Two weeks from now, they’ll be pulling into the Stephens Convention Center and its nearby hotels, vehicles stuffed to the gills with millions of cards, autographs, programs, photos, game-used equipment, artwork and anything else they think someone might want to buy. A few have been behind a table for every National since the first one back in a Los Angeles hotel ballroom in 1980. For a few others, it’ll be their NSCC show dealer baptism.
No matter how many National shows they may have attended, the weeks leading up to the big event are a whirlwind of preparation. Acquiring or organizing inventory, figuring out what to bring, pricing, trip planning, packing, acquiring cash for change and potential purchases… it’s enough to keep a mind busy 24/7.
The 2019 National in Chicago will be the first time Mt. Carmel, IL collector/dealer Craig Halbig has been behind a table at the hobby’s biggest event. Having bought, sold and traded at smaller shows and online for over 30 years he’s no rookie, but for a first time NSCC dealer there is always some trepidation.
“I’ve been to the National before but never as a vendor. I wonder about my location. ‘Am I in a good spot? So there’s a little bit of apprehension but hopefully the collectors who come will look around the entire floor and find the dealers that have the right stuff at the right prices.
“Trying to get organized is the big challenge because I’ve got so much stuff,” he said Sunday while pricing a box of high grade 1962 Topps baseball cards. “I’m trying to find the things that catch the interest of people who will hopefully want to buy.”
The National is a mix of buyers looking to fill want lists, team and player collectors, those who prefer items they can hang on their walls and others who prefer current era cards. Most will come prepared to spend money. Halbig doesn’t have the space to bring his entire inventory but he’s planning to take enough variety to attract a crowd. Having purchased a massive collection as well as a few smaller ones over the last couple of years, he’s got a lot to sell, even if it won’t all fit in the back of his van.
“I have a lot of the regular issues but I’m also thinking about bringing a lot of different regional sets and oddball things you don’t see every day. I have a 1952 Type 2 Star-Cal Decals complete set and extras and I also have the 1951 Type 1 set that’s missing only one, which is a really nice item, too.
“I also have a lot of graded cards. I’m bringing quite a few albums and boxes with vintage singles and stars from different years and sports as well as some Exhibit cards so I think set builders will appreciate that.
“A lot of what I have is in nice shape. I also have some great old vintage pennants.”
Between the cost of a booth, nearly a week’s worth of accommodations, gas or airline tickets, food and other expenses, the cost to set up usually starts at about $4,000 but many will spend more—a lot more if they have a larger space and are traveling a long distance. Halbig, his wife and two friends will make the 300-mile trip to Chicago on Monday, then take advantage of early set-up on Tuesday to get everything in place. His booth is #377, near the back of the show.
Halbig was lucky to snare a spot at this year’s National, having reserved space during last year’s show. The NSCC sold out of booth space for 2019 before dealers had left Cleveland.
Locking up a space gave him a year to plan for what should be his biggest sales week ever and as a collector he’s also hoping to have some fun during those six days but there’s still a lot to think about.
“I’ve got a checklist of all the items I’m going to try to take so I don’t forget something. I’m sure I probably will anyway but that’s why my wife’s going with me. She can help me stay organized.”