Texas collectors came out to the first big show of 2009, focused on getting items signed by some local favorites.
Judging from foot traffic and sales at the annual Tristar Productions winter sports memorabilia show in Houston, the recession's grip has yet to choke off the market for Roger Staubach autographs, Craig Biggio jerseys, Mickey Mantle baseball cards or Tony Romo signed photographs.
The show took place last weekend at the George R. Brown Convention Center.
Jeff Rosenberg, president of the Houston company, said this year's show continued the trend toward autographs and other memorabilia and away from sports cards that has characterized the collectibles industry in recent years.
"We face challenges with the Internet and the changing economy," Rosenberg said. "But the ability to bring in these athletes for autograph signings is the one thing you can't replicate on the 'net.
"It's not just the autograph, it's the experience of meeting the athlete."
Accordingly, the mix of merchandise on sale this week has changed. Whereas sales of single cards and boxes once dominated the Tristar show, this weekend's exhibitors were equally divided between those selling cards, those selling autographed, jerseys, photos, helmets and other items and a growing block of dealers who specialize in displays and frames for memorabilia.
Howard Lau, whose two decades operating a sports collectibles retail store makes him one of the city's longest-tenured dealers, divided his show inventory between card products and balls and photos for fans who came to the show without anything for their favorite athletes to autograph.
"But there are still card collectors, too," Lau said. "It's not a dead hobby yet."
Dealer Brian Moray of Scottsdale, Ariz., reported healthy sales for individual cards from the 1960s and '70s.
"Tristar shows generally cater to the autograph collector," Moray said. "Cards are secondary, but this show has worked out well for us."
Rosenberg said Staubach was the biggest autograph draw of the weekend.
Other current and former athletes who signed for fans included Biggio, Terry Bradshaw, Bruce Matthews, Jennie Finch, Tony Gwynn and Bruce Sutter.