If you’re lamenting the good old days of sports card shows — where everybody knew your name, and items for sale were secondary to the conversation and the camaraderie — the St. Leanders Sports Collector Show in northern California is a place to rekindle old memories.
The show returns to Ryan O’Connell Hall at St. Leander Church on November 26. It will be held in the parish hall/basketball gym of a church that was built in the Oakland suburb of San Leandro in 1864. The 32nd annual sports card show has similar longevity — it’s the longest-running card show in the state and the second longest on the West Coast, topped only by the annual Washington State Sports Collectors Association show that began in 1973.
Mark Macrae has been involved in running the show since its inception in 1985, when he teamed with friend Greg Augusta. The 55-year-old Oakland native got the idea for a card show after longtime dealer Dick Dobbins stopped doing shows in the early 1980s.
“They’d have 100 tables. It was so much fun,” Macrae said. “That for me was the model of what shows should be like. The veteran collectors at the time took care of the kids.
“Now, I try to treat exhibitor and collectors like I want to be treated.”
Macrae and Augusta were at a card show in 1984, lamenting the void left when Dobbins — who promoted shows during the 1970s with Jim Spalding and Jim Horne — ended his run in 1982.
“I wondered if a $10 table would work,” Macrae said. “My mom’s church was looking for a way to raise money.”
So in 1985, the inaugural card show at San Leandro made its debut. It’s $35 per table now, and Macrae has to cap the number of dealers and tables because of limited space. But he’s expecting another sellout this year, with 39 dealers spread over 75 tables.
“All the money that’s raised goes back into the school or church,” Macrae said.
George Vrechek, a collector from Chicago who also writes about collectibles, has attended the last three shows.
“It’s the perfect show in a small grade school gym,” Vrechek said. “Mark restricts the number of dealers. Guys take the same spots they have had for years. Most are really collectors supporting their habits.”
While many shows are free, Macrae believes in charging admission. The amount is modest ($4), but there is a $1 coupon when collectors print off the fact sheet from the show.
“You can almost stereotype those mall shows,” Macrae said. “You know, the products go all the way back to 2015.
“Free admission is not good. More people is not more better people.”
As a West Coast exhibition, collectors visiting the St. Leanders show may find regional vintage cards like Zeenuts, the 1949 Bowman Pacific Coast League set, 1928 PCL Exhibits, and food issues like the Remar Bread Oakland Oaks sets that were produced between 1945 and 1950.
“Ninety percent of it is vintage,” Vrechek said.
For example, dealer Sal Dichiera of Amazing Adventures in San Mateo, California, has PCL cards and memorabilia, along with pre-World War II major-league cards. He also has Cal and Stanford football items that date to the 19th century.
Vrechek notes that while the selection is good, the laid-back atmosphere and genial dealers make the show really click.
“Each year I have wound up spending as much time talking to people as I have spent shopping or buying,” he said. “There is good variety, especially West Coast stuff like Zeenuts.
“I always find something. Last year it was Red Mans and ’50s variations, and early ’60s football.”
In addition to being a full-time card dealer, Macrae loves to collect vintage cards and ephemera. Antiques, paper, advertising covers — they all are intriguing.
“It’s endless. I go into those antique stores with a clean slate, I go in to see what I can find.
“As long as it’s not stolen, and as long as it’s not fake — I want it.”
Macrae’s stash of Zeenut cards might be the most impressive part of his collection. He needs just 35 more cards to complete the entire run of cards, which were first issued in 1911 and were produced annually until 1930.
“After all these years, I still collect,” he said. “I’ve owned a lot of good stuff. It’s good to have (almost) all the Zeenut cards.”
Macrae is excited for this year’s show, and he is confident that the formula he has used in the past will work again.
“If you have a good mixture of vendors, it’s going to work,” he said. “I’ve been to shows where there were only 10 tables. It’s the quality of what’s on the tables that’s important.”
“I’m continually evolving. I’m always comparing notes with the Washington show.”
It’s been a recipe for success for more than 30 years.