top featuring a black and white image of our hero. I decided to keep it black and white to simplify the integration of that asset into the overall design.

unnamed-6We had thirteen cards designed, and it was now time to meet with my printer, who has done all manner of work for me over the years–promotional postcards, DVD covers, movie posters, and my business card, which is, of course, a baseball card. Key was finding paper stock that was stiff enough, as I did not have time to do special order cardboard (which likely would have been pricier). I settled on 14 point white paper, and, a couple of days later, voila!

Once the cards were done, I realized that the haste of taking on the task produced the inevitable errors:

  • there were supposed to be 15 cards in the series, but I omitted two of them. I did not adjust the numerical order of the cards, and the set was produced as if cards #6 and #9 are missing.

Official scorer Ed Munson’s “position” on the card from and rear is stated as “scorer” when it should be “official scorer”.

  • There’s a grammar punctuation error on the rear of artist Mark Ulriksen’s card.

I’ll be fixing the Munson and Ulriksen card for the second series, which is due to come out end of March.

Here’s our first series:

#1 – Umpire Perry Barber

#2 – Baseball Pioneer Justine Siegal

#3 – Artist Mark Ulriksen

#4 – Superfan Emma Amaya

#5 – Jim “Mudcat” Grant

#7 –Author Jennifer Ring

#8 – Author and former catcher Jim Campanis, Jr.

#10 – Catcher Jimmy Campanis, Sr.

#11 – Team USA player Lilly Jacobson

#12 – Actor Norm Coleman

#13 – Official Scorer Ed Munson

#14 – Photographer Doug McWilliams

#15 – Producer-Director Jon Leonoudakis

One of my favorite cards features octogenarian thespian Norm Coleman. Norm caught the acting bug late in life after a stellar career as a studio photographer. A life-long baseball fan, he took to Ty Cobb, feeling the Georgia Peach was a complex, misunderstood man, who was being subjected to a mythology that wasn’t accurate in Norm’s eyes. He decided to write a one-man show with Norm portraying Cobb. Years later, Norm has performed the show around the country, including shows at Tigertown, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, and the Ty Cobb Museum. When I interviewed Norm, I took his picture inside his home. I thought it would be fun to find an image of a Tiger game or practice circa 1908 and matte that in behind Norm. I found the right image, the artist popped it in, and suddenly Norm is back in 1908! If you look closely, over his right shoulder is a player leaning against a bat, looking a bit like Cobb himself.

unnamed-9Another fave is the card featuring Lilly Jacobson, who was said to have a swing like Will Clark. There she is on the front of her card, drilling a double down the line, adorned in a glorious Team USA uniform. When I met Lilly, she was a polite, bright, unassuming young woman who had traveled the globe playing the game she loved. It was pretty shocking to hear all the guff she had to put up with just to play on teams with boys and men.

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The last card in the set features yours truly. I figured the guy driving the sled should get a card, and I decided to use an action photo taken during the 2016 San Francisco Giants Fantasy Camp at the team’s spring training facility in Scottsdale. It was captured by photographer Andy Kuno during my first relief appearance: 1 IP, 2 Ks, 2 hits, no runs allowed. We won’t mention the other two outings that were grease fires.

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I started sharing the cards on my facebook page and got requests from people to purchase them (you can get one, too, for $20, includes tax and shipping). There are many other folks I’ve interviewed for the project, so there’s going to be a few more series of cards produced at the end of the day.

One of the key pieces that makes this set unique is the number of women featured: out of thirteen cards, almost half are women. A couple of card fiends who like to collect women in baseball cards told me how excited they were to find them. Another fun note is that the set not only features a father and a son (Jim Campanis Sr. and Jr.), it has a mother-daughter connection (author Jennifer Ring and daughter Lilly Jacobson).

I have joined the ranks of those specialty sets that saw the light of day and people are adding them to their personal collections. We sold out the first printing of the first series, and are printing more as demand has increased. The second set will go into production in a few weeks for a release just prior to the start of the 2017 season. It will have fixes to the error cards and introduce a couple of “In Action” cards showing the crew shooting a story for the series. We’re in the midst of adding a product store to our web page at www.thesweetspot.tv, but you can contact me directly if you’d like a set @ jbgreeksf24@gmail.com.

So you want to be a full-time sports card dealer?

The net 54 message board has been my go-to site for story ideas for years. In the past 15 years or so, many leading hobbyists have posted and often they have the best thoughts about this card collecting hobby.

This is an adaptation of one of the threads and discusses what you do when you are working full-time in the card-collecting business. At this point, we should stipulate there are more ways of being full-time in this business than as a card dealer. Those positions include helping to run a show such as the National, being involved in working at a grading company such as BGS or PSA, working for a card company or even working as a PR rep or other card-related position at an auction house.

But for approximately 99 percent of us, when we discuss being full-time in this business, we mean as a full-time card dealer. And frankly, what could seemingly be more fun that playing with, sorting, cataloging and selling sports cards on a day to day basis? Who among us would not want to be our own boss and set our own hours? Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but in reality, the existence is nothing like the dream.

