Jonathan Luedloff had heard the stories.
An avid collector as a kid in the 1980s, he rediscovered his old cards and rejoined the ranks just a few years ago, reading tales of the National Sports Collectors Convention with some amount of fascination as he began to catch up on the state of the hobby in the 21st century. This year, after moving from southern Indiana to Arkansas, he decided to see it for himself.
The journey would be longer but it seemed like a good summertime father-son road trip. Not really sure what to expect, he and his son Luke walked into the I-X Center in Cleveland, experiencing the same reaction of so many other first-timers.
So many booths. So little time.
“A little overwhelming, but in the best way possible,” he recalled to Sports Collectors Daily during a short break.
“The game plan was to go through every aisle as quickly as possible and we made it through four in a whole day so apparently my game plan went to heck.”
While Luke has yet to catch the card bug, he’s come to appreciate some of the history—and the value—of some of the items on display. And the National oozes history.
“Being able to not only see but hold the Babe Ruth Real Photo Postcard at Love of the Game Auctions that shows him in his second professional game ever, was amazing,” Jonathan said. “Seeing two T206 Honus Wagner sitting next to each other at Memory Lane’s booth was incredible. Being able to hold (former NFL lineman and current hobby dealer) Evan Mathis’ Super Bowl ring in my hand was pretty neat, too.”
Having become an avid collector of pre-War material, Luedloff spent part of his time submitting items for grading and authentication. He added to his collection with a couple of 19th century Harper’s Woodcuts and a Sporting Life Philadelphia A’s team composite. Shopping for such treasures is something he’s generally been limited to doing online.
“To be able to see something first hand and know you are going to be able to walk away with it, I think it lends to maybe being willing to spend just a little more.”
Getting to put faces with names he sees online and meets through transactions was part of the fun.
“To be able to see everyone in the industry under one roof, from the auction houses to eBay and the major dealers, was really cool. I’ve really been impressed at the breadth of what’s available, from cards to autographs to game-used stuff. There really is a little bit of everything.”
The Luedloffs spent two days at the show and the time went by quickly.
“It’s so easy to get ‘stuck’ at one booth looking through items and spend an hour before you even realize it. I’ve seen stuff you only read about in magazines and catalogs. To be able to see it and hold some of it has been very, very thrilling.”
While his collecting focus as an adult has shifted a bit from his days as a buyer of hot rookie cards, Luedloff was first in line to meet Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson for a photo op on Saturday.
On Saturday night, dad and son took in the Angels-Indians game, disappointed about an injury keeping Mike Trout out of the lineup but appreciating the two homer performance from Shohei Ohtani, who has kept the current baseball card market humming. By Saturday, it was time to head back home from an event that turned out to be better than advertised.
“The highlight for me was the people I met, both new friendships I made from with dealers and other show guests as well as putting faces on names of those I’ve done business with online. Seeing all the cards and merchandise under one roof really brought back some great memories of collecting as a kid. Being able to share the history and stories attached to some of the cards with my son was fun too, and I loved watching his eyes widen when I told him the values.”
Luedloff says he’ll be back to the National, too, this time with the knowledge of what all the fuss is about.
“Having all that incredible memorabilia in one place was well worth the 15 hour drive from Arkansas, but the relationships made over the past few days is my favorite takeaway. I just came in wide-eyed and ready to see some stuff and I definitely enjoyed it.”
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