Sports Collectors Daily world headquarters moved to a temporary location at the lovely Holiday Inn Cleveland Airport as we took in the National Convention.
Most dealers we spoke with were very pleased with the turnout and the sales at their tables. Attendance definitely picked up Friday and Saturday is likely to be the busiest of the five-day run.
Topps created the most excitement among the younger crowd and basketball collectors when they brought Greg Oden into the back of their booth for some trivia contests and an interview session. Oden tossed card packs into the crowd and seemed to be having a decent time. The eTopps booth continued to be busy and both Donruss and Upper Deck had good crowds.
The autograph lines were short with the guest list not exactly "A" level on either Thursday or Friday. Earl Weaver had a fair amount of traffic but the bigger names will arrive this weekend.
Fake autographs continue to be a problem. We talked with two Atlanta area collector/dealers who make the National their only show of the year. They had purchased a collection of memorabilia including a 500-home run club bat, "signed" by a number of Hall of Famers including Mantle, Mays and several others –all signed in blue Sharpie. They weren’t autograph specialists but the sigs looked very real to an untrained eye. The gentlemen took the bat to the Spence Authentication booth and after forking over $100, were told that not only did the bat include fake autographs, but ALL were phony. Good fakes, but fakes nonetheless. They immediately pulled the bat from their display.
Within a few seconds of talking with dealers, you can tell which ones are true collectors and not motivated strictly by money. They’re usually the ones with a quick smile and friendly nature.
Huggins and Scott’s Josh Wulkan showed me a few new acquisitions for their September auction including baseballs signed by Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Walter Johnson as well as a gaudy but gorgeous 1980s Washington Redskins Super Bowl ring with presentation box.
The best thing about the National is the wide variety of items available. I stumbled on a booth in the back of the show that looked at first glance to be kind of disorganized but the proprietors were doing a brisk business by selling piles and piles of interesting and inexpensive old photos and oddball cards. They had a large number of wire photos, portraits from the George Brace archives and various team issue shots. They also had a huge number of 8×10 Pee Wee Reese photos direct from the family’s estate at $5 each. Many were newspaper photos of Pee Wee and family back home in Kentucky during the 1950s and 60s. It’s worth the drive to Cleveland alone if you’re a Reese fan. They had dozens.
One dealer told me that because of the size of his booth(s), the general transportation, meal and lodging expenses and the wages he pays his employees that he must clear at least $50-60,000 to make the National worthwhile. It ain’t cheap–even for a small time dealer who has only one booth and no staff. There is plenty of competition so you also have to guess right on what to bring with you.
This is the fourth trip to Cleveland for the National since 1997. The I-X Center is like every other large hall, though. Concrete floors. Standing on them for 7-8 hours per day is the penance for enjoying all of the material I suppose. Maybe that’s why the big ferris wheel is there–something you do when you need to sit down.
I had a very nice conversation with NAXCOM’s Bill Elder. The company will begin conducting on-line auctions next month in a direct challenge to eBay. There will be NO selling fees charged and NAXCOM will offer flat rate shipping and their usual guarantee. It will be interesting to watch their impact on the market. We’ll have a story on the launch early next week.
If you’re going to the show, stay away from the ‘chicken and steak’ booth.
We’re back home now after the seven-hour trip and had a great time. If you’ve never been to a National, book Chicago for 2008.
8/2: First impressions: The show is in a location that’s very easy to get to. Just off I-71 on the west side of the city of Cleveland. It’s the fourth time in the last 11 years the National has come to the city. The I-X Center is a large hall–large enough to have a working ferris wheel inside ($2 per ride) from which to look down upon the proceedings (there didn’t seem to be many takers–collectors don’t seem to be the ferris-wheeling type but when no one’s looking I may take a spin). The hall, however, is sort of separated by the wheel and if you’re not paying attention it’s a little easy to miss the back half.
Wednesday is a great time to look around if you’re lucky enough to get in–or willing to fork over the money for a VIP pass. The crowds are small, which makes for easy browsing and attention from the dealers. Lines for the first autograph guests were fairly long but roaming the aisles was easy.
Dealers. You want dealers? There are –as usual–hundreds here. The National is a great event, but it’s almost too big. There is simply no way to spend a meaningful amount of time at more than a handful of tables unless you’re here all five days. Wednesday was primarily a "shopping" day for me (I’m a collector too). I arrived about 5 o’clock, left at the 9 PM close and spent more than 5 minutes at only about 3 tables. Anyone with a want list needs to find a dealer with a nice inventory and be willing to settle in to get anything accomplished.
The great thing about the National is the variety. If you can’t find it here, it doesn’t exist. And if you think eBay is the only place to shop, you’re missing out. There is plenty of vintage material and by all accounts, it’s selling well, especially the pre-War cards like T206 and some of the more obscure but popular sets. I saw a large crowd at the eTopps booth and dealers with wax seemed to be busy.
Dealers come to this show to sell to the public, but also to sell to other dealers and there is a lot of that going on when the traffic is slow like it was tonight.
One very cool item we had a chance to see was the original artwork for the very first TIME magazine that featured a sports cover. George Sisler adorns the cover of a decades-old issue and in the last week, the original drawing created for the cover was uncovered in a MIchigan collection by Lelands auction house and purchased by California dealer Phil Regli, a Sports Illustrated and TIME publications expert. We’ll show it to you this week.
CardPricer.com unveiled its new on-line look at the show courtesy of a very nice flat screen monitor. They will team with CardTarget.com on Saturday to show off 25 of the premier vintage cards from CardTarget’s partial shares marketplace. The cards will be on display between (at least) 1:00 and 3:00 PM on Saturday, August 4th – at booth 1741.