Thursday, May 24, 2018

Regional Flavor

One of my side hobbies over the last few months has been working on improving my talents in the kitchen.  I've always enjoyed cooking, and have always been able to put together a pretty decent meal.  But recently I've been trying to reconnect with my Italian roots a little better through my stomach.

Both my dad's parents were Italian immigrants, but growing up in my house my mom's cooking was more likely to be burgers, meat loaf, or tuna noodle casserole than hand rolled pastas.  For me cooking has been a way to reconnect with grandparents who died when I was young, and a cultural history that got quickly forgotten in the push to "Americanize."  But the thing I really love about Italian food?  How different each region's cuisine is, and how the foods they cook tell the story of the people, resources, and location.

And in some weird ways, I see card collecting to be very similar.  If you've been fortunate enough to attend card shows in different parts of the county, you quickly realized that collectors in different areas collect very differently.
Growing up in the Pittsburgh area, shows were always a fairly consistent recipe.  Some dime boxes, where it always felt like I was the only buyer, dollar boxes of toploadered star cards, a showcase of higher end stuff - usually Pittsburgh autographs with the occasional national star, and memorabilia.  Autographed helmets, programs, photos, bobbleheads, VHS tapes, McFarlane figures.  You name it, and it would probably pop up at a show in the area.
It's the old nature/nurture debate.  I have to think that my collecting interests are a product of my environment.  See, as a teen when I started going to shows, jumping into the otherwise unoccupied dime boxes was the easiest entry point.  I didn't have to jockey for position with grown men like I would have needed to in the higher end boxes, and at that age it fit my budget perfectly.  And while much of the memorabilia was out of my price range, McFarlane figures were the natural evolution to the SLU figures I loved as a kid.  And from 2003-2006 I built up a sizable collection that covered the shelves in my bedroom.  Vintage was almost never seen, and never at prices below near full book.

But I was the exception, not the rule.  Memorabilia is huge in this area.  At the Pittsburgh show, there were lots of people who only came for the autograph guests, never even bothering to leave the autograph room to look at the hundreds of dealer tables.  They would just sit on the floor (often right in the middle of the floor...) waiting for the next autograph line they needed.  And showcase cards seem to sell well, as long as it's a Steeler, Penguin, or well...that's about it now.  For a while McCutchen was in that category as well.  The big show seems to bring out the vintage set guys, but they're rarely seen at any other shows throughout the year. There's a decided flavor to collectors here, but I always just figured it wasn't all that different from the rest of the collecting communities across the country.

I grew up in the area, moved to the city for college, and down to West Virginia for grad school.  So my collecting world never really went beyond the Pittsburgh metro area.  Sure, ebay and COMC came into my life.  As I aged I had more money in my pockets.
But it wasn't until we moved to western Ohio, a few months before I started this blog, that I found that the collecting wasn't nearly as homogenous as I thought.  The Ohio card scene was completely different than my experiences in Pittsburgh.  Dime and nickel (!) boxes were packed with collectors, to the point it was tough to even get a spot.  Where I think I was literally the only Pirates collector going to shows in Pittsburgh, there were suddenly team collectors for Reds, Indians, and Tigers digging through boxes alongside me.  Often we'd agree to pull all the cards of the other team we found in boxes for each other to save time.  And vintage!  Oh the vintage!
Ohio was my first introduction to the glory of discount vintage bins.  You mean...I can add 1954 Topps cards for $1?  Fifty cents for '75 Mini's? 

I never quite put my finger on why, but the collecting communities in these areas, only a few hours apart, had developed quite differently.  And as I started blogging and seeing the hauls other bloggers would bring back from their shows, I started to get a sense of their collecting worlds as well.

After the show, I had some nice exchanges on twitter with other collectors about how different regions collect.  And it really isn't something you'd ever notice unless you are a dealer or have lived in different areas.  Some are hit-centric, and dime boxes would sit untouched for a full weekend.  Other areas go wild for the low end stuff but showcase cards rarely get an eyeball on them.  I'm sure local teams, the economy, and any other number of factors influence how collectors collect.

