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National 2015: Aisle After Aisle of Goodness

Five days at the National Sports Collectors Convention and still didn’t see it all. From Nixon to Snoop Dogg and everything in between, here’s what I did see.

By Ross Forman

Nick Shubat jumped into an online break at about 10 p.m., on July 7, run by Firehand Cards of California. It was a group break, and Shubat spent $60 for four of 83 spots.
Luck certainly shined brightly on Shubat, as the 22-year-old from Oak Forest, Ill., scored big time that night, really big time. As in Babe Ruth big.

Shubat scored the top pull in that case of Tristar Signature Series: an autographed baseball by Babe Ruth, and he was formally presented the prized collectible weeks later at the 36th annual National Sports Collectors Convention, held in Rosemont, Ill.

“I took a shot for $60 because stuff in the case looked cool,” Shubat said. “Initially, I didn’t know I won the Ruth ball because I missed when the host released all the spots to people.

Nick Shubat shows off his Babe Ruth signed ball he won during a group break with Firehand Cards. Photos courtesy of Ross Forman.

Nick Shubat shows off his Babe Ruth signed ball he won during a group break with Firehand Cards. Photos courtesy of Ross Forman.

“When I realized it was me who had won the Ruth-signed ball, I was shocked; it was surreal, incredible.”

Shubat said the ball is “nicer than I thought it was.”

Now what?

“I’m probably going to keep it, at least for now, at least for a little while to get the initial shock of owning one out of the way,” he said. “I’ll probably sell it at some point down the road.”

The Ruth ball is, “by far” the nicest item in his collection, he said.

Artists always have a presence at The National. Rio of Rio Art offered splash art examples with a Chicago flavor at his first National.

Artists always have a presence at The National. Rio of Rio Art offered splash art examples with aChicago flavor at his first National.

Special artwork
I was impressed with the abstract paintings drawn by Rio of Rio Art, at The National. He mostly offered Chicago-themed sports pieces, along with some geared for athletes based on their uniform number. The splash art pieces with acrylic paint, made with a razor blade and often with glitter, too, are eye-catching and impressive, to say the least.

Rio, who has been painting for 15 years, has a fine arts degree and was making his first appearance ever at a sports collectibles convention – and this was his first time ever offering sports-theme products. His large paintings take up to four hours to make, while some smaller paintings could be finished in under an hour, he said.

Aisles and aisles of amazing items
Walking the show floor at The National is a painful task – because you don’t want to miss anything.
– walked the floor for all five days and know that I didn’t see everything. It’s just not possible to see every souvenir being sold inside the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center when The National is on the marquee.
But here’s a sampling of what I spotted:
– There was a signed golf ball from Andy North for $25 and one from David Toms for $29.
– A Chicago White Sox batting helmet, signed by Minnie Minoso, was $75.
– A Notre Dame helmet, signed by Ara Parseghian, was $180.
– There was a bobblehead bonanza, as $5 could snag you bobbers of Craig Wilson, Fernando Rodney or Oliver Perry.
– Was surprised to see the lot of eight hand-written letters, with the $400 price tag, for items inked by Richard Ramirez, aka, The Night Stalker.
– There was a Julius Erving-signed Philadelphia 76ers jersey for $199.
– He was born Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr., in Long Beach, Calif. But the world now knows him as Snoop Dogg – and a signed 8-by-10 photo, with PSA/DNA, was $40.
– Larry Bird-signed 16-by-20 photos were $195.
– A dual Chicago Cubs-Chicago White Sox yearbook from 1936 was $275.
– Richard Nixon-signed baseball was $1,500.
– Gale Sayers appeared at the Hunt Auctions booth on Wednesday afternoon for a press event as Hunt Auctions announced the inclusion of Sayers’ personal collection at the Super Bowl 50 Live Auction in San Francisco. Unfortunately, no media attended.

Boxes – even when empty – are quite collectible. Prices ranged from $10 to $75 for the offerings shown here.

Boxes – even when empty – are quite collectible. Prices ranged from $10 to $75 for the offerings shown here.

– No cards, just the boxes – here are some prices: 1979 Topps Baseball ($15), 1985 Topps Football ($10), 1958 Topps Baseball vending ($75) and 1977-78 O-Pee-Chee WHA Hockey ($40).
– Gary Carter-worn and signed shin guards were $125.
– A 1959 Chicago White Sox World Series program was 50 cents at the time; now it’s $80.
– Charles Haley-worn San Francisco 49ers road uniform was $9,500.
– Matt Harvey-signed baseballs (with PSA/DNA) were $100.
– A baseball signed by the 2015 American League All-Star team was $595.
– A 1948-49 Chicago Blackhawks team photo was $85.
– Harry Caray tribute CD was $2, or three for $5.
– A 1950s Mickey Mantle board game was $125.
– One of the coolest interactive elements of the show was the 1930s Babe Ruth game-used bat, which hundreds, if not thousands, of people got to hold and take a picture with, thanks to California-based Memory Lane Inc.

This 1959 World Series program was offered for $80.

This 1959 World Series program was offered for $80.

