Everything came to a screeching halt in March of 2020. I am pretty sure I had COVID in March of 2020 but was unable to get a COVID test. While I was recovering, everything shut down. I felt like I did nothing but sleep for the next several months because I couldn't go to work and I couldn't go to a card show.
I kept checking in with Mark at the Salvation Army to see if we could run the show which was shut down after the March show. The other shows I set up at as a dealer were shut down as well. In September of 2020, I was finally able set up at a show after a five-month COVID hiatus, as the Schaumburg show was back up and running. I was about to give up on the Salvation Army when Mark called and said I could have the show but with a lot of restrictions. I was willing to jump through a wall of fire if that is what it took to get the show back. It was tough getting ahold of dealers and getting them to commit to that first Oak Creek show scheduled for October of 2020.
That show went on with many difficulties. The Salvation Army wanted six feet of space between each table, well, try and tell a sports card dealer to leave some empty space between tables. I might as well have been speaking French because up went the card tables in the space that was earmarked for social distancing. I had to tell many folks to put those tables away.
Getting everyone to wear a mask was another headache. I really hated having to tell guy after guy to put on a mask but I was worried the Salvation Army was going to shut down the show if we didn't mask up. I hate masks too, but I hated going five months without a card show much more than I hate wearing a mask. What a headache that was.
My other regular shows were shut down as well like Gonzaga and Orland so I decided to turn my law office into a card shop. Well, that worked out tremendously and I kicked off the new year 2021 with several pop-up shops in my office. The last one was scheduled for April 2021 but I cancelled when the Orland show came back.
Before I talk about Orland, I want to talk a little more about Oak Creek -- the show simply exploded in 2021. There must have been several thousand in attendance at the early shows in 2021. My waiting list grew from 15 to 75 people. In March of 2021, Mark showed me the Game Room at the Salvation Army and we figured we could fit 20 or 25 more tables in there. The only problem was that the venue was out of tables and all the Game Room vendors would have to bring their own tables -- I was concerned.
In April, 2021, we opened the Game Room, expanding the show from 75 tables to 100 and upping the number of vendors from 45-50 to 65. As I expected, the Game Room has been a headache because the vendors have to bring in their own tables. Guys complain and complain. I pay the venue a lot of extra money for that room and sometimes I wonder if it is really worth it. So many guys have asked for discounts on the table fee since they have to bring in their own table. My response is always the truth -- I do not get the room at a discount and pay full price, so you have to pay full price for your table! Oh my god, I'm charging a big 25 bucks for space at the busiest show in the Midwest!
I've had flat-out full-scale shouting matches with idiots over this issue. Sometimes, I wonder if running the Oak Creek show is worth all the trouble.
Regardless, my waiting list dropped to 15 to 20 shortly thereafter but is now back up to 50 or more. There is one more room to expand into, but I do not want to do it without tables. I really need to have tables and set them up before the vendors arrive to have everything spaced out properly.
The Oak Creek show has grown into a monster. I have hired three great folks in Rachel and Jason and occasionally Andy to help me operate my tables while I collect table fee from the vendors.
The constant calls, texts and messages regarding the Oak Creek show has been overwhelming. I'm still just one guy operating the show and the degree of difficulty has increased exponentially.
With increased vendors and customers, came increased theft in 2021. I can't tell you how depressing I find the thefts. I just want to have a good time and I want everyone to have a good time. Nobody has a good time when their valuable cards are stolen. We caught one kid and I hope to catch more. I hate these thieves so much and curse them all.
Another ongoing problem has been dealers who reserve space then don't show up on the day of the show. I have started to ban some dealers. I have an ever-growing wait list of dealers so I don't have to rely on the unreliable to show up, like I did when I first started the show in 2014. Dealers have a cow when I ban them. Hey, it is your fault, not mine. You need to show up when you reserve space!
I have no idea what 2022 is going to bring to my Oak Creek show. I hope to have a group of good and responsible dealers and I hope we continue to bring in these tremendous crowds. The Oak Creek show is a huge task every month but when I see the number of dealers and the number of attendees at each show, I feel tremendous pride and continue on.
Onto my other regular shows. Now I am just a dealer at the other shows, not the promoter. Somehow people think I am the promoter of every local show and ask me for tables. I am only the promoter of Oak Creek and can't get you tables at any other show.
