The milestone 35th annual TRISTAR Collectors Show in Houston, held June 4-6 at NRG Arena, was record-breaking, riding a perfect storm of a red-hot collectibles industry hungry for the first major, multi-guest show in about 15 months.
In fact, Friday June 4 was the biggest Friday at a TRISTAR show in company history, with more than five times the normal attendance for the promotion, which has been holding three-day shows in Houston since 1991.
“This was the biggest Friday night, by far,” said TRISTAR vice-president Bobby Mintz. “There is a lot of excitement in our industry right now for multiple reasons. Everything in the hobby is hot right now, especially cards … most collectors have not been to a major show since February 2020 … there have been no in-person autographs at a show with 25 to 30 guests since early-2020 … and there were some big-name signers, such as Jalen Hurts, Ted Simmons and Larry Walker, among others.”
Photo Gallery: Behind the scenes at TRISTAR Houston show
The three-day show also featured appearances by Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Willie Roaf, Johnny Manziel, Bob Lilly, Will Clark and others. The top autograph signers were Bagwell and Biggio, who had not made a signing appearance together in Houston in three years. Other top signers were Hurts, Manziel, Drew Pearson and Ja’Marr Chase. Another strong signer was new Hall of Famer Larry Walker in his first public signing in 20-plus years.
“It was an absolutely fantastic show, a great crowd with people spending money,” said longtime dealer Mike Stoner. “Houston always is a good show market, and this show was as good or better [than past area shows].”
“I was cautiously optimistic, though personally very nervous,” Mintz said. “But everything went smooth; it couldn’t have gone any better.
“I think this show really bodes well for the summer, particularly, the National Sports Collectors Convention.”
Mintz predicted the 2021 National will be the biggest since the 1991 National in Anaheim, Calif.
“We had the most new customers at a show in a long, long time,” he said. “How do I know that? Based on the questions that the customers were asking in the autograph pavilion, such as, ‘Do you have pens we can use? Will someone tell the player where to sign the item? Etc.
“It’s very exciting that there is a new generation of people, future collectors.”
TRISTAR delivered a socially-distanced show, with larger aisles between dealer tables, six feet between signers and fans, multiple sanitation stations around the venue, and more. Keep Everyone Safe was the show mantra for TRISTAR — and they delivered.
“People were definitely very focused, excited for the show,” said longtime dealer Roger Neufeldt. “There were more people looking at vintage cards [than past shows], particularly older football cards and sets.”
Neufeldt sold a 1948 and 1949 Leaf football set hours after the show opened on Friday. He said the hot vintage baseball cards included the usual suspects: Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial and Duke Snider. Ozzie Smith rookie cards (1979 Topps) were also strong sellers.
Neufeldt also spotted many vintage collectors under the age of 21, which brought a smile to his face. And there were more set-builders at the Houston show than at any show over the past few years, he said.
Dealer Randy Cook said the Houston show attracted some young collectors, including a 7-year-old boy who repeatedly visited Cook’s dealer table. Cook also noted many show attendees had not been to a show in 20 or 30 years.
Florida-based dealer Art Smith said it was a “fantastic” show, which truly shows the strength of the hobby. He noted demand for cards of Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron and others.
“This show did better than I expected [and] shows there was pent-up demand for a major regional card show.”
Artist Isaac “Ike” Rodriguez was at the Houston show painting and promoting his brilliant pieces. He left with a smile on his face.
“It was a solid show,” Rodriguez said. “There were top-notch dealers and a good crowd … a really big crowd. The show was better than I expected.”
Rodriguez reported his prints sold well and he also sold four full-size original pieces. Plus, he acquired several commission jobs from customers.
Rodriguez was recently named the official artist for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, replacing the late Robert Hurst. He was painting former Baylor basketball star Sophia Young at the TRISTAR show. An All-American in college, Young went on to a nine-year career for the San Antonio Silver Stars in the WNBA.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Rodriguez said. “I want to do a great job with the art for the Texas Sports Hall of Fame — not only for myself, but also for Robert, to keep his legacy alive.”
