Friday, May 28, 2021

Live from the card show

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!

Friday, May 21, 2021


I often lament the perils of not having a card-collecting friend in my life, but sometimes I forget there's still a weird joy in talking about baseball cards with someone who doesn't know the first thing about our hobby.

I have a friend who's perfectly apathetic about sports and the cards that go with them, but still, to her immense credit, still listens whenever I babble away about the latest happenings with my collection. Once in a while I'll mention something that makes me remember a lesson that's so easy to forget: what's normal to us collectors might seem downright mad to someone else. And talking to someone so far outside the collecting bubble gives me a perspective that's all but impossible to get inside my own card-crazed mind. 

Example: I can't for the life of me remember why I mentioned it, but a few weeks ago I told my friend I owned a baseball card made out of silk - and, looking back on it, her reaction was fairly predictable: they make baseball cards out of silk?!

I'd imagine most people probably know what a baseball card looks and feels like, at least in a vague sense - so I can understand why mentioning this weird offshoot of silk cards all of a sudden would be a bit jarring, because a silk baseball card is kind of strange, no?

Little does my friend know that silk is only the beginning of all the strange materials cards have been cut from over the years, because there's been quite a few outside of your standard old cardboard. But until that conversation, I'd never gone back and tried to list out the different types of cards I've seen. At the very least, I figured it wouldn't hurt to round them all up in a single post.

My mind instantly went to the steel cards that popped up in a few '90s sets - and I don't know about you, but I always have to thwack these against my knuckle just to hear that oddly satisfying ping-ping sound.

There's the famous '77 Topps cloth stickers of course, though I've never actually seen anyone use one of these as a sticker.

I know wood cards exist - I seem to recall there being some wildly scarce wood parallels in A&G that I'll never own in this lifetime.

I do, however, have a few cards that I think are made out of wood, though I can neither confirm nor deny their authenticity - and I'm not planning on throwing these into a bonfire to find out.

I'm cheating here a bit - this card isn't entirely made out of wire mesh, but it's such a weird add-on to a baseball card that I had to include it.

Here's a Big Hurt made out of acetate, and it's by far the flimsiest card you'll ever see - it seriously feels like it's gonna evaporate in my hands every time I touch it.

Baseball cards have seen their fair share of drawings and artwork plastered on them over the years, but this is the only card I own that's actually made out of canvas.

To the Louvre it goes.

Best, weirdest, and wildest for last - a baseball card made out of water!

Okay: I think I remember hearing once that's actually vegetable oil I'm seeing around Juan Encarnacion, but a guy can still pretend, can't he? Either way it's a crazy addendum to the strange underbelly of card materials, where just about anything is fair game. Part of me can't help but wonder what else might not be far off: flannel baseball cards? Leather baseball cards? Neon baseball cards? Who knows. With silk and steel and wire mesh, it's already been a weird and glorious ride.

But heck, I'm sure my friend'll think a silk baseball card is downright normal when I show her a card with bubbles floating inside it.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Dime boxes exist, and other flea market tales

It wasn't long ago that I was fretting over the eventual fate of dime boxes in this money-hungry card universe.

I figured it was a legitimate concern, because who's gonna sell dime cards when you can bring your $100 Mike Trouts instead? Why cater to the people like myself who routinely pay for cards with folded-up singles when you can be rolling in crisp hundreds? I am, admittedly, somewhat of a pessimist, but I thought the extinction of dime boxes was something to seriously be worried about. But I guess there's a small glass-half-full somewhere in this wide universe, because what did I find at the flea market this past weekend?

Dime boxes!


There, under a bright Sunday sun, were dime boxes to be dug through to my heart's content. I'm going to show you all the card joys and finds in a minute here, but the real highlight of all this was the sheer peace in knowing that, at least for now, dime boxes exist again! 

My only regret was that I didn't see this vendor earlier in the afternoon - I only got to dig through about three of the boxes you see there (wrench and screw-down present because it was mighty windy, with cards and other objects blowing away like tumbleweeds). The guy had at least a half-dozen more boxes under his table which I happily would've perused had he not started packing up for the day. But I can't complain, because 450(!) cards and one bad sunburn later, my first official dime box dig of the post-vaccination era was complete - plus the guy only charged me $20 for the lot(!!), which actually comes out to less than a nickel per card(!!!).

(Note to self: bring sunblock next time.)

And the cards themselves were nothing short of supreme - they were mostly late-90s/early-2000s gems that I'm convinced all but fell off the face of the earth at some point in the last 15 years.

