NSCC 2016: Hank Thomas, Amazing Cards, Uncut Sheets and Denny McLain

By Doug Koztoski

It was the proverbial “kid in a candy store” for many who attended the 2016 National Sports Collectors Convention. In this case, much of the store was made of cardboard not sugar, but either way, it was easy enough for many to look around and find something of interest and say “Sweet!”

With The National returning to Atlantic City this year for the first time since 2003, where it seemed to be a rough go financially for several of the vendors back then, many dealers and collectors were apprehensive on how successful it would be this time around. Yet, after spending parts of three days there, what my eyes and ears took in could generally be filed under: Much Better Than Expected.

Hank Thomas, the grandson of Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson, had a dealer booth and when I stopped by his table on Friday he was having “a great show.” A particularly stunning item that graced his setup was a framed 1912 S81 Silk tobacco premium of his grandfather, in Excellent condition.

ank Thomas, grandson of HOF pitcher Walter Johnson, set up at The National, which included this 1912 S81 Silk tobacco premium of his grandfather. Asking price: $6,995. Photos by Doug Koztoski.

Hank Thomas, grandson of HOF pitcher Walter Johnson, set up at The National, which included this 1912 S81 Silk tobacco premium of his grandfather. Asking price: $6,995. Photos by Doug Koztoski.

“It is one of the rarest,” said Thomas. “It’s such a gorgeous, special piece. I have had it for 20 years.” The asking price: $6,995.

Even though the Johnson Silk did not sell, Thomas still labeled the show “The Dream National” when we spoke again about a week after the event. “In every respect it was the best National I’ve ever had,” Thomas said. “I sold a ton of stuff.”
He added, “Most of the dealers I spoke with (in Atlantic City) said they did well.”

Nodding in agreement
John Trince of Inside The Park Collectibles said they were enjoying brisk business, too, when we chatted on “Show” Friday. Trince said they sold two full shelves of their vintage bobblehead dolls early on and ITPC’s Lou Criscione drove five hours round-trip to Long Island, N.Y., on Thursday night to grab more nodders so they could have a fuller selection for the rest of the convention.

Inside the Park Collectibles did so well early in the show, they made a five-hour trek to refill the display cases. Many of the 1960s football bobbleheads were available in the $150-$500 range.

Inside the Park Collectibles did so well early in the show, they made a five-hour trek to refill the display cases. Many of the 1960s football bobbleheads were available in the $150-$500 range.

“One guy bought 25 dolls from us (at the show),” Criscione said.

“The market on nodders is really strong,” Trince added. “Current-day stadium giveaways are helping generate interest in older bobbleheads.”

While many of the 1960s baseball and football bobbleheads that ITPC had to choose from sold for $150 to $500, the grinning Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle nodders went for around $1,000-$1,200 each.

Even with hundreds of sports-related bobbleheads on display, the rarest ones offered by Inside the Park were Popeye, Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein.

Even with hundreds of sports-related bobbleheads on display, the rarest ones offered by Inside the Park were Popeye, Phantom of the Opera and Frankenstein.

A few of the non-sport nodders they had from the same era included ones of Phantom of the Opera ($6,000), Frankenstein ($6,500) and Popeye ($7,500). “Some of the non-sport dolls are incredibly rare,” Criscione said, referencing the three mentioned above.

Two other items of note at the ITPC display included a rare 17-inch 1912 Boston Red Sox felt pennant ($4,000-$5,000) and a 12-inch 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers glass “charger” plate, featuring a painted-on team photo ($800).

The Robert Edward Auctions booth had some magnificent items, many, of course, cards from various sports for their upcoming Fall auction.

Robert Edward Auctions displayed a few examples of the 1906 Lincoln Publishing postcard set that featured members of the Philadelphia A’s, including Bender and Plank.

Robert Edward Auctions displayed a few examples of the 1906 Lincoln Publishing postcard set that featured members of the Philadelphia A’s, including Bender and Plank.

One of the rarest items REA displayed came from the 1906 Lincoln Publishing postcard set. Highlighting the American League Champion Philadelphia Athletics, one showcase had the issue’s four keys in high-end condition arranged side-by-side in their graded holders: Chief Bender, Connie Mack, Eddie Plank and Rube Waddell.

REA also had a Christy Mathewson tobacco advertisement and a 1960s Jell-O poster featuring Mantle, among dozens of other pieces. “It will be a great auction,” said REA’s Michael Goldberg, regarding their upcoming event.

Ryan Lent of The Card Guys (www.nhcardguys.com) brought a strong selection of Ted Williams cards to his booth at The National, many were from the 1950s, including some nice Topps cards and several from the 1959 Fleer offering.

The most distinctive part of Lent’s “Teddy Ballgame” inventory is seldom seen: a complete eight-card set of the 1947 Menko Ted Williams issue. “It has a Japanese baseball player on the front with a cartoonish illustration; the backs have a math problem, a game that kids could play, as well as a drawing/portrait of Ted Williams,” Lent said.

Ryan Lent from The Card Guys showed off a 1947 Menko Ted Williams set that featured a drawing of the slugger on the back.

Ryan Lent from The Card Guys showed off a 1947 Menko Ted Williams set that featured a drawing of the slugger on the back.

Most of the eight cards in Lent’s set were mid-grade, and he plans to get them slabbed by PSA. “These are scarce,” he noted. “PSA has only graded about 40 from this set.” In VG-EX to EX and raw condition, he said the 1947 Menko Williams cards sell in the $300 to $500 range.

