by Rich Klein
Last weekend I went back for another trip to an autograph show run by GT Sports Marketing. If you remember last year, the location was not only a bit hidden (some collectors posted on message boards they could not find the building) but was an absolute disaster. The show had literally 20 total tables with two card dealers, one of whom was long-time vintage card specialist Roger Neufeldt. Roger had sent out postcards to his customers before the show and since he was one of the two dealers and was able to spread out and literally use six tables he told me on Sunday that he had actually generated more money at that show than at the National. I’m glad Roger did well but the $10 admission charge still gnaws at me as the show was not worth even a dollar.
Call me Ishmael as when I heard about the show coming to the Dallas area last weekend I decided to go out and see if things were any better in 2013 than in 2012. The good news was the show was significantly improved over the previous year. The location was the reasonably new Irving Convention Center which is fairly easy to get to. In fact, if I had really researched the location properly I would have taken the DART train to the show. I know the train may not be as convenient as a car but with the admission remaining at $10 and the garage parking at $5 not counting the car costs, I would have been just as happy on a train. In fact, that would have reminded me of how I attended many NY City shows when I was in college or even afterwards using buses and trains.
The show had perhaps 40-50 tables this time with perhaps 15 devoted to cards including Roger again along with Larry Dluhy and a dealer we used to call “Local Stan”. While his merchandise changes, Stan’s set up is much like a flea market set up and invites people to actually handle the cards. His real key to the business at shows is how much can he sell to other dealers walking around. In addition, there was one dealer I did not know but he had a nice assortment of boxes both cheap and expensive. I chose a 2012 Topps Heritage box for $45 (My hit was an Aroldis Chapman relic card) but with the standard eight short prints and other hits, the box was decent at that level. (Did I ever mention I love Heritage?).
Thus, the show was much improved over the 2012 version. Roger did tell me he did not generate as much income as in 2012 but he also said he continues to purchase new inventory constantly and that along with his traveling are keys to his continued hobby success. Now if the admission price for just the show could be lowered to perhaps $5 with lower table prices, then the card and memorabilia part of the show might end up being as reasonably successful as the autograph part.
When I started attending shows and eventually setting up at them, the primary lure at the time was nostalgia at affordable prices. After all, the collectors in the late 1970’s who were reliving their youths were the collectors of 1950’s cards and almost all of them had great memories of the fun they had with the cards be it in flipping games or in bicycle spokes because of the noises or even just trading them with their friends. One of the minor players at the time who always drew more attention than the average common was Eddie Waitkus. You see, Eddie was the real-life inspiration for Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs character in The Natural when he was shot in an hotel by a young lady named Ruth Ann Steinhagen. In fact the back of his 1952 says: “Shot by a crazed girl in June, 1949, Eddie was close to death”. Eddie had left us by the time the card show circuit truly began but I think he would have made an interesting guest especially in the mid-1980’s after the Natural movie was released.
After Ms. Steinhagen was released from jail she continued to live quietly in the Chicago area until she died in late December (her death was just discovered by a news outlet researching another story this week).
Before his passing, I remember Steve Gold ran an AD in SCD about having her appear at his store. The outcry was so huge, he pulled the plug on the idea. I do believe if he had run the event as a private signing it might have worked. Of course, the question is also ‘what do you have her sign?’ Do you have her sign some 8 by 10 photo of her playing softball in jail or do you have her sign Waitkus cards and photos? I don’t even think there are too many fairly recent or available articles about her and thus having her sign items would have been tricky and probably in poor taste. I think what this proves is that while interesting people on the periphery of sports may offer something different, it’s a fine line. In retrospect, I think the Ruth Steinhagen signing would have generated interest but I still do not think there is a way to had made it work in any tasteful way.
And the final part of our journey tonight involved COMC.com. They recently received my three 3.200 count boxes full of cards and placed me in a pilot program for their sellers. I believe their goal is eventually to strengthen that relationship with all their dealers. The more I think about COMC, the more I think they as a company are about where Beckett publications was circa 1989 just before I joined. As we wrote about in the last Ramblings, the print runs and number of magazines exploded between 1987 and 1990 with Football, Basketball and Hockey joining the mix. COMC is following many of the same explosive patterns Beckett did in those days and I would not be surprised to see the number of items offered on COMC double in the next year. As for me, I was honored when I found out what the percent of sellers offered the CRM as a perk was very low. I do plan on communicating often with my rep because COMC is going to continue to grow and I want to be able to send them more and more items in the next few months.
Future articles will include continued Ramblings on the local and growing McKinney show. I hope I do as well as the last couple of months — and forgot to mention I had traded some of my excess Mike Trout rookies for a bunch of interesting vintage cards, a Harmon Killebrew autographed card and a 1987 Donruss box (we might break that and take a trip down memory lane just for fun). Also planned are articles about collectors and dealers who could not wait for the latest Beckett to hit the stores back in the day when the printed price guide was a huge factor in the hobby. And if you have anything you’d like me to write about, I’d love to hear your ideas. The feedback lately has been tremendous.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]