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Tips and Tricks: Reviewing The National Sports Collectors Convention

The 40th annual National Sports Collectors Convention is in the books. It marked my first National, and it lived up to my high expectations. Before attending, I read several articles and blogs about best practices for attending the show.

My initial plan was to soak it all in, and with the exception of missing out on a few things, I came home happy with how things fell into place. Here are a few items of note from my attendance, as I’ll keep this as my own how-to guide to help other collectors as well as a checklist of what to do and what not to do when the National returns to Rosemont, Illinois in two years.

Wear Comfortable Shoes/Clothing

Having attended the Cubs Convention over the past five years, this was a tip that I was well aware of. The one difference between a large card show and the Cubs Convention is that I stand over boxes of cards at the dime box booths, which can really stress your feet and lower back.

For my honeymoon last year, I bought a pair of really comfortable Saucony walking shoes. The insoles had plenty of wear, but the shoes are in great condition. So, I bought a pair of Dr. Scholl’s insoles. Additionally, I went to Dick’s Sporting Goods and found some active socks with extra padding. This combination helped tremendously on the two longest days on my feet.

Portable Chair

Some booths have chairs. Actually, most of the dime box booths had chairs available for customers. Thank you, vendors! But, sometimes you need a break away from the booths. I found a portable chair that was super easy to pack in my backpack, and whip out in a moment’s notice. The $10 price tag paid for itself on the show’s busiest day, Saturday, when all of the chairs at side tables were taken and I had just spent three hours sifting through dime boxes. This chair will get plenty of use for other activities as well, especially at the Cubs Convention in January.

Work The Room

For the most part, I was able to peruse the show floor between Thursday afternoon and Friday. I arrived on Thursday around 3:00 and met up with the guys from the About the Cards podcast. Also arriving, was Mike Sommer and Dub Mentality. I knew The Singles Club was the first booth to visit, and sift through the dollar boxes. It was a good decision to spend most of my day one at this booth, because it was my only visit. Big Shep told me about another dollar booth that was sorted by team. This is my jam! The dollar boxes were underwhelming compared to The Singles Club. The first stack of dollar Cubs I grabbed was filled with junk era Andre Dawson cards. I would skip over those in a dime box. They did have a few Cubs I pulled for a buck, and also grabbed about a half dozen $4 autographs.

Friday was spent walking around the show floor more to get an idea of the layout. My plan was to use Saturday as my dime box day, which worked out very well. The downside was I avoided the corners and outside booths, and nearly missed two of the best dime box booths that I didn’t find until stumbling upon them Sunday. One of them was even a NICKEL booth. One other thing I need to make note of, is where each vendor is located on the show floor. I’ll be sure to bring a map with the must-see vendors noted ahead of time.

Bring Snacks

A lot of complaints were in regards to the high-priced concessions. I was not surprised, and almost every article I read regarding the National had mentioned this. On Friday, I sucked it up and hit the concession stand for lunch. It was $14 for a slice of deep dish pizza and a fountain soda. In reality, this actually wasn’t bad because the pizza was very filling. However, I did stop at Walgreen’s on my drive to the show on Saturday and picked up some beef sticks and bottled water.

The Eats

At least in Chicago, the convention is surrounded my great restaurants, and anywhere you might be staying (surrounding suburbs), there are great options. My first night (Thursday), my friend Dave and I ate at the bar and grill attached to our hotel in Wheeling (about a 20-minute drive from the show). We attended Club 400 on Friday night with special guest Pedro Strop, so Saturday night I had to get my fill of Chicago deep dish. Giordano’s is my typical go-to, which is where we went. You can’t go wrong with Lou Malnati’s or Gino’s East, either.

The Strategy

This will be different with each collector. Set collectors have their lists, singles collectors have their want lists, some collectors spend a lot of time in the Breaker’s Pavilion, while others take advantage of the autograph signers.

My strategy is volume, so the dime and quarter boxes are my friend. I also like to dig through the dollar boxes to find some bargains to either flip on eBay, or send to my trade partners. I went with hitting the dollar boxes as soon as I arrived, which is great because later in the weekend they will be picked over. This strategy is repeated on Friday, and then Saturday is reserved for the dime boxes. By Sunday, I am looking for the blowout deals as vendors are looking to move inventory and possibly slash prices.

Dime box strategy: volume helps. One dime box I was charged $40, and when I counted up the cards there were 587, so I basically received 187 free cards. Be willing to negotiate, and don’t be shy. Also, be courteous at the dime boxes. It happened less than I expected, but there were times when somebody just butted in, or invaded my space without saying a word. Say, “excuse me,” at the very least. Another thing is be open to talking to the collector next to you. You can help each other out. Heck, at the final dime box I was at on Sunday, I made a comment to the guy next to me about how many great cards were in these boxes. Turns out it was a trade partner that I have been communicating with through social media for a year.


I’m an autograph collector, and I went with the Super VIP package that included free autograph tickets for all 18 autograph signers. There was only one signer that I really needed and that was Rick Reuschel who signed on Sunday morning. I had a baseball that his brother, Paul, signed for me at the Cubs Convention and inscribed “Big League Brothers.”

I needed Rick to finish it up, and I’ll display it with the 1977 Topps “Big League Brothers” baseball card.

My regret here isn’t choosing against the free autographs, rather not trading them away or selling for five dollars each.

Don’t Pass Up a Deal

Mixed opinions on various articles stated, don’t spend all your money up front…but don’t pass on a deal. The only passes I made that I’m disappointed with are waiting until Sunday to take advantage of the PSA custom T206 cards…because PSA didn’t offer this on Sunday. I am really beating myself up for not getting my own custom Cubs tobacco card from my first National.

The only deal I passed on that I regret, and only partially, is a Gary Vee autographed Javier Baez card from his set that Gary was selling for $10. I waited around until Gary was at his booth because I wanted to get a picture with him. Fortunately, there is a Cole Roederer in the set, and I picked a Gary Vee autographed Roederer for $8.

One deal I passed on that one day I might regret is a signed uncut sheet of 2010 Bowman AFLAC. This set features both Javier Baez and Francisco Lindor among other big leaguers. I have the autographed Baez version, but this piece would look great framed. It came with a steep $500 price tag.


While I did get a few free shirts (Fritsch Cards and Mojo Break), I didn’t take full advantage of the freebies offered by various vendors. I’ll keep a closer eye on these next time.


Along with the freebies, I lost track of potential promotions and missed out on the Topps Gary Vee sets. In the future, I will try to do a better job on social media keeping up with National promotions by the various companies.

Meeting Collectors From Social Media

This is a tough task, but I was able to meet quite a few people I’ve interacted with on Twitter. Unfortunately, I did miss a couple guys that were there one day. Since I’m walking around so much, it’s hard to nail down a time to meet.

My First National Summed Up

Awesome. I give the 40th annual National an A+. I was able to get some awesome deals, a lot of Cubs cards, and met some great guys and gals from Twitter. I can’t wait for the National to return to Chicago in 2021.

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