Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Dime boxes aren't dead (a card show report)

I must admit, I had a bit of an uneasy feeling going into the big convention hall card show Dad and I attended last week.

Dime boxes were almost nonexistent the last time we went to one of these things - I only found one of any substance in the entire place. That was kinda scary to me. The card boom hasn't touched the kind of off-condition vintage I usually chase, and doesn't feel like it's going to - condition worship means cheap beaters will probably always be in supply. But I could see the pendulum starting to swing away from dime boxes. Cards that were once a dime being jacked up to fifty cents, a dollar.

When I was younger, I used to judge the quality of a card show by how many cards I took home that day. I'm not in that mindset anymore, but with the way I collect it doesn't quite feel like a show if I don't get to dig through a few dime boxes. They are the marrow of card shows. Without them, I can't help but get the feeling that something's missing.

So I had to face the uneasy question as Dad and I walked through the off-white gates of the convention hall - are dime boxes dying?

The answer was swift and resounding: NEVER!

We weren't in the place 15 minutes before I spotted a dime box - and then I found another one, and another one, and another one...I saw enough dime boxes for me to lose track of how many I bought from throughout the day - probably at least six or seven. It's hard to express how awesome of a development that was. Slabs and wax were still abound at this show, but seeing dime boxes again was a light in what was starting to feel like a dark tunnel.

Better yet, most of them had the cherished combo of being plentiful and packed with good stuff - I bought over 200 cards a piece from multiple tables throughout the day.

To say I was shocked about some of the stuff I snagged for a dime would be an understatement - I'm not supposed to be finding Topps Now and Heritage action SPs for loose change.

And yes indeed, folks, that's a Marlins Mike Piazza I needed...for a dime!

Oddballs add a zany subplot to the already zany dime box experience -Mother's Cookies cards don't often show up here in the Midwest, but man is it cool when they do.

The late '80s/early '90s were a goldmine for fun oddballs, and that includes the weird off-brand Broder stuff I can't help but fall for (and I still have no idea how they were actually sold and/or distributed).

I mean, you can't tell me that Bo isn't a great baseball card.

One other fun development was the fact that a couple vendors had current singles for sale - I've seen gobs and gobs of wax at the last few shows, but very little actual opened product.

Managed to knock out a hearty chunk of my 2023 Topps insert wants for less than the cost of a blaster, and once again I'm left to wonder if my money isn't better spent doing this than buying pack after pack and getting three cards I need.

Hard to beat Dime Box Dozens and mini-collection hits for a dime.

Most of the dime boxes I saw at this show were heavy on mid-to-late '90s stuff, which meant I managed to do a whole lot of damage to some of my bigger player collections.

(Only the '90s could produce an insert set called "Hammer Team.")

The return of Dime Box Shiny!

I don't specifically collect odd-shaped cards, but I have a hard time passing them up for ten cents.

The horizontals would like a word - and am I the only one who finds those "Frequent Flier" inserts insanely cool?

One of the first tables we stopped at last week was run buy a guy with a quarter box, and if I had to guess, I'd say he's from the Detroit area because he had cool recent Tigers oddballs in there. 

Among the goodies was what appears to be some sort of Tigers stadium giveaway set that included the one and only Tigers card of Dime Boxedonia favorite Tom Gorzelanny!

I don't care what anyone says - the late '90s was a fun time for baseball cards.

Massive dime box hauls like these always prompt me to type the disclaimer that what I've shown so far is really just the tip of the iceberg of all the good stuff I came home with last week. 

I assure you that I could easily write several different posts about dime cards alone...

...but, as usual, the vintage awaits.

Although I've been seeing a lot more slabbed stuff at recent shows, the cheaper low-grade industry still seems to be thriving. As I mentioned before, I feel a certain safety in vintage because the guy at the next table live-streaming his 2023 Topps rip probably isn't gonna be interested in cards cut poorly from a cereal box 60 years ago.

I've never been super enthusiastic about '60s Post, but I scoop cheap ones up when I can, and buying these two fan favorites at $3 a pop was a no-brainer.

I take a certain comfort in shopping from the regular vintage guys at this show, mostly older men who you can tell have spent most of their adult lives dealing in baseball cards.

These were fun cheap buys from one such vendor early in the day, especially the Teke and Monday OPCs - the guy even pointed out that the Monday featured a different shot than his regular '77 Topps card...which is, of course, why I wanted it in the first place.