Back to Orland -- WOW! I have been setting up at the Orland show for more than 20 years and 2021 was by far, my best at Orland, even though the show only ran from April through December. That first show in April was my best show ever! The first show in December was one of my best shows ever. The second show in December was excellent. Just about all of the 2021 Orland shows have been excellent.
I think the success of my show and the Orland show can be partially attributed to the rebirth of the hobby during the pandemic. But I also gotta give myself some props because I work my tail off to promote my show and it seems my efforts have been fruitful. Also, Rich, the promoter at Orland does a tremendous job promoting his show. I am so thankful that Rich took over the show from John Leary, who was one of the worst promoters around.
As a vendor, I have a big drop off in sales at the other shows I attend, except for the National. I was so disappointed to learn that the Gonzaga Hall building was sold, and the Wisconsin Sports Collectors Association had to move the show to the Buenavista Restaurant. While the space at Buenavista was tight and I heard all the complaints from other dealers and customers alike, my sales there were excellent. I can put up with a lot when my pockets are filled with cash. I don't know for sure, but it looks like Buenavista may be done. I, for one, hope not and will continue to set up there if any new shows are booked. My pocketbook is taking a big hit with the lack of Gonzaga/Buenavista shows.
While I like a lot of the new shows, my sales just don't touch my Oak Creek show, Orland or Gonzaga/Buenavista.
In 2021, I added a bunch of new shows to my regular schedule including the St. John's Church show in Woodstock, the Rock Church show in Rockford, the Sheraton show in Madison, Root River in Franklin, WI, and the VFW in Lake Station, IN, and have gotten back into the Schaumburg show after dropping out.
The Rock Church and the Sheraton in Madison seem to be the best of this bunch. I am going to give these others a go for a while but if sales don't improve, I can't justify the time spent setting up at these shows. There seems to be lots of new ones popping up as well and I may give some other shows a try.
A guy trying to organize a new show in Kenosha just contacted me for advice. I don't have a whole lot of advice for new show promoters. I'm still trying to figure it out in Oak Creek after seven years. My best advice is come to my show in Oak Creek and/or the Orland show and observe and talk to people there.
Like every card dealer, every promoter is different. I never wanted to be a show promoter and created my show just so I would have a Saturday show in Milwaukee to set up at as a dealer, as there were none in 2014. I was having tremendous success as a dealer at Gonzaga Hall and wanted another place for my Gonzaga customers to visit me, a place where I could control the environment and do away with some things that I do not like at some other shows like live auctions and the venue tearing down the room long before the show ended.
In addition, I had been attending shows since the late 1970's, so I knew a thing or two about card shows and I had a laundry list of things I liked and did not like and attempted to incorporate the things I liked about card shows into my own show.
I think a lot of luck plays into having a successful card show as well. I really don't know why so many dealers and customers attend my Oak Creek show. It did not happen overnight, and I really think I have just been lucky. Again, come on out and talk to everyone at the Oak Creek show and ask the dealers why they come back month after month and ask the customers why they regularly attend the show -- they'll give you a better response than I can.
Back to my observations on the state of card shows. So, after a tough time in 2020, I have seen that card shows are back in a big way. I still think the Chicago area could use a few more shows and I have been toying with the idea of starting a show in Palatine, where my pop-up shops were excellent. I just need to figure out a day that won't interfere with all of these other shows.
I don't know how many times over the past several decades that I have heard people declare that card shows are dead. Well, card shows never died and are as healthy now as they have ever been.
Don't agree? Well, let's talk about the National -- that was quite a spectacle. The National was back in Rosemont in 2021 and I was set up in my usual corner with my usual mates. According to the folks that operate the National, the 2021 show was the second most attended. The show was jammed. I had my best sales ever! I was so jazzed during the show that I signed up for Atlantic City in 2022.
Also, online sports card sales reached record levels in 2021. There were record setting sale prices of the T206 Wagner, 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie, along with modern Tom Brady and Lebron James. Big money has come into the hobby in a big way. The following is a listing of recent big card sales. All of the cards were slabbed.
According to Wikipedia, the new card boom started in February of 2020 when a 2003-04 Upper Deck Lebron James/Michael Jordan card, numbered 1/1, sold for $900,000 in Goldin Auctions. Then in May of 2020, a 2009 Bowman Red Refractor Mike Trout Autograph sold for $922,500 in a Goldin Auction.
