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Sun-Times means big crowds and cool stuff

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 With an autograph lineup that featured Peyton Manning, his father, Archie, and younger brother Eli huddling up for a first-ever public signing, the St. Patrick's Day Weekend version of the famed Chicago Sun-Times Show at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., drew a record crowd on Saturday and solid turnouts all three days.

In a unique collaboration between Steiner Sports and Mounted Memories that inked the Super Bowl MVP Manning to an exclusive autograph deal earlier this year, the presence of the three Mannings, more than a dozen baseball, football, basketball and hockey hall of famers and a sterling lineup of Chicagoland favorites from all four major sports helped pull a huge crowd to the popular Sun-Times Show.

"This was our biggest Saturday ever," said the show's promoter, George Johnson. "I wasn't sure we were going to be able to get all the people in," Johnson added. "The autograph pavilion was jammed; we've never had a bigger crowd in my 17 years, and it's all because of Peyton and Urlacher.
Mitch Adelstein, president of Mounted Memories, echoed that sentiment. "It's the best show in the country. The turnout overall was amazing; for a while the cops really struggled with the autograph lines on Saturday," he added, noting that Friday evening was strong due to five members of the 1985 Bears, arguably the most beloved team in Chicago history.

The winter weather that clobbered the East Coast over the weekend produced only one casualty from the autograph lineup: Colts standout wide receiver Marvin Harrison. He got stuck in the Philadelphia airport for six hours; Mounted Memories officials said they would reschedule another signing date.

"This is one of the great collector shows," said veteran dealer Dick Decourcy, who specializes in vintage cards. "This row of chairs has been filled virtually from the start of the show," he said, pointing to the front of his table.

The show likely topped the November 2006 edition of the Sun-Times for total attendance, a similarly hectic weekend that produced an attendance estimate of more than 9,000. Even though the big-time autograph lineups at card shows can often seem to grab the spotlight from the dealers - the very guys who helped build the hobby into the behemoth that it has become today - the very best shows, like George Johnson's biannual Chicago Sun-Times Show, manage to find that elusive middle ground that balances the roles the two vital components.

At the Sun-Times Show, that means that in addition to an autograph pavilion that boasted the likes of Peyton Manning and family, Mario Lemieux (his first card show), Hall of Famers galore and a veritable battalion of Chicago Bears, old and new, the March 16-18 edition still managed to maintain its vintage card and memorabilia flavor.

And from many perspectives, obviously including mine, that's a good thing. As I waddled around the show for two days, I couldn't help but enjoy the powerful one-two combination of old guys and old stuff.

From the latter category came one of my favorite things (which, coincidentally, seem to turn up in Chicago): the Topps flexichromes from the 1950s and 1960s. These were the cards that befuddled and annoyed us at the time because they looked so different than most of the regular photograph cards in the set, but like a quirky uncle who kind of grows on you over time, what seemed like a big gyp when we opened a pack in 1959 turned out to be a charming historical curiosity nearly a half-century later.

Kevin Savage of Kevin Savage Cards of Maumee, Ohio, had several of the flexichromes (black-and-white photos colorized by hand), including Chuck Estrada, one of the "Baby Birds," from his 1960 Topps rookie card, and highlighted by the original flexichrome from Fork & Knuckler, the great Roy Face and Hoyt Wilhelm combo card from that same set.

And speaking of original art, right next to Savage's table, Bryan Dec of Bryan Dec Vintage Sports was offering the original charcoal drawing of George Sisler that was used on the cover of Time magazine the week of March 30, 1925. Dec had a $1,500 price tag, which seems reasonable enough given that the original issue of Time is routinely listed in price guides at $1,000 and more.

Bill McAvoy of McAvoy Sporcards in Omaha, Neb., was touting some cool stuff of his own, including a 1930 Wheaties Famous North Americans panel with Christy Mathewson, plus he was touting some "Gold" Hartland Statues that McAvoy says are frequently confused with yellowed versions of the famed originals.

"These are color all the way through," said McAvoy, who has more than a half-dozen of the statues, including Dick Groat, Eddie Mathews, Luis Aparicio and Willie Mays. Dealer Gene Haas of Edgerton, Wis., was set up alongside McAvoy and had three of the "Gold" Hartlands available (shown this page): Warren Spahn, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra.

One of the most visible figures at the Sun-Times Show, Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen, was conspicuous in his absence over St. Patty's Day. Rosen is recuperating at home in New Jersey after quadruple bypass heart surgery earlier this year and missed the show, with his assistant, Dave Czuba, pinch-hitting.

Rosen is doing well, but will be on the shelf for several more weeks. Czuba, with an assist from Kevin Bronson of Kevin Bronson Galleries, had performed ably in Rosen's stead, much as he had at the EPSCC Philly Show in Reading, Pa., in early March.

Czuba puchased a nifty signed Babe Ruth store model bat that walked in on Saturday at the Sun-Times. The bat's lineage could be traced back to the National Convention in St. Louis in 1995. At the National Convention auction, a popular tradition at the annual show for more than two decades but one that has not taken place in several years, the bat sold for a whopping $12,000. Lot No. 13 in that auction, it came with a letter from noted bat expert Dave Bushing, who unabashedly pronounced that "this is the finest store model Ruth bat that I've ever seen."

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