Friday, July 5, 2019
Flea market stereotypes
I imagine those of you who have never seen a flea market, or know about them very vaguely, probably have some stereotypes as to what they look like.
Well, I'm here to tell you that those stereotypes are...probably right. At least partly. Yes, there are numerous vendors trying to hock used baby toys and expired food. Yes, there are shirtless men with farmer's tans everywhere. And yes, there are, of course, people who think their unspectacular junk is worth a mint. I'm sure this last phenomenon applies to other flea market minutiae, but I can say from experience that I've seen it a lot with cards. By now, I fancy myself good at being able to weed out those mistaken souls. Or so I thought.
One vendor I stumbled across this past Sunday had a small box of commons and a large box of various relics and graded cards at his table -- with an inventory like that, I thought he'd have at least a decent handle on what his stuff was worth. Nope. When I asked how much he wanted for four cards from his commons box (all '02 Stadium Club base) and a couple other inserts (quarter box material, at best), he replied Eight dollars. When I said no, he said: Tell you what, I'll give 'em to you for five bucks. Still a hard no, dude.
I will say that, whether out of exasperation or genuine kindness, he eventually let me have the four Stadium Club commons I picked out for free.
Which reminds me, the flea market is also a good breeding ground for another pet peeve of mine: unpriced stuff.
I suppose there's no one to blame but myself when I decide to dig through cards that aren't priced. But I really don't think it's asking too much for people to slap prices on their items. Takes two minutes. Perhaps one reason I endured the aforementioned eight-dollar fiasco was because I'd actually gotten a good deal on other unpriced cardboard earlier in the day.
A large man with a thick Eastern European accent said Give me two dollars when I asked him for a price on the stack of about 25-30 vintage Topps and '80s Fleer I'd picked from his table -- sold!
I saw a lot of people with cards during this past flea market trip, but only a small fraction of them had anything I actually wanted.
One vendor had a couple very intriguing tubs filled with unopened packs. They weren't quite priced to move -- I paid $9 for an assortment of six or seven of them -- but they did feature a whole mess of sets I never thought I'd find unopened packs of in a million years.
Heck, I don't think I've seen a pack of 2004 Upper Deck Vintage or 2005 Donruss since...well, 2004 or 2005.
Another affable vendor I've seen a few times in the past had a couple small snap cases of Cubs cards for a quarter a pop -- nice to score a few Cubs from both my adulthood and my youth here.
While, yes, many of those negative stereotypes are indeed true, I'm also here to report that there are few places I'd rather spend a Sunday afternoon than the flea market -- all these years later, it remains responsible for a large chunk of my collection.
My main regular vendor was in attendance again this time around, and I scored a quartet of these fun Collect-A-Books oddballs from his 4/$1 box (which, in a novel concept, he had actually priced!).
More from the 4/$1 box, including a supreme bat rack shot I somehow didn't own and a fine upgrade for the miscut '81 Kellogg's Yount that previously occupied my Brewers binder (the only miscut Kellogg's card I've ever seen, actually).
My regular vendor's cheap boxes are hallowed ground for beat-up vintage.
Though I've picked through much of his discount oldies during past trips, he always manages to sprinkle in a few new gems -- hard to beat a pair of '67 rookies (Sal Bando!) for a quarter.
With its aisles and aisles of items centered so much around the nostalgic past, the flea market seems like the one place I shouldn't be finding latest-and-greatest baseball cards.
But alas, another new vendor I found had some of the just-released Series 2 scattered around a couple boxes -- these two were (again) unpriced, but I ended up getting them as throw-ins to the large purchase I eventually unearthed at his table.
One box had a monstrous stack of intact '81 Topps Scratch-off panels -- quite a treat since I don't have a whole lot of singles from this oddball set (and I've never even seen a whole panel of 'em).
At first, I decided to pick and choose which ones I wanted, but after a while I decided to ask how much the dude wanted for the whole lot.
He replied: Ten dollars, and that's how I got all 83(!) of these panels for close to a dime a piece.
If that's not a point for the flea market, I don't know what is.
I easily had ten bucks' worth of fun (and then some) separating and tearing out the singles I needed -- I mean, here's three major ones for three top-tier player collections of mine, all on the same panel --but as the set is only 108 cards deep, I'm left with a whole lot of doubles (and triples, and quadruples, and so on) and several intact panels left over if anyone wants any.
I'm happy to spread the wealth around, if for no other reason than to convince you that the flea market can, despite its flaws and stereotypes, be a magical place.