It’s a sports card and memorabilia show for collectors — hosted by collectors.
And that’s the way organizers for the annual Washington State Sports Collectors Association’s Winter Convention like it. This year’s event will be held November 5-6 in the Seattle suburb of Shoreline.
The Winter Convention began in 2007 and complements the Summer Convention, which has been held annually on the weekend after Memorial Day since 1973 — making it the longest-running show in the country. And the show has a down-home, easygoing feel to it that collectors appreciate.
“Sure, there are some dealers which is good, but some vendors are collectors who are there to sell their duplicates, buy or trade for items for their own collections, and to network with other local collectors,” said collector Dave Fallen, who lives about an hour north of the show’s venue. “The sharing of information is priceless and it is great to meet other local collectors with similar interests.”
“It’s a bunch of collectors who end up with a bunch of stuff. Some of the cards have cobwebs on them,” said Conor Donahue, the WSSCA’s treasurer and vice president of publicity. “You can tell they’ve been lying around.”
“There’s definitely some graded cards. But you’ll find stacks of cards from the 1950s with rubber bands around them.”
The show will be held at Meridian Park Elementary School in Shoreline, and admission to the two-day event is $3 (children under 12 are admitted free). Parking is free.
This year’s winter show will be tinged with sadness, as Frank Caruso, the WSSCA’s first president, died on September 8 at age 80. Caruso was one of nine charter members who organized the WSSCA in 1973.
“He was still buying stuff right up until the end,” Donahue said. “It’s sad to lose a guy like that.
“He was buying 1949 Bowman PCLs out of packs, that’s how long he’d been collecting.”
The WSSCA sent a large flower arrangement in the shape of a baseball for Caruso’s service.
The lure of the WSSCA show is the quirky cards a collector can find. As a West Coast venue, there are plenty of offbeat minor-league vintage cards with a Pacific Coast flavor.
“There’s definitely a local core of collectors,” Donahue said. “If you bring Zeenuts and Obaks to the show to sell, you won’t leave with them.”
There are other scarce major-league and regional food issue cards that can be found, too.
“I got my big start of ’52 (Topps) high numbers here from a collector,” Washington resident Rick Lyons said. “As he upgraded his set, he would sell them to me.”
“I always find something to buy,” Lyons added. “It might not be the direction I started with before I got there. So I buy what they have that I don’t have.
“Last show I attended, I bought a bunch of ’53 Glendale meats for $40 each.”
The latest edition of the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards lists a common Glendale card in VG at $550.
“At the last National in L.A. (Anaheim in 2006), I found exactly one Seattle Popcorn card,” Fallen said. “At WSSCA I have acquired many of them and a lot more from other collectors I have met there.”
One dealer would give collectors a box and told them to fill it up with certain cards for one price. “It was a mish-mash,” Donahue said. “People would pull up a chair and spend hours looking through cards.”
Through the years, several athletes have attended the show to sign autographs. Donahue said a highlight came in 1986, when Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio came to sign autographs. DiMaggio was paid “$7,000 or $8,000” and the show organizers charged $8 per autograph.
“He insisted in being paid in cash,” Donahue said. “He literally threw it in his suitcase.
“There goes Joe DiMaggio with a suitcase full of cash.”
Johnny Bench, Ken Griffey Jr., Stan Musial and Warren Moon also have signed at the show, Donahue said. But signings are now a thing of the past at the Washington show.
“The hobby in general now doesn’t justify the expense,” Donahue said. “The older I get, the less impressed I am with pro athletes. I mean, he’s just a guy.”
Donahue calls himself a relative newcomer to the WSSCA. After moving to the West Coast 12 years ago, the 37-year-old Boston native found out about the club by searching online and joined. He became treasurer five years ago and added the publicity title three years ago.
Predictably, Donahue grew up rooting for the Red Sox.
“I think that’s part of your vaccination schedule when you’re a kid in Boston,” he said. “Anyone who grew up there rooted for the Red Sox.
“I was 7 when the Red Sox lost Game 6,” he said, not having to name the World Series he’s referring to (it was the 1986 Fall Classic between Boston and the New York Mets). “It’s the only time I saw my dad cry.”
His own daughter is now 7 and collects “the shiny ones.”
“Now she’s into comic books,” Donahue said.
Regardless of what interest a youth might have, Donahue said it’s important to cultivate that interest to keep the hobby vibrant.
“Adults are nice because they have the money, but kids are the future,” he said.
As collectors and dealers will tell you, the WSSCA show is all about affordability and friendliness.
“You’re not going to find a glass case with one layer of things exorbitantly priced,” Donahue said.
That’s what has kept the WSSCA show a must-visit place for collectors on the West Coast. Besides, there’s that longevity for the Summer Convention and the growing legacy of the Winter Convention.
“It’s the longest-running one in the world — unless there’s one in Yugoslavia or something,” Donahue joked.