Saturday, March 31, 2012

Collecting hockey "south of the border"

My friends give me grief about it.
For years, my city gave up on it.
Around the hobby world, it is generally considered a fourth-class citizen.
It is hockey.
By birthright, I became a Blackhawks fan. Two generations of Campana men of yelling at games on TV and, primarily, radio made that so. Among the four major sports, hockey and the Hawks always have ranked second to the Cubs for me.
That means hockey cards have always been a big part of my collecting life. It certainly didn't hurt when I found an '85-'86 Topps Mario Lemieux rookie card mixed into a mess of commons during my freshman year of high school in 1991.
My dad still thanks me for holding on to it for him all these years.
After the typical layoff from collecting most guys have - the go to college, go broke, meet a girl, get married phase - I jumped back into the hobby in 2007.
Three kids are responsible for my return to card collecting - my son, Ryne, Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

The promise of two highly rate rookies joining the Blackhawks had me juiced to find their cards. Ryne was about to turn three as the 2007-08 season began, so it felt like a good time to begin a collection with Kane and Toews as the foundation.
It quickly became clear hockey not only gets ignored by most American sports fans and media, but also by sports card dealers. For every box of hockey on the shelves at one local shop, there were three or four times as many football, basketball and baseball products.
After nearly five years back in the hobby, I've learned how to deal with the inequities of hockey collecting "south of the border."
Bolstered by two manufacturers now carrying NHL and NHLPA licenses - Upper Deck and Panini America - there are more products to choose from at a variety of prices. There's also a wide range of styles out there, from throwback sets like 2011/12 Parkhurst Champions:

To Upper Deck's flagship set with the always popular Young Guns rookie cards:

And high-end cards, such as Panini Dominion, with its expensive rookie jersey patch autographs:

Hockey fans are some of the most passionate in all of sports, and so are hockey card and memorabilia collectors. It's easy to understand why, when you think about all great names in NHL and hockey history. Even hockey jerseys - what us in the U.S. call sweaters - are the best around for unique cards featuring logos and patches.
I'll never be able to walk into a convenience store and find a pack of hockey cards around here, so count yourself lucky if your a fan and collector with that kind of luck. If you do, I'm guessing you're up north.
Just don't forget about your hockey collecting brethren down here.
Just don't forget some of us are here down south.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a freelance writer/media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 7-year-old and an understanding wife.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Breaking Even on Bowman Buzz

Sometimes it's not bad to sit on the sidelines and watch the action.
In the current hobby landscape you've got the group of collectors who are right on top of every new release and then there's there's the rest of us who let things like the Bowman craze pass us by.
Baseball and hockey cards compete for the top two spots in what we rip around here, but what usually pushes hockey ahead is the more level-headed approach taken when new product arrives.
Hockey doesn't have pre-rookie cards and dozens of complicated ways to determine what is a guy's best, first card.
Baseball is the only sport where a rookie this year had his best "rookie" card four years ago, which is how the prospectors thrive. That's the main reason I've never been one of the crowd who goes nuts over the annual Bowman releases or any collegiate off-brand.
When the 2010 version hit with Stephen Strasburg's latest first card, prices went insane despite long odds of pulling any worthwhile "-fractors." This year's set has Bryce Harper - Strasburg's future battery mate - in his latest first cards.
Harper has impressed many in his limited minor league action, and the Washington Nationals front office went out of its way to already say he won't see big league action in 2011. Fair enough, but collectors remain undeterred and set the pre-sell world on fire to be ready for 2011 Bowman's release.
What the heck, I decided to check out the fuss on a limited scale: Two blasters from Target on a Wednesday afternoon. At $19.99 each, they totaled out to $43.78 with tax.
Sixteen packs and no Harpers later, it was hard to tell whether I had anything impressive. So, it became time to test the buzz theory: Are prospectors/collectors really interested in these cards if the name Harper isn't on the card?
Two hours after ripping, I posted nine different auctions featuring three singles and six lots. The lots were broken down by base set, base set prospects, base gold, mixed inserts, base chrome prospects and Bowman's Best. The singles were green, blue and orange parallels.
Follow the link to see specifics of the lots.
The auctions ended today with sales on seven of nine, only the Ryan Braun blue and Thomas Layne orange parallels didn't have buyers.
The action underwhelmed me, leading to a new theory: There's so much of this product around right now that the hot and heavy prospectors can shop selectively to find deals. Perhaps that made me fortunate to sell what I did.
The big picture of investment vs. reward worked out this way:
Blaster sticker price plus tax $43.78 vs. actual sale prices $43.26.
Or, this way:
Blaster sticker price $39.98 vs. actual sale prices minus eBay fees $39.89
Or, this way:
Blaster prices plus tax $43.78 vs. actual sale prices minus eBay fees $39.89.
The third comparison is the most accurate bottom line, despite the four-dollar loss.
The real bottom line is reassurance that prospecting is not up my alley. Give me true rookies for baseball, even if they don't reach the stratosphere in value like the pre-rookies do.
Better yet, make Major League Baseball put an appearance requirement in its license the way the NHL does to definitively declare a rookie card a rookie card.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Imperfect Greatness

