Edson: National Card Show in Chicago is Amazing

This week the 40th National Sports Collectors Convention will be held in Chicago.

Dealers and collectors will gather at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center for five days – from Wednesday through Sunday.

If you’ve never been to a national and love sports, you owe it to yourself to go. It is an amazing event.

The first national show was held in Los Angeles in 1979. The next year it was held in Detroit and I was one of the table holders. In fact, for five of the next six years I had a table at the national.

Back then, we went to places like Atlanta, Atlantic City and Arlington, Texas, along with Detroit and Chicago.

The cost to host a table at this Super Bowl of collecting was $200 at that 1980 Detroit national. But when it got to $500 and more a few years later, it weeded out the weekend warriors like myself and pretty much went to the full-time dealers and corporate booths.

My friends and I had some great time at those nationals.

At the Texas show, we had great seats at a Rangers game. It was Nolan Ryan of the Rangers pitching against Roger Clemens of the Boston Red Sox. In between the second and third inning, the crowd started to chant, people stood up in their seats and the players stopped warming up.

They were looking over near our section, where Muhammad Ali was being escorted in to his seat with George Bush. The crowd was chanting, “Ali, Ali, Ali…”

It was a magical scene, one that I’ll never forget.

Ali was in town, along with other retired athletes, to sign autographs at our national convention.

During the 1980s, Chicago hosted the national twice and both times I was asked to host seminars. Even though I was only 35 when I hosted my first national seminar, I had been setting up at shows since I was 18. So my seminar was called, “The Good Old Days of Collecting.”

We talked about those early shows, like when I set up at a Detroit Show as a high school senior back in 1972.

Back then, there were no price guides. There were checklists, because everyone was working on completing sets. There was lots of trading going on between card holders, collectors and dealers.

The show would temporarily shut down for a couple hours every Saturday afternoon when the great Ernie Harwell would come in to talk about baseball and his own huge collection of baseball guides.

So I would do a few shows every year and I also wrote a monthly column for Baseball Hobby News out of San Diego called The Inside Pitch.

But when eBay started to get popular, the number of card shows started to dry up. We could buy and sell online without traveling, paying for hotel rooms and buying food. It all came down to economics.

It’s been seven years now since I packed up my car and set up at a show. It’s been two decades since I’ve been to a national. However, I’m still as active as ever in “the hobby.” But I’ll get back some day to the national.

In the meantime, if you ever get the itch to see what jaw-dropping sports items are available, take a trip to a national collectors convention. I guarantee you’ll never forget it… for all the right reasons.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.