But it's just one more thing that makes the hobby that much more interesting.  For me?  I'm happy where I'm at and how I collect.  Everything in this post except the Clemente (which only ran me $3) came from dime boxes.  Most of them were found on the second day of the show.  In other markets, those cards would have been long gone.  And in some markets they would have been in those boxes the whole weekend, unsold.  Luckily for me they were there for me to add to my pile, part of a great weekend of finds for my collection.

So what's the collecting community like in your area?  Has anyone found completely different collecting habits in the places they've lived?

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Card Show Recap

You never know exactly what you're going to find when you walk into a card show.  Sure, if it's a show that happens pretty regularly you can probably expect to see the same dealers.  But over the years I've found many of my best show purchases have come from the stranger who pops up once and is never seen again.  Maybe it's a collector selling off a chunk of their collection or a dealer who wants to give a new show a try.  But at least around here the same old dealers usually mean the same old inventory.  So fresh faces are always welcome.

Our big annual show has become increasingly vintage heavy, as I wrote in my show preview.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  The show draws dealers from across the country, and brining in some of the bigger inventory sellers who do the National and other major shows usually means better selection and lower prices.  Vintage commons that I routinely see at $2-3 at local show are suddenly in $.50 or 3/$1 piles.  Where even low grade Stargell and Clementes would be listed at close to full book, suddenly there are well loved copies available for less than a cup of coffee.

My problem is that once I have a card, I have it.  Mission accomplished and on to the next one.  And as the vintage tables grew and grew, my needs shrunk and shrunk.  Last year there was only one dealer who had any 2018 cards, and those were just some Topps and Bowman commons.

This year was much, much better.  The balance was restored to the force, and I'd say it was close to a 50/50 split. 

My vintage buying scaled back a lot this year, partially out of time and spending constraints.  With multiple dealers with tables full of dime and quarter boxes, I didn't have the time to spend digging through vintage dealers.  And at the same time, it was becoming a losing proposition.  When my needs are down to a couple key cards - Clemente, Stargell, Maz, or high numbers - for most sets, it wasn't worth spending 20 or 30 minutes rummaging through discount bins with the hopes of maybe finding one card I needed.  At the same time, I'm still not ready to bite the bullet and pay for convenience.  There are vintage dealers who have cards in numeric order, or have crisp copies neatly in binders.  But the prices there match the card quality.  Which is to say way more than I want to spend.
Still, I was able to add a handful of vintage to the collection, including a small stack of Post cards for fifty cents to a dollar each.  My big pickup was this 1965 Stargell for $2.  It's seen better days, but give me a nice placeholder if/when I should ever want to upgrade.


My autograph luck also continued.  I saw a dealer with a lot of autographs, including a two row box full of Pittsburgh stuff.  But every time I walked by the table, someone was in the box.  At one point I camped out looking through their other boxes, waiting for a guy to finish looking through.  It was a two row with all the cards in toploaders - not something that should take all that long to go through.  I looked through the other 8-10 boxes the dealer had out, and this guy - maybe in his late 50's and didn't look all that familiar with cards - was still slowly thumbing through the pile, stopping for 5-10 seconds to stare at each card.  He was still in the first row.  I probably spent half an hour at the table, patiently waiting.  The guy finished the box and had a small stack of 5 or so cards pulled out.  ...and then he went back and started going through the box all over again.

Exasperated, I walked away to find another table to go through.  Whatever treasure that box held wasn't worth losing any more valuable time at the show.  A little later I saw the box open and swooped in.  I mentioned to the dealer that I had been waiting for a couple hours to look through the box, but a guy had been going through the cards at glacial speed.  The dealer said yeah, the guy put most of what he pulled back and bought one card for a couple bucks.  He was looking in the box nearly an hour.  Yikes.

