Long before eBay, a good local sports card show usually had another element besides a bunch of tables set up around a hotel ballroom or VFW building. At some point, usually late in the day, the show promoter or his designated representative would conduct a live auction. Typically the merchandise came from dealers in the room or from folks off the street who had pulled something out of the attic.
Joe Drelich of East Coast Marketing, who took over the Parsippany PAL (Police Athletic League) show last year, and Scott Russell of Birmingham Auctioneers, partnered for a mini live auction. The hope was to create another venue for sellers to grab some quick cash with a captive audience of bargain hunting collectors in the room. The auction takes place immediately after the four-hour show held on the first Tuesday of every month.
We chatted with Russell via email about bringing back what was once a hobby staple.
SC Daily: Tell me how the monthly PAL show auctions started.
SR: I have known Joe for a while, don’t even really remember where or when I met him, and I grew up in the Parsippany area (I was born in Boonton). I wanted to do the show at least once as it was one of the earliest card show experiences I had as a kid. At the same time I was attending classes to become an auctioneer in Pennsylvania where I was in the process of purchasing an auction company. I found out that there are no licensing requirements in New Jersey so even though I was still in school I would be allowed to conduct auctions there. Since I was setting up as a dealer anyway, I pitched the idea to Joe and he liked it.
In the days of eBay and so many sports-oriented auction houses, it’s a little unusual to see live auctions at card shows these days. What made you believe they could be successful, especially at a smaller, local venue?
was specifically BECAUSE it was small that I thought we could succeed. We’re not trying to get rich at the Parsippany auction. We hope to sell things at a decent price for consignors and attract people to the show, and I think we’ve done well. If it had been a larger venue with much higher end items, the pressure and the potential downside would have been much larger. The company I purchased (Birmingham Auctioneers) has specialized in live-only sports memorabilia auctions for over 30 years so I have a lot of faith in the format.
How many auctions have you had so far, how many lots have sold (approximate is OK), how many lots are typically sold during the Tuesday show and what are some of the better items that have been offered?
April was our one year anniversary we do between 80 and 100 lots. Since we don’t start until 7:15 after the show is over we can’t keep people there all night on a Tuesday.
Our best items have been a nice 1975 Topps Set, a 1954 Ernie Banks Rookie in BVG 4, an E95 Eddie Colins in PSA 3, and a T206 Cy Young in SGC 20. We almost always have a selection of Tobacco and Caramel cards and try to have a pre-war HOF’er or two in every sale.
I’m guessing there are also some bargains to be found?
I’m cheap, so if something goes for a price I would’ve been willing to pay I think it’s a bargain! I would say the big bargains have been bulk lots from the 50’s and 60’s. We’ve had lots with stars and HOF’ers go for 20¢/card for a 200 card lot so there’s a lot of value there. Also while I have some dedicated prewar buyers it seems like a couple of “T” cards always sneak through cheap. Almost every auction some T206 only gets to $10 or $15.
What’s the attendance at the auctions been like and what is the format (minimum bids set? Buyer/seller premiums, etc?
We’ve had almost 100 different bidders over the course of the year but attendance at any one given auction is between 25 and 30, which accounts for the bargains! We are what’s referred to as an “Absolute Auction” every item sells with no reserve. We have a very different model for seller commissions. We charge a flat rate of $6 per lot. We did that, as a new auction, to encourage consignors to give us good items. If you give me a $20 item you’re not going to be thrilled paying $6, but if you give me a $150 item $6 is pretty great! We charge 18% buyer’s premium with a 3% discount for cash, so the majority of our customers pay 15% which we also feel is very competitive.
I started setting up as a dealer in 1986 at the age of 14 but I had never been to an auction at a show, so I can’t really compare today’s with the past. I will say it seems like a natural marriage to me and am surprised that it isn’t done more often. I know there’s usually one in conjunction with the national, but if any promoters out there are interested in doing an auction at a larger show, get in touch!
Looks like you’ve branched out a bit?
That would be the company I purchased, Birmingham Auctioneers. They have been doing sports (and occasionally coins) for 35 years. We do several large auctions a year near Hershey (PA) of between 325 and 450 lots. I am also always looking for opportunities to expand what we do and am pleased to announce we are partnering with the Philly Non-Sport Show to offer a Non-Sport Card Auction in conjunction with their fall show on October 20th. That’s in addition to our other scheduled auctions and a potentially HUGE collection that we are currently working on trying to acquire. You can find our info at birminghamauctioneers.com.
The next PAL show and auction is July 3. The show takes place from 3 PM to 7 PM with the auction at 7:15. More information is available on the show’s website.