Report From an Unexpected Card Show

I am not planning to attend the large regional baseball card show coming up later this month in Chantilly. In fact, there are no show dates of any kind circled on my calendar. After a few years of attending most of the events within driving distance I came to the conclusion that there isn’t a lot to be found for my collection at these shows.

Availability of cards is a big factor. It gets a little redundant being told “You’re searching for a needle in a haystack” at table after table in hotel conference rooms. Chantilly, the only regular 150+ table show not requiring overnight travel, offers a bit more selection but still feels a bit bare in terms of items on my wanted list. When a desired card is spotted there is usually the deflating experience of seeing a price tag multiples of the going rate. Adding to pricing issues is a tendency for a sizable contingent of sellers to significantly overestimate the condition of their inventory.

As a result, I scratched most card shows off the list of regular venues for sourcing cards. Bargain bins at these affairs have yielded a small stream of cards, but the luster of these pick-ups is dulled by the experience of a half day of pondering the views of I-95 traffic. The redeeming element in these experiences has been the “museum” aspect. At a show I have the opportunity to take a leisurely walk while staring at case after case of baseball cards. Take away long distance travel time, high prices, and haggling over condition and you have the makings of a pretty good day.

With that backdrop firmly in place, I drove past a small sign advertising a local card show this Memorial Day weekend. Having a half hour to spare before needing to be elsewhere, I pulled into the parking lot of a community building in time to discover the doors were just about to be thrown open to the waiting throng of a half dozen collectors.

The show didn’t look like much on paper. It was a one day affair, with just 6 hours of availability advertised on a flyer taped to the door. The promoter had organized other small collecting events in the area and had been shifting the show to different locations each time. Walking inside, I quickly counted a total of 12 dealers present spread across perhaps 30 tables.

Here’s where things got fun. Upon entering the show floor I spotted a showcase absolutely filled with mid-grade slabbed 1952 Topps cards. This was highly unusual for such a show, and in a further surprise each was clearly marked with reasonable prices. The seller and I quickly began speaking about his cards and I learned that he has completed building a set of these incredible cards. Not only had he assembled the entire thing, he had done so with each card having been graded by PSA as Ex-Mt or better 😮. What was laid out before me were the duplicates and castoffs from this project, cards that had either been upgraded or acquired as part of larger lots in search of examples in spectacular condition.

This wasn’t a random card dealer, but rather a COLLECTOR who understood the intricacies of the set and its various series. My interest piqued, I asked if any lower series commons were available and was rewarded with a stack of cards to sort through. Most were visually impressive, being decently centered and giving off solid impressions of being in Very Good condition. Not only were these available at or above the condition I am targeting, they were more than attractively priced. We continued talking as the cards were sorted and I found the proprietor to be absolutely knowledgeable about even the most obscure names in the checklist. I walked away with five cards consisting of four new names and a condition upgrade for a fifth.

Having blown through the cash in my pocket, I thanked the set collector for bringing his cards to the show and made my way in a quick loop around the rest of the room. The remainder of the show floor included a few things that stood out. There were the usual guys with Pokemon cards and Funko Pops filling up a quarter of the room. Two tables filled with monster box bargain bins were dueling from across the room, one specializing in cards arranged by set (1959-present) and the other dividing his wares by team. There was a full time dealer with some heavy hitting museum cards (Koufax rookie, ’34 Diamond Stars, etc.) set up along a wall. A very interesting table was present with an eclectic selection of sports and non-sports tobacco cards. He even had a sealed pack of cigarettes from a turn of the century issue that came with girlie pin-ups.

I undeniably enjoyed this show. While a quick in and out lap around the perimeter would have afforded a pleasant morning walk, it was meeting the ’52 Topps collector that made the morning really stand out. As collectors who have worked on the set and fretted over finding just the right cards to fill out the checklist, we were speaking the same language. His prices were those set by someone regularly on the customer side of the table, and his own focus on condition led to an honest assessment of where the cards stood. I plan on circling more show dates on my calendar if tables like this become a regular feature.