For many people these days, hitting the “reset button,” or at least trying to whenever possible, remains a common practice in the aftermath of COVID-19. One indication of the reset: the return of The National Sports Collectors Convention after a one-year break.
This year the big event, which started in 1980, takes place July 28-Aug. 1 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill., about a half-hour from downtown Chicago.
Whether it’s your first or 41st time attending the event, or somewhere in between, here are some tips, or perhaps gentle reminders, to make The National experience even more enjoyable.
1. Hopefully you planned your lodging accommodations early, leading to a solid money savings, which can be spent on your collection. Just coming for one day and driving? Check your traffic apps the day of and find out a day or two before about parking at the show.
2. Pace yourself. Ray Schulte, the NSCC Director of Communications, emphasized a strong footwear strategy. “Make sure you wear very comfortable shoes [and maybe even include insoles; really, don’t laugh] and dress for comfort.” And stop and stretch your legs and back a few times each day. Drink lots of water.
3. “Bring your want lists,” said Larrie Dean, a veteran sports memorabilia dealer. “This is critical if the collector is a set builder, or just wants to save time.” And if you bring a want list, keep a handwritten copy with you but also email yourself a copy just in case one becomes inaccessible. Keeping your want list on your cell phone can also work well. Update the want lists as needed to minimize buying the same item multiple times.
4. Dean’s House of Cards, a longtime Virginia-based sports card dealer, will display much of his vintage inventory at this year’s convention and urges collectors to “tell a dealer what you are looking for, since the dealer likely does not have sufficient space to display everything they bring to a show.”
5. Think budget. What is the basic level of money you can and will likely spend on your collection at the show? How much cash will you bring? Also, ask yourself, “If I were willing to splurge on an item, how much might I spend?” If that “splurge” amount slightly exceeds a certain comfort level, possibly rethink what you might spend at the show and adjust from there.
6. Consider bringing a couple items to sell and factor in a price range you will accept. If carrying items to sell, or even while you buy, think about how those items will be protected. Bring a few snap cases, top loaders (of various sizes) with sleeves, rubber bands (to place around harder holders) to properly store items until you get them home. For graded cards, a padded box or case might be in order.
7. Put all your cards and memorabilia in a decent-sized bag with a zipping feature that either comes with wheels or that you can easily strap (as in bungee cords) to a collapsible hand cart. Include an umbrella, snacks, water, a few napkins, hand-sanitizer and a few face masks (some for you, maybe some for others). Maybe toss in a phone charger, too.
8. Even if you attend The National for just one day, arrive when they open. “Hard-to-find cards go early and very likely will be sold to someone else before you return to the dealer,” Dean said. “So, if you see something difficult to find and can afford it and need it (or just want it), buy it.” And, if you can, plan to get a glimpse at some of the rarest cards and other items in the hobby, such as a T206 Honus Wagner, a 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski or a Satchel Paige-signed ball. Examples of those items likely will be on display at The National — a thrill in and of itself.
9. If you know specific dealers, one hobby veteran said, email them before the show, tell them what you are searching for and see if they would be willing to bring the item(s) to the event and give you first crack at buying them. But if they say yes to your request, as a courtesy, arrive early at their booth to make the deal or free up the merchandise they brought for you.
10. Shuffle the deck a bit and look to start one or more “manageable” vintage insert offerings that you find at the show. Insert issues normally contain a high superstar quotient, but commonly at a solid fraction of a regular/base card price of the same player. If you go with mid-range condition, you will probably find some bargains — that holds true hobby wide.
11. Search for bargain boxes, stacks of items and notebooks that will likely include a hidden gem or two. It might not come close to the Hope Diamond, of course, but it might be something well worth the money.
12. Carve out time to meet up with hobby friends and colleagues from around the country. Build in some additional space in the budget and schedule for meals and such with these contacts. Maybe even bring a surprise gift of sorts for them. For instance, a couple years ago I heard from a collector who went to sports luncheons and routinely brought a small bag of extra 1964 Topps baseball coins and let each of his friends, new and old, pick one or two from the batch. A nice touch.
13. The hundreds of tables at the show can create a real “hall of mirrors” type of effect, where everything kind of looks the same, especially if you are in the middle of the convention center floor, and you can “get lost” in it all. To combat this effect, it helps to jot down the booth numbers of where you spotted some interesting items.
14. Research what the corporate booths offer. If you decide to spend time at some of those, and if there is a line of people at the corporate location, add at least 20 minutes to your schedule for each corporate stop, as those activities often take more time to experience than first imagined.
15. It will take some time to fully enjoy the show. “With over 650 exhibitors and 400,000 square feet,” Schulte noted, “you won’t be able to walk the entire floor in one or even two days, so plan to spend at least a couple of days at the five-day show.”
For more information about The National visit, nsccshow.com.
Whatever your expectations for The National, or any large show in general, enjoy it as much as possible and look for items that normally appeal to you. And keep sufficient time and money for something different to add to your collection. Think of it as focusing more on a new set or two, as opposed to the ongoing “reset.”
— Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org