Some bite-size vintage here - I don't really care about those old Topps Decals, and I have no idea what to do with it, but I can't let a Matty Alou card I don't have slip by me for 50 cents.

I made more concerted effort to add to my Defunct Teams collection at this show - didn't find any Pilots I needed, but I did manage to round up a good amount of Senators and Colt .45s.

Better yet, you can add it to the Cheap Thrills category, because nothing in this scan set me back more than 75 cents.

Now we're starting to get into some of the heavier hitters - the Burgess and Mazeroski were two cards I was specifically targeting at this show (both of which I couldn't believe I didn't already own) and I nabbed 'em for a few bucks each at one of the first tables of the day.

Hard to pass up any '53 Bowman Color for $6 (much less Hank Bauer!), and I don't own nearly enough Duke Snider vintage, so picking up a well-loved '58 for eight bucks was one of the afternoon's better coups.

I didn't really make one high-dollar splash at this show, but I did manage to secure a nice group of stars that didn't break my budget.

These are a couple icky high numbers from '61 Topps, and I was more than happy to shell out $15 a piece for them - the Ford is my very first card from that year's tough All-Star subset.

Kellogg's prices seem to be going up ever so slightly - I don't see a whole lot of cheap ones at shows anymore - but I wasn't gonna argue about forking over ten bucks for that Reggie.

The Conigliaro was definitely one of the major finds of the day - it's a rare Topps test issue of one of my favorite '60s dudes, and I couldn't hand I couldn't hand over my $20 bill fast enough because that's the kind of card I'll probably never see again.

I got these two in a package deal with the Tony C. from a vendor in the very first aisle - the sticker price would've set me back about $80-90 all together, but the vendor let me have 'em for $20 a piece.

This is the kind of stuff that makes me love card shows so much - I never gave much thought to adding a real Johnny Vander Meer to my binders, but the minute I saw one, my collection suddenly seemed...lacking, somehow. Shows are definitely places to get cards I know I need, but they're magical because of all the cards I didn't know I needed.

Despite not being an overwhelmingly elegant card at first glance, the Zimmer combines so many things I love into one piece of cardboard. First off...Don Zimmer! Then add the fact that it's a Short-Term Stop (Zim played exactly 12 games with the Mets) and it's a short-print from the already scarce '62 Bazooka set (I can't even find record of another one for sale).

Plus, I think my dad summed it up well when he said "Zimmer certainly isn't chewing Bazooka there!"

I did have one relatively big card I wanted to nab at this show - a '67 Topps Tim McCarver, the last card I needed to complete my Topps run of the late great backstop.

My dad can attest to the fact that I specifically asked vendor after vendor if they had a '67 McCarver - something I rarely do - and I came up empty each time until I reached the very last table of the day. I'd pretty much given up hope of finding one at that point, so I wasn't expecting much when I started leafing through the guy's small pile of '67s - but, lo and behold, there he was...McCarver! Ten dollars later, and the hallowed card was finally mine, a terrific bow on what was a masterpiece of an afternoon.

I suppose I never lost hope in card shows, but I think coming home with such a treasured mix of dime box fun and elusive vintage would make believers out of any of us all over again.

Thursday, March 9, 2023

What I've learned from TCDB

I finished uploading all my Angels cards onto TCDB the other day, which means I've at long last cataloged the first full team in my collection.

Obviously, cataloging is a slow process for me - I think I started with my Angels binders a couple months ago. The site seems to be a bit more geared towards set collecting, and being a player collector at heart, it takes me a few more clicks to get things going. And since I still prioritize putting new cards away over cataloging old ones, I'm lucky if I can spend an hour or two a week on TCDB.

But the good thing about TCDB is that I do it as I please - I accept that cataloging is probably going to be a multi-year project here at Dime Box HQ. The time I've spent over there thus far has been a lot of fun. I really enjoy how the site's laid out, and it seems like it attracts a good group of collectors (though I'm still a long ways away from ever trading on there, it'll take me long enough to catalog the cards I have first!). 

I waffled about TCDB for a long time, and whether you're a longtime user, or remain on the fence like I was, I figured I'd share a few things I've learned from my early experiences.

I have a lot more cards than I thought I did

I think the thing I like most about TCDB is that it crunches the numbers of my collection - it's a pure thrill for a statistical nut like myself.

After just one team, my collection is already at a staggering 5,295 cards. That's almost all Angels stuff (with a small exception I'll discuss in a bit), which leaves me what the heck the numbers are gonna show once I get the other 29 teams cataloged.

