Sports Collectors

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a ‘National’ Rookie

Last week, I mentioned that I would be attending my first ever National Sports Collectors Convention show. It’d been a goal of mine to get to one and I safely made the trip to Chicago this week.

The highlight of my trip was picking up a T207 Louis Lowdermilk card. Known as one of the toughest cards in the set, it helped me complete the standard 200-card set and that alone made the trip worth it. But what did I notice in Chicago this past weekend at my first National? Here are ten of my own personal observations of the event.

Prices Were Healthy: I should clarify this one a bit and state preemptively that I didn’t find many of the prices outrageous. Sure, some were but most seemed to be about what you’d expect to pay in this day and age.

That said, prices were definitely not low, either. I found some bargains but many of my purchases, admittedly, were impulse buys that were, at best, market rate.

I did talk to many folks that felt the prices were too high. But they were not so high to scare off customers, either. Every dealer that I asked, to a person, said that they were having an excellent show and lots of sales were being made.

I Was Really (Really) Sore

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a 'National' Rookie

The most common tip I got from those that had been at the event before was to wear comfortable shoes. I did that but still confess to leaving the show each day in a crumpled up mess of aches and pains.

I attended the show for only about two hours on Thursday but quickly realized what I was in for. Even in that short amount of time, my feet were sore and my body was aching by the time I got back to the hotel. And just as I recovered each morning, by the end of the day, I was back to square one from a pain standpoint.

Part of that is from being admittedly out of shape. But part of it, too, I’m convinced, was just walking around on a very hard floor for several hours. I’m not sure I’ve got any great tips for new National visitors in the future. Unless you’re in great shape, aches and pains are probably to be expected.

A small recommendation — there were lots of areas along walls where collectors (including this one) sat on the floor just to take a break from it all. Having chairs or benches lined up in those areas would be a great idea. Props to Heritage for hooking me up, though.

Chicago’s a Great Location

I loved the idea of going to Chicago and it didn’t disappoint. While there, I ventured out to eat at several spots and also had some deep dish pizza.

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a 'National' Rookie

There was plenty more to take advantage of in the city, too. Unfortunately, my sore feet and aching body didn’t allow for a lot of that. But all in all, it was great and super convenient.

Direct flights from almost anywhere, plenty of hotels nearby, easy to grab an Uber — the whole trip was just super convenient and I’m left with the impression that if the event was in the same place every year, Chicago would be a great place for it.

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The National is Big — But Not Too Big

Don’t misinterpret this — there were hundreds of dealers at the event. And if you were looking for a wide range of things, you could spend three days there and still struggle to see it all. But with a pre-war focus in mind, I was able to skip past a large number of tables that were more focused on modern cards or other collectibles.

I still needed a couple of days to do it but I felt that by the end of my second full day, I’d basically seen just about everything I needed to and I essentially covered the entire show floor in that time.

If your goal is to flip through every dime or dollar box in the joint, even three days won’t be enough. But I’d say that most folks can generally get through it with two full days.

You’ll See Stuff You’ve Never Heard Of

Part of the reason I wanted to attend the show was for the chance to see some really unique items. And whether you got to see a Honus Wagner T206 card for the first time or some other rarity, the show didn’t disappoint.

For me, I saw two unique items I’d never come across. One was a store display of the Black Stockings Nine 19th century tobacco cards.

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a 'National' Rookie

Many collectors have seen the tobacco cards of the female baseball players from the 1880s and some even know of the Black Stockings Nine cabinet cards. But there were actually a limited amount of even larger cards that were used as store display signs. Popular card dealers Tik and Tik had one of those at their booth and it was fantastic to see such a rarity up close.

Another great item I found was a set of store displays that were completely new to me — a set of six store display cards for Shirley President Suspenders. Believed to have been issued around 1900, this was a set of six cards featuring women playing sports wearing a brand of suspenders.  Not something you see every day.

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a 'National' Rookie

The key card is a baseball card but the others are just as tough to find and quite desirable, too. A seller not only had the baseball display but also the entire set shown here.

Those were just a couple of examples that stuck out to me. If you were there, you likely had your own share of cards that you were seeing for the first time.

Roller Bags are Annoying

As you’d expect, there was quite the crowd at the event. But my main nemesis wasn’t necessarily avoiding the people. Rather, it was trying avoid stepping on the roller bags that trailed behind them.

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Those were certainly convenient ways for folks to transport cards. But man, inside of that crowded convention center, they were all over the place and made navigating tricky in such a confined space.

Something for Everybody

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a 'National' Rookie

As I expected, there was a large mix of stuff available. That wasn’t only limited to cards, either. There were autographs, original vintage photographs, memorabilia, and a lot more.

The show is often referred to as the National or the National Card Convention. But the actual name, the National Sports Collectors Convention, is really the most appropriate. Cards and the many autograph guests are surely the focal point. But if you’re any sort of collector of sports-related items, the event is for you.

Doing it for the Kids

One really important theme, I thought, is that the event seemed packed with kids and that was really cool to see.

It definitely wasn’t like the shows of old when I was a kid growing up. Back then, you’d see just as many kids as adults at shows just because so many kids collected. But there was a large amount of kids there — certainly more than the local shows I’ve attended.

I do remain skeptical of just how easy it is to be a young collector these days with rising prices, modern wax product not as readily available, fewer card shops, etc. But the show proved that the hobby is alive and well for kids, and that’s good news.

On-Site Grading Was Problematic

If you were hoping to have cards graded at the show or even just wanted to drop them off, the show was sort of a mess. Even with a minimum grading level of $250 per card, PSA was quickly overwhelmed and suspended grading cards on-site. They also were not accepting cards to take back to their facility to be graded. SGC was not grading at all and also was not even accepting cards to take back. Beckett and CSG, it should be noted, were both accepting submissions.

The Wayback Collector: Ten Observations from a 'National' Rookie

This was a major bummer for many who hoped to drop cards off to PSA or SGC and at least save on one-way shipping costs. Not even accepting dropoffs seems puzzling but it proves that grading cards remains a very hot commodity with businesses at the point where they can afford to turn collectors away.

It’s About More Than Cards

A big highlight of the weekend for me was meeting a bunch of collector friends in person. I didn’t get to everyone but I did manage to meet a couple dozen of people at the show for the first time. The cards were great but the in-person connections were arguably even better.

On a larger scale, I thought the people were great. In general, folks just seemed happy to be at a show of that size. I didn’t encounter rude dealers or even rude collectors. Almost everyone was friendly, willing to chat, and even looking to engage. That just made for a really great atmosphere.

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