By Ross Forman
Most of the dealers who I spoke with on Sunday afternoon, July 30, were not too happy … not too happy, that is, that the 38th annual National Sports Collectors Convention was ending its five-day run at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois.
“This was the best National ever, and I’ve done 25,” said Greg Lambert of California Card Shark. “Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger are on fire, so their cards are on fire. This is the hottest (Major League Baseball) rookie class in the last 10 years, and it shows on the card market. There are 10 great, great (rookie) players, which has done wonders for the card market.
“This year’s National was very strong … and the best buying show ever, without question.”
Lambert said 2017 Topps Baseball was among the best-selling, along with 2017 Donruss Optic and 2017 Topps Heritage.
“The new stuff, the new products and releases are on fire; it’s truly nuts how well they are doing.”
Lisa Stellato on Never Enough Cards, Inc., said the 2017 National “was exceptional.”
“The atmosphere was great; the enthusiasm was unlike anything I had seen at a show in a long, long time,” she said. “People were buying everything … everything! From singles to complete sets, player collectors and more. There were a ton of kids at the show too, which was great to see.
“This was the best National in 10 years, minimum – thanks to attendance, enthusiasm, collectability and overall pleasantness.”
The 38th National, from July 26-30, was a smorgasbord of sports memorabilia, anchored by baseball, with Chicago continuing to reign as the Sports Collecting Capital of the United State, without question.
“This was the best National that I can remember,” said Scott Prusha of Panini. “There was a lot of traffic on the show floor, which shows that the market is good, healthy.
“Aaron Judge, Lonzo Ball and others have really pumped life into the industry.”
Prusha added, “Wednesday and Thursday, I had never seen it that busy on those days at a National, ever. We knew it would be crazy on Friday and Saturday, and it was. It was just an awesome show.”
This year’s National seemed electric from Wednesday to Saturday. Sunday’s crowd seemed to tail off, and many dealers were packing up early.
This year’s National was, like most others, packed with an eye-popping array for souvenirs. More cards than you could count in a lifetime. Game-worn jerseys dating back decades. Limited, rare and one-of-a-kind relics from every sport around.
And ice cream, too. My favorite: the swirl, soft-serve that was only $2.50 for a frozen delight.
Here’s a look at some of the other gems spotted at the 38th National:
• A table filled with badges from past National’s, ranging in price from $5 to $20 each, depending on the player featured.
• Justin Rose-signed flag from the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics ($150).
• A 1979 Kellogg’s factory set of baseball cards ($40).
• A 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers team-signed ball, with Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey ($6,000).
• The 2017 Japan Pro Baseball Fan Handbook & Media Guide ($15).
• Actual letterhead paper from the Houston Colt .45s front-office: $15 for one sheet or two-for-$25.
• Signed balls were only $10 for Steve Sax, Don Stanhouse and Jim Sundberg, among others.
• Signed Pucks: Bobby Hull ($65), Mario Lemieux ($195), Mike Bossy ($75) and Maurice Richard ($345)
• Signed Baseballs: Mike Piazza ($195), Willie Mays ($199) and Ryne Sandberg ($125).
• Media Guides: $3 each or 2-for-$5, including the 1990 Milwaukee Brewers, or the 1997 and 2000 Chicago Cubs.
• Eddie Vedder signed, framed 11x14 photo ($795).
• Team logo totes were only $10 each, or 5-for-$40.
• Kevin Durant-signed basketball ($195).
• Tony Parker-signed ball ($250).
• A University of San Francisco authentic-replica jersey of Bill Russell, signed ($295).
• A Chris Chelios Chicago Blackhawks jersey, signed ($140).
• There was a nice, matted, framed 16x20 photo of wrestling legends Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, though only signed by Hogan ($99).
• John Wall-signed, framed 11x14 photo ($99).
• Jim Brown and Bill Russell signed, poster-sized photo, framed ($550).
• Jim Craig signed jersey ($200).
• Autographed footballs: Barry Alvarez ($45) and Chris Spielman ($35).
• Jim Harbaugh signed University of Michigan mini-helmet ($295).
• Rudy Ruettiger signed Notre Dame jersey ($90).
• Autographed Bats: Ichiro ($275-450), Sandy Koufax ($325), Kyle Schwarber ($250) and Vladimir Guerrero ($225).
• Freddie Freeman autographed, game-worn 2009 batting gloves ($385).
• Autographed Baseballs: President Ford ($375), President Clinton ($675), John Kerry ($100), Mitt Romney ($135) and Rand Paul ($175).
• Max Scherzer autographed 2015 All-Star Game jersey ($250).
• Game-used Bats: Josh Reddick ($375) and Javier Baez ($1,000).
• The 2017 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, with Kate Upton on the cover, signed ($175).
• Ben Zobrist signed ball ($150).
• Boxes of 2017 Panini Contenders Football ($92).
• Framed, signed 8x10 Photos: Don Drysdale ($99), Carl Yastrzemski ($175), Madison Bumgarner ($125), Marcus Mariota ($75) and Dak Prescott ($125).
• Meadowlark Lemon signed basketball ($50).
• Replica championship rings were $50 each.
• There was a clever 12-baseball stand and case featuring single-signed balls of such former Boston Celtics’ greats, such as Red Auerbach, Sam Jones and Bill Sharman.
• Quote Lisa Stellato of Never Enough Cards, Inc., “I didn’t expect the amount of people who came to The National … I’m disappointed that (the National) is over, and it’s been a long time since I said that after a show ended … I’m tired, but it’s a good tired.”
• More from Lisa Stellato: “The (baseball) rookie crop has really driven people back to the hobby, so we’re optimistic what Cleveland will bring,” next summer when The National returns to Ohio.
• One more from Lisa Stellato: “We have a long drive home, but definitely have smiles on our faces. The overall sales at this year’s National were the best in years. And everything was selling, everything! I had stuff stored under tables, but pulled it out, put it on display, and it sold. Whatever we put out for sale sold, which is something we haven’t seen in the hobby in a long, long time.”
• Earl Campbell signed Houston Oilers jersey ($59).
• Mickey Mantle signed 16x20 photo ($1,299).
• Autographed jerseys: Billy Cannon/LSU ($75) and Magic Johnson/Los Angeles Lakers ($85).
The 2018 National will be held at the IX Center in Cleveland, then return to Chicago in 2019. For 2020, the National will be held at Atlantic City Convention Center in New Jersey, which hosted the event in 2016.