Then things just went crazy in August of 2020 when Goldin sold a 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor Autograph Mike Trout for $3.9 million. That card is currently the fifth most expensive card in the hobby. In September of 2020, a 2013-14 Panini National Treasures Logoman Patch Autograph Giannis Antetokounmpo sold for $1.8 million. That card is currently the seventh most expensive card in the hobby.
December of 2020 saw a flurry of high dollar auction sales starting with the sale of a 2013-14 Panini Prizm Black Mozaic Giannis 1/1 for $1.1 million in Goldin Auctions on December 12, 2020. Two big sales occurred on December 13, 2020, with a 1979 OPC Wayne Gretzky selling for nearly $1.3 million in a Heritage Auction. Heritage also sold a 1997 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems Green Numbered 9/100 Michael Jordan for $950,000.
The year 2021 saw much, much more of the same high-dollar auctions starting with PWCC's sale of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle for $5.2 million. I had a sports card dealer living in my neighborhood growing up. I remember him complaining back in 1980 that he spent $2,000 on a '52 Mantle. The PWCC Mantle is now the second most valuable card in the hobby.
Goldin had a monster auction on January 30, 2021, with several high-dollar sales including a 2012-2013 Panini National Treasures Logoman Patch Autograph Anthony Davis numbered 1/1 sell for just over a million dollars. In that same auction, a 2009-10 Panini National Treasures "Century Platinum" Rookie Patch Autograph Steph Curry numbered 3/5 sold for $960,000. Also, a 2017 Panini National Treasures Black #161 Rookie Patch Autographs Patrick Mahomes numbered 1/5 sold for $840,000. Lastly, a 2018 Panini Prizm Gold Prizm #280 Rookie Card Luka Doncic numbered 3/10 sold for $780,000.
In a February 4, 2021, Heritage Auction, a 1997 UD Game Jerseys Autographs Michael Jordan sold for $1.4 million. On February 28, 2021, in a private sale, a 2018 Panini National Treasures 1 of 1 Logoman Autograph Luka Doncic sold for $4.6 million, now the fourth most valuable card in the hobby. Also on February 28, 2021, Heritage sold a 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson Rookie, from the Dimitri Young Collection, PSA 10, for a little over a million dollars.
Goldin had a monster auction on March 6, 2021, with six cards selling in the six and seven figure range, including a 2007-08 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Rookie Card Parallel #94 Patch Autographs 23/35 Kevin Durant for $799,500; a 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson PSA 9 for $984,000; a 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente Rookie PSA 9 for $1.1 million; a 2004-05 Upper Deck Ultimate Signatures Logos #USL-LJ Signed Logoman Card Lebron James 1/1 for nearly $1.3 million; a 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Rookie Patch Autographs #78 numbered 32/99 Lebron James for $1.5 million (now the ninth most valuable card in the hobby); and a 1996-97 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Rookie Card Kobe Bryant, Beckett 10, for nearly $1.8 million, now the eighth most valuable card in the hobby.
On April 3, 2021, Leland's sold a 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket Autograph #144 Tom Brady, numbered 99/100 for $2.2 million, now the sixth most valuable card in the hobby. On April 26, 2021, PWCC sold a 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Rookie Patch Autographs #78 Lebron James, numbered 7/23, for $5.2 million, now the third most expensive card in the hobby.
On July 29, 2021, in a private sale, a 2011 Topps Update Platinum #US175 Mike Trout, numbered 1/1, sold for just over one million dollars. The card was displayed in the Topps booth at the National. Then came the big bopper on August 16, 2021, when REA sold a T206 Honus Wagner, SGC 3, for $6.6 million, now the most expensive card in the hobby.
While the sports card hobby's demise has been declared many, many times over the years, a revival can certainly be declared for 2021 -- the numbers don't lie! The hobby is as healthy as it has ever been with record sales, strong card shows, and new participants from all walks of life.
The hobby was not without its controversies in 2021. Amateur sleuths on the Blowout Cards Forums uncovered wide-spread fraud. In the past, these folks showed how fake autographs can get by the authenticators at all the grading companies. In 2021, they showed how doctored cards can get past the graders as well. They discovered slabbed cards that were purchased on eBay, doctored, resubmitted to PSA, then receiving much high grades, then sold by PWCC on eBay.