Individual cards and complete sets were for the pickin’ at The National, but Leonard Helicher brought a different twist to his booth at the convention: complete sheets of cards. “Uncut sheets are pretty exciting for the hobby,” Helicher said. “A lot of newcomers (to the hobby) do not know about uncut sheets.” He added that younger collectors sometimes buy sheets from their birth year.

The veteran dealer had some 1973 Topps Baseball sheets at his table, including ones with the last series/high numbers, the final year vintage Topps Baseball cards came out via series.

“Those 1973 Topps Baseball high number sheets can sell for $8,000 to $10,000 each in higher grade,” he said.

Leonard Helicher had uncut sheets of all kinds, ages and condition, from Star Wars to 1973 Topps Baseball.

Leonard Helicher had uncut sheets of all kinds, ages and condition, from Star Wars to 1973 Topps Baseball.

Many of his sports card sheets were newer and priced under $50 apiece. From the non-sport realm, he had a 1977 Star Wars card proof sheet of the 1st Series for $1,100.
Getting uncut sheets framed and hanging them on a wall is common, and the same can be said for sports art. Sports artist Cortney Wall brought several of her colorful and eye-catching paintings to The National.

“The small ones take about 100 hours of work, the large ones about 200 hours,” Wall said. Prices range from around $4,500 to $7,500 each. On occasion Wall partners with a charity to help raise money with her vivid artwork.

Check in time
Upon seeing the Check Out My Cards (COMC.com) booth I knew I had to speak with founder Tim Getsch, who I last spoke with for SCD about 2½ years ago. Much of their Seattle-based business involves collectors submitting sports cards for resale, where COMC handles the fulfillment, and/or buying cards from their site. But Getsch said they are also expanding outside of the more mainstream card hobbyist. “Our business is attracting a lot of non-sport (card) fans and non-traditional collectors,” said Getsch.

Within the last year COMC has begun partnerships with Upper Deck with an E-Pack launch and the company has become a leading eBay seller with more than 4 million listings. With about 12.78 million cards overall (around 4.15 million different), COMC is slightly more than triple their size from four years ago.

“We want to have this ecosystem that helps people collect more efficiently and enjoy the hobby more,” said Getsch, who is an avid basketball card collector, as well.

So, another National Convention has come and gone, and we will see if it returns to Atlantic City in the coming years. But I predict the chances of that happening are much better than many would have thought just a few months before the 2016 show.

The trading card hobby in general seems to be in solid shape for both vintage and newer material. Perhaps Getsch put it best when he looked into his crystal ball for card collecting. “I think the sports card industry will be even more fun five years from now.”

And, it will likely include a great deal of fun for many along the way in the meantime. In that I feel secure.

McLain, The Mick and Me
It was late Friday afternoon, and I was walking around the show toward the back of the room, cutting straight across one section when I was a couple steps from either turning left and going further back into the convention hall or turning right and seeing some tables I had yet to really peruse much closer to the front.

About 10 feet from this one table I approached, but not really looking at, a voice called to me, “Are you the head of security?” I looked around to make sure the person was talking to me. He was. It was Denny McLain, the last 30-game-winning pitcher in MLB history (31-6 with the 1968 Detroit Tigers). “No,” I replied, a bit puzzled why he thought I worked security, although maybe it was my darker business casual attire, carrying a cellphone in one hand and not lugging some bags while walking around by myself.

Giving Denny McLain an assist with security provided a signed memento and photo-op as a thank you.

Giving Denny McLain an assist with security provided a signed memento and photo-op as a thank you.

Anyway, I asked, “Can I help you?” He explained his car was locked with the keys inside and he needed help to open it. The colorful former hurler had a table selling autographed pictures of himself from his heyday. “I’ll see if I can find somebody to help you,” I said. And off I strolled to find some assistance.

Yet, just a few seconds after leaving McLain, however, I felt a bit conflicted. The former two-time Cy Young Award winner had put up some stellar numbers in 1968 and 1969, but he had also made some poor choices after his playing days in particular, with some serious scrapes with the law that I will not revisit here, and I was not sure if I should help him.

“But, he did serve his time,” I told myself. And he did serve up that famous gift of a home run ball in 1968 to Mickey Mantle, his childhood idol, so The Mick could break a tie with Jimmie Foxx on the all-time homer list at 534. So I decided to help him. After several minutes, I found a security guy, walked him over to McLain, introduced the two and wished them luck.

Being the curious type, on Saturday I decided to stop by McLain’s table to see if things worked out the day before. The former Tiger remembered me and said they resolved his problem in about 45 minutes. “Thanks again,” he said, as he put out his hand to shake mine. “Glad I could help,” I responded, as I shook his meaty paw.

Then what appeared to be one of his assistants at the table said to me, “So, how long have you been in security?” I laughed to myself and said, “I don’t work security, I was just trying to help.”

Before I knew it, as an extra show of thanks, McLain offered me a signed photo and a picture with him. I accepted. When our photo was being taken, he asked my name and, along with hand-writing his key stats from 1968-69, wrote: “Doug, thanks for the hook up!!”

Doug Koztoski is a longtime SCD contributor, but, contrary to the opinion of some, he has yet to work in the security industry. He can be reached at dkoz3000@gmail.com.

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