You can’t miss Len Pottie and his Platinum Promotions booth at any of the larger shows. It’s the one with a wall of vintage hockey cards staring down at you.
Pottie has been coming to the Chicago Sun-Times show for about 12 or 13 years. Flying is out of the question since 9/11. Carrying about $300,000 in merchandise won’t work now that suitcases can no longer be locked, so he packs up his vehicle and makes the 28-hour trek from his home near Halifax, Nova Scotia. He leaves Canada about a week before the show opens, stopping along the route to visit customers and those with cards to sell.
Since the exchange rate between US and Canadian dollars changed, Pottie is about the only Canadian dealer who makes such trips anymore. For him, Chicago is worth it. “It’s the best show in the States in my opinion,” he said during a lull on Sunday. But it’s just the warm-up. Monday, he left Illinois and headed toward Toronto for another show. Five weeks later, he’ll return to Toronto for the Sport Card Expo, a world-wide gathering of collectors with a heavy emphasis on hockey.
“There’s no show like it in the world. Whatever show is in second place is so far behind Toronto. It’s in a different league.”
The Toronto Expo draws collectors from the US and Canada but other countries as well. Thousands will come, ready to spend wads of cash. Pottie expects to be so busy, he flies four associates in to handle the sales at his booth, which includes inventory from the early part of the 20th century to the early 1970s. He spends most of the weekend walking the floor and buying cards his customers are asking for.
“We’ll likely do over $100,000 in sales and almost always that much in purchases. I’m more interested in buying. That’s the secret at this show. I advertise a lot and have a lot of customers in Canada.”
Pottie will arrive in Toronto several days ahead of time, again meeting with clients and sellers. “I’ll have 10 or 11 appointments at the hotel before the show opens.”
Sales of vintage cards are stronger than ever for Platinum Promotions. “Old hockey in high grade is double, triple, quadruple and even ten times what the price guides say. It’s amazing. I’ve been saying for years the market has been missing out on this but in the last three or four years, the market has now caught up. It’s unbelievable even compared to where it was just seven or eight years ago. I like dealing in the older vintage stuff because there’s a limited supply of it and even a smaller supply that’s in high grade.”
Long term relationships have paid off for Pottie, who doesn’t sell on eBay. “I’d say it’s about half my sales at shows and the other half via mail order with customers I’ve met and dealt with before. Some send want lists and I’ll fill them.”
American collectors longing for the days when larger shows were happenings in themselves might want to make the trip, especially if at least for one weekend they can focus on Gretzky and Hull instead of Mantle and Aaron.
“Toronto is the mecca for hockey and that show is the mecca for hockey shows.”