When you’re lucky enough to find them, photos and stories of some of the earliest public sports collectors conventions are fascinating to see. Stacks of cards wrapped in rubber bands with little regard for condition. No top loaders. No plastic sheets and thus, no binders. No cello-wrapped boxes of new products.
Most of the stories and whatever photographs from those shows have unfortunately passed on with the older adults who were part of them. A few paragraphs wound up in fledgling hobby newsletters.
Awhile back, we showed off some images of a 1973 American Sports Card Collectors Association show in New York. While it wasn’t the first baseball card show ever held, public regional gatherings were rare and the number and quality of the photographs generated a lot of interest. It sparked some recollections from those who were there, including hobby veterans Rob Lifson and Keith Olbermann. In the annals of modern hobby history, that New York event was sort of the Goudey gum of show coverage. Now, we may have found the T206.
In July of 1971, young folks and adult collectors got together in Orange County for the Southern California Sports Collectors Convention. The show even drew some coverage in the Los Angeles Times, whose writer, the late Dave Distel, gave it the unfortunate description of “an interesting gathering of frustrated athletes.”
Nevertheless, it was a pretty lengthy and well-written story that offered some interesting tidbits from the hobby as it was some 48 years ago. Dealers and collectors came to the show with their cards packed in “suitcases, cigar boxes and cartons.” Items for sale included not just cards but yearbooks and programs, bats, baseballs, autographs and even a 1914 University of Illinois football helmet.
Media coverage of the hobby was rare; perhaps that’s why one California show goer pulled out a clipping about a convention in Detroit that had taken place earlier. “This writer didn’t take this thing too seriously,” 21-year-old Ed Broder told the Times. “I take it seriously and so do a lot of other people.”
Broder, by the way, would set up a card-making business with his son many years later, but had no real license to do so.
Autographs were present at the 1971 show, but they weren’t much of a commodity. Thirty-year-old dealer Max Schrager, who was considered among the first major sports autograph dealers, had what was purported to be a signed photo of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker for $500 on his table but “no takers.” It may have been overpriced for the time because Schrager reported that Ruth’s autograph was worth $50; Cobb’s just $8.50. He said among current players of the time, Willie Mays was the only autograph that had much value (“$1 or $2”) and that a Hank Aaron or Bob Gibson could be had for less than a quarter.
Some things don’t change, though. In talking with dealers, Distel related to his readers that autographs sell for more if the player is “ornery or deceased.”
Another seller at the show was Goodwin Goldfaden. A collector since 1935, “Goody” operated the Adco Sports Book Exchange, a giant haven for publications, cards and anything else fans accumulated. He told the paper that several years earlier, he had sold the Houston Colt .45s a research library of baseball publications for $2,500.
The story also mentioned Dan Dischley who would go on to a long tenure running The Trader Speaks. Dischley, who passed way earlier this year, was auctioning a T206 Eddie Plank from his home office in New York and told the writer that collectors “would pay $1,000 for a Wagner.”
Even then, it was a simple case of supply and demand from a passionate group of “frustrated athletes.”