It's true that I probably collect more Angels dudes than other teams - I've followed there ever since their 2002 World Series run as a young baseball fan - but a number like that still floored me. 

I don't have as many cards than I thought I did

Maybe I didn't have an exact number before TCDB, but don't get me wrong - I know I have a lot of baseball cards.

Part of the pull of TCDB comes from the fact that you can compare your collection to others who use the site. It's a lot of fun, but can also leave you slack-jawed. For example, I have 88 cards of Mo Vaughn with the Angels - couple that with the reams of Red Sox cards of his I own, along with the small handful of Mets Mos, and I'd put my collection at a bit over 200 cards total, which I thought was a good number.

Turns out that'd put me way back in right around 30th place out of all TCDB users, and lightyears behind the #1 user who owns exactly 2,257 different Mo Vaughn cards(!).

I'm #1 (and proud of it!)

The only part of my collection I've cataloged outside of my Angels cards is my Hoyt Wilhelm stuff since they're stored separately from the rest of my team binders (he remains the lone player to have such an honor).

According to TCDB, I own 167 unique Hoyts (showing a rare Angels Hoyt here for the sake of continuity), which puts me in first place by a landslide - the next closest user has 94. To see myself at the top of a list is a weirdly proud moment, given I've spent so much of my collecting life accumulating Hoyt cards.

Of course, I'm only able to compare my collection to others who use TCDB - I know there's a lot of Hoyt collectors out there, and at least a handful of them have a bigger collection than mine, but for now I'll enjoy my time at the top of this mountain.

I'm #1 (but it wasn't a competition...)

I proudly collect a lot of obscure players, but comparing my collection of them to others is a bit like running unopposed in an election - is there really anyone out there trying to scoop up Ben Weber cards?

I own a whopping 10 cards of Weber - a sidearming, goggled middle reliever of my youth - which ties me for first place among TCDB users, and I'll have sole possession of #1 when I catalog my small scattering of him with other teams.

Yay for me, I guess?

My cards are a grain of sand on a beach

People in my life who don't collect are confused as to how I can keep finding stuff I need when I already have so many cards!

Now I finally have the numbers to answer them. The 250 Mike Trout cards I have sure sounds like a lot...until you consider that, according to TCDB, there are currently 21,625 different Trouts on the market. That means I own 1.2 percent of all the Mike Trout cards in existence.

A grain of sand, indeed.

I can make a want list!

I am, admittedly, not great when it comes to making and maintaining want lists.

The want lists I do have probably include a lot of errors, and I know there's troves of cards I need that I've never recorded anywhere. A lot of times I'll be flipping through a binder and think oh, there's a card I need - but I rarely think to write it down, and thus it often becomes an eternal gap in my collection. But with TCDB, all I need to do is click a button, and it goes on a want list.

TCDB showed me that I had several parallels of this 2007 Bowman Gary Matthews Jr. without the simple base card - and all was well when I managed to secure a copy recently.

Some collectors are insane

Collecting often lends itself to strange ways of thinking - yes, I do need those eight different parallels of the same card, thank you - but TCDB has shown me that some "variations" even sound crazy to me.

For example: TCDB lists four different versions of this seemingly standard 1990 Donruss Jim Abbott. One has a "1989 Leaf, Inc" copyright on the back. Another has "1989 Leaf, Inc." on the back (note the period). A third has "Aqueous Proof" stamped on the back. A fourth is listed as having a "Factory Set Border" that differs from the regular base issue - I've stared at the two for a few minutes now and can't tell the difference.

For the record, I have the "1989 Leaf, Inc" version, and no, I don't need the other three - I'm not that crazy.

It's fun!

I've mentioned that I was a longtime TCDB holdout, mostly because I didn't find the site very fun.

Obviously, I've become a convert, and I'm here to report that I think I've been getting the hang of the site. It's allowed me to sit down and enjoy some quality time with my collection, which has been nice since I tend to prioritize buying and filing new cards away over appreciating what I already have. I've even been coming across some great cards I own that I'd kinda forgotten about (like this magnificent Edmonds).

The next team up on the cataloging docket is the A's, and if it's anything like my Angels binders, I'm expecting to have my mind blown all over again.

Thursday, March 2, 2023

Meet me at the LCS

As I briefly noted in my 2023 Topps post, a new card shop popped up a mere five minutes from my house.

