Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Method to the Madness

I'll admit it.  I'm an over-planner.  Whether it's a full out vacation or just anal retentively knowing the parking options on an routine trip to the city, I hate going anywhere without a plan.  Card shows are no different.

Large shows offer tons of options, but the sheer size means it can take a while just to get an idea of what is available.  My typical show strategy is admittedly a little nutty, but it works for me.  And just like any math problem, there's an order of operations that must be followed for a good show trip.

Step 1: The lay of the land

The first step is always doing a quick walk through the show floor to get an idea of what is where.  The Robert Morris show usually follows a relatively similar layout year in and year out - insanely drool worthy high end vintage in the first two rows, discount vintage dealers grouped towards the middle rows, and a scattering of modern dealers mixed in the center rows. 

A quick pass can usually give me a fair idea of how much time I'll want to spend at a table.  Dime boxes piled sky high?  Sign me up.  Discount piles?  Yes please.  Anything that included signs or stickers showing Book Value?  Maybe I'll stop by on Sunday, after I hit every single other table.  Twice.

Step 2: From the bottom up
The initial pass gives me a chance to see what all is out there, and scout out the tables that I want to hit earliest.  The show will open at 3pm Friday, and traffic is usually light the first day.  The early bird attendees are usually a mixed bag - but for the most parts it's largely part time hobbyists who are looking to complete vintage sets, or big spenders looking for high end pieces.  As a vintage-heavy show, it means modern finds can be hit or miss.  But it also means that early on there are a lot of great deals on mid range modern cards.  Just my style. 

Any tables showing off boxes of $.25 or $.50 serial numbered cards immediately get moved to the top priority.  There are lots of out of town dealers who are clearing out overstock at rock bottom prices, but often the Pittsburgh area dealers will be going after these cheap cards to add to their inventory and sell at "hometown prices"  during the weekend.   By mid-day Saturday there won't be a single Pens/Steelers/Pirates numbered card to be found, so I look to grab them early.

Step 3:  Sign me up, on the cheap

Cheap autographs.  Who doesn't love them?  There are a few dealers that are usually a safe bet to have boxes of $1 and $2 autographs.  At this point I have the vast majority of the common low end Pirate autos, but I'm always on the lookout for possible additions to my Pens, Steelers, and college collections.  Plus the occasional "I love the 90's" pickup.

Step 4: Filling the Vintage Holes

Which sounds very, very wrong.  The show is always very vintage heavy, which is the prime opportunity to dig through discount vintage boxes.  I'm not too picky on condition, so the cards that many set collectors seeking mint copies will pass over are eagerly added to my piles.  A soft corner or bad centering is never enough to keep me away.

Step 5: To the Dime Boxes!
With all the more in demand scores explored, it's time to kick back, relax, and find a few dime box digs to camp out with.  I've spent more than an hour or two just digging through commons boxes from some dealers with an exceptionally wide selection.  What can I say, I'm addicted.  And with some of my new mini collections, I'm expecting even more find this year.
Step 6: Enjoy

Once I've hit all of my prime targets, built up a few nice stacks of cards for my brown paper bag, and spent a dent into my weekend's time to just kick bag, wander around, and scope out any tables I missed.  You never know what you'll find at some of the most unsuspecting tables.  The show is a 3 day show, and I typically go at least two of the three days (depending on budget, weekend plans, and how much time my body can handle standing on a concrete floor hunched over cardboard boxes).  It's my Cardboard Christmas, and the show always sends me home with a great stack of new additions.  This year should be no exception.

So tomorrow it's off to the show.  Again, if anyone has any specific requests they'd like me to look out for don't hesitate to ask.  I already have a list of blogger mini collections and interests made up, so some of you will undoubtedly be getting some new cards dumped on you after the weekend is over.


  1. I should start utilizing Step #1 at shows. I usually just dive right in without taking a quick walk through all the tables. I might be able to get a better feel for the show if I start doing that.

    Best of luck tomorrow! May the dime boxes (and everything else) be filled with treasure.

    1. There are always exceptions, and I've decided I just couldn't pass up stopping at a table before I complete the walk through. But for bigger shows that are vintage heavy, it's a big help. There have been a few times when I walked past a table and wanted to stop for their "$1 vintage" box, and a few minutes later I come across a box that's $.50 or 3/$1 with pretty similar cards.