Turkey Red, Topps Total, Donruss Team Heroes - just generally lots of good stuff I usually don't have a prayer of finding in the wild.

The '90s and aughts generated more mini-collection hits than any other era, and as expected, I walked away with a small goldmine of those.

Bigtime player collection hits here, including a nifty Ichiro team-issue that somehow made it all the way to suburban Illinois.

There wasn't a whole lot of filler in these boxes either - almost every card was browse-worthy, and I didn't see runs of '89 Fleer or other overproduced stuff that I have no problem skipping.

Every stack had something weird or cool or or wacky or generally noteworthy.

Better yet, I didn't have to jostle for space - any of the prospect-hungry card youths on the prowl quickly saw there really wasn't anything for them here.

One guy asked if there were any rookies in these boxes, and I actually saw him flinch when the vendor said No, they're all commons.

I remembered a different reason I love dime boxes so much - they're a space where I can basically shut out all the other uncouth trends in the card world, and just focus on the gloriousness of shiny objects or other random card happenings.

Maybe it's just my imagination, but this particular era of baseball seemed to produce a lot of famous guys in not-so-famous uniforms.

A few dime box legends here - the Greg Luzinski was an especially exciting find, because when's the last time he got a baseball card?

More legends!

A handful of other dudes who've risen on my player collection radar lately - plus that Wright is a Heritage SP, which is always a dime box thrill.

Horizontal greatness - yes, I still love that die-cut Deion Sanders even though I'm already dreading trying to slide it into a binder page.

Something I absolutely despise doing is leaving dime cards left unturned - because even though I hand-picked a few hundred cards I wanted, I always wonder what was in those other boxes, what else remained a mystery.

But thankfully this generous dime box vendor told me he's planning on regularly setting up at the flea market this summer, so I know where I'll be heading the next Sunday I'm there. For now I'm content to know that dime boxes are back, and I've got 450 cards here to remind me of how joyous that news is - what I just showed you was the painfully abridged version of that dime box tale.

So until next time...

Oh wait, that's right - my flea market journey actually ended with those dime boxes, because I'd already been lugging around a bag of cards I'd acquired from other vendors throughout the day.

You ever come across card vendors who seem to be on drugs when pricing their stuff? I saw one such hazy-minded guy early in the day - one minute I saw a 1991 Topps Frank Thomas priced for $10, and the next I saw a Hostess Dave Winfield with a much more sane $3 price tag. I...don't get it.

I also shelled out a whole eight bucks for that Roberto Clemente, even though I wasn't even sure what it was - turns out it's some kind of membership card for a Clemente fan club from the early '70s, which was worth every bit of that eight dollars.

The guy with the massively overlooked 50-cent cards was back, and his binders had gone untouched since the last time I saw them (not that I'm surprised).

I'd already plucked all the top-tier cardboard from his binders the first time around, but there was still more than enough good stuff left over to supply a nice encore.

The only thing better than a Nolan Ryan magazine cover is four Nolan Ryan magazine covers!

I saw someone buy two circa-1990 Michael Jordan graded cards for $75 while I was at this guy's table, which seems even more absurd considering I was down on the ground finding a whole page full of Topps Retired Signature stuff for 50 cents a pop.

Not surprisingly, this second run-through just about cleaned out everything I needed from this guy's binders, so hopefully he restocks 'em before my next trip to the flea market.

My regular card guy was back again on Sunday, and his discount bin was marked all the way down to 5/$1 by the time I found him.

I've never been a huge collector of pocket schedules, but these were too cool to pass up for 20 cents each.

I'm continually fascinated by the sheer amount of different stuff I always seem to find from this guy - everything from Topps Fire to modern legends to vintage oddball reprints was in there this time around.

Also, 20-cent vintage!

Never gonna turn down defunct Senators at that price, and the Duren and Javier add to my growing collection of brilliantly bespectacled ballplayers.

I'd almost forgotten about it in the midst of the dime box madness, but I also scored a card I've been wanting for a while with this '58 Jim Bunning from my regular card guy, mine for all of five bucks.

It's a fine early card of a HOF great, and how often do you see pink so prominently portrayed on cardboard? Dime boxes and 20-cent vintage is great, but it does feel good to shell out some cash for a bigger score...or at something that qualifies as a "big" card to me, even though I indeed paid for it with five wadded-up singles. 'Twas a great way to close out another successful day.

In the end, I guess I can always count on the flea market to remind me what's fine and good about this hobby, and how silly I was to think that dime boxes could ever go extinct.