On Sunday, May 23rd, at approximately 10:00 AM, my dad and I stepped foot into a card show for the first time in over a year.
It was hard not to be wistful. Walking through those card show doors was a huge step in the uphill return to normalcy. All things considered, I've been relatively lucky in the past year-plus, in that COVID didn't touch me or anyone in my immediate family/friend circle. Too many people lost way more than I did. But even the luckiest of us lost little things. And Sunday reminded me how much I loved those little things I often took for granted in the past, those village shows way out in the suburbs. The things that seem insignificant to almost anyone else but ourselves.
All that made it an honor and a privilege to waste away another Sunday afternoon at the card show, the first one in far too long.
Masks were optional at the show, which I wasn't thrilled about even though I'm fully vaccinated, but honestly it wasn't a worldwide plague I was most worried about.
One question ran across my mind the whole drive over: what the heck was this show gonna look like? You and I already know how much the card community has changed over the past year, but this was the first time I was going to see it up close at a card show, contained in a single room. Would dime boxes still be a thing? Would the "investor" crowd push out the true collectors? Would the tables be filled with markups and $100 blasters of Topps Fire? Would there be any place for me?
The answer to many of those questions is a firm...kind of. This has always been a popular show, but there were definitely more people there than pre-virus days - I snapped the above picture near the end of the afternoon, so imagine about four times that amount of people and you have an idea of what the crowd was like. I also heard a bit more murmur about PSA, rookies, etc. than in years past, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
And yes, I saw a couple guys trying to hock $90 blasters of 2020 Topps Chrome Update, and another vendor had very clearly crossed out the "10 cents each" sign on his dime boxes and scribbled "5/$1" above it in permanent marker - those nightmares unfortunately came true.
So yes, after what I saw on Sunday, there's little doubt the card show we knew and loved has indeed changed.
But the last of those questions I asked was the most important, and I'm very happy to note that I can most certainly say there IS still a place for me at the card show. While there's a lot more money and crypto-culture stuff pumping into the hobby these days, it seemed like all that what-have-you was pretty well confined to specific tables and areas of the show, and I still had a good amount of room to roam at the cheapie tables I love.
Plus I'm very happy to report that I dug through three fairly substantial dime boxes on Sunday that hadn't been marked up by cash-hungry vendors, all of which resulted in some long-awaited card show thrills.
A lot of what I saw at this show was obviously the scraps of various box breaks, and I had fun picking those off the scrap heap for dimes since it's not like any of us are going to be finding cards at Target anytime soon.
All told, I managed to knock out a ton of 2020-21 needs, including a bunch from sets like Select and Topps Holiday that I never once saw in stores last year.
I've said before that this show tends to skew heavily towards latest-and-greatest stuff, and that was still true on Sunday - I can only flip through so many stacks of 2020 Topps Chrome before my eyes start to glaze over.
That said, there was still enough unchained randomness to make me happy, like this fine batch of mini-collection hits (including a purple Toys 'r' Us parallel!).
Some top-tier player collection stuff here, and please don't tell anybody I somehow didn't already have that painfully common '91 Bowman Jim Abbott.
I sometimes wonder what vendors must think of someone like myself who pulls out Hideo Nomo cards one second, and Junior Spiveys the next - think what you will, vendors, because I collect 'em all.
Drew Robinson's a new inductee into my binders as of a few weeks ago, and if you haven't read his story, I highly recommend you do so.
The return of dime box shiny!
But here's the undisputed pinnacle of dime box shiny: 2011 Topps diamond parallels!
(I will seriously buy any and all of these for ten cents a piece.)
Dime box minis are also a very real addiction, and that cute little itty-bitty Sean Casey has to be the smallest card I've ever bought for a dime.
Baseball cards truly are a melting pot of various shapes and cuts and jagged edges.
Didn't hit as big of a dime box oddball jackpot as I'm used to from the local shows, but I still managed to secure a few noteworthy oddities.
Yes, I'm counting that Michael Jordan as a baseball card.