Here are some of the aspects one has to consider in today’s world: Make sure you are active on eBay and prepare properly and ship all packages almost immediately. Make sure you are reasonably into technology so that you can scan those cards for posting.  Make sure you get financial advice from a trusted accountant or bookkeeper about keeping track of your finances.  Also remember, unless you live in a few selected areas such as New York, there are not many chances of setting up almost every weekend at a trade show.

To people such as me, one reason I loved starting the shows I run in Dallas-Fort Worth is being “old-school” — there is nothing quite as much fun as interpersonal communication in buying, selling or trading cards. And there is something special about building a rapport with people buying from you who share your interest.  I frankly enjoy discussing things like: What can you discover about 1960’s cards from tracing all the Cleveland Indians, or which Rangers player do you think has the best chance of becoming a Hall of Famer.

meyerAh, but nearly 30 years ago, the world was much different. In New Jersey, where I was at the time, there seemed to be a show or an auction almost every single day. I knew of at least 4-5 auction houses and a few dealers who ran weekday shows,  and there were a plethora of shows on most weekends.  In addition, the standard way of introducing yourself to potential mail-order customers was through publications such as Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) or Baseball Hobby News (BHN).

And. in those days, the definition of a “hit” was certainly different than today. In those days. our hits were usually the key Rookie Cards and if you opened 1985 or 1987 packs you were almost guaranteed of walking into a profit. Remember all those great rookies in those years? Heck, even rookie cards of people such as Mike Dunne or Joey Meyer had their day in the sun. So in those days, there were a lot more people in contact than there are 30 years later.

While I could write a lot more, the basic premise is that being full-time is an interesting proposition but not for everyone, especially those who prefer having a guaranteed income. No income is ever guaranteed when you run your own business so unless you are willing to take a risk, then just staying as a part-timer is the best way to go.

Rich Klein lives in Plano TX with his wife and 2 dogs and can be reached at Sabrgeek@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Card Shows as a Promoter

white-plainsJust to give a quick background on me, I worked at Beckett Media (nee Beckett Publications) for nearly two decades and also wrote a very popular column for Sports Collectors Daily called Rich Klein’s Ramblings. for about five years.. While I was at Beckett, I edited the first 12 editions of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards and Collectibles which, by the time I left Beckett, had a data base of over 25,000 sets to keep track of. I had to know about cards from 1869 to the present day and knowing baseball history was always a big help in cataloguing and pricing those sets in the data base
Due to personal family reasons — my continuing to run card shows in the DFW area and some issues with my wife’s health — I have taken an hiatus from writing. In addition, frankly I was pretty burned out feeling the need to keep adding content every few days. The good news is going forward I may contribute some content as I feel like it for this fine blog but not feel I have to create an article on a daily or weekly basis.
What you are about to see is an adaption of notes from comments I made on the Blowout Card message board in relation to someone wishing to run their own show. These notes are what I felt interesting in commenting on when people set up their shows. This is based not only on my nearly three years of running shows but nearly 40 years of attending shows.

Promote, Promote, Promote — anything less than your full effort leads to disappointment. If there are any stores near you see if you can co-opt them for help. One great step is to see if they will let you put out flyers. Many card stores today know their customers are tuned into the hobby and realize EBay is a bigger competitor than any shows. We received free cards to give away to kids at the last 3 shows of the year that way. All it cost them was dead inventory and a few business cards. And who can complain if potential customers are coming in the door.

MONEY: Stay within your budget. Don’t shoot for the moon — take the single and be happy before going for the gusto. We all want the show where hundreds of people walk through the door but I will tell you we average between 76-100 people each month at the Comfort Inn show I run. Our low is 45 and our high is 154 paid.

wssca4Admission charges:  I charge $1 as much for head count purposes as to make any money on the customers. Since I keep track of attendees, believe it or not our lowest head count with the one exception of the 45 people (because there was a big competing show that weekend) has been our December shows where we have FREE admission. Yep, less people
Door Prizes — DO SOMETHING. One of the major frustrations I have as an attendee is there is a local promoter who runs “bigger” shows twice a year with a $5 admission charge. If you are gong to charge that much money, give away something, even if it is 1988 Topps or Donruss packs.
Signs: Make sure you are legally able to put out promotional signs. If you are, then it helps for you or someone you delegate to put out those signs where people can see them. One local DFW promoter has a big sign he puts on his truck on a heavily traveled street and that does at times bring in new customers.
Food at the shows: That depends on your location — at the Comfort Inn we are not allowed to have anyone sell food and the hotel does not offer. However, I can bring in Bagels for breakfast or Pizza for Lunch for the dealers and that is perfectly fine. Check with your venue on this one.
At Adat  Chaverim — because of religious dietary laws, we do provide food but we also let vendors bring in food as long as there is no pork or shellfish products.
Tables with cloths: Cloths can be cheap — don’t be afraid to go to Party City if your venue does not have cloths.
Showcase rentals — Only at a huge show. There is no reason for the promoter to be in charge of this unless they wish. If there is a vendor who has extra showcases, then that is who should run this part of the show for you. And yes, that is their business, not the promoter’s business.
Customer and Dealer comfort:. Well yes, this is a bigger issue. I think a better way to say this is to ensure there is enough space for customers to walk around. This is a very delicate balance as you do not want so much room that the room appears empty You also do not want so little room that dealers have to crawl under their tables to walk around or for customers to literally have to “bump” each other to walk around. A great way to ensure your venue works is to have them do a mock set up for you. That way you are not surprised come show day. I always ask for a mock set up so I can see how the room works. We have now three options at the Comfort Inn and they are now familiar with our various options as they took photos of each option so the room can be set up accurately each month.
Tax id # verifications. Make sure YOU as the promoter have one. It’s up to your dealers to have this for themselves but if tax people show up — the dealers must comply or leave the show. Since that is all part of being a dealer, in case that occurs, it’s up to you as to refunding the money for their tables. That is, if they refuse to sign up for the tax ID.

