THE HUNT FOR BLUE NOVEMBER

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The first weekend of November is the mecca for a sports fan. It’s the one weekend of the year when all the major sports cross paths and Toronto hosts the semi-annual hockey memorabilia show at the International Center. I’ve attended card shows as long as I can remember and this, the high light show of the season, The Super Bowl for hockey collectors the past 25 years. However with the passing of time and social media, it has become a shadow of itself almost negating the necessity to walk the massive aisles. Today, a collector merely goes on line to search the various sites and auctions to hunt treasures and the only pre-requisite is a credit card.

The autograph pavilion along with the corporate area offering new products and giveaways, are the lures drawing the crowds today. For the purist such as myself, it’s a time to reacquaint with friends and business associates from the hobby. There is always the chance of a “find” and as any collector will tell you, that’s the common denominator among us.

The hobby has become a social media networking enterprise with most of the business executed through auctions and online sites. I mentioned in a previous blog of the staggering number of auction houses at the National this past July and while the Toronto show had a smattering of operators pitching the attendees, it failed in comparison.

The show a third the size of the U.S. National attracted very good crowds for the weekend. I connected with numerous people from the hobby, some fellow collectors, others I’ve dealt with for many years along many I never will. I get a kick listening to the same complaints about certain not so reputable vendors from other dealers and fellow collectors while thinking to myself, why that is the hobby isn’t regulated with more scrutiny.

My one fear leaving Chicago this past July centered around the number of auction houses that have surfaced and with competition so fierce for consignors, how much due diligence or lack of, has been taken from the hobby? Walking the floor of the Toronto show it occurred to me that the same could be said for the dealer standing on the other side of the table. Are these guys really putting in the work to authenticate items or taking the sellers word before they consign the artifact in an auction?

I stopped to chat with a dealer I’ve done business with for years and check out what new items they’ve uncovered. They had a few things of particular interest to me, with a couple of the old mini sticks from the 60’s and early 70’s standing out. The souvenir sticks were sold at the Gardens and on the blade it featured a small headshot of a Maple Leaf. Two of the players Bower and Plante were on mini goalie sticks that are tougher to find than the regular version. After pitching about the scarcity of the pair I of course had an immediate interest and asked to examine the pieces a little closer. The Bower looked in great shape, had the proper stamps on the stick and wasn’t cracked. The Plante had no such stamps and while clean, looked to new and more concerning was the stapled picture on the blade of the stick. The staples where too big and clearly showed two small pin holes at the top and bottom of the picture indicating to me this picture had come from another stick and reassembled. It was interesting because a small group of collectors had gathered to listen to my analysis thus I didn’t want to make a scene when informed of the price ($550 for the pair) followed by the standard,
“Mike there’s not a lot of room in this for us and that’s basically what we paid.”
I questioned the price and his partner said,
“Aww I paid $200 a piece so I’ve got a little room.”
The other chap who I also have known and dealt with for years although I’ve always been on my guard with him, embarrassingly looked at me and mumbled,
“His mind isn’t working, I know what he paid.”
At this point I was more dumbfounded than disappointed. Knowing these guys stretch the truth and they all do, but the point here is the blatant disregard to recognize the anomalies of the two artifacts. How could seasoned pros miss such an obvious flaw?

Did they really care and figure who’ll notice or simply just too busy to take it a step further?
The lack of quality items, tables filled with common product, discounts of varying degrees on cards was another distinguishable observation wandering the room. I managed to find a couple of terrific pieces but it was a prearranged deal with a vendor I transact with on a regular basis, however he still manages to save a surprise piece for me upon my arrival and this year was no exception. Collectors know the Chex cereal pictures off the box (1960’s) but to find paper copies of the photos is extremely rare because they were never sold to the public; ten different Leafs of the paper version came home with me.

A visit to the show is always an adventure and for years it wouldn’t be uncommon for me to be in attendance all three days until the very last moment hoping for that last second transaction. Today while one day was enough I found myself more of an observer and listener than a participant. My level of interest is of the private or auction scale now and I find that disappointing. Nothing used to excite me more than leaning over a table hunting for that treasure that unbeknownst to me, may never existed until that very moment. That’s the epitome of the find.

The encouraging thing coming away from the show was the long line-ups at the autograph pavilion, the crowded aisles and the assortment of ages filtering throughout the show. This gives hope that the hobby isn’t dying and purists are still willing to search the room for the elusive find instead of banging a few keys, typing in a credit card number and signing for the package when it arrives.

What the dealer of today has to realize is that the transformation of the hobby puts more onus to educate not only himself, but the collector on every piece he offers. I know that’s a little unrealistic, but if we can take small steps to bring credibility back into the hobby, then everybody wins and how can that be a bad thing?