A few more recent cheapie finds - and is Bartolo Colon really appearing as an "old" dude in sets already?!
More dime cards I didn't know I needed.
It's pretty clear that even after more than a year away, I can say that dime boxes still managed to retain their ability to confuse and educate and fascinate and just generally make me go wow.
But we haven't even gotten to the old stuff yet.
I haven't paid much attention to if/how the recent card boom has affected the vintage market. From what little I've seen it seems like the top-tier names like Mantle, Aaron & Co. are spiking a bit, but (unsurprisingly) the flipper crowd doesn't seem to care much about mid-level greats and/or off-condition stuff. This, of course, is good news for me - discount vintage remains one of my biggest card show fancies, and there was a good amount of it up for grabs on Sunday.
I don't specifically seek out these massive Topps Posters, but if someone's selling 'em for 50 cents I'll certainly bite - especially an oversized Senator!
More 50-cent vintage, including a nice reminder that I should really pay more attention to those excellent Topps combo cards.
I've seen the "P-OF" Mel Queen pop up on a few blogs lately due to Shohei Ohtani's modern-day heroics, but even better than that was yet another card of Wally Moon's Unibrow for two quarters.
There usually aren't a ton of vintage dealers at this show, but the few who do set up seem to consistently have good stuff.
These were each a buck a piece, and I'll take those old Fleer Greats cards cheap all day long because how often do I get to buy a card of Kid Nichols?
One vendor even let me pick out a few dollar cards on the house after my initial purchase, which is how I basically got a free '56 Camilo Pascual for my defunct teams collection.
It's hard finding cheap Ron Santo vintage here in the Chicago area, which made it an easy decision to plop down three bucks for that Post oddball.
One vendor had a small rubber-banded stack of Nu-Scoops oddballs in his glass case, and you know I had to ask to see those because I absolutely admire these things.
I shelled out a whole eight bucks for that Pee Wee Reese - a double play card! - and the vendor ended up throwing the Podres in for free for my troubles.
One vintage vendor consistently stands head and shoulders above the pack at this show - he's usually situated in the corner of the village hall, and might be easy to miss if you don't look hard enough.
But once you dig through his stuff, you'll never pass him up again. A lot of his inventory is in good shape, and thus way out of my price range, but with a little digging there's some good off-condition deals because any little blemish or crease seems to make his prices plummet.
These big names were mixed in with his box of "star player" vintage for a scant five bucks a piece - a pretty darn good deal when you're talking about greats like Spahn and Kaline.
All-Star cards are a good way to pick up affordable vintage of big names.
I've never quite understood why these are so much cheaper than standard base-checklist cards of the same guys, but I'm not one to complain if it means I can get vintage Hanks and Willies for five bucks each.
I still had a good amount of cash left over after my first lap around the village hall, so as the day was winding down I decided to go back to the vintage guy in the corner and take down a few heavy hitters.
These two have been dream cards of mine for a while now, the frustrating '64 Topps Uecker especially, a dreaded high-number (#543). This vendor had a whole box of vintage high-numbers on display, and sure enough, there was that doggone Uecker, with the standard high-numbered inflation price of $25. I passed the first time around.
But having extra cash at the end of a card show kinda feels like house money - so I went back to that table and asked the guy if he'd give me the Uecker and the '61 Koufax (originally $35) I saw in his glass case for $40 all together, and lucky me, he accepted!
Here's one card I didn't balk at from that vintage vendor - a little scuffing knocked this '62 Clemente down to a very affordable $25 price tag, which I paid in a heartbeat.
Only later did I remember that I also picked up a vintage Clemente the last time I attended this show...way back in the simpler times of February 2020, which honestly seems like an eternity ago. The cliché is true: I feel like I've lived a decade over the past year-and-a-half, and this seemingly infinite gap between card shows highlights that time warp. All I know is that it warmed my heart to walk out the doors of that village hall, my usual bag full of the day's haul swinging in my hands, waiting to get home and sort through everything I'd found. I've missed that.
And right about now I'm also remembering how darn good it feels to be able to write about card shows again!