– Who doesn’t like signed jerseys? Here’s a sampling of authentic replicas that were being sold: Alex Gordon ($200), James Harden ($225), Blake Griffin ($250), Brett Hull ($275) and Martin Brodeur ($350).
– Pittsburgh Penguins game-issued pucks were $5, while Penguins game-worn socks were $25.
– John Arcand, the Chicago-based dealer who doubles as the Big Ten Treasure Hunter for the Big Ten Network TV show, had relics from Lloyd Wasserbach dating back to the 1940s and his days at the University of Wisconsin. There were Wasserbach-worn pants, socks and cleats – and a $250 price tag. Wasserbach was picked in the 1943 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers, but was drafted into World War II before he had a chance to play for the team. He did, though, play in the All-America Football Conference for the Chicago Rockets in 1946 and 1947 as a tackle. Wasserbach died in 1949 at age 28.
– A 1960-61 Boston Bruins Press Radio TV Guide was $115.
– Saw a dealer selling, as he put it, “the best 1954-55 Topps Hockey set in the world.”
– Veteran dealer Kip Ingle was selling a letter signed by Knute Rockne for $2,200.
– Beanie Babies were $1 . . . my have times – and collectibles – changed. There was a time not too long ago when these were the items to collect.
– Was nice seeing tennis icons Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl in the Tristar Autograph Pavilion, making their National debut as autograph signers. Meanwhile, there was a 16-by-20 drawing of Billie Jean King, signed, for only $15 – and the dealer promoted that there was only one left.
– After walking the show floor daily, for all five days, I saw, met and spoke with some of the best dealers in this industry. Some have been in the hobby for years, for decades, seemingly forever. One of the best was Al Zouky of Zebra Sports in Advance, N.C. I had never met Al, but when I asked him about an Elvis Presley-signed item that he was selling, he told in about three or four minutes the entire backstory on the autograph, when he was signed, where, etc. Kudos to Al for doing what any smart businessman would: engage the customer.

Not so, though, to the dealer selling game tickets from select noteworthy games/events, such as so-and-so’s major league debut. This dealer (and I won’t name names) also sold those pocket schedules that teams produce. He didn’t say “Hello, how can I help you?” or anything like that. Instead, he greeted me with, “I don’t want you writing about my stuff and don’t take any pictures, if you have a camera.” So much for good customer service. Yes, I might be a writer covering the event, but I also had money in my pocket and also was a customer. Obviously, I didn’t buy anything from him.

– Packs of Topps UFC Champions cards were $5.
– Saw where a dealer promoted that, in addition to credit cards, he accepted payments via PayPal – good idea!
– There were new mascot bobbleheads from select schools, such as University of Miami, Texas Tech and Wisconsin, among others . . . priced at $35 each.
– There was a framed hockey photo, which the dealer speculated was from the 1920s, for $150.
– Marty Davis of Marty’s Sports Card Exchange was selling cards at his 15th National, and the 2015 show was his second-best of all.

“There were hardly any disappointments,” of the unopened boxes that he offered, he said. “The redemption programs really helped things sell. Yes, I was very happy with this show.”

This 1954-55 Topps Hockey set tipped the scales at $75,000.

This 1954-55 Topps Hockey set tipped the scales at $75,000.

Davis said the top five sellers at the 2015 National were:
1. 2015 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball ($89 per box, or two for $174).
2. 2015 Panini Prestige Football ($96).
3. 2015 Panini Cooperstown Baseball ($150).
4. 2015 Panini Clear Vision Football ($66).
5. 2014-15 Upper Deck SP Authentic Hockey ($105).

– Carli Lloyd-signed 16-by-20 photos were $119.
– Packs of the Ted Williams Card Company Premier Edition ’93 were $3 each.
– There was a signed 16-by-20 photo of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins for $395 – marked down from $525.
– Mark Dehem offers a table-full of oddities for only 25 cents on the final day of The National, a tradition he’s run with for years. He had a teenager give him 24 cents for an item because he didn’t want to break a dollar.
– There was a Walter Payton game-worn jersey from 1984-86 for $3,400.
– A Bobby Cox-signed authentic replica jersey was $150.
– Brett Favre 1997 worn practice jersey from 1997 for $795.
– The Bing Crosby-signed baseball was $1,395.

With all the hoopla for box breaks, I gotta salute Panini America’s Free Kids Case Break, where kids aged 13 and under each received a Panini America bag, T-shirt and a lanyard which indicated their team in the break, run by Bryan Gavin of Ultimate Box Breaks. Panini donated the box, and obviously the cards, which landed in the hands of young collectors. There was, for instance, a Russell Wilson card numbered to 10, various Teddy Bridgewater rookie cards, Dwyane Wade autographed cards and more. There was a 15-box break of 2014-15 Totally Certified Basketball, as well as 2014 Absolute Football, 2014-15 Paramount Basketball and 2015 Clear Vision Football.


“The Free Kids Case Break was really cool to watch. Sure, the kids were excited with the cards they got, but watching their parents was just as exciting, too,” said Panini’s Scott Prusha. “The break was engaging, helped promote collecting between kids and their parents.”

Those youngsters who didn’t score anything in the break didn’t go home empty-handed; Panini gave them goodies, too, such as packs of cards, extra hit-cards, signed mini helmets and/or autographed photos.

The National returns to Atlantic City in 2016 . . . here’s hoping it’s half as good as Chicago was in 2015. Hope to see you there.

Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at

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