The methods and motivation may have shifted but younger people are still collecting.
Video games, the internet and other forms of electronic amusement have raised the entertainment bar, but connecting to sports through cards and memorabilia isn’t dead.
Many of those who visit shops may be looking for a pack that produces a valuable insert instead of piecing together a complete set. Others collect autographs with the hope of re-selling or trading them online. Still others have actually carved a niche by setting up their own hobby-related business.
Sports card shops have had to change to meet a new dynamic of younger people focused more on what’s new and what’s valuable. AZCentral.com reports that one shop in the Phoenix suburbs does OK, while still lamenting the loss of wide-eyed kids who used to frequent the place more often.
Meanwhiile, John Schenk, a 16 year-odl high school student in suburban St. Louis, is not only passionate about the hobby, he’s got his own autograph business. Schenk’s Show Me Sigs has held private signings with former Cardinals, including some for charity. On Monday, he hosted Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson. Schenk’s business was born after he discovered some autographs he’d purchased online were fake, an experience he shared with other young people. He vowed to take matters into his own hands, but getting ripped off is something that’s turned some young would-be collectors off.
"The sellers do a great job making you believe they are authentic, when they really are not," Schenk said. "Younger people tend to trust that the autographs are real more readily than those who’ve experienced being ripped off before, but being sold fake signatures is sadly rampant."
Schenk has found plenty of company as a young collector/dealer by surfing the internet. "I am a member of many different autograph communities and it seems there are some very dedicated kinds like myself in this hobby, but the sad part is, there are a lot more kids trying to just get autographs to sell."
Baseballs seem to be the most popular item for younger autograph collectors, who once preferred signed baseball cards. Many have studied the market enough to know the difference in value between a signed card and single-signed baseball and choose the latter.
Schenk also believes the connection between younger fans and players is still strong, despite the lure of more high tech pursuits.
"With all the new technology, growth, and broad array of hobbies available to our generation, the sports card hobby sometimes seems like a lot of time and money spent for something that would just sit around," Schenk says of the reaction of some of his peers to the sports collecting hobby. "That’s those who never take the time to experience the rush of holding something in your hand that was touched by your favorite player, holding something that they took the time out of their life to sign, just for you. The spectrum tends to be pretty broad; my peers include those who will never try it, and then those who love collecting as much as I do."