Tales From the National

Byline: Rob Bertrand

August 2nd, 2008

The 29th annual National Sports Collectors Convention wraps up this weekend in Chicago and was highlighted by an impressive line-up of autograph guests featuring Hall of Fame members and superstars from all four major sports.

Most notably perhaps was the rumor that this will be Stan Musial’s last public signing appearance. Also signing this weekend were the likes of Lou Brock, Rod Carew, Ryne Sandberg, Terry Bradshaw, Bart Starr, Joe Namath, Bobby Hull, Tony Esposito, Gordie Howe, Dennis Rodman, and Mike Ditka too name just a few. In total over 80 athletes signed for collectors, keeping Tri-Star, the organizers of the autograph pavilion, very busy.

The usual suspects made their presence felt in the corporate exhibit area, including a rare tradeshow sighting by Topps who had an eTopps exhibit. They were kind enough to donate slabbed samples of their product to the Card Corner Radio Show during our trivia contest give-away session. The highlight of the corporate pavilion however, occurred on Friday when Donruss hosted a special signing session with Mike Ditka who was signing a specially made color 8x10 of “Da Coach” being hoisted by his players following the Bears triumphant Super Bowl win in 1985. I don’t think anyone in the history of sports has parlayed a single year’s success and championship into the career notoriety that Mike Ditka has with causes, benefits, charitable outings, a line of wine, cigars, and margaritas too name a few of his numerous endeavors.

The always-popular wrapper redemption programs returned for, not only, Donruss and Upper Deck but also Tri-Star, Press Pass, and In the Game. Tri-Star’s emergence as a major player in minor league trading cards has been a welcome addition to the hobby. Recently they have also obtained a license from wrestling juggernaut TNA and debuted their first product with TNA Impact earlier in the month. Wrestling fans and collectors were also treated to in-person autograph sessions and photo opportunities each day at the Tri-Star booth, highlighted by the lovely Karen Angle on Saturday. Upper Deck always makes a nice tradeshow exclusive set for such occasions and this year was no different. Showcasing some of the biggest names and hottest rookies from each sport. A quick look on eBay showed that a lucky collector was looking to cash in on the randomly inserted autograph of Blackhawk’s rookie phenom, Jonathan Toews. Serial numbered to only 5, this card is already up to $51.00 with 6 days left. Wow!!

It’s been said that “if you can’t find it at the National, you don’t need it”, This very well might be true whether you are a vintage collect specializing in 50’s and 60’s graded cards, modern. High-end unopened product, premium game-used and autograph pieces or even vintage game used memorabilia. It’s all at the National. It always amazes me what some of the major auction company’s are displaying and this year was no different. MastroAuctions was busy taking consignments and while I was at the booth someone walked in with a single signed Lou Gehrig baseball. Nice! Brian Marren, the VP of Acquisitions, was kind enough to grant the Card Corner Radio Show an interview and we talked in detail about the pending live auction at the ESPN Zone Friday night. Featuring 96 lots the estimated total for that live auction was about $1.5 MILLION dollars.

Perhaps one of the most jaw-dropping exhibits was at the PSA/DNA booth. They were exhibiting the personal collection of Dimitri Young who posses perhaps the single greatest rookie card collection in existence. Highlights include the likes of Reggie Jackson, Ernie Banks and Roberto Clemente to name a few of the almost 150 cards comprising his collection. However, the thing that makes this collection truly impressive is that every single card has been graded a Gem Mint 10 by PSA. An industry leader in grading and authentication, PSA was taking submissions and conducting on-site grading as well.

Sports collectors love and appreciate beautiful women as almost every red-blooded American male does. This was obvious by the consistent traffic at the Benchwarmer’s booth, which was teasing the public with the pending release of their first premium release called Signature Series. Benchwarmer’s has made a niche for themselves by producing trading cards of beautiful women in bikinis for years. However, Signature Series takes things to a new level with kiss cards, autographs, and lingerie or bikini swatch cards in every pack. Believe me when I say that people weren’t waiting in line for free samples though. The always lovely Mary Riley and other models were signing in-person as part of a redemption program.

Box busters had several vendors too choose from but it is quite obvious that one company in particular has put the now famous Dave & Adam’s Card World, in their sights. Blow Out Cards has emerged on the scene as a major competitor for DACW, which has long hailed themselves for their BPP or Best Prices on the Planet tag line. They might want to copyright that because a careful comparison on a product-by-product basis saw almost even parity between the two companies.

On a personal level, I always enjoy the National and find it very hard to not walk out of there racking up a major credit card bill as I eye all the things I “need” for my personal collection, all the boxes I’d like to bust, and all the cards I need to complete my Topps base set run from 1970 to the present. I’m proud to say though that for the first time in year’s I wasn’t in the proverbial doghouse when I got home. If you have never been to the Disney World of the Hobby, I highly encourage you go at least once. It really is a collector’s dream.