Let's start with PSA and then get to PWCC.
The response from PSA has not been comforting. PSA response was simply, "We're not perfect, we make mistakes." Well, it is your job to be perfect! What is the point of having PSA authenticate an autograph when they do not have the ability to authenticate an autograph? Also, what is the point of having PSA grade a card when the card doctors and trimmers are able to get their fraudulent cards past the so-called experts at PSA. Lesson -- you can't rely on PSA or any of the grading companies. Yet, the hobby continues to rely on these grading companies which are so deeply flawed. I think at some point, everyone is going to wake up and realize that their authenticated autographs are NOT authentic, and their PSA 10s are trimmed and worthless -- it will be an ugly day.
How many PSA 10s have been doctored? How many fake Babe Ruth autographs have been slabbed as authentic? I don't trust PSA. You should not trust PSA. The very first card they slabbed back in the day, the Mastro/Gretzky T206 Wagner, was doctored! They have a history of turning a blind eye to doctored cards. There is no evidence out there but you have to wonder if they are complicit in wide-spread fraud.
Not only am I concerned the grading companies show a complete inability to authenticate an autograph or properly grade a card, but the ownership structure is also incredibly concerning. I don't know this guy Nat Turner from Adam but apparently, he is a young wealthy tech mogul and he recently purchased PSA. He also purchased a large auction house, Goldin Auctions. My concern is that this guy can now personally grade his own cards under the PSA label and sell them at his own auction house and pull a "Mastro" and inflate the prices.
Now, I spent eight years working in government here in the State of Illinois, and one thing that was consistently drilled into my head was that I never wanted to do anything that gave an air of impropriety. For example, at one time I drew up the lease documents for the DMV facilities across the state. Years ago, another attorney, that drew up those lease documents, cut deals with his buddies and received kickbacks for contracting with his friends. That attorney is now in jail.
While I was drafting the lease docs, I vetted out all the building owners to make sure they did not have a criminal history and to make sure they had no "special" relationship with anyone in state government. A state inspector general vetted me out to make sure I had no relationship with any of the building owners.
Who is vetting out Nat Turner? Who is making sure he is not over-grading his own cards or authenticating fake autographs? Who is making sure PSA is not giving high grades to doctored cards? Who is making sure that the cards graded by Nat Turner or doctored cards are not going to his own auction house and selling at artificially inflated prices? There is an air of impropriety permeating our great hobby and I am very, very concerned.
Along these same lines, someone forgot to send the memo to PWCC. With regard to the reslabbed and doctored cards that PWCC sold, they simply responded that they were not aware that these cards were doctored and reslabbed. I believe this whole situation is being investigated by the FBI.
I've got a problem with PWCC because almost the minute they came on the scene, the accusations of shill bidding followed. Now there has been no evidence that PWCC was engaged in shill bidding, but the accusations are there, and PWCC has done nothing to quiet the murmurs.
First off, I always wondered why cards sold under their name on eBay consistently garnered higher dollars than cards sold by any other eBay seller sans Probstein who has the same accusations of shill bidding. I have always stayed away from PWCC and Probstein because I believe that where there is smoke there is fire. I just don't trust them.
I think PWCC just might be following the Mastro playbook. Not familiar with Mastro? Well NBC produced an excellent documentary on Mastro in NBC's American Greed series. I recommend watching it. After I watched it, I was hesitant to bid on cards from any auction house. The documentary shows how easy it is to cheat and there is no one monitoring the auction houses.
Mastro went to jail for fraud. He's out now. He was at the National. I wonder when he is going to start ripping people off again.
Now with PWCC, eBay kicked them off their site and explicitly stated they observed irregularities with the bidding on PWCC items. So PWCC now has its own site where no one can monitor them. I won't ever go on PWCC's site but apparently many folks do. Suckers, I think.
There is a lot of fraud in our hobby. There is no governing body, there is no inspector general to root out impropriety. We really need some government regulation; we really need the FBI to be far more engaged. There is too much money changing hands.
Much of this money is invested in modern cards. Now, I don't deal with modern cards, but I must admit that the hobby's current explosion is largely due to modern cards. I am amazed that cards depicting Tom Brady and Lebron James can sell for six or seven figures. Unfortunately, I see a huge crash in the future for this modern stuff. One, there is no way these cards can maintain their value. With one cheating or drug scandal, your six-figure Lebron cards will be worthless.
