Saturday, August 8, 2009

When book isn't all bad

Rays lost in 11 last night, but I came up large in the Rays in the poor man's Ginter break, but then again my car (purchased in April) is in the shop and might need a new engine. What I need is a long post to take my mind off things.

So, if you've followed the running debate over at Saints of the Cheap Seats, it seems consensus is that value is relative and derived from the context of a specific situation, and not something that easily transports from one context to another. I'm on Zistle, have traded through it, and think it's a good tool. As is ebay and, as much as I can't believe I'm saying it, as is the book (won't say which one) on certain occasions.

Example, on the aforementioned trip to Iowa that included the game at Wrigley with Mr. Ray, Jonny Gomes (0-3, 1 RBI last night) Daddy D took me to an old school card shop in Davenport to fill some set needs. I was also looking for some Virgil Trucks cards. Given my recent experiences at shops, I wasn't too optimistic with regard to 1) pricing and 2) inventory.

My experience at Superstars and Superheroes was something of a shock that caught me off guard. I didn't even take my set needs lists because the last time I asked to see the '73 commons box at a shop the guy looked at me like I was speaking pig latin.

First I asked if he had any "Virgil Trucks," from the earlier in the '50s the better. I did want the Trucks cards (he'll be a major player in later posts) but will admit that I was trying to score points with Daddy D in the same way you go into a bar with your father-in-law and order your favorite whiskey neat, knowing full well most bartenders have no idea what the hell you are referring to, as they are most accustomed to mixing whatever sugary concoctions are currently in vogue for the college scene and have no understanding of basic mixology. It's a cheap way to score "I'm a cultured guy" points among guys who, like Daddy Dean, have me beat by miles in the "I know baseball" category.

So Larry, that's the owner, looked at me for a second before saying he hadn't heard the name "Virgil Trucks" in a while, but he was sure he had a few. Specifically, 1954 Bowman, 1956 Topps, and 1959 Topps. I had a hard time keeping up with the ensuing conversation between Larry and Daddy D, as both men ended up having a vast knowledge of lesser known pitchers from the 1950s.

All three cards were in great condition, in-hand, and not subject to the ebay auction switcheroo, but they weren't cheap. I'm NOT into condition, but they were as close to mint as you'll find, and if you follow high-grade '50s on the 'bay you know the pricing for high end from that era is all over the map. I think $22 got me all three. A lot more than I was looking to spend, and "book price" to boot, but in the end a fair price.

I also scored this 1951 Bowman of Eddie Lake for $6.50:
This is a pretty fantastic stadium shot, and I love the two ghosts wandering through the emptiness of the OF behind Eddie. But was $6.50 too much? Again, it gave me pause, but my logic is this would have set me back 1-2 dollars on ebay, plus shipping (assuming it's a lone purchse) is at least $4. I'll throw out a $2.50 premium for "in-hand," though not that often. Because, well, I don't have that kind of scratch.

Anyway, next up was the '73 commons. I was sweating a bit because the compa does the finances and $5 on baseball cards is $5 most unproductively spent, and I'm almost $30 in the hole. Again, though, I'm thinking Larry might have a handful of '73s that I can glance at before moving on and paying up.

Wrong again. The shop has something of a dickensian archival feel to it that I hadn't quite grasped when I first went in, so when Larry emerged from the back with two 5000 count boxes it fit the nature of the place. Now, between them the boxes covered '72-'75, with '73 spanning the two, but it was mind blowing to see that many '73s at once. And I left my lists at home, which meant I had to go back the following day.

So...the next day I wade into a sea of '73 commons while on a strict budget. I am 110% opposed to paying book for anything, much less commons, but condition wise, for the most part these cards fit the definition of "high grade," and certainly put the rest of my '73 set to shame. If those cost me between 20-30 cents apiece, Larry's commons are worth an average of $1.25. And the '73s clearly rule, despite what the night owl says, as these scans show:
I know Juan isn't a common, but he was in the box. Now, could I complete my set spending that much for commons, even really good ones? No, never in a thousand years. I went over budget (again), but Larry cut me a break, so I spent around $25 for 20 sharp '73 commons and some off condition stars from the '70s.

Now, I would never spend that much on the 'bay, and I hate the book in most cases, but I have no qualms about this for several reasons.

First, beyond simple supply-demand, Larry has a mind numbing inventory other shops don't have. That's worth something.

Second, dude knows his baseball, and on both occasions we had great conversations about everything from '50s players to current card design. I wasn't in there to throw down on the expensive vintage or the 2009 high end, but he treated me as if my business was important. Knowledge and customer service are worth something.

Third, most folks feel condition is worth something, and us non-condition folks will have to pay for it now and again. Law of the jungle, I guess, and it happens on ebay just like in shops.

Finally, I think it helps a lot that Larry is a student of the game and appreciates it for what it is, by which I mean the shop reflects a certain lack of pretension that comes only through really "knowing" what the hobby is about. I get the feeling Larry enjoys his shop in ways that the guys who sport the latest Ebbets Field throwbacks to work and see cards as investments just don't.

In short, I have no problem paying "book" for cards the next time I'm in Davenport. Sure, I could get the same cards cheaper online, but I'm also receiving more than the cards in return, things you don't get online, and it ends up being money well spent.

Just my two cents, feel free to disagree.

I'll be sitting by the phone the rest of the day with the compa, hoping that we won't need a new engine when the tele finally rings!

Peace, and have a good one!

1 comment:

  1. I'm going to have to take a trip down there to visit that shop. It sounds like a good place to spend a few bucks. Next time your in Davenport and want to prove your a cultured guy, take the father-in-law to So-Co, Theatre for the Performing Arts. You won't be dissapointed! It's probably not the culture your looking for, but the dollar dances are amazing!