We used to have dealer named Myron who set up at many of the bigger Dallas area shows in the 1980’s and 1990’s who had an interesting grab bag promotion which usually attracted quite a few customers. For a nominal sum of $1-2 you would receive an envelope of random cards, a guaranteed prize–and a chance to win a television. Myron sold a lot of those bags—and got rid of a lot of stock without having to sell it card by card. He said there was a winning ticket for that TV hidden inside one of those bags. Over the course of several shows, he’d sold quite a few of them.
During one show, things were going pretty well for him but he had not yet given away the television. Another dealer stopped by and asked how many bags were left. When Myron answered “150 or so”, the dealer pulled out a wad of cash and bought out the rest just so he could get the new television. He also got a bunch of extra cards and Myron’s idea was officially a sellout.
The concept still exists at both the local sports card stores I go to. Both Triple Cards and Nick’s have some variant of the idea. Nick sells a grouping of vintage cards in a small plastic case for $20. It’s sort of like the old cello packs in that you can see the cards at both sides of the case. The bags have some decent vintage cards in them and it’s sort of like buying a vintage unopened pack without paying a lot of money (although your chances of landing a mint Hall of Famer are admittedly small).
When the bags and games of chance were a big deal at local shows years ago, I actually went to one and chronicled every bag I opened or game I participated in and wrote it up in Baseball Hobby News so our readers could have an honest reflection of what these were like for collectors. Some, to their credit, were excellent and you actually felt like you got your money’s worth or more while others were so one-sided in the dealer’s favor that the smirk on their face when you purchased one of those was an everlasting thought.
I cannot remember the last time I saw a local dealer at show with a grab bag or a game of chance. Those ‘spin the wheel’ games used to make an appearance pretty often. I personally think some of this has to do with fewer collectors at shows and those who do attend tend to have more sophistication these days. It’s also possible some of the legal ramifications may have scared dealers away from dice or roulette-themed games. Show promoters weren’t always crazy about them and nearby dealers sometimes found them annoying.
Grab bags, though, are fairly harmless, as long as the dealer is providing decent value.
As someone who sets up at shows, would you use a grab bag as a way to attract collectors? And as a collector, would you be interesting in purchasing items from a dealer who used these types of marketing tools? Have a story about them? Please let us know at the email address at the bottom of this column.