Saturday, May 15, 2010

My Day at the TriStar Collector Convention in San Francisco

I haven't been to a card show in quite a long time so it was cool to get out of the house today and visit one of the most beautiful places in the world - San Francisco. Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of the skyline and half-million dollar homes that caught my attention on the way to the Cow Palace. In fact if the setting around the ancient building wasn't spectacular hilltops lined with colorful homes and the pacific fog rolling in amongst the tops of the hills - you'd think I was in a less desirable area of the planet.

Like I said, the venue was no paradise - but believe me, this is one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Not to mention expensive. $4 Bridge Toll, $20 Meal, $8 Parking - all before we enter the show.

What the heck is a Cow Palace?

Not sure why they charge $10 to get in the place. Maybe its to keep looky-loos like me out that only spent $1 on two packs of Soft Sleeves and $5 on a 2009 Beckett Baseball annual guide. Given some of the money I saw spent, maybe $10 is not enough to charge. I was peeking through a few cases of newer game used and autograph stuff. There were several Kobe Bryant Auto/Jersey pieces, I saw several letterman patches and some great looking cards. There was even a Babe Ruth Cut Autograph that I was able to snap a photo of, and I was about to snap a photo of the Walter Johnson next to it when a younger guy walked up with more cash than I've seen in a long time in his hands. It actually turned out to be just south of $10,000 in one hundred dollar bills and he was buying the guys entire table - minus some UDA Signed Shoes. The cards were being packed up in boxes faster than Usain Bolt out of the starting blocks ... so I couldn't get any more photos. I'm guessing the Babe Ruth you see here was included.

Given how popular 2010 Bowman Baseball has been on the internet with people paying $400+ for Stephen Strasburg Auto's (Makes me wonder what his Upper Deck Stuff is selling for) and double the SRP for boxes, I wanted to see what the markup was going to be at the TriStar show. Funny thing was, there was really only a handful of guys selling wax, and only one guy with enough to supply a good portion of the East Bay. Looks like he wasn't marking his boxes up much more than anyone else. In fact I overhead the gentleman running the booth say that a guy came in on Friday (when the show started) and bought several cases from him. He had some good un-opened boxes, all coming from sealed cases I saw behind him. His prices were excellent and even saw someone get $10 off on a Prominent Cuts Box.

If the hobby made sense - I guess Tim Lincecum Autographs would be worth $1,000 considering how much people are paying for a guy that has struck out a few guys that live in a frat house across the street from me (I wish I was joking). Nothing against the prospector, but how much do you think Strasburg Autograph's will go up? Its not like this guy plays for the Yankees, Red Sox or Cubs! You wouldn't know that Tim Lincecum autograph is about 1/10th as popular as guys like Strasburg and Harper by being at this show. I had never seen so many Tim Lincecum autographs! I guess this is where they all have gone, because I sure don't see collectors showing up with them in packs very often. I'm no autograph expert, and I don't want to shed negative light on what was a really enjoyable day in the Bay Area - but I'd have to guess that far less than 70% of the autograph memorabilia I saw was actually signed by the player. When you got dusty LeBron James signed jerseys out un-protected on a table - that smells fake. Being in San Fran, I guess the legitimacy of Giants stuff can be warranted, and just about every booth had Majestic Signed Jersey's for sale.

There were many times I wish I had an unlimited bankroll to buy some cards at the show. There were so many great single cards at this show that I could have spent hours photographing special cards. There were some great deals too. I spent a few minuets going through a guys half dozen tables all full with boxes of PSA graded cards and nothing else. Prices were: PSA 9 or Lower $2.00 - PSA 10 $5.00 - Needless to say the Ty Cobb I have pictured here...was at a different booth...and was not-priced.

The vintage cards at the show were spectacular. I saw cards that I have only seen in magazines and heard about through other more serious collectors. It was amazing to see sellers that have amassed such a huge collection and are showcasing at card shows across the country. Its almost like a rolling museum of sorts, where these guys are in it for profit, but many are showcasing works of art and sports history along the way.

I saw plenty of "modern" cards as well. Maybe not so surprising - I saw a lot of newer basketball singles for some reason. There were plenty of vintage baseball, and some modern football cards - but I don't remember seeing a Tim Tebow or similar 2010 Pick. Maybe that's because the sellers are moving that stuff faster (possibly online) and they take stuff that doesn't sell as well to shows because the cards 'look' expensive and they can get $10 for a Panini Sticker Autograph of a nobody in the NBA.

It wasn't like every basketball card I saw was of a 12th man. You always see the LeBron James & Michael Jordan dual signature on the Upper Deck Basketball sell sheets (I should have said used to see) and since LJ and MJ are locked up with someone that is making Lacrosse sets - we might not see beauties like these anywhere but card shows. I wish I had a Black American Express card or Upper Deck made licensed NBA cards - because I'd buy a card like this and I'm a Lakers fan.

Speaking of the Lakers - and Upper Deck, probably one of the greatest modern basketball cards of all time was on display as well. What makes this card so great? One - its an autograph of a now mythical NBA legend that we imagine dominating those short white dudes like Babe Ruth hit home runs every at bat. Its an on-card signature of a now fallen great. Plus the card is spectacular and was hyped up really well when it came out (I remember guys hunting for these when I was working at a card shop then)

Collectors probably make too much about how cards look. The reason 2010 Bowman is sizzling right now is not because it 'looks' great! However, as prospects flame out and sets get hot and cold - we still remember a handful of cards. There are more Wilt Chamberlain autographs in the world. The design, the signature and the elegance of this design makes this the Wilt Chamberlain autograph card. I'm happy I saw it in person today.

There were quite a few people there and I arrived after Cal Ripken Jr was just making final calls on his signature. People really seemed to be enjoying themselves, mainly focused on looking for the autograph line or hunting through boxes of singles. There were very few people like me that were just looking around, everyone had a purpose and they were serious about finding the cards and memorabilia they wanted. Some dealers looked drained and I saw Free Cell up on a computer and some dealers flipping through their cell-phones - oh how times have changed. Several years ago the computer was the devil to these guys and its what helped kill the hobby - now it keeps them occupied at card shows.

There was a mix of extremely professional high grade tables and younger guys that look like they might only be there because the location or timing was right for them. I noticed some dealers with business cards out from as far away as Connecticut. It was a good sign for the hobby. I think I said on my podcast the other day that Sports Cards are as hot right now than they have been in a while. It could be that the reduction in product (that collectors were begging for several years ago) is actually working. It could be that prospects like Jason Heyward, Stephen Strasburg, Aroldis Chapman, Starlin Castro and others are actually going to be the next generation of baseball stars that follow Jeter, Arod and Pujols when they are done. Not to mention the LeBron James' and Chris Johnson's of the world. Possibly its a mix of both.

I've never been to the National, and I'm not going to fly across the country anytime for that. Besides, people travel all over the world to experience California's summer time ... why on earth would I leave??  That being said, if the National delivers half the experience I had today, it should be one hell of a show for collectors.


  1. Good stuff. I've yet to attend a card show, I think they have one in Portland every few months or so, I just always miss it.

    Cow Palace is a horrible name. For anything. Just horrible.

  2. Looks/sounds like a good show. I can't believe all the jerseys that are on display in that last photo. We've got a show next month here in Boise. The last one in April drew a few folks in (at least while I was there), and with newer football product out, I imagine things should pick up. When I got out of the hobby around 2001 football was king here, and I don't think things have changed much.

  3. Awesome review of the show and great pictures.

    I'm not sure how I would have reacted seeing some young guy standing at a table with roughly 10 grand in BILLS.

    That's just nuts.

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