Unless there was a collector from another planet roaming the halls of the IX Center in Cleveland last week (and come to think of it, wouldn't that make a great story), the award for longest journey to the National Sports Collectors Convention goes to Vince Bellier.
He wins it every year.
An advanced collector, Bellier hails from Melbourne, Australia. The National is his winter time getaway.
“Normally we stop off in L.A. and stay there for a couple of days,” Bellier told Sports Collectors Daily as he arrived for a day of buying and meeting old hobby friends. “This time I went straight through so it took 30 hours including layover.”
After all that time on planes and in airports, it might seem a little stifling to spend three or four days walking in the concrete jungle that is a giant convention center, but Bellier makes a vacation out of it. He played a little golf at Jack Nicklaus’ Muirfield Village course near Columbus on Friday. Back in Australia, he’s in the home building business.
“I met my wife, who is Australian, in Montreal and then in 1999, we decided to go to Australia for a couple of years and fifteen years later we’re still there.”
He collects a variety of high-grade, vintage sports cards including hockey, rookie cards of Pro Football Hall of Famers and certain pre-War baseball cards. He planned to spend six or seven hours at the show over two days, conducting business with PSA and chatting with dealers and auction houses he deals with the remainder of the year while building his collection. His biggest accomplishment to date is constructing a complete 1951-52 Parkhurst hockey set.
“It’s my favorite hockey card set. It's got over 20 Hall of Fame rookie cards like the Maurice 'Rocket' Richard and Gordie Howe. It's just an awesome set. It became like an obsession. I finished that set last year, so I'm pretty happy with that. I've gotten into the E107's now. My favorite card is the Christy Mathewson which I bought last year. That's an awesome card. The E107's have this almost eerie-like feel to them and they just captivate me. The other thing is I've got a friend who bought me six graded 1957 Topps football cards. Knowing that I did Hall of Fame rookies and I've got the Unitas and the Starr, now I'm going to have to do the set. He got me now. So, that will be my next little challenge, the '57 Topps football set.”
While there is a fairly sizeable audience of Australian sports fans that collects North American cards, especially basketball, building a collection while living almost 10,000 miles from Cleveland isn’t always easy.
“Shipping costs are always the biggest challenge,” Bellier lamented. “But, you know, over the years I've built relationships with some dealers I trust. And eBay has helped. eBay is probably why I started. But, in the end, eBay has become more of a here and there. I probably buy less than 10% of what I used to buy, maybe 5% of what I used to buy. The auction houses have sort of picked that up. Then, you do a lot of private transactions.”
Bellier buys from several auctioneers who specialize in the vintage, graded material he likes including Robert Edward Auctions, Bill Goodwin and Memory Lane’s J.P. Cohen.
“J.P. and I go back,” Bellier said. “He helped me get quite a few pretty incredible cards. He seems to be able to get pretty much anything. Then, there’s a bunch of other guys here, there and everywhere. Good guys in the hobby that have helped me. There are so many shows over here. I wish I could come over more often, go to them and meet a few more people but instead I have to go about it slowly but surely. It's a lot of personal connections and friends and some guys know what I'm looking for. If they find it, they'll give me a call, or send me an email, and I do it that way.”
Taxes can also pose a problem and Bellier keeps an eye on the exchange rate.
“When I started collecting, the Aussie dollars were 70 cents U.S., so if I'd buy a card for $100, I had to pay $150. That kept me disciplined but now the exchange rate's pretty close to par so I almost feel like I'm getting a discount.”
Bellier will leave summer behind this week and get back to his job in his adopted home country while making plans to return to the U.S. when the 2015 National opens in Chicago.
“It’s turned out to be more than a hobby. There’s a lot of friendships now. I’d probably come over even if there wasn’t a show.”