By Ross Forman
The 26th annual Tristar Collectors Show, held Jan. 20-22 in Houston, exceeded all pre-event expectations according to those involved with the event.
Some say it’s been decades since a regional weekend show had such a successful Saturday.
Tristar Vice President Bobby Mintz said it was, “the biggest Houston show we’ve had in 10 years.”
Kip Ingle, a dealer from Acworth, Ga., went even further than that.
“The Saturday crowd was the best at the January Tristar show since 1991 – if not the best ever at any (regional show),” Ingle said. “I don’t know what it was, but it literally was wall-to-wall people here on Saturday.”
The autograph lineup Saturday certainly was a draw. Olympic legend Carl Lewis made a rare public autograph appearance, alongside Jim Brown, Nolan Ryan, Joe Montana, Barry Sanders, Ralph Sampson, Vince Young, Brian Cushing and others.
“I was excepting the show to be solid, but this was incredible,” Ingle said. “Chicago and Houston clearly are the two best markets. The foot traffic was great – and the word is getting out that Houston, this show in particular, is a great place to go.
“I think the economy has picked up of late, especially over the last few months, and it really showed in Houston. When the doors to the show opened for the VIPs on Saturday morning, they just kept coming in. I thought that was the regular crowd, but then I realized that the regular crowd was still waiting to be admitted. And the great thing was, the crowd stuck around all day.”
The Saturday autograph lineup also featured Joe DeLamielleure, Frank Thomas, Emmitt Smith, Bill Mazeroski, Oscar Robertson, Thurman Thomas, Colt McCoy, Elvin Hayes, Phil Garner, Kevin Bass, Carl Eller, Arian Foster, Case Keenum, Jose Cruz, Jeff Calhoun and Alan Ashby.
“The show really was exceptional, in every way, including the consumer response,
autograph ticket sales and admissions,” Mintz said. “Vince Young appeared at our January show in 2006, right after the University of Texas won the National Championship. That appearance was big; this one was bigger. There were more people here this weekend.”
About 6,000 people attended the three-day show, which featured Friday night appearances by Connor Barwin, T.J. Yates and Brooks Reed.
“We had a strong Friday night – one of the best Friday nights in years,” Mintz said. “We knew the Texans would be big, coming off the playoff appearance – and they were. What we did not expect to be as strong was Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and a few others, mainly because of the economy. But they were huge.”
The show’s top autograph signers were Foster, Cushing, Ryan, Keenum, Sanders, Young and Lewis.
“I was surprised Vince did as well as he did, mainly because his pro career has kind of stalled. That was very exciting to see,” Mintz said. “I also was surprised Colt McCoy didn’t do better.
“This January show is very established, has a lot of built-in equity. Everything ran smooth; the players were terrific.”
In fact, some went above and beyond for their appearance. Frank Thomas, for instance, personally changed his flight to make the appearance and not be impacted by Chicago’s cold and snowy weather. Barry Sanders, meanwhile, was forced to shop at a 24-hour Wal-Mart for show clothes when his luggage didn’t arrive in Houston.
Plus, several players Tweeted about their appearances, including Barwin, Yates, Keenum and others. “That was great, great exposure; those Tweets definitely helped the show,” Mintz said.
The reunion of the 1986 Houston Astros, led by Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan, was appreciated and popular, but not a wild scene.
“We thought the Astros Reunion might be a little better, a little bigger, but we were catching the Astros at their all-time worst – at least since we’ve been doing shows,” Mintz said. “Two years ago or, who knows, maybe two years from now, this reunion would have been much bigger. It just wasn’t as big as we hoped it would be, except for Nolan.”
“It was a pretty good show overall, very well attended,” said Wallace Ng of Austin Collectibles. “This show compares pretty favorably to past January Tristar shows. This is always a very good show.”
Ng, who sells current boxes and packs, noted particularly strong weekend sales of football products. He also said many customers were seeking value boxes, priced under $50.
Ingle also had strong sales of autographed cards, particularly baseball and football. He said the top sellers among his golf memorabilia were Dustin Johnson and Rory Mcllroy, along with Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer.
Autographed baseballs being bought featured Hall of Famers and members of the 500 Home Run Club.
“I couldn’t keep up with the demand from customers requesting autographs of Barry Larkin and Ron Santo,” Ng said.
Ingle’s memorable Houston weekend also included the first game-used Negro leagues baseball that he’s ever personally seen. Ingle bought the ball from a customer.
The Negro American League ball showcases league president J.B. Martin. Ingle guessed the ball was used in the late-1940s or early-1950s. He plans to sell the ball in an upcoming auction.
Ingle also purchased a game-used Ted Williams bat and a 1957 All-Star Game pin.
“It was a decent Friday and very strong Saturday,” said dealer Rich Gove of Houston-based Rich Gove Collectibles. “The show featured a great lineup of signers that really brought in a lot of collectors. I just wish the show wasn’t scheduled to go up against the NFL playoffs.”
Gove, who specializes in vintage cards, noted strong weekend sales of 1956 Topps Baseball and sets from 1977 through 1985.
“It was a steady crowd all weekend,” Gove said. “I can’t say one particular athlete was most popular, although I did have several asking for Barry Larkin cards, which probably is the first time I’ve been asked for Larkin cards since a Cincinnati show in the 1990s.
“I’m sure there will be a huge demand for Ron Santo cards at the Sun-Times Show this spring, and probably at the fall Sun-Times Show, too.”
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.