I suppose I should come clean here - the truth is that the store's been open for about four or five months now, and it took me until just a couple weeks ago to finally stop in. If this were 5-10 years ago, a new card shop would've been an exciting event, filled with superlatives and exclamation points. I would have run down there the day it opened. I would've fawned over it, and labeled it as a dream come true.

Fact is, I have low expectations for card shops these days. So many of them just seem like fronts for wax - which I suppose I have no business complaining about since I, you know, bought a box of 2023 Topps that day. But there just weren't many cards in a lot of the card shops I've been to, at least not ones out for open perusal...which is really the main reason I would ever go to a card shop. I don't want to have to ask for everything. That isn't fun for me.

Still, when a card shop opens up a few blocks from where you live, you're gonna go there - the pull of what if it's actually GOOD? is just too much to resist.

Looking around the place, I was fully ready to be disappointed - it's not a big storefront, and at first glance I saw nothing but wax and laughably overpriced stuff behind a glass case (had to give a hard pass to the 1960 Topps Richie Ashburn I saw for $50).

But then the employee came out, and in a strange plot twist, it turns out it's the same "binder guy" I've amassed some massively good finds at the local flea market from over the last couple years. I couldn't get a hold on whether he's the proprietor of the store or just works there, but either way, we chatted for a bit, and he pointed me to a few binders banished to a small cranny in the corner of the place.

And there it was: the very basic (but oddly rare) thrill of finding cards at a card shop! He initially told me they were 2/$1, but after I started pulling quite a few out, he knocked 'em down to 3/$1. The Acuna photo-SP at the top of this post (for 33 cents!) was one of the first cards I found, and carried on the flea market tradition of finding cards from this guy for loose change that I probably shouldn't be finding for loose change.

Pair that with a good amount of inserts to knock off my want lists, and you already had a successful debut trip to the LCS.

But the fun by no means ended there - in the end, I think I ended up pulling something like 150 cards out of those binders.

Certainly wasn't expecting to walk out of the LCS with big-time player collection stuff I needed on that blustery Wednesday afternoon.

A failsafe way to keep me looking through your cards is by throwing a few shiny ones in there.

The binders skewed heavily towards more recent product, but a few oddballs of years past managed to sneak their way inside - creased or not, that Wheaties Ryno is excellent.

One of the benefits to living in a big baseball town is that I sometimes find weird local oddballs in unexpected places - such as the small treasure chest of '90s White Sox stadium giveaways that were waiting for me in those binders.

A new Big Hurt is obviously a thrill, but in a way I was more excited to snag that oddball of Obscure Guy I Collect Scott Eyre, because when the heck do I ever get to add a new Scott Eyre card to my collection?

The prices at some card shops I've been to in the past can be a tad inflated - I understand LCS owners aren't just in for the relatively small fee of renting a table at a card show, because in the end they need to pay overhead, so thus I'm a bit more willing to pay "card shop prices."

But although not all the cards I bought from these binders were ones I would've plucked from a 3/$1 box at a card show, most of them - like this quartet of star power - fell safely into the "definitely worth it" category (including Tom Glavine at the plate!).

At this point, I think you'd agree that the hurdle of my low expectations had been safely cleared, and I was floating right on up into space.

And that was before I got to the middle of the binder, when I found ENTIRE PAGES OF TOPPS RETIRED SIGNATURE.

These fall into the unfortunate category of cards I absolutely adore but rarely see - or at least they did before I unearthed this regular Pandora's Box of them.

Ah! So many big names (Goose Gossage! Bo Jackson!) and fan favorites (Luis Tiant! Johnny Sain!) all rolled up into one beloved set!

Safe to say I've never seen so much of these in one place - I might find one here and there in a dime box, and I've paid as much as a buck or two for singles in the past, but this trove multiplied my previously meager Retired Signature collection many times over.

Last I checked, there's a copy of this card on COMC for something crazy like $10-15, and in weaker moments I've come close to paying that because, between Yaz and the precious autograph shot, this is a piece of cardboard that's hard to stomach not owning.

Yet there it was, for a cool 33 cents, waiting for me a card shop sandwiched between a liquor store and a hair salon in a mini-mall down the block from my house. This whole trip, Yaz included, was one of those unexpectedly pure moments that make wonder if I have a horseshoe hiding somewhere around here.

So yes, it gives me great pleasure to say - and I think I can safely use an exclamation point here - there's an LCS in my town!