By Ross Forman
A strong autograph lineup, strategic signing times and some great memorabilia brought out a good crowd for the 22nd annual Tristar Collectors Show, held Jan. 18-20 at the George R. Brown Convention Center (Hall A3) in Houston.
“I was pleasantly surprised, as were a lot of other dealers, that there was good traffic and people actually spent money at the show,” said veteran card dealer Rich Gove of Houston.
“I exceeded last year’s January show by early Sunday morning This was Tristar’s best January show in at least three years.”
The show featured 14 Hall of Famers, including Tom Seaver, Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Jim Brown, Dwight Stephenson, Y.A. Tittle, Larry Little, Elvin Bethea, Paul Warfield, Jim Langer, Kellen Winslow Sr., Paul Krause, Mel Renfro and Bob Lilly.
The show also featured autograph appearances by Kevin Ahrens, Johnny Whittleman, Blake Beaven, Jacoby Jones, Bill Bates, Mercury Morris, Eric Crouch, Joe Theismann, Cliff Harris, Jim Kiick, Jay Bruce, Denny McLain, Bert Blyleven, Craig Biggio, Huston Street, Cecil Cooper, Alex Gordon, Hunter Pence, Brad James, J.R. Towles and Tommy Manzella.
Six athletes signed free of charge, including Houston Astros manager Cecil Cooper, who was a five-time All-Star first baseman.
“The show has been very popular, very good. Sales were very aggressive,” said Wallace Ng of Houston Sports Connection Group. “Playoff football and the anticipation for spring training and the start of the baseball season usually makes this January show a very good one. I thought it was a smart move to have the football guys all sign on Saturday, then have the baseball players on Sunday.”
Gove said Saturday’s attendance was “exceptionally strong,” noting a strong turnout of vintage card set-builders in Houston.
Gove said there were very good sales of Topps baseball cards from 1971, 1956 and 1961. But also a good smattering of sales from all years, too, something that surprised him.
“Historically, my strongest years for cards are 1956, 1961, 1967 and 1963, 1965, 1960,” Gove said. “The 1956 are more accessible, more affordable and the set is a manageable size at 340 cards. Plus, there are no short-prints. It’s a very easy set to put together, even with Mantle, Koufax, Mays and Aaron, among others.”
Craig Biggio was, by far, the most popular autograph guest, said Tristar’s Bobby Mintz. Even though he signed publicly for Tristar last January and last June, this was his first public signing since smacking his 3,000th career hit.
“We were very excited with the show. Everything was very strong and all of the signers far exceeded our expectations,” Mintz said. “And many of the dealers reported it was their best show in quite some time, and that was very exciting for us to hear.”
The biggest surprise among the signers was, how well many of them did. Take, for instance, Tom Seaver.
“He did much better than I anticipated,” Mintz said. “The fact Tom was signing on the same day, and at about the same time, as Hunter Pence and Craig Biggio helped Seaver.”
Many collectors had Biggio sign items related to his 3,000th career hit, such as a poster and photo.
Ng said football card sales were strong at the show, even better than he expected.
“The Patriots making the Super Bowl has really helped sales. And the success of Green Bay and Dallas also has helped sales,” Ng said.
Baseball card sales also were very strong at the show, Ng said.
“Baseball has always been the No. 1 seller in Houston and always will continue to be,” he said.
“Shows are a little tougher than they’ve been in the past, but this one wildly exceeded our expectations,” Mintz said. “We had reports from many of the dealers that they couldn’t have been more excited with the way the show went. I think if you bring the right mix of players, collectors will come to shows to see those players.
“You have to be much more careful in everything you do on the card show front,” Mintz said. “In the past, we might not analyze every player (appearing at a show), like we do now. We want to maximize every element of every show we produce.
“I think you have to be much more focused (than in the past) on what you want to accomplish at a show.
“We still have a long way to go to get 2008 shows to where they were, oh, 10 years ago.”
Tristar’s next show is June 27-29 in Houston.
Tristar also is producing a Labor Day weekend show in San Francisco and is in charge of the autograph pavilion for the National Sports Collectors Convention this summer in Chicago.
Tristar has, in the past, produced 15 shows in one year.
“Things are different now. Our company has different focuses now,” Mintz said.
“The profitability of (past) shows was not at the level it needed to be, and some of our exhibitors were not doing as well in some of the markets, so it was a pretty simple, easy decision,” Mintz said in regard to reducing the number of annual shows.
“Sure, it’s kind of strange not producing as many annual shows, but we certainly have enough things to keep us busy.”