So, I’m one of those guys.
I’ll admit it. While a pretty serious collector, I am not much of a card show person. Like many people, I jumped out of collecting after college. Once I made the decision to get back in about ten years ago, I’ve basically been an internet collector. 99% of my current collection has come from online sales or trades. Rarely have I ventured outside of that comfortable box.
Sure, I would occasionally hit up a small show (or, sometimes, even run into them unintentionally at malls). But for all intents and purposes, I abandoned the card show circuit. As mostly a pre-war collector, it can be difficult to find what I’m looking for and there really wasn’t a great sense of urgency to attend one.
I could give you any number of reasons why but, far and away, the biggest factor has simply been convenience. With eBay, online forums, and collector groups, it’s quite easy to build a quality collection without much effort. While card shows are great for talking to new collectors, dealers, and other people that share the same interests, the dirty little secret is that they’re also wholly unnecessary for strictly building a collection.
Despite that, the big annual Robert Morris card show near Pittsburgh was held this weekend. I made the trip there for the first time in many years and, well, I’m kind of glad I did.
Sure, amassing a collection with online resources is great. But I also got some benefit by talking to dealers and several were knowledgeable about rarer issues I’m personally pursuing. Digital conversations about these cards in the past have been great, but a real, face-to-face meeting was refreshing. Along those lines, I also had a chance to meet a few dealers with whom I’ve communicated through email in the past. Putting a face to a name will only make future discussions more meaningful.
In general, the show was well attended on the day that I went (Saturday). Dealers also reported good turnouts when I asked and there were probably about 200 people milling around while I was there. In terms of material, I was pleasantly surprised that it was a largely vintage show. There were dealers there with newer items but it was heavy with 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s issues and I’d estimate that 20 dealers or so had some pre-war stuff. Autographed items were there, but didn’t dominate the scene and, being in Pittsburgh, there was also an assortment of Steelers, Pirates, and Penguins issues.
So what did I learn? Well, here are a few things that I noted in attending my first major card show in a while.
First, if you’re building sets, a want list is crucial. I nearly left mine at home but returned to get it just in case I would need it. Turns out I did because my memory wasn’t as good as previously thought. I referred to my list on several occasions when I wasn’t sure if I’d found a card I needed. A few times my hunches were correct. Others, they were not. If you’re going in there looking to complete sets or fill other holes, don’t rely on your memory. It’s easy to forget what you need when you strike up conversations that quickly delve off the beaten path.
Also, it’s important to remember that communication is a two-way street. I know many collectors are turned off by dealers that don’t greet them immediately or seem all that interested. While there surely are many dealers that could improve in this area, don’t be afraid to strike up the conversation yourself. I initiated discussions at most dealer tables I visited and after I did, I found dealers to not only be approachable but also very interested in helping me. Several even extended the conversation by talking about specific issues and I can’t say I had a single bad dealer experience. Dealers are often chided for not being completely attentive and engaged 100% of the time, which is kind of unfair for longer, multi-day shows.
I spoke to one that asked me to hand him a folding chair that was in front of his table. This struck me as odd since I wasn’t sure why it was there but I obliged. The fact is that he had been standing on his own for some time (on a hard concrete floor no less) while giving up his own chair to collectors who were there earlier that wanted to thumb through boxes.
Dealers will often be as accommodating as possible, so I’m not going to beat one up for eating a slice of pizza and/or not standing to greet every single customer. They certainly need to be attentive and I have any number of pet peeves when it comes to them (i.e. price every item, guys). There’s no doubt that some are lacking in customer service. But overall, I found guys working hard, moving back and forth between customers, and really trying to do the right thing.
In terms of the attendance, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of younger collectors. This has, of course, been a disturbing trend for some time now. But in scanning the room, it was an entirely different experience from the shows I attended as a child. Children were prevalent at shows in the 1980s and 1990s but things have really dried up. I could probably count on two hands the number of kids under the age of 12 that I saw. How that affects the future of the hobby I’m not entirely sure. Many adults that were previously collectors as children took time off before jumping back into the hobby when they had more disposable income. But how do you get adults engaged that grew up without collecting as a youngster? That seems harder.
My biggest regret at the card show was probably wishing I had spent a little more time at each table. My collecting interests are pretty focused to pre-war issues these days so the items I’m looking for are often found in dealer cases. But in randomly thumbing through a $5 box at a dealer table, I found quite a bit of pre-1940 stuff. That was towards the end of the show for me and I didn’t have a desire to try to make the rounds for a third time (I went through the entire show twice). The next time I go, I’ll probably try to take more time to peruse dealer tables instead of hastily walking by if I don’t see what I’m looking for in only a cursory glance.
Finally, I also found myself a bit unprepared in terms of other things. For example, it was a little warm in the room. I could have used a bottle of water or two along with a hand towel. In addition, several dealers didn’t have bags of any sort and I didn’t bring one. Carrying a box and some empty toploaders around to keep acquired cards would have been helpful.
Along the lines of unpreparedness, I also wish I had put more time in before the show to strategically think about what I wanted to accomplish in addition to picking up cards. SGC was on site and, while am planning a submission, I hadn’t gotten it together in time. Some auction companies were also there and while I’ve contemplated consigning some items, I didn’t put enough initial thought into that to determine exactly what I wanted to do. Giving more thought to those sorts of things beforehand would have been a good idea.
I didn’t pick up a ton of items and didn’t fill any holes in my sets. I managed to add some cards to my type collection but that was really it. Still, the overwhelming sense I got was that I can’t wait to get to another card show. My collection will probably still consist mostly of online sales and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. That said, It was a great way to kill time on an otherwise meaningless Saturday afternoon and there’s little doubt I’ll be back to another one.