The recent hot streak with hockey cards did come with one slight hiccup.
What exactly do you do with a not-so-great autograph from a great player? The issue came up after an amazing Wayne Gretzy autograph pull from a box of 2010-11 Black Diamond Hockey, which was detailed here.
As you can see from the picture, Gretzky's legendary name runs out of the confines of Upper Deck's sticker box. This is certainly another indictment of using stickers for any autographs, especially when its a player as hard-to-pull and important to the hobby as Gretzky.
The card isn't going anywhere - not for trade or for sale. It's the equivalent of finding a Michael Jordan signature in a random box, although Jordan has more personal meaning for me as a Chicago-area guy who watched MJ bring six titles home to a city then-famous for its championship droughts.
Knowing this is a private collection keeper, the thought did cross my mind about possibly seeking out a replacement with a cleaner, fully captured signature. But, is this even a damaged card?
Chris Carlin, of Upper Deck, offered a quick response to my email posing the situation. Carlin also suggested this isn't damage in the usual sense. He also said any potential replacements are typically available for eight months after release - Black Diamond came out mid-November, so were about six months out - or until the stock is depleted.
As tough as the odds were to pull The Great One to begin with, would it be worth it to roll the dice on sending it in for a better version?
I'm not convinced that scenario ends happily.
Damaged product, and its handling by manufacturers, is a top-shelf complaint among collectors. Casting off Wayne into what some consider Upper Deck's customer service abyss might sound like an extremely bad idea to many, but for me it's more about risk versus reward.
If they have a replacement, great. If they don't, would I ever see this version again or would Upper Deck upgrade me to a different Gretzky auto?
Too many questions.
As The Wife would say about me, I guess I'll live with imperfection.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Great One keeps streak alive

Hot hockey teams going into the playoffs usually make a deep run.
The Blackhawks couldn't recreate last year's playoff magic, but the mojo kept going in our most recent hockey break.
In the past month, we've hit two pretty sweet cards out 2010-11 Upper Deck hockey: A #'d to 10 Marcus Johansson Young Guns Spectrum and a 1-of-1 Tyler Seguin Young Guns printing plate. Johansson sold for close to $96, while Seguin nearly hit $160 after coming out of a loose pack.
The Son and I headed to Charlestowne Mall in St. Charles on Friday to check out a show that wasn't a part of the usual routine around the the northwest suburbs. The same guys are always there, which are the same guys at Fox Valley Mall and Golf Mill, but it was something to take a chance on.
As usual, only one dealer with packs/boxes. The Son wanted Topps Series 1 because he likes the Diamond Giveaway, so got him six packs. I grabbed six packs of Topps Heritage and two packs of Gypsy Queen.
We had to get hockey because, frankly, no one ever has much hockey even at the bigger shows. Deciding between an Upper Deck Series 2 box and a Black Diamond box came down to a couple of bucks, but opted for the Black Diamond because of the Ice box topper pack.
I've always thought Black Diamond to be somewhat underrated, even if the "diamond" gimmick to distinguish quality of player is silly. The hits are usually decent, as we got the expected pair of Quad jerseys - Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller. One ruby quad rookie card of Zac Dalpe and a ruby Gordie Howe were both #'d to 100.
In the middle of all the about-average ripping, the hot streak went to another level.

