Continuing with yesterday’s theme, I asked a few of my hobby friends what their thoughts were regarding the differences in the National between now and the past. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.
“The biggest and most significant change that I have seen over the two decades has to do with the enormous growth of the major auction houses. Many years ago the National would be the place that dealers rolled out their coolest items, hoping for the largest possible audiences of buyers and even admirers as a way to boost their reputations and businesses. As the emphasis of the hobby moved so dramatically to game-used and/or signed equipment and slabbed and graded cards, much of the super material would be linked to specific high-end auction dates rather than arbitrarily linking to the mid-summer National Convention, though there obviously would be many instances of overlap.
“The other notable feature of the last two decades has been that each year a couple more old-timers don’t show up, and that’s always been a disappointment. Seeing so many people even if it was just once a year was always an important aspect … and still is I’m sure. Simply put, I am anti-death and anti-dotage.”
“There are certainly many key differences between the National shows of today and those from the 1980’s and early-1990’s. Besides the absence or at least strong acceptance of third-party authentication and grading services, the two things that stick out to me are the impact of the Internet and the shift in auction presence. Obviously, the Internet has done so many wonderful things for the hobby. It has given the buyers and sellers the opportunity to connect with one another that simply didn’t exist before. As a collector, you have so many more opportunities to add items to your collection, from sellers all over the world.
“Before the Internet really made its impact, the National was the one big show where many of the top sellers came to showcase their inventory. So, for collectors, it was like being a kid in a candy store. Most collectors were limited, in terms of buying options, to local baseball card shops and smaller, local shows at that time. The National brought everyone together in one venue. The world has changed so quickly and dramatically that it is probably hard for younger people to imagine what it was like prior to the Internet but, walking into the show in those days probably caused some collectors to experience sensory overload since they had so many options on the show floor.
“The other thing that stands out to me is that the presence of auctions is so different today than it was then. Auctions have become the primary method to sell high-end sports collectibles. In those days, there were more opportunities to actually buy items at the show than there are today. Today, the show is more dominated by auction previews so there are still a lot of great items to see, it’s just that you often have to wait until the auction is open for bidding in order to have a shot at owning it. That can be a little frustrating for collectors who want to buy items outright. That said, a lot of collectors like the action of the auction so they are more than willing to wait for their opportunity. Auctions used to be reserved for events, for the most part, but now thousands upon thousands of items are auctioned every single day on the Internet.”
“For me the biggest difference between the National circa 1993 and the event today is the “mix” of items being offered by the dealers. In 1993, the tables were full of cards, mostly baseball. Today, there is a much greater concentration of vintage memorabilia and non-card collectibles. This may be a reflection of the fact that there are fewer pure card collectors. I’m sure another factor is that it is much easier to sell cards by mail order today to a nationwide or even international audience because of eBay and dealer web sites. Selling generally more expensive, large, hard-to-ship memorabilia items may still require face-to-face dealing, giving the potential buyer the chance to closely inspect what is often a big-dollar purchase. I’m sure this results in the average sale at the National being much larger than it was in 1993, perhaps because tableholders need larger sales to offset the huge layouts for booth space, travel costs, etc.
“Another huge difference is the way cards are sold today. In 1993, slabbed cards were few and far between; today there is by volume more plastic in dealer cases than cardboard. That reflects the hobby as a whole, where third-party authentication and grading has become a necessity for many collectors.”
“Shows were extremely different back then. With less than five major auction houses present and no Internet, the dealers were more like rock stars. Dealers saved their best items for display at the National. Also, there really was no card grading at the ’93 National, which meant tons of trimmed cards were being passed around constantly, and collectors relied on dealers to give them a “verbal” grade on cards. For instance, if Mr. Mint said your card was Near Mint, it was Near Mint.”
(Yesterday, Chris Nerat gave us a peek at his memories of his first time at the National Sports Collectors Convention in 1993. Today, in our continued look at the National, Chris looked into the memories of some of his friends and colleagues from his days as an editor at SCD. Many thanks to the respective editors who gave us their thoughts and their time. – Noah)
By Chris Nerat