If you ask a lot of the attendees at this year's National Sports Collector's Convention, they'll say it was the best show in a long time. Personally, my opinion is a lot less glowing, but still positive overall.
I attended the VIP preview on Wednesday night with two friends and spent most of that evening and the next two days on the sales floor. To their credit, the National staff scaled up the VIP Party by moving it upstairs to a ballroom about three times as big as the one used in previous years. There still wasn't any seating by the time we got there (about 20 minutes after it started), but there was still plenty of food and drinks available. The last couple times we went, it was standing room only wall to wall and when they announced that the food was being served or the autograph guests were starting to sign, it was a massive stampede. This time, it was much calmer, even though the auto lines had already formed around the outside of the room. The lines moved pretty quickly without significant incident. I got Wally Joyner's autograph on a card for Stuart and then our other friend and I went in to the show floor.
According to a Michigan dealer that we spoke to later, the sales and trade action between dealers even before the Sneak Preview opening Wednesday night was amazing. Thousands of dollars of cards and memorabilia exchanged hands as sellers filled their tables for the show. The impression was that most dealers then did pretty well for the rest of the week.
My expectations of the effect of the huge influx of new customers (notice I didn't say "collectors") was realized when after walking around most of the show floor. The ratio of what I call "mojo" tables - displays of nothing but slabbed cards - outnumbered the offerings of raw vintage, current bulk singles, and other memorabilia. The "normal" proportion was almost even between the three before the COVID pandemic - slab tables occured only in slightly higher numbers than the other stuff, so there was still a lot of vintage and current singles/inserts/boxes for set builders and old school collectors like me. This time, I'd say mojo was there at about three or four times more than anything else. And the customer base reflected this change as well. The floor was like an airport with all the people dragging luggage looking to make trades or sales. Every couple tables were populated on both sides with young people standing there on their cell phones trying to make deals or looking at population reports or whatever they do - I'm not really sure because I just keep on walking by.
That's not to say that there was any lack of nice vintage cards at the National. My best purchase was finding a rare short-printed 1966 Topps #591 Bart Shirley / Grant Jackson rookie card. It's actually for my Grant Jackson player collection, which isn't really one of my most important, but needed completing just the same. For a while, I thought the '66 RC was being hoarded and artificially jacked up in price by an unscrupulous dealer, but after talking to a couple other dealers, the card is legitimately short printed and rare. I managed to find one that has some adhesive residue on the corners from being pasted into a photo album or something, but since it was marked at $115 - around half the normal price - and is in great condition otherwise, it was an easy buy. Thanks to The Battersbox (.net
) for offering it.
I got some '78 O-Pee-Chee singles for my set build, and a few '57 Topps, but that was the extent of the vintage that I walked away with this year. Stuart was targeting the last two '67 Topps he needed - Tom Seaver RC and Brooks Robinson, both high numbers - but we really didn't see either of them. Both of us (were) also in the market for a Wayne Gretzky Topps RC to finish our '79-80 Topps hockey sets too, but they are now four digits compared to the $300-400 range I recall seeing a couple years ago.
The lesson I took from the show was that big ticket items like superstar rookies are way out of reach since 2020. Might as well forget about finding things like the '58 Jim Brown rookie for that set, or the T205 Christy Mathewson for my NYG team build until the prices come back down to earth in a couple more years (we hope).
The bulk of my National purchases was in the realm of recent Topps inserts. SJ Bachman Sportscards had a big two-table layout over to the far side under the Aisle signs as they have done the last few conventions. They carry the best selection of inserts from the last ten years or so as well as tons of Heritage and other shortprint cards from recent sets. I bought batches from them all three days that I was at the show. It was so much fun knocking off the last few inserts from so many sets on my want lists. The National dealer list shows them as based out of Florida, but an article from 2012 announces the opening of a store in Goshen, IN. Either way, they don't have an online presence except for an empty eBay store, unfortunately.
Except for another very productive meetup with Jim (Mr. Haverkamp), and Brewer Dave from SCF hanging out with us the one day he was there, I didn't see any other bloggers or trade partners at the show. I was hoping to offload some binders for free, but no one inquired. I'm sure I blend into the crowd very well, but it always adds to the enjoyment of a show to meet some of the folks that you see on the interwebs.
Our other friend Steve that came with us the first couple days had a different take on things. It was his first National, and he was, in fact impressed by the scale of the show. His rather cynical view otherwise was that there were all these older guys who had collected for decades - and had collected much nicer stuff than he had ever seen - and now they are sitting at tables trying to get rid of it all before they pass away and their relatives have to deal with the cards that they know nothing about. Hopefully not many people carried away such a demoralizing impression. (I don't think so.)
As for me, I give the show a B-. I expected and observed the takeover by the flippers and mojo hunters. It's America, so they can do what they want (as long as they're not hampering the availability of cards for the rest of us.) But that being said, this year's show offered a somewhat diminished selection for what I'm looking for. I did better in the shops around Michigan that Stuart and I visited in the week following the Chicago trip. As I say often, I'm not the type of collector or customer that the card industry hype machine operates for, so I saw exactly what I thought I would. My view is far different from the average attendee, so the result isn't surprising.
Share your impressions in the comments if you made it to the convention!