Rich’s Ramblings: Of Old Willow Grove Days

by Rich Klein

In many ways, these have been some of the most enjoyable articles I have ever written. I have enjoyed reading your comments and to those who have emailed me, thank you so much. And to those who are enjoying these rambles through time, there is plenty more to ramble about in the near future.

One of my other interests involves performing some work for my college alma mater. The part I especially enjoy is the college fair season, which comes to the DFW area before any other part of the country. Usually right around the second week of September the fun begins and lasts for about 10-12 days. There are countless college fairs, some of which are better than others and some of which treat the recruiters better than others. In case you all are wondering why we are starting a talk about baseball cards with college recruiting, a good friend of mine from my New Jersey dealing days, Steve Koenigsberg, who now represents Florida Institute of Technology is one of the recruiters. Steve also stunned me a bit by mentioning he had read several of these rambling stories on line.

I have known Steve for more than sixty percent of his life at this time and we usually spend at least one dinner talking about the new world of admissions and go back and occasionally pick up the pieces of the 1980’s collecting days. During one of our chats, Steve brought up a name which had totally escaped me for years: Dave Francis. Dave was a New York area card dealer who could do a good job of hustling a card floor and making money in the process. I explained to Steve that yes, Dave was good. but if you ever wanted to see the best there was, you have to look to Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen.

In the 1980’s if you put the Willow Grove show, an exploding card market and Alan Rosen together, you had an event in which perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in cards and memorabilia could change hands. Alan’s best asset in the business was not how book smart he was, but knowing who had what items; who wanted what items and could he make money taking care of all three of these elements. Among the major dealers Alan was working with at that time were John Broggi (Who we have touched upon in previous ramblings)’; Paul Lewicki, Brian Morris, Joe Esposito, Dick DeCourcey and a few others who came and went.

The Willow Grove 1980’s shows were so incredible and with what Alan could attract, there was always some great new merchandise making itsway around the show. Now I personally did not do very much business with Alan, but anything we did was always fair and honorable. Alan was, and is, many things to many people in the hobby, but he is nothing less than reputable.

I learned a couple of great lessons from Alan over the years: The first was that the whole key to surviving in the card business is not how to sell but instead how to buy. What this means if you are able to find items at a reasonable price; and the time comes to sell, your exposure is significantly reduced. The second part a few years later was with his “I pay the most” ads, in many cases he actually had to pay more than many dealers for the same items. This, of course, brings up the great rhetorical question. If Alan pays the most of any dealer, then how much are the dealers who purchase from him paying?

The other part of the Philly shows I always enjoyed was keeping in contact with the Philadelphia area dealers. Many of these dealers are still around in 2011. Another one of my favorites from the Philadelphia are is Ted Zanidakis who always would create interesting trivia questions on his little board. Trying to figure out his theme was always one of the great joys of seeing his booth. One other very important aspect today about Teddy Z (if you think I will spell that name twice, think again) is he is one of the last collectors who remembers original source evidence about the early days of the Bowman/Topps/Leaf card wars. Teddy began collecting in 1947-48 and is a wealth of knowledge about the early days of post-war cards.

Teddy is actually the driving force in ensuring what had been known as the 1948 Leaf set was actually produced in 1949. Of course, when Teddy finally convinced everyone at Beckett of this in 1998, that change ruined what had been Pinnacle’s plans to honor the 50th anniversary of Leaf  in 1998. Later events proved that would have been just another issue as by the end of 1998, Pinnacle was no longer producing cards. Hopefully in three years, Brian Gray can create a plan for the 75th anniversary of Leaf.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]