Additionally, the Fanatics company came in like a stealth bomber and essentially stole the sports card contracts from Topps and Panini. What I am reading about Fanatics is really disturbing. The guy that runs this company is out to conquer the world, starting with sports cards. Fanatics has proposed to eliminate the current distribution structure for modern sports cards. So out goes the distributor and out goes the card shops and the wax dealers at card shows. There will no longer be access to wholesale modern cards to anyone (well, maybe Nat Turner can get some wholesale, slab 'em and have his auction house sell 'em).
It looks to me that Fanatics wants to replace all the auction houses as well and wants to be the main depository for the secondary market. I don't see how they will achieve this, but they clearly announced their intentions. I have to wonder if Fanatics will insert 1/1's into packs. I really think they will print all sorts of 1/1's and just list them for multi-millions of dollars on their own website.
I think these dopes at Fanatics are going to kill the modern sports card. I strongly believe in the old adage, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Topps and Panini have been doing a bang-up job. The modern card market is healthy, the way new cards are made and distributed ain't broke. But greed from the players' associations gave Fanatics the green light to destroy the modern card market. We know how flawed professional athletes are because they consistently screw up their own lives (see Antonio Brown), now they're going to screw up the sports card hobby.
When Fanatics takes over the production of cards, will they create desirable cards? Will anyone buy these cards from Fanatics? Will anyone buy cards Fanatics gets slabbed... from Fanatics? Will anyone buy the 1/1's Fanatics makes available ONLY on their own website. This is trouble in the making.
I've also said this before... I am worried that Fanatics will attempt to overtake the vintage card market as well and put guys like me out of business. What is to stop them? They have billions of dollars at their disposal. I think if I see Fanatics start buying up vintage cards, I am going to immediately stop selling my cards and horde them until the end of time. I'm not letting this evil empire get my cards!
Yes evil empire! I see lots of villains in our hobby -- Mastro, Nat Turner, PSA, Goldin Auctions, Fanatics, and PWCC.
I've been part of this hobby since 1975 and I've witnessed all sorts of madness but nothing like I have seen in 2021. Yet, the stars are aligned for 2022 to be even more maddening!
I didn't even touch on all these new companies that have entered the hobby to take your money in non-traditional ways. Like you really need to pay a company to invest your money into sports cards. Really?
Back when I went to my first card show in 1978, vintage was king. Every single dealer at the old Hillside Holiday Inn sold vintage cards. This past weekend at the Schaumburg show, I was just one of two dealers who sold vintage cards. It has become a modern card world and guys like me are relics of the past.
Sales were not very good at the Schaumburg show for my vintage cards. Throw in very high table fees, and relics like me won't be at that show much longer. Overall, I think vintage dealers are disappearing from most shows.
While Honus Wagner and Mickey Mantle are still the kings of the hobby, the bread and butter of card show used to be guys building vintage sets. Like me, these guys are relics and disappearing fast.
While I do not see card shows ever disappearing, the make up has changed and down the road most shows will just be young guys selling high end modern cards. Us older guys are being put out to pasture. It is sad. To me, there is nothing better than building a set of vintage cards. It is great fun going through old cards at a card show, looking for the cards you need to complete a set. Sure, you can do it on eBay but it is much more expensive and much more difficult facing rival bidders in your efforts to complete your set. There is nothing like sitting down at a table with piles of old cards at a card show, list out, and finding cards for your set. I think this part of the hobby is fading away.
There are no young vintage dealers out there. All the vintage dealers, like me, are old. So it really is a new day in the hobby. The hobby I knew is long gone. I'll stick around for as long as I can, but I can't keep coming out to some of these shows where there is just no interest in vintage cards. I may start to spend more time online selling cards than filling all of my weekends with shows. Another option is to do more pop-up shops at my office and create a space for vintage collectors to regularly congregate.
I have many questions for the year 2022. Will card shows continue to grow in 2022? Will prices for modern and vintage sports cards continue to climb? Will all these new companies, out to swipe your cash, continue to jump into the hobby? Are you willing to pay a company to invest your money into sports cards? Will the feds come in and jail all these scumbags sucking the life out of our hobby? What are the villains planning for 2022? Will this stupid pandemic ever end?
I've just rambled on and on here.... what are your thoughts about 2021 and the state of hobby?