But it was indeed worth the wait.  The dealer was a fellow TTM collectors from Cleveland, and it was nice chatting about autographs.  I ultimately was able to snag two signatures I needed at a great price.  Cal Abrams died in 1997 and Bob Miller was a member of the '71 Pirates and died in a car crash in 1993.  I paid $13 for the pair.  The weekend additions puts me over 60% completion on autographs of Pirates who played from 1950-the present.  Of course that includes most of the easy TTM signers and guys with certified autos, so it only gets tougher from here.  Still, I was somewhat surprised to find I've made that much progress on the 1,000+ guys who have suited up for the team over that time.


 But after a couple years of nearly being shut out on modern cards, the newer stuff was where most of my money went.  And I was lucky to find deals a-plenty.

 This Andrew McCutchen Heritage rookie is the only card missing from my team set, and was an absolute steal at $1.
A couple less stellar seasons may not have been great for Cutch, but it's been a boost to my collection.  Even commons had been hard to come across the last few years.  But this year, Cutch was out in full force.  I was able to snag a nice stack of Donruss Optic refractors of various colors from one dealer all for $.25-.50.  And I've always had a sweet spot for All-Star game giveaway cards.  For $1 I was thrilled to knock one off my want list that I had been after for some time.

 I usually stick to non-hits at shows.  Unless it's a $1 or $2 box, buying autos and game used cards at shows is usually a losing proposition in this area.  You're usually paying a local markup that is at least 25% above ebay.  But with some non-local dealers in town it opened up some opportunities.  While I already have a couple Frank Thomas autographs in my collection, I loved Upper Deck's late 90's autograph sets.  And Kevin Newman is likely going to be the Pirates starting SS sometime between now and next season, so for $3 a rookie auto /25 seemed like a worthwhile pickup.

And one of my favorite pickups of the weekend was this triple jersey card.  I know jersey cards are far out of favor these days, but I guess there's a little bit of making up for lost time here.  When jersey cards were at their peak in the early 00's, the Pirates were nowhere to be found.  So many beautiful multi-players cards were released, and every time I would check the checklist hoping for a Pirate card.  And they almost never existed.  So for $3, this was a nice trip back to my mid 2000's collecting heyday. 

It was a great two days for me and my collection.  I added a lot of new cards, but also had the most fun at a show that I've had in a long time.  I'll probably be laying pretty low when it comes to card buying until the National this summer.  But the sorting and organizing on all the cards I picked up over the last few days should keep me occupied until then anyway.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Weekend at the Card Show: It's All About Relationships

I just had the best two days of card show buying that I've had in a long, long time.  As I mentioned in my last post, the annual big Pittsburgh show had become increasingly vintage heavy over the last couple years.  Well, fortunately that trend headed in the other direction this year. 

While it was still lacking in some areas when it came to hot recent releases like Bowman, there was a wide selection of dime boxes and mid-end cards that were right up my alley.  I'll have a couple more broad recap posts coming up over the next few days.

But today I wanted to drill down a little further on why I love going to card shows to much: the people.

Don't get me wrong.  I'm well aware this hobby has more than its fair share of scammers, obnoxious 12 year olds bragging about how much their collection is "worth," used car salesmen, and grumpy old men insistent that a card is worth its sale price circa 1992.  But there are also a lot of friendly, genuine people who share common interests in sports, cards, and who knows what else.

My favorite purchases of the weekend came directly from striking up conversations with dealers. 

I'm a naturally chatty person.  If I'm going to spend 30 minutes to an hour standing at a table, neck hunched down killing my neck and back while going through box after box of dime cards, you can sure as hell bet I'm not doing it in silence.

I know many collectors have the approach that dealers are just there to total you up and take your cash at the end of the transaction.  But I like to strike up a conversation, and most dealers seem to be the same way.  After all, if you're spending the weekend standing around the same table all weekend, leaving only to occasionally run to the bathroom, a little friendly conversation is probably welcomed.

