Monday, March 30, 2015

Card Show Recap

I'm pretty methodical about my card shopping.  Maybe a little too much so.  On family vacations, I would always be in the back seat with my drawstring bag holding my portable cd player and a few cd's, a couple books to read, and a printout of the location and a map to just about any card shop within a 30 mile radius of the route we would be taking thanks to Topps' old Hobby Shop Locator.  And my wonderful parents were usually kind enough to indulge my insane thirst for cardboard with a trip to a couple card shops that were along our route.

I've always been to have incredibly patient and loving people in my lives.  Saturday morning was mapped out with military precision.  We were heading over my parents' to make chocolate covered eggs with my mom using my grandma's recipe.  It was a family tradition that every year grandma would make these flavored eggs, and this would be the first time we would be making them on our own since she died.  But on the way, Kate and I had stops planned at a flea market and then driving 10 minutes out of the way to hit a mall show before going over my parents'.  Just the way Kate wanted to spend Saturday morning, I'm sure.
 I knew pretty quickly the show was going to be bad.  It's the same promoter who runs the shows I have gone to the past two months at a mall closer to my parents.  Unfortunately, different mall, same dealers.  I had found some great cards at the flea market just minutes earlier, but it was still a little disappointing.  Though I'm sure Kate didn't mind the fact that I wouldn't be there too long, since she has been trying to cut back on clothes buying and having to kill time in a mall isn't the most conducive way to do that.

As I walked the line of six dealers, there was only one new face from the usual crowd.  I was thrilled to find a box of 1993 Studio for just $5.

As I was waiting for him to count out my change, I looked down at his display case.  I'm not usually a "display case card" kind of guy.  My buying is usually more firmly cemented in the discount boxes.  

But I spotted this Cal Hogue Heritage Real Ones auto sitting with a $15 price tag.  I asked the dealer if he could do any better, and was a little shocked when he said he could do $10.

The early Real Ones autographs have become damn near impossible to find.  The signature is a little darkened, but I can't be picky on such a tough find.  I have been trying to get a copy since about 2005 or 2006 when I started a project to collect an autograph of every Pirate who had a certified autograph at the time.  That project eventually snowballed out of control to my 14,500 card monstrosity of a collection.  But the Hogue auto has always been elusive.  Hogue was a good TTM signer before his death in 2005, but I didn't get a chance to get his auto on one of the various Archives preprint sets he was a part of.  And even then, the Heritage auto was a tough find, with autographs falling far less frequently than do in today's Heritage cases.

I definitely got a good deal, and perhaps even better than I had realized.  I couldn't find any copies listed on ebay or any completed sales.  A copy with an unfaded signature sold for $35 on COMC.  But I'm just thrilled to cross off a card that has been sitting on my want list for the better part of a decade.

 And of course it wouldn't be a card show without at least a little dimebox digging.  I stopped by the boxes of the guy I bought my monster box of Pirates off of last time.  It looked like largely the same inventory as the past two months, but I did find a few new additions.  There was a large stack of 2000 MLB Showdown cards.  I never played the game, but have been wanting to buy a starter set for a year or two.  I picked out about 30 different cards, hoping to give myself a little variety if I ever do decide to play.  Yes, I realize I'm about 13 years late to the party.
 I had a couple really positive card buying experiences this weekend at flea markets, which I'll save for their own post.  But card shows?  Maybe the mall show is dead.  Or at least around Pittsburgh.  I don't know.  But looking around as I walked past the cases of the same dealers with the same tired inventory made me wonder if there was another way.
 Granted the mall wasn't the best venue.  In the last 4 months the mall had a gigantic brawl with dozens of teens fighting and a shooting, both of which made national headlines.  I'm sure that has impacted foot traffic.  But the shows around this area just generally lack any kind of reference point to the realities of this hobby.
 When I was living in Ohio, the monthly show in Dayton felt like it was largely in step with the pulse of the hobby.  There were dime boxes and vintage dealers, guys peddling nothing but a table of high end autos and patches.  But there were also two or three dealers who could always be counted on to have singles of the latest products, priced in line with what the cards were actually worth.  When Heritage hit, commons were instantly available for a dime and most dealers had their short prints out at $2-3 each.  A product like Donruss would have common parallels in boxes for $1-2, the lower end game used and autographs priced reasonably, and a full array of lesser cards to pick through.
 I found a dealer with some Donruss and Heritage at this mall show.  Short prints were priced at $10.  Purple refractors at $5.  Most of the Donruss cards were priced at $5 as well.  Sure, you might get the occasional sale to the passerby who wants to buy his son a card of his favorite player and doesn't mind throwing $5 or $10.  But I never see any collectors buying.  I never see the table so packed you have to wait 15 minutes until you see somebody walk away and a spot open up.
I know those guys in Ohio made money.  I set up alongside them a few times, and they were pretty friendly in conversation about their strategy.  I had a completely different kind of inventory, and also bought from them often for my own collection, so they probably didn't see me as competition.  I want to support local shows.  I like digging through boxes, and want to see those opportunities continue to exist.  But this promoter is scheduled to hold shows every month, alternating between malls.

