It had been three years since the last Sport Card and Memorabilia Spring Expo in Toronto, but the general consensus was that it was worth the wait.
The show, commonly referred to in the hobby as ‘Canada’s National’, had been postponed in 2020 due to COVID-19 and moved to a virtual format. Having collectors and dealers back in person at the International Centre near the Pearson Airport in Toronto was a clear indication that things are getting back to normal in Canada.
The show, which took place June 2-5, had a steady stream of collectors from the first hour to Sunday’s closing.
“Everyone was very positive throughout the weekend,” said show owner and promoter Steve Menzie. “There was a lot of excitement from collectors who had not been able to go to the show in the last three years. There was also a lot of excitement among new collectors who really got into the hobby during COVID-19 and had never experienced the show before.”
The show was the largest ever for the Expo in terms of show dealer and corporate participation. Menzie did not have an attendance figure for the show when it ended, but he was happy with the turnout.
“For both dealer participation and attendance by collectors, it is easily the biggest show we have had since I have been involved,” he said.
Menzie said that types of corporate exhibitors at the show give a clear indication of how the hobby has changed over the past few years and the current trends that are being served by niche companies.
“We had six grading companies here,” he said. “All of them were a lot busier than they anticipated. There were long line-ups throughout the weekend.”
Menzie added that the grading presence was not just about six companies competing with each other for the right to analyze and slab cards.
“Grading was big, but there was so much more available to collectors,” he said. “Not only was their grading, but now the show has grown and has companies that offer services like authentication, as well as vaulting. Companies like PWCC were here, and most easily surpassed their expectations of what they would do at the show.”
On the show floor, there was a wide array of items. New and old wax boxes, graded singles and display cases and complete sets were plentiful on the floor. What made the show unique, however, was the plentiful offerings of autographed items and memorabilia. The show is known as a hockey show, but there was more memorabilia from other sports than the show has likely ever seen.
The show also had a strong list of autograph guests, including former NHL superstar Jaromir Jagr. It was Jagr’s first autograph appearance in Toronto, and he drew a large and enthusiastic crowd.
“I tried to get (Jagr’s) autograph in 1993 at the Montreal All-Star Fanfest, but it was an absolute zoo and I couldn’t get anywhere near him,” said a long-time collector from Toronto in the line. He did not want his name used in this story. “I was a teenager then and he was my favorite player throughout his career. Jagr was making an appearance with Upper Deck at that show. It’s hard to imagine that I have been waiting for nearly 30 years to get his autograph.”
Jagr signed a number of items, from jerseys to photos to large 16” x 20” photos and other memorabilia items. Many collectors also took advantage of the $99 fee to have a selfie taken with Jagr. The Czech star is fourth all-time in NHL goals with 766, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (894), Gordie Howe (801) and Alex Ovechkin (780).
The other big draw at the show for autograph hounds were the members of Team Canada that participated in the Summit Series against the Soviet Union. Pete and Frank Mahovlich were signing, along with Brad Park, Dale Tallon, Don Awrey and Rod Seiling.
While the Mahovlich brothers were signing, Bobby Hull was also signing. Hull, who has been a guest at the show numerous times, did not get the opportunity to play in the series as he had jumped to the newly formed WHA to play for the Winnipeg Jets. Hull and Bobby Orr, who was injured and could not play in the series, were widely considered the top two players in the NHL at the time.
“I never truly considered our team to be Team Canada,” said Pete Mahovlich. “We were an NHL all-star team. But I look over there and I see Bobby Hull signing autographs. It only would have truly been Team Canada if Bobby Hull was playing with us.”
On Friday during the day, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Teoscar Hernandez was an autograph guest. Former Jays reliever and World Series champion Duane Ward also signed, but having Hernandez there as a current Blue Jay was a big addition for the show.
“He was really well received, and it added another element to the show to have a current, active player appearing during the season,” Menzie said. “The Blue Jays were at home during the weekend, so it gave us the opportunity to have a player come in.”
While grading was big, so was the presence of the Upper Deck Company. The show has always been known as the world’s largest hockey show, and Upper Deck was once again front and center as a sponsor. The NHL’s trading card partner had products available on the floor and ran a redemption program (you can check out some of the cards here), but hockey collectors are still waiting for the release of Upper Deck Series 2, which is usually the main driver for new wax on the show floor at the Spring Expo. The product will not be released until June 15 (boxes are available online).
The dates for the Toronto Fall Sport Card and Memorabilia Expo have been set for Nov. 10-13. As per usual, the show will run on the Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend in Toronto. Hopes are that 2022-23 Upper Deck Series 1 Hockey, which is usually released in conjunction with the show, will go live for the event. With the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series taking place in September, the expectations are that there will be a lot of interest in cards and memorabilia from the series and the stars who participated.