Hobby Musings: The joys of collecting on the road – A running joke between my wife and I (OK, maybe not so much for my wife) is that whenever we go on a road trip or vacation, I invariably end up finding a card shop or some type of antique store that has cards for sale. Most times, the items I find tend to be junk-era wax or overpriced autographs. However, every now and then, I’m able to find something cool to add to my collection.
I recently ventured back to the Pittsburgh area to visit family before Thanksgiving. Having a few hours to kill, I stopped by a mall that had been converted into an indoor flea market. My first stop was to a card store that I had remembered visiting on a previous trip. Much to my surprise, I was able to find a nice Leaf certified autograph of Pro Football Hall of Famer Charlie Sanders. Numbered to 10, I quickly asked the shop owner how much he wanted for it. His answer of $5 prompted a quick “sold” by me.
Looking around the rest of his shop, I found some other cool quirky items I ended up not buying, including a very large Wayne Gretzky beer advertisement. I did eventually also end up getting a Topps certified autograph of Pro Basketball Hall of Famer Spencer Haywood for another $5. All in all, it’s hard to complain about picking up two certified HOF autographs for half the cost of a blaster.
Even more importantly, I had a great time talking cards and the hobby market with the owner. Like myself, he was a longtime collector of in-person autographs. I’ve often said that my favorite part of the hobby, both personally and professionally, is the people you meet and the relationships you make. Without them, it can feel a little hollow collecting what essentially at the end of the day are little pieces of cardboard and ink blots. Either way, it was nice to make a new hobby friend.
Before departing, I took a quick lap around the rest of the flea market and found an older gentleman selling several cards of Pittsburgh athletes. I didn’t find much until I stumbled across a card of former Steelers coordinator and Pro Football Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. Signed on a vintage card with his HOF inscription and PSA encapsulated, I was able to haggle a little and snag the card for $15. Truth be told, it’s roughly around what his autograph goes for on eBay, if not a little more. However, the ability to get it in person, as well as the encapsulation, more than made the extra little bit of money worth it.
Eventually heading back home to Connecticut, I figured my buying for trip was over, but it turns out I was wrong. There’s a very large flea market store that I pass during the trip in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania. As it was closed on my way to Pittsburgh, I made a point to stop on the way back. Every time I’ve been to this store, there are always a few showcases filled with sports memorabilia. Owned by the same person, I could tell based on the inventory and pricing that it was someone who knew his sports cards. I had bought a few items from his showcases in the past, but never anything too large.
This time proved to be different as I quickly saw a 1955 Bowman Mickey Mantle card graded PSA 3. This is the same card that caused such an uproar when pulled pack fresh at the National earlier this year. While not in nearly as nice a condition, it was still a cool card to see. The price on it was right, but I still decided to walk around the store and think about it. When I walked back to the front, it turned out the person who owned the card was actually adding some new inventory.
We got to talking about baseball cards and our love of vintage. Before I knew it, a few hours had passed and I had to get back on the road. The seller was kind enough to offer me a discount on the card and I decided to pull the trigger on the purchase. It was an unexpected buy, but one I was happy to make as I’ve been looking to add a vintage Mantle card to my PC for some time.
Once again though, the best part of it all was having the chance to passionately talk about the hobby for a prolonged time with someone who enjoyed it as much, if not more, than I do. Like most hobbies, the sports memorabilia community can be a bit of a niche. Outside of those who collect, it can be hard to strike up conversations about trading cards and autographs with people who either don’t care or understand it. So when I do meet someone who loves to talk about trading cards, the conversations tend to be pretty long.
A tip to remember for collecting on the road is that having cash is always preferable. Though many places do accept credit cards, chances are you’ll invariably find someone who doesn’t. Plus, you’ll also likely be able to secure a better deal or maybe even avoid paying sales tax with cash. Having a smart phone is also handy if you need to do some quick research or even an autograph comparison. For better or worse, I can’t even begin to list the number of times I’ve passed or pulled the trigger on a purchase because of a few minutes of research.
Finally, just be friendly to the people you encounter. I know this may sound like an obvious one, but in talking with shop owners, it amazes me how rude buyers can be. Whether it’s insulting a person’s prices or acting entitled to an item, it can just as much of a turnoff to shop owners as a bad owner is to a buyer. I can say without a doubt that I’ve gotten some of the better hobby deals of my life because of pleasant interactions with the owner before completing the deal. Maybe I’m off base on this, but I think it’s because the owners are genuinely pleased at times to see their merchandise go to someone who truly enjoys and appreciates it. Either way, a little kindness can go a long way whether it’s in the hobby or life in general.
For more Hobby Musings from Kelsey Schroyer, follow him on Twitter @KelSchroy75.