Modern cards and the National – A good fit?

Normally I do a post on contrasting vintage and modern card collecting on Wednesdays. Because the National was last week and still a hot topic, the vintage/modern debate can wait. For all who want to be critical of my opinions on the National, I’ll give you a some unasked-for fodder. One, I’ve never been to the National. Two, last month I went to my first card show in nearly 20 years. On with the post…

Last week A Cardboard Problem had a post entitled “Who needs the National…” That is a great question. The post mentions the advantages of online buying. eBay, with other sites to a lesser extent, is a breeze compared to the National. First, the National is currently dominated by vintage material and memorabilia. Second, searching for specific modern cards is a nightmare at a show.

Why is the National so vintage-centric? It’s because the National is expensive. A 10’x10′ booth at the National was $1050, and the full payment was due back in November 2009. (A Notice of Intent to Exhibit for the 2011 National in Chicago was required by July 21, 2010 to guarantee a space.) That’s a lot of money up front, and it doesn’t include hotel, travel, and freight (if necessary). How many cards/items need to be sold to recoup those costs? – lots.  You can’t make up that kind of money with a 25¢ box. Even with vintage cards, you need some volume to cover expenses. Regardless, it’s way more feasible to pay the bills with higher dollar cards, and vintage cards tend to be more high dollar than modern cards.

The volume of modern cards is also a problem. With just a briefcase of vintage cards, you could probably include something for just about any vintage collector. Just throw in some 19th century cards, a healthy number of E- and T-cards, and then round it out with Goudeys, other gum cards, and strip cards. You’ll at least catch everyone’s eyes. If you have a briefcase of modern cards, you can’t scratch the surface. I guess you’d just play the odds and grab some 2010 Bowman and A&G. The point is, modern collectors are harder to please because there is so much product.

eBay takes care of these problems. The eBay model is very scalable. The volume of auctions needed for modern cards is not an issue. Furthermore, eBay is very searchable. Hey Mr. Dealer at the National, do you have any 1998 Pinnacle cards? (Maybe – look in those five super monster boxes.) eBay, on the other hand, can tell me in just a couple key strokes.

If the National doesn’t work for modern cards, then why does it work so well for vintage? Why don’t all vintage cards just get put up on eBay? I don’t know. Selling vintage cards is a bit of an art. Games abound for getting the best price on a card and driving up the perceived market. Spend some money over here to make more over there. That doesn’t mean vintage sellers don’t make money at the National, but some sellers seem to use the National for more than just sales. Like I said, I don’t understand it. I do know that a lot of vintage sellers are content to sit on their very overpriced inventory and wait for the right buyer (by direct sale or an auction house).

So, I don’t think that modern cards fit well with the National. There are too many great ways to pick up modern cards elsewhere. The fact that the few modern dealers at the National did well doesn’t undermine this argument. Those dealers did well because they were the exception in a vintage-dominated forum.

A completely different question is whether the National needs modern cards. I think it does, and I’ll cover that tomorrow (Thursday).

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