With the venue change from a university out by the airport to a convention center on the complete other end of town, I was genuinely interested in how traffic was for the dealers compared to years past.

I stopped by the table of one dealers who I have known from shows going back over a decade.  In the mid 2000's he always the best selection of Pirates inserts and autos, and would always have some Jack Wilson cards I needed.  He opened a shop a few years back, the local shows fell apart, and I haven't bought from him much since just out of circumstance rather than anything intentional.  He had some stuff out of current Pirates, but nothing that caught my eye.  I asked if he had anything else with him that wasn't out.

After rifling around in some boxes, he pulled out a couple small stacks and some random binder pages, saying there probably wasn't anything great there but I was welcome to take a look.
He was wrong.  I asked for a price on this Giles auto.  He said $3.  Even with the lazy initials autograph (remember when Donruss would have the players write nicknames or random stuff on stickers and then use those for the low numbered cards?  Yeah, this is what you get.  BG.  Very creative, Brian.)  The Bay black frame at the top of the post /25?  $1.

I also did find one card from his boxes that were out.  Everything was half book, so a little on the high side.  This Andy LaRoche auto is one I haven't seen before, so at $4 it was the same price as two much better cards of much better players.  But late 00's Upper Deck had some wonky print runs that were rarely announced.  And if I haven't seen the card before, odds are it's pretty uncommon. 

I was thrilled with the prices, and very happy to add the cards to my collection.  But having dealers who know you, remember what you collect, and will give you a good price to move things they know you want, but you also may be the only buyer for?  You can't get that on ebay or COMC.  It was nice to chat about the local card scene, the lack of shows, and pick up three cards that may have been my favorite pickups of the show.

May have been.

Because I also bought these.

I was looking over a dealer's table.  He had some nice vintage out of my price range, and a small binder of 70's and 80's autographs for $1-2.  As I flipped through, he asked if I was looking for anything particular.  I said I was looking for Pirates, but it looked like most of what he had had already been sold.  I had picked out a Glenn Wilson auto for $1, and explained to him that I'm working on getting autographs of every Pirate who played for the Bucs from the end of WWII to the present.
Wilson has a few Pirate cards, but they seem to be tough to find signed.  We chatted for a few minutes about autographs.  He's from Toledo, about an hour north of where I had lived in Lima.  Apparently years before we moved out there he did shows in Lima that were among the best in the area, but the card scene was dead when I lived there.

In the middle of our conversation, he said "Hold on." and turned around to grab a box.  It was a 800 count box of autographs.  He said he hadn't priced them out yet, but I seemed like an actual collector so pull out anything I needed and he'd give me a good price.



 

I found four autographs I needed.  All of these guys are Latin American players who are very tough signatures to get.  One of the big draws of the show for me had been that Mario Mendoza was signing.  He's been an autograph I have wanted to add for quite a while, but his signing prices are a little higher than I wanted to pay for mail-in signings.  But since he was at the show I was going to bite the bullet and pay $15 for an auto. 

I asked what the prices were for the 4 cards.  He said $15.  The dealer knew what he had, knew Mendoza was signing at the show for $15 for one signature.  But instead I was able to add 4 tough autos, including Mendoza, for that price.  And I don't think any of that could or would have happened if I had just stood there silently looking through cards, handed the guy a dollar for the Wilson, and walked off.

It was a great show, and I added a couple hundred new Pirate cards.  But I had so many great conversations with dealers.  I talked with two guys from Delaware and Philly about shows out there and the crazy prices for Eagles players autos post-Super Bowl.  I talked with a lady who grew up right down the road from my house, and who apparently used to cut out of school to smoke not far from my back yard.  For all the frustrations in this hobby, for the greed and the dollar-chasing, there are some really interesting people.  It was fun spending two days going through boxes and adding some wonderful cards to my collection.  But I really loved discussing collecting with others who have the same interests.  Next time you're at a show or flea market, chat up the dealer.  You never know what gems they might have sitting behind the table.









Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Calm Before the Show

This weekend is the big annual Pittsburgh card show.  The hobby pulse has been stagnating in this area for quite some time, so having one good sized show a year is about all we have going.  But this year the show is moving from its usual location at one of the local universities to a mid-sized convention center on the other side of Pittsburgh.  Some of the hub-bub I've heard from dealers is they aren't sure if there will be as many dealers this year, or how the turnout will be.

I guess time will tell.  I spent some time this week running through my vintage needs.  One of the great things about my recent conversion to Trading Card Database is that I'll be able to easily and conveniently snag my needs lists on my phone.  In past years I have tried using my Excel list in Google Sheets or pulling up my collection website to check needs, but TCDB should be significantly easier to navigate and read through to spot what cards I'm missing.

But there is one little problem.  Over the last few years the show has become increasingly vintage heavy.  Like to the point that only a handful of dealers have any modern at all.  We're talking about a show that has a couple hundred tables, not your local mall show with 30 tables.  And of that handful, about half are guys with high end stuff.  Graded cards, Steeler autos, etc.  Nice cards.  Not my speed.

It's still a good show, and I've found some great additions to my collection.  But my haul gets smaller and smaller every year. 

I really enjoy vintage cards.  But my issue is that I just need one.  One copy.  I don't really care about condition, or centering.  I just want a copy that will fill the page in my binder.  If I can find an upgrade down the road, great.  But I'm not someone that will spend hours scouring 6 different dealers looking for a PSA 6 copy of some 1964 common.  I'll grab my copy for $.50 with slightly soft corners or a little paper loss on the back and call it mission complete.

The show has been great for building my vintage team sets.  I remember a time when my Pirates vintage collection consisted of 5 or 6 cards.  I'm now close to complete team sets from 1953 on up, only missing some high dollar Clemente and Stargells and some of the dreaded high numbers.

My formula is pretty simple.  My first priority is nice, strong colors.  If a card has good color and no issues with the print job, that trumps any other glaring issues.  I also try to avoid noticeable creases.  Soft corners really don't bother me.  The sharper the better, obviously.  But if a card has great colors and rough corners, it's still a winner in my book.  It's not foolproof, but I've been able to build pretty nice looking vintage team sets without paying more than $3/card for anyone but Clemente.  Most of the 60's commons have been bought for $.50 or lower, and around $1/card for the 50's cards.

I love collecting on a budget, and seeing what the nicest copy I can get for my money will be.  But after years of chasing my team sets, it's losing its appeal.  After all, my team sets are nearly complete.  Years past, I could spend half an hour digging through a dealer's discount vintage box and find some real gems for my collection.  But now there may only be one or two cards I need in that box.  Is it still worth the half hour?  I'm sure there are collectors who come back year after year to the same vintage dealers, upgrading this card or that or starting a new set.  But for me?  My vintage race is just about run.  So let's hope the rest of the show carries its weight.

Nonetheless, I'm looking forward to seeing what I can come up with for myself and hopefully grab some goodies for my trading pals.  After all, the show only comes once a year.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Catching Up On Mail: An Unexpected Prize from the Astrodome

It's been a lot of fun being back to blogging, actively talking about collecting on Twitter, and exchanging packages with my Team Collector pals.  But it also threw me back into the one part of collecting I had repressed: mail avalanches.

There has been a steady stream of packages coming in.  And I haven't had time to properly thank the senders, let alone get through the cataloging and sorting that needs to happen.

And my process has become a little more complicated recently.  Following some twitter exchanges, I followed some good collecting advice and checked out Trading Card Database.  I remember taking a look at both TCDB and Zistle years ago, probably around 2013 when I first started blogging.

The checklists were still very much a work in progress.  But at the time I loved Zistle's clean layout, collector community, and ease of uploading cards to their database.  I dabbled with it, adding a few thousand cards, but never jumping in the deep end.