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Clean up after the show (people will leave trash on the floor) — Yes and make sure you have garbage pails in the room. See if you have to do that or if your place has help on this front. Most places have some staff to handle this but yes it is worth checking out. If a hotel, then they will have staff to handle this. I have actually been to shows with no garbage pails in the room. If there is no wax dealer this is not usually that bad but then you have to guarantee you have a garbage bag to clean up if people eat lunch in the room.

Light outlets, charge stations — Depends on the room. You have no control over certain parts of the room. It’s nice to have this but you have no control over what the venue already has extant.

Fliers to promote your next show. YES something tangible is always good. Heck, if you are wiling to spend the money each month one of the very best promotional tools is to send out a postcard each month to everyone’s home address.

Hand stamp for reentry, and Name Tags for dealers: At my Comfort Inn show I don’t usually need these but at the Adat Chaverim show because of the set-up I make sure all the dealers have name tags.

Staff to take admission; Believe it or not, I can handle this. I do lose a few cards this way but nothing tragic.  And if you have a pretty young lady to take admission, that is an extra win for all concerned. There is a promoter in St. Louis who actually used a Playboy Playmate from the 1990’s to be the admission taker and to sign autographs herself. At the Adat Chaverim show, because of everything we do — there is a dedicated person at the front to take admission and sell our goodie bags.

Have a Beckett, supply and wax dealer: even if you have to do it yourself.  In my case, there is a store within 3 minutes of the show and his prices on supplies are very fair. It’s easier for me to send people to his store for supplies and wax. And if they live slightly west, we send them to Nick’s which is about 15 minutes southwest of the show.. I can usually tell how good or average the show was, but seeing how many magazines I sold. it’s remarkably consistent. And if a local player is on the cover of the magazines, order more and sell those back issues. At my last show I sold more Beckett FB magazines with Dak Prescott on the cover than I did of the current magazine. And yes, the prices of the 2 magazines were the same. Plus, they have a full return policy which you can follow so there is little risk on this

cardsPromote on all the websites you can: blowout, net54, psa boards, Beckett’s calendar, Facebook groups (social media), and local papers/message boards. Start your own Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, youtube, yelp, live blog, etc. Especially when you begin, the promotion is super important. I have a good friend who tried to run a show about 18 months ago. When we discussed the show, I informed him that to begin a show he had to spend most of the next two months focusing on promoting, promoting, promoting. Despite having Beckett raw card review available and a very nice autograph guest, he has run exactly one show and shows no inclination of going for a second show.

Be nice to everyone – this can be difficult! For the life of me I can not understand the attitudes of people at shows. Make sure to greet as many customers as possible. Its better for them to have a positive experience with the show’s promoter to offset any other issues they may have. That is one reason I like to greet the people at the door and even check when possible on the way out to see if they purchased anything. Now there are a few customers who occasionally come looking for things they likely won’t find (a Mark Teixeira master collector, a 19th century collector) but it never hurts to see what they want.

The other thing is NOT to be a pushover, if you are charging admission — honor that. There are reasonable exceptions. Kids and significant others I usually let in for free. Kids because it’s fun and the significant others are not usually there to purchase cards. But you never know when they come back to buy gifts. I sold a card a few months ago at a local show to a spouse who saw her husband going through my cards and she mentally noted which ones he wanted. But as a promoter do not be a pushover at the door. If you think someone is trying to take advantage of your admission, then feel free to charge them. I had a situation where in our previous location, someone waltzed in, and when I checked for admission he said I can buy everything cheaper on line and left. His wife was very willing to pay the $1 admission for each of them. Really sad in that case.

Get as many dealers as you can but remember everyone. Give priority to dealers that customers like, sell hard to find cards, are nice people, or those that bring in customers. Believe it or not, one thing I do with my dealers — and it’s a reasonably small room is first come, first severed (FOR THE MOST PART). I have a few dealers I like to have as anchors but move others around so the room looks different each time. If you end up with a core of dealers, most of that will take care of itself.We’ll also eventually revisit some ideas for customers and dealers at shows as well.

Rich Klein has been an active hobbyist since his first show as a dealer in 1979