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Inside the Pack: What to Expect at a Baseball Card Show

Two Saturdays ago was a rare perfect storm of baseball card shows in my area, with 3 really good shows within an hour or so of my house. I decided to go to the show at The Villages, a large retirement community that encompasses a whole city in the center of the state. While I was there, I overheard multiple customers mention either that it was their first show in decades, or the first time they had ever gone to a baseball card show.

I thought of my friend — the one I wrote about who started collecting last year because of Allen and Ginter. He went to his first show in White Plains, NY, last year, and peppered me beforehand with questions about what to expect. If you’re someone who hasn’t been to a show in a few decades, or if you’ve never been to a show, here are some helpful hints for you as you embark on your journey.

  • Bring plenty of cash. Many dealers will accept credit cards and PayPal, but it’s still the case that cash is king. Dealers will often be more willing to give discounts when you pay with cash, and you’ll also avoid any situations in which you spend time looking at a table, try to buy something with a card, and get told that they have to charge a processing fee on top of the agreed-upon price. Additionally, it’s always smart to bring some small bills and not just $20s and up. Dealers have a finite amount of change, and sometimes they may not be able to break your larger bill.
  • Be friendly to everyone. This is a good rule just for life, you know? But also, it’s particularly applicable for baseball card shows. When I deal with a customer who is kind, I’m more likely to give that customer a deal. You shouldn’t be kind only to dealers — do the same with other customers. Nothing annoys me more when I’m shopping at a card show looking through a box and someone else starts to look through the same box as me; it’s against the unwritten rules of card shows. That said, if another customer asks what I have looked at in that box so that they can look after me, I go out of my way to make sure to hurry help and to help find what they’re looking for. At the show on Saturday, a gentleman had this interaction with me and, after learning he was looking for Rickey Henderson cards, I started pulling out Rickeys every time I came across them, saving him time and preventing him from having to look through every single box.
  • If you’re looking for something specific, and ask for it. Dealers set up hours before you’ve shown up to the show, and they typically walk around from table to table in the morning. They’re also pretty frequently friends with each other. If you’re looking for cards of a certain player or from a particular set, but don’t see it on a dealer’s table, it’s helpful to ask. While the dealer may not have it, it’s possible for you to get referred to someone who does have it. I do this as a dealer frequently, and others do it for me as well.
  • If you’re looking to find things to resell, keep an open mind. You never know what will turn up when you’re not looking for it. On Saturday, I bought some vintage New York Mets pins, giveaways, and even a tie clip. The price was good and I felt I could make money on them, even though I don’t know much about them and never imagined that’s what I’d walk away from the show with.
  • Bring a bag, backpack, and/or box. Many dealers will have plastic bags, but those rip when stuffed with plastic top loaders. Some will have paper lunch bags, but those don’t have handles. In both cases, if cards aren’t protected properly, you could end up with dinged corners. I usually bring one or two boxes and maybe a plastic snap case, and then stick them in a drawstring bag I wear on my back. That way, loose cards can go in the box for protection and I get to keep my hands free as I look on other tables.

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