An amazing - and tough - pull to say the least. The only downside is that The Great One ran slightly off the sticker's right edge with his signature. We briefly thought about what this could get us at auction or in a trade, especially with a few Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane rookies on our want list.
Despite the potential, not to mention all the bad things Gretzy and his Oilers did to the Hawks in the 1980s, The Great One will stay in the collection with the Mario rookie and Kaner's The Cup rookie.
It might be time to stop buying hockey. How much hotter could the streak really get?

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.

'Big' Empty

It's hard for most collectors to know what it takes to run a shop.
Most of us stop in once a week, twice a month or just whenever. The shop owners know it and try to be there for us - even if that means two jobs, seemingly endless commutes and 90-hour work weeks.
One of the best - Big John and Little Debby's in Chicago - has joined the ranks of great shops whose run has ended.
John and Debby Arcand spent more than two decades serving a loyal band of collectors, but formally turned out the lights on their shop one last time over the weekend.
The couple operates an electrical manufacturing business and live a headache-inducing commute from their former Devon Avenue storefront. John often compared the decision to that of a ballplayer knowing when its time to end it, doing so with a tip of the cap and no complaints.
At their most-recent, and final, pack wars, John reminded the 60 or so people crammed into the long, narrow shop that the decision was not a reflection on anyone or anything other than a need for change.
He and Debby weren't leaving because of frustration at the hobby or the manufacturers, and it certainly wasn't because of anything their customers had done.
It was just time. John wants to know what his house looks like in daylight. He wants to remember what a weekend off is like.
Sure, I'm selfish. When a reliable, well-run shop closes up, it's another reminder of how much the hobby has changed. In 2009, I wrote about the demise of my neighborhood shop, but it put me on the path to eventually finding the Arcands.
Despite the drive from my suburban home, which is closer to the Arcand home than their store, it was worth it to soak in the shop's atmosphere and to chat with two genuinely nice people.
What they represented to their customers - friends is what John and Debby call them - and the hobby in general stood out enough for me to write about them for a story that appeared in the July 2010 Beckett Sports Card Monthly (pictured above).
John and Debby vow to stick around the hobby, still setting up at the Chicago Sun-Times shows each spring and fall, while also doing The National each year. The Northern Illinois Hobby Retailers, a group John found with several other Chicago-area shop owners, will also live on.
They also won't stop working on behalf of collectors who are often on the short end of the hobby stick with the card companies.
Thanks to Big John and Little Debby for their tireless work to keep the hobby alive through their little corner of the industry. You might never be entirely gone, but you'll be missed by all those who visited your shop.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A 'Million' lessons for Topps Diamond Giveaway

