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Going Behind the Counter at The National brings different perspective

By T.J. Schwartz

So I decided to set up at the National in good old Atlantic City this year. I’ve been to 24 of these Disneyland of Card Shows as I dubbed it way back in 1991. I only missed 2014 due to my diabetes. Rather than do my usual review of the show, I’ve decided to do an entire BTC National edition. I will have a few comments about the show later.

But before I get started, I must say that I was humbled at the sheer amount of readers and fans of the column who stopped by and asked about my health! One after another, they came, every one of them wanting to know about my diabetes and encouraging me to write more than I currently do. After 25 years of penning OYS, it still felt good and yes, I will endeavor to write more. Thanks to all!

National Shopper

Some come to the National to window shop, others purchase some of the true gems of this hobby. (Photo by T.J. Schwartz)

Now I must make fun of a few, as that is my style.

I have to start with this gentleman who stopped by and fell in love with an 1887 Old Judge Cabinet Card PSA 3 that I had, perhaps the rarest and certainly the oldest card in the show. The minute he looked at my case of Old Judge cards from a recent find, all PSA graded, I knew he was a buyer. What I didn’t know was that he was a sloooooow buyer. He sat there for upwards of an hour staring at the card. We had already agreed on a price, but he had to think ... and think ... and think some more.

He was also a fan who loved my column. So we talked and talked and talked about this and that while I quickly grew a beard! An hour goes by and he stares at the card. Now I look like Santa. “Lets’s Gooooooooo!” I joke until finally, after I got a shave and grew my beard back, he said OK. I was going to name him, but changed my mind as he was a great guy. He did say that he will instantly be recognized by the story so we’ll see.

Then there was the guy that spent an hour looking through stacks and stacks of PSA graded T206 cards and picked out five to add to his set. Then this lovely gentleman tells me that he wants to go get cash to pay. Now I’ve been at this for 30 years, which is more than many of you have been alive, so I know what that is code for. It’s code for “I’m not coming back, pally!” The worst thing is that he really thought I believed him and was really holding the cards. Now remember, this guy went through hundreds of T206’s for over an hour and agreed on a price. Yeah Bud, I bet you’re still on the way to the ATM.

This was a theme as another broke shopper spent an hour looking through my US Caramel cards, picked what he needed, offered $325 and I said OK. He went to pay me and ... geez ... this must be going around, but he needed the ATM and asked me to hold them. Oh sure ... in the words of my late Father ... “Hold This!”

I’m a big wrestling fan and know many of the biggies. I’ve met Hulk Hogan a few times and he was signing at the show on Saturday. So around 1 p.m., the Hogan family walked in front of my booth. No, not Terry, Brooke and Chris, but a completely “Hoganed” out family, all wearing the Hulkster colors from bandana to boots. Yellow and red everywhere. Dad, Mom, and two teenagers. I may actually do the best Hulk impression and will gladly accept all comers! So as they pass, I [as Hogan] shout, “WELL, LET ME TELL YOU SOMETHING RIGHT NOW, BROTHER!” They flipped around expecting to see their hero and I said, “Gotcha!” That was fun and they loved it.

Another guy drops by and looks at my 1887 Allen & Ginter Cap Anson. There were only a few at the show and mine was the best. He was price shopping and tried to grind me down. I am not grindable. He beats and beats and I just pass. Finally he makes the cardinal mistake you can at a card show. You think you’re the only one interested in something you love and that no one else is. He says he is going to look some more. Five minutes later another guy wants to see the card. In 20 minutes, he buys it for $200 more than the first guy was considering. Now I’m hoping the first guy comes back ... and he does! He says he’ll take the card. I say that I just sold it. He’s ticked, but never asked me to hold it, even though I wouldn’t have.


The moral is that if you are looking for something rare at the National and you actually find it, buy it! You’re not the only one looking for that rare card. If you are looking for a Dan Marino rookie card, shop around because there will be plenty of them. That’s National Convention 101.

Now let’s talk about the show. For decades, I’ve campaigned against having the show in a gambling town. We were in Atlantic City in 1988, but I was not there. Next time in Atlantic City was 2003 and it was horrible. Traffic was light all week. Dealers actually started packing up Sunday morning; it was like a morgue in there all day Sunday. The ice cream stand did more than me! Why? As a native New Yorker, I can tell you that the traffic on Sunday back to NYC is horrific. It could take three to four hours if you leave in the afternoon. Atlantic City is a Friday-Saturday town. Very few locals. Many wealthy New Yorkers and Jerseyites have second houses on the Jersey Shore. My sister is one of them. Atlantic City is also party central Friday and Saturday. They come down after work Friday to either gamble or chase the opposite sex or both. They’ll stay up all night drinking Friday and the same Saturday, but they leave late Saturday morning to beat the traffic and enjoy Sunday at home.

As for real collectors who come for the show, I want you to picture this: A nice family man from Kansas who is a serious collector saves up his dough all year just to come to the National and spend it. Now in Chicago or Cleveland [the most often used sites and the sites for the next three shows] he’s golden, The only expensive diversions would be a Cubs game or a $100 steak at Gibson’s. However in Atlantic City, this poor guy might go to a casino just to play the nickel slots and happens upon a blackjack table. “This looks like fun!” The next thing you know, it’s 4 a.m. and he’s at the ATM.

This is not good for dealers or collectors. I can tell you because I went gambling on two of my four nights there. I happened to get lucky and did well, but I’m sure you get the point.

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So this year, there was a dearth of buyers in the room on all days [I left Saturday night] including dealers. One dealer I spoke with on Friday said that last year in Chicago, he had spent some $90,000 by now and here he had spent only $20,000.

But if you brought PSA graded vintage as I did, you did OK, but this will be my last trip to Atlantic City for the National. I do want to thank my good friend John Broggi for doing a great job running the show flawlessly and give a special shout out to the late Mike Berkus family. Mike was a mentor to me and is most responsible for getting the National where it is today.

As I wrote this, I decided that while I won’t give the name of the slowest buyer I’ve ever encountered :}, I will show his picture holding another rare Cabinet card he found at the show. While he was killing time, he showed me this card along with his 6th grade report card, You figure out who it is, but I told ya I would run your mug shot!

Just another week Behind the National Counter!
Until next month, I remain…On Your Side.

Need help or want some advice? Call T.J. at (818) 884-2273, e-mail or visit

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