You would think that going to the same card show three times a year would get to be routine. The same dealers, the same people, the same cards.
But that's not the case. First, "routine" can be exciting -- I'm not 18 anymore. Secondly, it's amazing how often I find something new even though I'm walking into the same building and spotting the same faces.
Thirdly, and most of all, collectors change and collectors' tastes change. Mine certainly have.
I came away from yesterday's card show with the fewest cards I have purchased at one of these Syracuse shows and I've been to a lot of them. I got 16 cards. That's it. I used to come back with a hundred or more, and cackle with self-satisfaction about how high the stack was.
But not once did I look at these 16 cards with regret. In fact, I think I did the best shopping job of any card show that I have ever attended.
Here is why:
I entered the card show looking for the dealer that I always frequent. He wasn't there the last time and it threw off my whole collecting vibe. This time, I looked in the spot where he usually is and he wasn't there again. Of course, I started to panic. I began to walk around the hall, scanning for other options. But what I was really doing was desperately searching for my dealer in a different spot. I really feel like a junkie when I do this, by the way.
I did find him. He was in an area he had never been before -- next to the guy selling Hollywood star photos from the '50s. As usual, I started to hit his baseball binders sorted by year, trying to find some 1960s Dodgers that I need. But I had my eye on the discount boxes that he started setting up a few shows ago. I wanted to see if I could spend a few quick bucks on a bunch of vintagey cards. So I zipped over there quickly.
Usually vintage discount boxes feature cards of common players or really beat-up cards of semi-stars. I find myself looking at a lot of 1971 Topps from the first series, things like that. But this was different.
These boxes were off-condition cards of stars and high-numbered players from the early 1950s all the way through 1980. I looked at the prices and knew where I would be spending the majority of my money.
The 1957 Newcombe card was the first one I picked. I have that card already -- got it as a teenager in the great grocery bag giveaway that I mention repeatedly -- but this one was in much better shape, for a decent price.
For four bucks, it was mine.
After that, I found a John Roseboro rookie card:
Looking through the 1958 discount section was frustrating because I kept coming up with Dodgers, only to realize I had them already (there were five separate Carl Furillos. If I had the money, I would've brought them all home).
But I knew I needed Roseboro.
And for 9 dollars, I could do that deal (I realize the $30 is the book value for a mint condition card and the Roseboro isn't. So it's not THAT much of a deal, but as long as the card price is within sniffing territory, I don't care what kind of deal it is).
I didn't find anything from 1959 that I needed, but 1960 was another matter.
None of these guys are stars. But they are all high numbers and the cards are in amazing shape. Individually, each of these cards books for at least $15, and they're in such good shape, you could get them for that much easily.
I got them for $15 for all three.
As I moved progressively through the '60s, I came across some welcome cards that I probably would not have detected for many more months or even years.
Why this card isn't on most Dodgers checklists, I'll never know.
But a semi-high number card was mine for 2 bucks.
This card wasn't ever a thought in my head until I saw it on Sunday. I'm glad it wasn't because I would be cursing the cardboard gods for mucking up my Norm Larker card with Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente. How in the world would I be able to pay the asking price for this card?
I would much rather pay $6 for a Norm Larker card, and fortunately, I could.
Next I moved on to a couple of other cards that are rarely on Dodger checklists, but thanks to recent Heritage sets, I knew about them.
The only card from the '62 Topps Babe Ruth Series that draws my interest.
Here is the Heritage tribute from a few years back, notice the difference in font.
I got the nicely conditioned original for 8 bucks.
And here is another card that looks somewhat familiar, thanks to Heritage.
This stupid thing.
I'd rather pay 12 dollars for Duke and Gil.
After this, I decided to go back in time and see what I could find from the mid-1950s.
First 1955 Bowman:
Three bucks for Shotgun Shuba any day.
And I grabbed this one just because the condition cracked me up and the "$30 marked down to $2" juxtaposition cracked me up even more. Well done, dealer. I'll pay you your two dollars.
Then I went to the 1956 cards, and -- I had never hated myself more for being a Dodger fan than that very moment. In the '56 section were cards of Red Schoendienst, Phil Rizzuto, Harmon Killebrew, Al Kaline and HANK AARON.
A 1956 Hank Aaron. In the discount bin. Where am I?
Sure, it was beat up. So what? And some of the other star cards definitely were not beat up. The Schoendienst was beautiful. I picked up the Killebrew, Schoendienst and another card, but knew I didn't have enough to add Aaron, too (sorry, my mind was a jumble). But after weighing these cards against the Dodgers, I had to go with the Dodgers and Killebrew and Schoendienst went back.
This card did not:
Not for $15.
After that, I made one more tour through the '60s cards just to see if I could catch a high number Dodger napping.
I caught one. Not sure how I missed it the first time.
That's a beautifully sharp, off-center #500 right there.
I'm guessing I could get a '62 Snider for cheaper than 25 dollars, but not in that kind of condition.
I grabbed a couple of other cards for trade partners and then gave them to the dealer. It came to well over $100 dollars but not nearly as much as the nearly $400 price if you added up all the price tags on the cards.
The dealer cut the total cost to 90 bucks and I happily handed over my Christmas money and was on my way. But I wish I could have stayed at the discount bin for another 17 hours.
While I was looking through that bin, two dealers were talking behind me -- the usual tale of woe. One was saying that a lot of dealers were getting out of the business, that the selling business was worse than ever and it just wasn't worth it anymore.
"Is that why I'm getting these stars and high numbers so cheap?" I thought.
With only a few dollars left in my pocket, I looked for some random cards off my list. I was thinking maybe some 2013 needs, something like that. But I didn't really find any of those (I wasn't really looking that hard after overdosing on vintage).
I went to another table that also had some vintage, thinking maybe I could grab one or two 1972s off my list. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a tray of discounted '60s cards. Willie McCovey, etc. Above that was another tray of '50s cards. Maybe about 20 or 25. My eyes settled on a 1954 Topps Babe Herman card that I needed. Five bucks. I could afford that.
But then I saw it. The card was tilted to the left on its side. "HOF, Book: $175" it said. Above it, in a bright orange sticker, it said $30. I stared at it extra long to make sure I wasn't really seeing "$60" or "$90." You have to start doing that at my age.
But, nope, it really did say $30. "God, that's a really good price for a card like that in that condition," I said to myself. "I wish I had $30." I turned back to the Herman card, but just for the heck of it, I reached into my pocket and ... pulled out a $10 and a $20.
Of course that's a sign. I told the guy I wanted that card. I think he was one of those helper guys, because he looked at the card and then he looked at my money and then he looked at the dealer, who was busy with another customer. I waved the cash at him again and he looked uncertain -- like the card was supposed to be more. But then he relented and gave me the card to put in my bag.
Here it is:
Isn't that beautiful?
I don't think I'll ever get a 1953 Topps Dodger card in better condition and it's PEE WEE REESE!
Here's the back:
I am still smiling over this. There is no way that I thought I would be able to own a '53 Reese that wasn't mangled, stomped on and a portion of it used as confetti.
As I left the building I marveled at what I had just done. Outside of a couple cards I bought for other people, I didn't buy a single card that was made after I was born. That is a first.
Maybe what that one dealer said behind me was true. Maybe the buyers have too much of an advantage and everyone's getting out. The online prices are fantastic in a lot of ways -- much better than at card shows -- but when you go to a show and find mid-1950s Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks in the cheapie discount bin that kind of clinches it for me.
Not that I'm complaining.
Anytime I can forget about the price tag is a great time.