The long-running Chicago Sun-Times show seldom disappoints. This year’s event brought dealers from across the nation, a corporate presence and a large list of guests pocketing some nice change for a few hours of autograph signing.
It’s one of those shows collectors will drive hours to get to. Some even fly in specifically to find one of a handful of places left where the selection beats eBay.
The 34th annual Chicago Sun-Times Sports Collectible show is one of those still called a “convention”. Again, thousands ‘convened’ for this one, spending a fair amount of money among the few hundred dealer tables or buying autographs from one of a large lineup of guests.
“This is a staple of the show tour,” said Mike Baker of Global Authentication. GAI was one of several large companies set up with a corporate booth. Most came to realize long ago that Chicago was a hobby hotbed, a place not to be missed very often if you’re serious about being a player in the industry.
While some card and memorabilia dealers were frustrated that many attendees walked past their tables directly to the autograph area, most liked the sizable buzz larger Chicago-area shows seem to generate.
For those who manned tables at the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Friday night and early Saturday were the busiest periods. Long-time dealer Rich Gove made the long drive from Houston and sold enough vintage baseball cards to make the trip worthwhile including a run of high grade 1971 Topps from vending boxes.
“For a lot of dealers, Chicago is the hub of the collecting world. It’s a can’t-miss show,” he told SportsCollectorsDaily.com. There’s a lot of nice walk-in material for us to buy and it’s a very savvy, very knowledgeable vintage market. They know the difference between a 1933 and 1934 Goudey and they know that if they’re buying very high quality older cards, even if it’s not graded, they’re going to be paying a higher price.”
While some larger shows have downsized or folded, the Sun-Times show and Sportsfest, held annually in June, still thrive. “In 1998 I did 31 shows. This year, I’m doing 9,” Gove said. “And three of those are in Chicago.”
Vintage cards were big sellers, with hundreds of collectors toting want lists from table to table. Dealers snapped up other dealers’ inventory of high grade cards to sell elsewhere, including a limited amount of pre-War material that was available.
While the city may earn it’s reputation as a working class town, collectors aren’t shy about spending money for autographs. Even a collecting hotbed like Chicago apparently needs a significant autograph lineup to remain viable. Saturday’s lineup included the entire Manning family. Archie and sons Peyton and Eli were on the guest list together for the first time ever. Tickets for Peyton’s signature sold out almost immediately. The Super Bowl MVP’s recent deal with Mounted Memories brought some sticker shock to those who were in the market –and a lot of happiness to those who had stocked up back when Manning’s autograph could be had for less than $100. In Chicago, Manning’s John Hancock on a flat or mini helmet was $199, footballs were $249, large helmets/jerseys/numbers and artwork were $299. If you wanted an inscription, the colts was an additional $75 (up to ten characters only).
Manning was joined by his coach Tony Dungy–a late addition to the lineup–as well as Chicago favorites Brian Urlacher ($109-129), Gale Sayers ($49-79), Dick Butkus ($69-89), Mike Singletary ($59-69) and Refrigerator Perry ($29). NFL players Matt Hasselbeck, Deuce McAllister, Tony Romo and Santonio Holmes were there as well as baseball Hall of Famers like Brooks and Frank Robinson, Robin Yount and Red Schoendienst. Lines were long, creating a log jam at one end of the hall.
Sunday brought in the Steel Curtain–Joe Greene, LC Greenwood, Ernie Holmes and Dwight White along with hockey legends Mario LeMieux and Gordie Howe, among others. Perry, along with Gary Fencik, Dan Hampton, Steve McMichael and Buddy Ryan appeared on Friday night.
Being forced to stand behind a table full of vintage, unopened sports cards can be tempting even for those who make their living selling the stuff. A lull on Sunday was too much for Steve Hart of Baseball Card Exchange. He dove into an unopened 1959 Topps cello pack and pulled a dream lot: Hank Aaron, Whitey Ford and Brooks Robinson all stared up at him, corners blazing. Unfortunately, the rip was another reminder that Topps’ quality control wasn’t always top notch back then. Nearly all of the cards in the pack were off center while the Aaron had a few print marks on the face.
Hart does better at the National than at this show, but it’s still one of a handful he attends each year. Among the better packs he sold included some 1951 Topps Magic football and a high number 1964 Topps cello.
“From a selfish point of view, I think the National should be in Chicago ever year,” he said. “It’s a hotbed for collecting and it’s centrally located for all of the dealers. Just about everyone who wants to get here can.”
Gove agreed. “I’m sure if they had a show here every month, it would saturate the market, but if they did have one here every month, I’d keep coming until it happened.”
Can’t make the next show? You can order autographed items from the guests and thousands of others via Mounted Memories.