And I assume you know where things went from there.  Beckett has ruined many a good thing in this hobby.  But taking a second look at TCDB, I found the checklists were a lot more developed than my last visit.  Duh, five years will do that.  And the checkbox feature to add cards is incredibly easy.  While it's not the prettiest site in the world, I've been adding cards.  I'm around 8,000 of my 18,000 Pirates.  And while I still have some reservations about the site - tracking cards I don't count like Hawaii Trade Show and Chicago Sun Times that were just re-stamped base cards, and the always looming threat of legal action -I love the idea of being to easily build and manage a needs list.
But I'm still maintaining my Excel database of my collection.  I have a program that exports my Excel collection into webpages for my collection website.  So it's almost unavoidable that I'll need to double enter new additions.  Not a problem, unless the new additions back up as they have now.

I got a surprise package from Bru from Remember the Astrodome.  I had won a little contest a couple months back, and was blown away when he sent some great oversized cards that were completely unknown to me.  Well little did I know apparently that was just part 1.  I got another, unexpected, package in the mail a couple weeks later filled with standard sized cards for part two of the prize.  But the contents were far from standard.

Bru sent a loaded package with some great cards.  My favorites by far were the Mazeroski Post and Topps Embossed he sent.  I'm a little jealous of other bloggers when I see their show or flea market hauls.  They almost always seem to include vintage Topps oddball sets, Post cards, or Kellogg's 3D sets.  I'm not sure if it had to do with regional distribution or just plain old bad luck, but those sets seem nearly impossible to come across in this area. 
I can probably count on one hand the number of times I've seen Kellogg's cards at shows in this area over the past 15 years.  When some of the bigger national vintage dealers roll through town I do occasionally come across Post cards.  But they aren't that common around here, and seem to be a distant afterthought behind Topps cards for many collectors.

More than anything, that circulation of cardboard is what I enjoy about being reconnected with my collecting network.  There are so many great cards out there, but it's all about being in the right place at the right time.  When I lived in Ohio there was a dealer who would regularly have entire boxes of Topps red and blue parallels.  I had no trouble building my 2013 team set and grabbing lots of extras for other collectors.  The guy had the damn things out for a dime a piece.  How could I not?

But since then?  I never see them.  Dealers don't bust large quantities of retail in this area, so this Charlie Morton may be my first from the 2014 set.
 Bru sent a great stack of game used and auto cards.  I loved Upper Deck's sets circa 2006-2008.  While it wasn't the most inspired work ever, they had huge auto checklists of basically every rookie imaginable.  Sure, some of the autos were total duds.  But it was nice to see every team have 3-5 players signing throughout the year.  It's something that I've appreciated more with time as Topps continues to churn out the same limited auto subjects set after set.  The Pirates are rarely even represented on auto checklists, and if they are it's the same handful of guys who have been popping up for the past 5 years.
 So a big thanks to Bru for the great prize packages.  If you'll excuse me I need to spend some time this evening digging out from cardboard mountain.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Kicking Off Flea Market Season

Saturday turned into my lame adult version of a whirlwind adventure.  I headed to bed pretty down Friday over a job offer that fell through due to some shady behind the scenes politics.  Saturday was Free Comic Book Day, and for the past 6 years it's been an annual tradition that we would go to a store south of Pittsburgh and meet up with a couple of my good friends from my time in Morgantown.

But Kate was in Chicago playing roller derby, and our West Virginia friends were in New York City for the weekend.  I had made tentative plans earlier in the week with my old roommate from college to go to FCBD, but I was pretty sure I wasn't going to feel up to doing much of anything when I woke up on Saturday.

