One of the greatest experiences of my younger collecting days was going to a card show. There was one held here in town every year, and it was the highlight of my summer. Nothing could compare to walking into a cavernous room filled with millions of cards owned by people who practically begged me to buy from them. Walking up and down long rows of vendors, I would stop and look at anything that caught my eye. I would sort through endless singles boxes, looking for cards of my Green Bay Packers. Every now and then, something big would catch my eye. One of those eye-catching items was a 1991 Star Pics Brett Favre RC Auto (but that’s a story for another time)! The various other pieces of memorabilia were fun to look at, but they were just decorations to me. I walked right by jerseys, helmets, pictures and paintings on my way between treasure troves of cards. When my dad made the mistake of stopping to try to look at those items, I politely reminded him that I had yet to see each and every football card at the show, and there was simply no time to waste.
I have been to several shows since I returned to collecting, including the National in Baltimore a few years ago. (I could’ve spent every day for a month in there!) The show that inspired this post, though, was one my brother and I went to recently outside of Washington, DC. Instead of a quick drive downtown, we took three hours to make a two-hour drive to the place (I-95 traffic, ugh). I dislike traffic in a bad way, but walking in the door of that card show made it all worth while. There in front of me was a cavernous room filled with millions of football cards and people who would practically beg me to buy from them. The familiar jerseys, helmets, pictures and paintings were still there, neatly decorating the football cards I would be sorting through for the next four hours. (I did find myself taking a passing interest in a couple of them now, though.)
On the surface, things were largely unchanged from my experiences as a young collector. The place was huge, the cards and other assorted memorabilia were there, and a kid in a candy store never knew the kind of thrill that I felt walking in the door. There were differences, but they were subtle; for starters, I found out about the show on Twitter. As I mentioned, it wasn’t here in town, but it was close enough to make a day out of it. (Granted, that also means they probably had to draw from a larger area to get a similar crowd, which is a sad reality that I feel has been thoroughly discussed elsewhere.) The singles boxes I sorted through are now filled with autographs and jersey cards; the base cards I used to pore over have been relegated to massive, impersonal inventories online. Heck, shuffling through one box, we found no fewer than twenty of the exact same autograph card of some long forgotten Chiefs rookie. As I got closer to present day in the card bins, their variety of brands dwindled significantly, too.
My brother was there on a mission: looking for rookie cards of NFL Hall of Famers (and he got some great deals!). Instead of walking all over the place comparison shopping, though, we ended up comparing prices with various websites on our phones. I even did some mobile online comparison shopping for boxes I bought, though my wax purchases came largely from one of my go-to online places who had a booth set up at the show.
Aside from being a sidekick in the Tolkien-esque HOF RC hunt, my favorite part of the show went straight back to the roots of what I loved about being there. We came across a vendor who had a ton of old wax packs, long stale bubblegum and all, spread out on his table. He also had a stack of old football RC’s that had drawn us in to begin with, but as my brother worked his way through those, the rest of the table caught my eye. Old entertainment wax packs – Andy Griffith, Star Trek, various other TV shows I know by name only, and then… Star Wars! Old school, original Topps Star Wars packs, from when the movies first came out. A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, Return (not “Revenge”) of the Jedi. I bought one pack from each of the movies (for a total of only $10!), but it was the conversation that I really cherished. This vendor in particular used to travel to the very show that had attended as a wide-eyed and badly under-funded young collector. We reminisced about the location, the show, and the organization (Tuff Stuff) that used to host it. We discussed whether I should open the packs or keep them as collectors items themselves. (I opened them.) The guy even mentioned to me that he has a buddy who loves to eat the old, hard, discolored gum. His exact words were “Apparently it’s like eating Cheetos – crunchy, but then it just kind of dissolves in your mouth.” (LOL, ewwwwww!) But most importantly, it was a real, face-to-face interaction with another collector – someone else who understood why that three hour drive was worth every minute, someone who shared my inexplicable passion for smallish rectangles of cardboard. I bought some modern stuff at the show, which I’ll show off in another post, but it was these three Star Wars packs and the conversation I had over them that led me to truly appreciate how awesome it was to be at a card show – in a warehouse-sized room full of people from all walks of life who are just as fanatical about the hobby I love.