The Who told everyone "they won't be fooled again" and we've been warned not to ignore history for fear of repeating it.
Collectors, in general, aren't always quick to recognize learning experiences - or adjust because of them - making for what's become a gripe-filled hobby world.
Consider Topps Million Card Giveaway in 2010 and this year's Diamond Giveaway programs as a good place to call the class to order and pay attention.
There's probably little dispute both code-based promotions have been widely considered popular, if not successful. Opening the Topps' vaults to expose collectors to six decade's worth of cardboard - and a chance to get some of those cards in your hands - has been a great way to promote company and hobby history, not to mention drive Web traffic.
The complaints about unlocking meaningless modern duds plagues the concept, but no one really could expect Topps to only give away Mantles, Aarons and short prints from the 195os. Technical glitches on the MCG site were also a popular thing to pick on, but shipping costs took the crown for biggest criticism.
Shipping rates were lambasted early and often, continuing into the launch of the Gridiron Giveaway program. It become so prominent a complaint, even Beckett - in the soft-touch way it acknowledges hobby controversy - published a letter in the May issue of Beckett Baseball from a collector who essentially accused Topps of a bait-and-switch.
Ironically, the May issue's content was predominantly a celebration of Topps 60th anniversary.
My own order of MCG cards served to further the Beckett letter writer's point: The package of 31 cards, which cost me nearly $19 to ship, arrived with $3.09 in postage on it.
More irritating was that two of my cards were listed as "backordered."
A Topps representative told me via email this week that all shipping is handled by a third-party and that Topps lost money on it. Although the representative offered to expedite shipping of the missing cards - admittedly, not the point of my email - he didn't touch on my questions about whether Diamond Giveaway will operate the same way as MCG.
The Diamond Giveaway site does not yet have shipping information on it.
The other part of MCG that got folks chirping was the cards themselves. Topps clearly explained during MCG that the card you saw online wasn't necessarily the one you'd receive. Fair enough. That doesn't mean some folks weren't bumming their 50s and 60s "treasures" showed up dinged, creased and well off-center.
Sorting through my stack made me think it would have been a good idea to trade the fair-condition 1954 Ed McGhee rookie card in one of the hundreds of offers that came my way.
OK, so pop quiz time to see if anyone was paying attention.
Will you be more or less likely to participate in the Diamond Giveaway based on your MCG experience?
Knowing the cost and expected card conditions, will you be more or less likely to actually order cards you unlock?
As important, will Topps apply what they learned during MCG to make Diamond Giveaway (and future programs) better for collectors?
Class dismissed.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Sometimes the breaks go your way

As much as The Son and I prefer to buy boxes knowing, roughly, what we should get, every so often we just grab whatever packs await us at the monthly Rolling Meadows show.
The options weren't great this past weekend, especially with a scant few new baseball products out there right now. Being hockey guys, we never see as much as hockey wax out there as we'd like.
We've already finished off our Upper Deck Series 1 set, which meant we'd pass on the box despite its $55 price. Instead we grabbed the last nine packs of Series 2 sitting there looking lonely and, probably, devoid of any hits.
For $27, why not? If nothing else, we'd be getting a start on our Series 2 set.
Some times the breaks go your way.
In just nine packs, we pulled two no-name Young Guns (one-third of the box's allotment); a UD Exclusives #'d/100 (usually one per box); a no-name Rookie Materials and a Roberto Luongo 2-color game jersey (two jerseys in a typical box); and a 1-of-1 Tyler Seguin Young Guns Printing Plate (one every two-plus cases, likely higher ratio for Young Guns.
Any pack searchers who dared feel up this box before we arrived should probably stick to their day job based on what they missed.
This was just the second 1-of-1 pulled - not including the 2007/08 The Cup Marc Staal plate that came from a case break - in the three years since returning to the hobby. The other was 2010 Topps National Chicle Joe Saunders card that had a leather or ball-like surface texture.
Coincidentally, we pulled a Marcus Johansson Young Guns Spectrum card #4/10 - a difficult pull in itself - from our last box of Series 1 last month. A happy Washington Capitals fan picked it up for $95 from us on eBay.
The Seguin hit eBay last night. We'll see if any Bruins fans will spend enough for our next box buy.
More times than not, we're gonna buy a box, but we'll never completely overlook the loose packs.

Campana's Corner is written by Dan Campana, a media consultant, former newspaper reporter and longtime collector living in the Chicago suburbs with a sports-minded 6-year-old and an understanding wife.