I woke up Saturday feeling about how I expected, but figured moping around the house alone all day wasn't going to do much good.  So off to the comic store it was.  I wouldn't exactly call myself a comic book person.  I'm certainly not a collector, and just about the only single issues I own are the ones I've gotten on free comic book days.  But I enjoy reading the collected editions.  I enjoy some of the great sci-fi and horror comics out there, moreso than most of the superhero stuff.  But as a proper English nerd, I love good storytelling.  And comics open up some really interesting opportunities that just aren't there when you're working with just text. 

Plus I like supporting local businesses.  So my friend met me at the house around 10 and we headed off to the comic store.  As always it was a great time.  From what I've read, many comic stores let visitors pick one, two, or three free books.  The books are free to customers, but there's still cost involved for the stores.  And I suppose they don't want to be spending money on the many kids and casual readers who come out of the woodwork on FCBD.  But the store we always go to, Pittsburgh Comics, lets you take anything you'd like and puts out a lot of other promotional books in additional to the free comic day titles.  It's been a great way for me to discoverother titles I'm interested in, and the extra effort the store puts into FCBD to go above and beyond makes me happy to shop there year throughout the year.  In addition to the free books, I was able to get some great buy 2 get 1 free deals that made for an awesome day.

So you're probably wondering where the flea market ties in here.  We were headed back home after a great time at the comic store when I asked if my friend had ever been to the flea market that's a few exits away from the comic store.  He hadn't.  We were a good 20 minutes in the opposite direction, but what are two guys with nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon to do?  We headed to the flea market.

The weather was beautiful, but it was past noon by the time we pulled in.  From the parking lot I could see vendors already packing up or already driving away.  A rushed walk though didn't yield anything of interest for either of us.  But there's also an indoor section of vendors.  Many were already tarped over and closed up, but I spotted one card vendor.  I headed over to a box while my friend keyed in on some boxes of records the guy had.

My haul wasn't nearly as impressive as my takeaway from the comic store, but I was happy to add some new cardboard.
The gem was this Chris Duffy 2002 Traded black refractor.  Pirate black and gold refractors always look great, and the 2002 design may be my favorite.  The 2002 Pirates traded set was prospect heavy, and the Pirates had some surprisingly decent players in it.  Chris Duffy is the last of the significant rookies I needed.  I already have black refractors of Ryan Doumit and Jose Bautista (which I got long before he became a homer hitting machine), so it was nice to complete the trio.

What really drew me in was spotting cards I had never seen before.  It always amazes me when I see a card I didn't know existed.  I've been pretty involved in the hobby going back to the late 90's, and obsessively collecting Pirates since the early 2000's.  So what I see a card for the first time, it's an interesting experience. 
I don't mean have never seen a copy.  I mean full on "huh, never knew that set existed" sort of way.  The Classic Clippings die cut insert is really cool.

And the other cards are apparently from a Stuart bread release that came as a tri-panel card.  Jim Morrison is the third in the set, though he didn't make the scan.  It's my first time coming across either set, so they're welcome additions.
2001 Studio is a set I opened a few packs of in various repacks back in the day.  But I have one lone card from the set - the Jack Wilson rookie, which was nearly impossible to find.  It's a great design, so it was nice to find a base card.
For whatever reason, this particular flea market seems to be the go-to place for oddball cards.  I've seen quite a few different cards there that either were completely unknown to me or are typically tough to find.  The Giles card is apparently a Post Cereal insert from 2003 that I had never seen, and the Doumit is from a 2009 Topps Attax product I didn't know existed.  It's always fun to expand my hobby knowledge.
My haul was pretty modest.  I spent $7 at the flea market, and came home to discover that of the 25 dime cards I snagged I already owned 13 of them.  Oops.  My friend did a lot better, grabbing a nice stack of vinyl and a couple of Moby cassette tapes.  Apparently cassettes are an underappreciated format in his eyes.  I'm not quite sold on that argument, but we were both happy campers.

It was a slow start to flea market season, but for a day I hadn't actually planned on going to a flea market it was a great start.  I'm looking forward to getting out there in the next couple weeks and being able to spend a little more time.  But overall it was a great way to spend a Saturday morning and afternoon.


