As a collector for roughly 30 years, I’ve checked a lot of boxes off of my ‘resume.’ I’ve met a lot of collecting goals and exceeded a few, too. But one thing I’ve never done is make it to a National.
That’s changing this year.
Truth be told, this wasn’t something in the works for a long time. Collectors often plan their National trip out months and months in advance but that wasn’t the case for me. This was a last-minute, ‘why not?’ type of deal that led to a hastily-booked trip a few evenings ago, giving me less than a month to prepare for my first foray into the biggest show in the world.
Why? The answer is multi-faceted but simple. It was something I could afford to do, always wanted to do, and getting there made it feasible enough.
I nearly went a few years ago when the event was in Cleveland and very much in driving distance for me. A couple of hours away, I could have had a short trip of it. But that trip never panned out and while Chicago’s a bit farther for me, it’s still a direct flight away — so I’m all in.
So, what am I looking for? Good question. Well, I’d love to fill some holes on sets but, more broadly, I’ll be there with one focus in mind — pre-war cards. That’s really the crux of my collection. I dabble in a few other things like modern wrestling cards, Star Wars jibberish, and a somewhat ridiculous Dwight Gooden collection. And if I find a few of those items along the way at ‘can’t beat ’em’ prices, I’ll be glad to handover my credit card (er, cash). But mostly, I’m going for the really old stuff that I enjoy.
T206s? Sure, I guess. I know folks love those things and I do, too. I built a 520-card set a few years ago and that still hasn’t stopped me from buying dupes. But I can find those anywhere. I’m there for the rarer stuff that you don’t see on every street corner. I’ll be looking for some tougher international issues, some caramels, tougher tobacco, rare trade cards, and all sorts of stuff that can’t easily be found on eBay.
That doesn’t just include baseball, either. Sure, baseball’s my focus but my collection has swelled to include all sorts of sports, including football, basketball, hockey, boxing, soccer, auto racing, tennis, wrestling, golf, and almost everything in between. It doesn’t even end there, technically, as I’ve really opened up to pursuing some non-sports stuff in the past couple of years.
That ‘mission’ is, ironically, part of the reason I haven’t attended a National to date. While I fully expect to see a lot of pre-war there, I also am not sure it can compare to the experience of buying online — something I’ve grown quite accustomed to.
Here’s the thing. By my count, there will be nearly 350 dealers there. But how many of those will have pre-war that I need at the prices I’m looking for cuts my ‘interested’ list drastically, I presume. I expect a lot of post-war vintage but I won’t have 1950s and 1960s Topps on my mind. That surely will weed out a lot of dealers for me.
Down a couple of plane tickets, a hotel room for three nights, meals and other expenses, I have no misconceptions about this being worth it from a card-buying perspective. For that to happen, I’ll need to find some real steals or pick up cards that I absolutely could not acquire anywhere else. Maybe that happens but I’m going into this with the assumption that I’m paying for the experience.
So what are my goals here? What do I want out of this? I’ve got my eye on seven things.
First, I just want to get there. I’m on a tight schedule as it is there and don’t have the luxury of staying all week like some. So, the last thing I need is a flight delay or cancellation. I don’t have a layover so only have one flight each way to worry about. But let’s skip the logistical nightmares for this one, shall we? A safe, quick, on-time flight will be the first key to success.
Second, are the cards, of course. In addition to the pre-war stuff in general, I’m looking for one, very specific card. I am not going to mention said card here for a variety of reasons but it’s a single card that I’m after. If I find it and at my price, well, the trip will be worth it almost for that.
Third, this isn’t all just fun and games, people. I’m bringing some stuff to consign to a few folks that I’ve been meaning to unload and the National is a perfect place to do that. This goal will be met short of me falling and breaking my neck upon entry to the show. Simple, straightforward, and hopefully relatively painless.
Fourth, I’m getting out. It’s Chicago and while that might not be quite Vegas, there’s got to be some good grub and places to go. This was the lone selling point I had for my wife to attend, really. And she’s coming because I’m sure not doing this alone. I’m fully vaccinated so point me to a medium rare steak, some wine, and all the mischief a guy in his early 40s can handle, please. This is the equivalent of an adult Disney World for collectors and I’m here for the fun.
Fifth, there’s people to see. I’ve got some hobby friends I’ve only known digitally and a smile and handshake in person will be something I’m very much looking forward to. My only concern is disappointing some because I won’t get to everyone. But really looking forward to connecting with some other collectors in person.
Sixth, let’s get those cards slabbed. Similar to Goal #2, this one should be easy. I’ll be subbing some cards that I’ve been holding onto during the crazy delays grading companies have been experiencing. And doing it at the National means I can hand my cards over without the risk or cost of mailing them. Win-win.
Seventh, and maybe most importantly, point me to the nonsense. I want to see it all — bad customized jerseys. Questionable fashion choices. Six-figure unopened wax. Celebrities that I don’t recognize signing autographs. A Honus Wagner T206. Collectors haggling over how much they should pay for that 1990 Score Football box. A room full of deodorant-less men. Man, I want it all. I’m paying for the experience and you can bet that I’m milking every bit of entertainment out of this thing that I can.
Either that or I’m going down trying.
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