Most of the guests who flocked to the first Toronto Sport Card & Memorabilia Expo in two years would probably have driven through a November blizzard to get there. Fortunately, they didn't have to.
Whether it was climate change or the memorabilia gods smiling down on, the results were a lovely, temperate fall weekend right up until the end. In years past, the snowplows were out and it seemed everyone had a driving misadventure to share. Not this year. Some of the dealers and attendees walked around in shirt sleeves.
And it wasn't hard to find something to talk about. It's often a challenge to get collectors to agree on anything, but not this year. There was palpable joy in the room, relief in fact, at the return to relative normalcy.
Yeah, we had to wear masks and show proof of vaccination to enter, but it was a breath of fresh air being able to wander among the tables, talk to strangers, ogle the celebrities in the back of the room, and perhaps wait in line for their autographs.
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Promoter Steve Menzie did a fine job of walking the tightrope between normalizing things and keeping everybody safe.
“The forced time away from shows and the boom that the hobby felt during the pandemic created a perfect storm for bringing dealers, collectors and fans back together,” Menzie said. “There were many of the regulars and career hobbyists along with a lot of new, younger collectors who have come into the hobby and with them bring a lot of new passion (and purchasing power).”
While still predominantly a hockey show, the 2021 Expo saw a significant increase in the presence of other sports as well as gaming and non-sports cards and memorabilia, Menzie said.
One part of COVID that couldn’t be ignored was the impact of shortages in the supply chain. Although that didn’t affect the price of a Bobby Orr rookie card or a 1993 Blue Jays team set, it had a real effect on the price of supplies like plastic sleeves or containers used to protect and display those cards.
Steve Seabrooke of SBK Sportcards said wholesale prices had risen 25-50 percent within the last year or two and he had no choice but to pass that increase along to consumers. As one customer noted, “I don’t like it, but it’s hard to get mad at the dealers. I filled up my car this morning and I wasn’t very happy about that either.”
The demand was so high one dealer said: “I’m running out of stuff to sell. Everything is flying off the tables. I’m going around trying to buy from other dealers just so I’ll have something to sell.”
Another dealer observed: “There seems to be a lot of pent-up demand. I guess this is what happens when you coop up collectors for two years.”
“It’s good to be back here after two years and see all these familiar faces, as well as a lot of new ones,” Bill Burke of Bill’s Cards said.
Jerry Rosenstein of Jerry’s Cards described his table as “a very busy mess.”
“You know what's happening here? This is the old collectors mixing with the new generation,” Rosenstein said. “I've never seen so many kids at this show. And it isn't just parents bringing their children or grandchildren. This is young collectors on their own.
“I think they got involved with the hobby by spending time on the internet when they couldn't leave the house because of COVID. They spent time learning about the hobby. They read about cards and they looked at price guides. This is really their first time to go out and put all that information to use. Some of these kids are just browsing. They look through thousands of cards. Others seem to know exactly what they want. They're looking for a 1985 Gretzky, or they’re trying to put together a Leafs team set from the early 2000s. All of this is really very healthy for the hobby.”
Elliott Frankl, a regular presence at the show since 1991, was excited about his new hobby-related venture, www.icertworld.com, which brings a new twist to collecting.
“We certify a wide range of collectibles, some you might not even think have collectible value, but they do,” said Frankl, a longtime dealer and subscriber to SCD. “Everything from tickets and ticket stubs for sports and entertainment events to wax boxes to wrappers. Original wrappers sometimes have more value than the cards that were inside them.”
Frankl has been in the sports memorabilia industry for more than 30 years, promoting shows and arranging autograph events. He has been to every Toronto Expo since 1991.
“I'm one of the few original dealers here,” he said. “At that point, I was mostly into the new card end of the business. I remember on that very first show, O-Pee-Chee Premier Baseball had just come out. They were located outside of Toronto in London Ontario. We had cases of those cards and they were just flying off the table.”
When the card market began to crash in the early ’90s, Frankl got into the memorabilia side of the industry, promoting shows in the Toronto area for his own company, Sports Rep Marketing. He would bring in three or four players from the 1940s and ’50s for autograph sessions.
He believes his new venture offers a valuable service for new collectors.
“In the past year now that the card market has really picked up again, we’re providing a unique service for collectors,” he said. “The grading card companies right now are so backed up with orders and they are very limited on the kind of product they’ll certify.
“For example, we are grading wrappers. We're the only company that does that. We used to be able to pick up 1979/80 OPC wrappers from Gretzky’s rookie year for $5 each. Last week we sold a graded one on eBay for $250. In addition to the wrappers, we’re doing the wax boxes, even empty wax boxes. In the old days, the kids used to throw away the wrappers. Nobody thought of collecting them, so they're really rare. We graded the Bobby Orr rookie year for another dealer and one of those wrappers sells for about $2,500. That's more than the card itself!”
Despite the mandated vaccine requirements and the absence of some of U.S. exhibitors and collectors, Menzie said the Expo still attracted a record crowd of more than 10,000 attendees, generating a lot of enthusiasm for what could be an even bigger Expo May 5-8 in 2022.
— Hank Davis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of Small-Town Heroes: Images of Minor League Baseball (Bison Books).