Card shows, collectibles shows and memorabilia shows have evolved dramatically over 30 years.
They used to be called Baseball Card Shows. A few dealers would have some football cards and maybe even a few basketball cards, but baseball was king. Forty to 75 vendors would present their prized cards in glass cases on tables. Some would, and still do, have boxes with cards you can look through and purchase for a dime, a quarter or 50 cents apiece.
At the first card show I attended, I was looking through a 40 cents per card box, which contained mostly common 1957 baseball cards. I was stunned to find Yankee great Elston Howard and Don Drysdale's rookie card. The rookie card phenomenon was about to explode as dealers realized they could charge a tremendous premium for players' first year cards. The dealer selling the 1957 cards seemed a bit upset those two star cards were in his box of "commons", but he reluctantly agreed to sell the pair for 80 cents. What a buy! The Drysdale now lists above $250.
Today most of the larger shows are also autograph shows, where fans and collectors can pay to meet their heroes and get their favorite items signed. Tables are still set up, but the merchandise has changed quite a bit. There is much greater diversity.
Some dealers sell hobby supplies, some sell unopened card sets, including non-sport cards. You can still finds vintage cards in the cases, but also limited autograph cards. I recently saw a modern card with a cut Babe Ruth autograph. I believe the price tag was $25,000.
There are a lot of dealers who are selling framed autographed photos and artwork. This is not a bad way to buy such an item because most frame stores would charge more to frame an item than the dealer charges for the item actually framed. Since the framing is quite elaborate, only high quality, desirable pieces are framed.
For people who have not attended a card show, here are some do's, don'ts and words of advice:
• Do plan on spending some time there because there is a lot to see. Several hours pass quickly.
• Do bring enough money so that you have enough to purchase what you covet, but not so much that you risk spending your life savings.
• Don't put your hands on the glass cases. They smudge and can break if pressure is applied.
• Don't open the glass cases or pull cards out of holders. Ask if you want to see an item in a glass case.
• Don't ask a dealer to sell a $100 item for $50. The prices are negotiable, but there is usually only a small amount of wiggle room, and sometimes none. If a dealer feels that you just want a discount no matter what the price is, he may be less willing to work with you.
• Don't expect a dealer to pay close to list price for a card. One may bring in cards and ask dealers what they will pay for them. Find a dealer who sells similar items. He's most likely to have customers who may be interested in purchasing them. It is more likely that a dealer will pay $20 to $25 for a card that is listed at $100. If it is a card that is highly sought after, and he thinks he can move it quickly, the dealer will pay more. Keep in mind that this example involves the card being in the near mint condition to which the list price applies. Even for an old card, condition is everything. If the card has a couple of light small creases, or slightly rounded corners, the value diminishes approximately 70 percent and the dealer may give you only $5 for that same card.
For your autograph experience, here are a few more do's and don'ts:
• Do enjoy meeting the player and if you can get a quick photo, that is usually permitted. Make sure your camera is on and functional before you get there, because people will get impatient if your photo session takes longer than the 10 seconds it should take.
• Don't expect that the item you have gotten signed will be enhanced in value to the amount you spent on the autograph. Many autographs, especially of popular players, can range from $15 to $200.
Card shows are mostly for collectors of cards and memorabilia, although gift givers can sure make a collector happy, too. For the non-collector, it is something that should be experienced at least once, kind of like a Grateful Dead concert. But like a first Dead show that could put an impressionable kid on tour for the rest of Jerry's life, buyers beware. Many newbies have walked into card shows only to embark upon an irrevocable life of collecting.
Enjoy, and have fun!
Samu Qureshi is the leading collector of Redskins memorabilia. His column appears Tuesdays exclusively on WarpathInsiders.com. His monthly column appears in Warpath magazine.
Card Show Do's and Don'ts
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