Monday, May 7, 2018

The Evolution of COMC

In case you weren't aware, COMC is running their annual Spring Cleaning sale.  And if you weren't aware, welcome to the club.  I happened to come across information that the sale was taking place on pure happenstance.  I've recently jumped on the Trading Card Database bandwagon to add my Pirates collection.  There are some errors in the team tags, and in order to get editing ability I needed to make a forum post to prove I wasn't one of the feared internet robots.  So I hopped over to their forum and noticed the most recent thread was "COMC Spring Cleaning Sale Next Week."

I found it funny, because the day before I had checked COMC to see if they had announced anything.  The Spring Cleaning sale has been a bit of a moving target.  Usually it's in the Spring.  One year I think they forgot about it and it ended up happening in mid-June.  Had I not seen that thread on a forum that I will likely not visit again, I probably would have missed it completely.  I don't frequent Blowout or FCB these days.  I'm plenty active on twitter, but tweets can be easily missed.  And COMC did send out an email, but I registered under an old email account I rarely check.

But the bigger point - one of their two major annual promotions is taking place, and it seemed to get announced quietly with little advance warning.  I've been buying on COMC since 2010, and it's still my primary go-to for online card buying.

But the COMC I see today is a lot different than the site I first joined.  Late last night I loaded $20 onto my account and primed for shopping.  That's usually enough to get me started and grab the best bargains before flippers snap them up.  Then I'll add more funds as needed throughout the sale.  But that $20?  It usually lasts me through 45 minutes of searching and buying.  As I sit here typing at 1pm, 13 hours after the sale went live, I spent $12.  And that's after searching for Pirates, Steelers, Pens, 2000 refractors, 2001 Donruss cards, 2000 Ultimate Victory, 2005 Zenith, and a whole host of player collections.

All that.  And a handful of purchases.  And if you follow this blog, you know I'm not exactly a picky buyer.

But I am a low end buyer.  And when I first joined COMC, that was the place to be.  I scooped up hundreds of low end autos, cheap serial numbered cards, and other treasured additions that much of the mainstream hobby probably considers "junk."  And as a team collector and proud dime box digger, that's the heart and soul of my collection.

At the time, COMC's fee structure encouraged people to send in large batches of cards that would be considered worthless.  They ran submission specials frequently, would give people store credit on their first submission, and submission rates worked out to somewhere around $.10 per card if I'm remembering correctly.  Not hard to turn a small profit with little work.

Times change.  Fees get raised.  I get all that.  But it also seems like the nature of what gets submitted has changed, particularly as COMC has worked in Amazon and Ebay integration.  Where recently submitted cards used to be akin to what I'd find in a quarter or fifty cent box, as I scroll through COMC many of the cards are the higher end variety that used to be ebay-only.  Now sellers can get their cards listed across platforms without doing much work.  It makes sense, it does.  Send your card off to COMC, they do the heavy lifting, and you can set your price as sky high as you want waiting for it to sell.  But that's not my collection.  Those cards don't interest me.

It's just one more space I feel squeezed out of as a collector.  Go to a show, at least in this area, and you're likely to see two types of cards - high end modern and vintage.  Again, it makes sense.  That's where the interest is, and that's where the money is.  Ironically, that accounts for just a small percentage of cards that get produced.  Seeing COMC following the same route is disappointing. 

The blame can't be heaped on COMC explicitly.  After all, they're just the venue for sellers.  If sellers would rather submit high end than low and mid end cards, it is what it is.  But there are certainly ways to encourage wider submissions.  And things like throwing up a major sale with little warning can definitely account for the small percentage of sellers participating in this year's Spring Cleaning.

I'm having more fun collecting than I have in years.  But it can be tough to feel like I'm not swimming upstream against the hobby current sometimes.  Oh, and if you weren't aware, check out the COMC sales.  Hopefully you have better luck than I did.