I'd have to be an idiot to go back next month, knowing I'll have to drive almost an hour to pick through the exact same boxes I did this month.  And walk past the same showcases as the month before.  Most of the dealers I talk to grumble about how a lot of people in this area are getting out of the hobby.  How it's not worth the time and energy any more.  But what incentive do buyers have to drive to a show to see the same overpriced and repetitive inventory month after month?  If you don't turn over inventory and stock fresh product, I have little incentive to spend a dime with you, or even look at your table.  That Ian Snell autograph I decided wasn't worth $8 in 2007?  Yeah, I still don't want to pay $8 for it today.

I know I've given variations of this same rant a few times on the blog.  But it was both frustrating and telling to come home from a weekend of card buying and have a stack of about 500 cards on my printer, only maybe 40 of which came from the most logical and likely place to find baseball cards I wanted to purchase - a baseball card show.

But that Heritage auto?  That made it all worth it.  I'd be an idiot to go back next month.  But I may in fact be an idiot.


  1. The shows here in Atlanta often have the same cards back from month to month, but we tend to get folks who do keep their inventory up to date.

    It sucks when you don't have folks keeping up. And yet, that Hogue auto made the trip worthwhile.

    Sometimes, card collecting feels like golf to me. I struggle to hit good shots, and I tend to get upset with myself when I try to play. But, there's always one thing -- one shot, one hole or, here, one card -- that will keep me coming back for more.

    1. There's definitely a disconnect somewhere. But for a town that is as sports crazy as Pittsburgh is, I just can't believe there isn't still a hardcore collecting base here.

      The pickups I found at the flea market right before this more than made up for the subpar show. But I'm starting to think maybe I'll just take a longer trip to somewhere like Canton or Columbus a few times a year to a bigger show than waste gas and time driving out to these rinky dink mall shows every month.

  2. I remember getting so frustrated with shows in the mid 2000's that I just stopped going. It is their cards and they can price them how they want, but sometimes you just feel like getting on the computer and showing the completed auction listings. Some people haven't realized that eBay is pretty much our price guide for better or worse.

    I'm hoping to come out of card show retirement for the Robert Morris show so maybe that will change my viewpoint.

  3. II usually just steer clear of the guys who are priced well above what I consider fair value, but this time that was 4 of the 6 guys set up. The thing that gets me more than anything is the lack of inventory turnover. I'll pay or even a little above ebay if you bring something I can't easily find online. But it ends up looking more like the autos you can find for under $2 on COMC priced at $8-10. At some point I start to wonder whether some of it has to do with the promoter and the way the tables are being priced or the show is promoted if these guys are the only types who will set up.

    I think Robert Morris will be enough to change your view. It's a lot of out of towners or guys who only do larger shows. The selection is a lot better, and the prices are the best you'll find when it comes to vintage. I think I have writeups from the past two shows on the blog, if you want to read back and get some idea of selection and pricing.

    1. I guess these guys just count on some random Mom to buy cards for their kids without knowledge of what they are buying. Back when I was active going to shows I would often see some pretty sleazy price gouging on unsuspecting people.

      I'm just hoping nothing pops up that prevents me from going to this show. Look forward to hopefully meeting you in person. Maybe some in person trading!

    2. Once again, I must be lucky. The people at the show I go to will always talk pricing, and the guys that do the best are the ones that give cards away to kids.

      There is one vendor who is a year younger than me who also went to Vanderbilt who has a container of junk wax to give away for free to young kids to give them something to rip. I watched the guy who runs the shows on the South side of town let a young kid pick 25 cards out of his Braves boxes to do the same thing -- keep kids interested.

      I guess I'm luckier than I thought when it comes to shows. And, if I were in your position, Mark, I'd probably just go to those big shows once or twice a year instead.

  4. I've seen similar stuff - freebies for kids, dealers that gave me discounts when I was a teenager that I looking back they almost had to be taking a loss on, etc. I always try to pay that kindness forward in the hobby as well. There were/are a lot of really great people who used to do shows around this area, but it seems like they either don't set up anymore or I hear they've gotten out of cards completely.

    It gets frustrating seeing people trying to squeeze every nickel out of buyers, and then at the same time groaning about how the hobby is dying and kids don't want to collect cards. But it's not all bad - I have a story from my flea market trip that was the complete opposite of this card show.

  5. I have this same experience with my LCS. I see the same exact cards every time I go there (which isn't often), all at wildly overpriced rates. You'd think people would get the hint after years of sitting on the same card with no buyers. Looks like you got to dig through a decent dime box, though! And that Real One auto is terrific.

    P. S. -- You're never too late to the MLB Showdown party!

    1. I was interested in Showdown from the day it came out, but have never played a single inning. Most of my friends and I were into Magic: The Gathering then and played constantly, but none of them were baseball fans. The mechanics are largely the same. I may get a starter deck and see if I can con Kate or one of my friends into playing a few games.

      I've seen some custom "Update" sets to Showdown, so those possibilities alone are pretty intriguing.