Show Calendar: State-by-state listing of card shows across the country
Stoner said his sales at the TRISTAR show included 15 to 20 single-signed baseballs. He also was selling candy bars, with proceeds being donated to the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity and veterans service organization that offers a variety of programs, services and events for wounded veterans.
“I think everyone had a good time at the show,” Mintz said.
That includes the autograph-signers.
Former Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry, for instance, asked for the photo of teammate Chris Chambliss hitting the walk-off home run from the 1976 ALCS.
“He was so nervous to go up to Chris to ask him to sign the photo, even though they’ve been friends for 45 years and still speak weekly. He had never asked him for anything,” Mintz said.
Guidry plans to hang the photo in his office.
T.J. Ford made his first show appearance, while Hurts was “caring, professional and very specific to sign an item where the customer wanted it signed,” Mintz said. Same for Chase.
The all-around nicest guest for the whole weekend, Mintz said, was former Texas A&M star and Heisman Trophy winner Manziel. “He was just super nice to the people, offering tips on which pens to use, location to get an item signed, and more.”
Pearson, the former Dallas Cowboys great, was making his first public autograph appearance since he was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The next TRISTAR Show in Houston is Feb. 4-6, 2022.
AROUND THE SHOW
With pen and paper in hand, not a wad of cash, I looked at the offerings at the show. Oh, for an endless supply of cash.
Here’s a look at some of the souvenirs seen at the Houston show:
• Jose Altuve autographed, framed jersey, with two photos: $500.
• A game-used base from the April 3, 2018 game with Baltimore at Houston: $250.
• Houston Astros’ World Series-winning celebration 16x20 photo, framed, with 20 autographs: $2,000.
• George Springer game-used equipment: cleats ($450), bats ($450), batting gloves ($300).
• Pina Power player bobber of Yuli Gurriel, signed: $300.
• Houston Aeros magazine: $20.
• Brad Ausmus on a surfboard bobblehead: $20.
• Milo Hamilton bobblehead: $30.
• Bill Belichick signed 8x10 photo
• Bart Starr signed 8x10 photo, with inscription and JSA COA: $450.
• Carl Hubbell & Lefty Gomez dual-8x10 photo, with PSA: $125.
• The 1961 full issue of Who’s Who in Baseball: $35.
• Box of 2020 WWE Topps Finest cards: $150.
• 2021 UFC Panini Prizm box: $80.
• How ‘bout some 11x14 photos: Bob Lilly and Mel Renfro, dual-signed ($40); Evan Gattis ($50).
• Blow-out Specials: Signed, framed 8x10 photo of Donovan McNabb, in his Syracuse uniform ($60); Andre Ware in Detroit uniform ($60); Mark McGwire ($200); Tim Hardaway ($80) and Mel Ott, not signed ($40).
• Ohio State helmet signed by Archie Griffin: $350.
• Houston Texans helmet signed by Andre Johnson: $600.
• MLB cubed baseball: $25.
• Earl Campbell autographed football, in case: $200.
• Bum Phillips signed white panel football: $200.
• 2020-21 Panini NBA Hoops complete set with rookies: $80
• 1989 Upper Deck baseball, low-number series packs: $15.
• Full-color sublimation basketball hoops, with one player featured, such as, LeBron James: $30, or 2-for-$50.
• 1989 Donruss baseball box: $30.
• 1992 Topps Traded Baseball set: $15.
• Tom Brady signed, framed 18x24 poster: $2,000.
• Luka Doncic signed 16x20 photo: $600.
• Mike Trout signed 16x20 photo: $500.
• Ted Williams signed 16x10 photo: $350.
• Jim Brown on his first Sports Illustrated cover (Sept. 26, 1960): $30.
• Joe Namath on his first Sports Illustrated cover (Jan. 20, 1969): $200.
• Undertaker casket & figure set, signed: $200.
• Dak Prescott signed Dallas Cowboys helmet: $399.
• Mickey Mantle or Joe DiMaggio signed 11x14 photo: $350.
• Billy Cannon signed 11x14 photo: $30.
• Autographed baseballs: Joe Torre ($95), Early Wynn ($100), Bill Mazeroski ($75), Wade Boggs ($100), Preacher Roe ($75), Billy Herman ($100).