Here’s My Big, Bad Recap of the National

My first trip to the National didn’t disappoint — here’s a recap of my three days in Chicago

Typically when National season rolled around, I’d be pimping one of my dumb Not Live from the National articles. But it’s hard to do that when you actually go to the show.

My card collecting ventures had taken me to all sorts of places in the past but one event I’d never attended was The National. This year I was finally determined to go and it turned out to be a heck of a trip. Here’s my recap of my three days there.

Of note is that I’ll be doing a separate post on some of the actual cards I picked up. This is really a recap of the entire experience, nonsense and all.


I flew in Thursday afternoon and checked in promptly at the hotel. I had planned to take it easy on the first day and actually not even attend the show that day. But I got a text from a collector friend that a card I’d been looking for was there — the T207 shortprinted card of Louis Lowdermilk.

I’ll go into the Lowdermilk pickup in a separate post I’m putting together on the pickups I had at the show. But, in a nutshell, it was the final card I’d needed for my T207 set.

As much as I wanted to relax and take it easy on that first day, that wasn’t an option since I’d been looking for this card for a few years. So I rushed out, grabbed an Uber, and within a half hour, got to the show, secured the purchase, and finished that set.

The Lowdermilk purchase was a good one because it really justified the trip. If I came away with nothing else, the trip was a success to me just by picking up that lone card. So to have it done and out of the way was really a big weight off of my shoulders.

The Lowdermilk buy was even bigger with more perspective. It wrapped up a nearly six-year run in trying to complete the T205, T206, and T207 sets, which I wrote about here.

Had I done that at home, I would popped open a bottle of wine and finished that sucker on my own. But on the road, I settled for a more modest celebration with an IPA shown here.

The rest of the first day was kind of a blur. I only had a couple of hours at the show and mostly spent it walking around, getting used to the surroundings, and just sort of browsing.

I did make a few other pickups, but mostly non-sports stuff. But it was a fairly uneventful day after the Lowdermilk pickup. All of my pickups from Thursday are above.

The really cool thing I got to see was at a stop to Tik and Tik — well known dealers that have all sorts of great old stuff.

At their table, they had some of the 19th century female baseball players. Those cards are rare enough but then they had some of the rare cabinet cards of the Black Stockings Nine female baseball players issued by Virginia Brights.

That was enough of an impressive display but then, in one of the display cases, they had this large store display of one of the Black Stocking Nine players. Going by memory, this was roughly 12″ to 15″ tall and quite a bit larger than the cabinets. I’d never seen one of these before and it was just a really terrific piece that was a great thing to see on my way out before heading back to the hotel.

After the show, I stumbled upon a collector friend in a card collecting group I’m in called OBC (Old Baseball Cards).

At its core, it’s mostly an RAOK group that allows collectors to swap cards and help them fill sets. He quickly introduced me to several other members of the group, most of which I’d never met in person before and it just emphasized the idea that so much of the show was getting together with others.

Despite asking folks not to bring me free cards, well, OBCers basically ignored that and continually gifted me some stuff.

Actually, a lot of stuff.

Here’s a picture of the cards OBCers generously gave to me. Just very cool and it was a great way to end the day. Lots of pre-war goodies as well as some post-war cards for sets I am working on through OBC. Buried in there, too, was a Jesse Owens 1939 Kings of Speed card that is conspicuously absent.

Thursday night we had dinner at Harry Caray’s Italian Restaurant, which was adjoined to our hotel. It was fine but the real highlight was my wife asking me who these Harry and Carry people were.

Yep, gonna be a long trip.


Friday was really the day I wanted to use to make the most progress. My hope was to use Saturday as sort of a cooldown day and that’s sort of how it played out. I made a large amount of purchases on Friday.

One dealer I was familiar with had a large amount of inexpensive T51 Murad College Sports cards and T218 Champions. A second dealer that was new to me had a ton of baseball strip cards. And then I picked up some miscellaneous items along the way. But the day was so much more than just what I picked up.

I was also at the show to unload a bit. I’d been collecting graded wrestling cards over the past few years and with prices going through the roof, I decided it was time to unload those. So I made the decision to consign them to auction.

I then headed over to Scott at The Collector Connection auction house and consigned a few dozen cards for his pre-war auction in November. Be sure to register for his auctions if you haven’t already done so. Registration takes only a few minutes and you’ll find a lot of great pre-war in that auction.

While there, I ended up chatting with a guy and we quickly got into a discussion about Jesse Owens cards and other stuff that was really taking off. Well, said collector then proceeded to pull out nine of what are probably Owens’ top cards — his 1935 Muratti rookie cards.

It was quite a sight to see that many of the rare cards — and especially in high-grade condition. The cards can be found in high-grade condition. But they are also paper thin and easily damaged. I had to grab a picture and the collector obliged me.

It’s worth pointing out that spending all day at the show definitely took a toll on me. More specifically — it took a toll on my feet.

The sight below was one that took place a few times over the weekend as I sat on my butt trying to recuperate just a little.

The floor was as hard and unforgiving as advertised. I expected that. Thing is, I’m not necessarily used to it. This was my first National and even beyond that, I’m not use to doing a lot of walking in general. Believe me when I tell you that my Apple Watch usually shows about 2,000 steps recorded per day on average. That gives you an idea of just how little exercise I am getting.

So I did what I always do when faced with any modicum of adversity — I complained about it. And at least someone was listening this time.

Well played, Heritage people.

After the show, I headed back to the hotel room for some dinner.

Now, my intent was to go out to a restaurant and eat. And some dining out and exploring the city was one of the few selling points I’d made to my wife for this trip. But look at those feet, will ya? They’re in no mood to travel.

Our hotel was near Giordano’s, a local deep dish pizza joint that is regarded as one of the best. And good news — they delivered! The bad news was that, as such a popular spot with the National going on, delivery was a three-hour wait. But hey, we’re in Chicago and got nothing else to do so we’re waiting.

Nearly three hours later, Giordano’s shows up and it was the perfectly gooey mess of a pizza I was promised.

I’ll say this — I thought it was very good pizza. It was thick, had a ton of cheese in the middle and the ingredients seemed quite good. I’ll probably even order it online as they ship it all over the country. That said, it wasn’t something I’d want to eat all the time.

I order a lot of pizza at home and am used to a more standard style of pie. While I loved this (arguably even more), I couldn’t see eating it as much as I eat regular pizza. It was really filling and seemed like something you’d do once in a while.


Saturday was really sort of a wrap-up day. It was my final day at the show and while I spent most of the day there, it was more about trying to search out the hidden corners of the floor that I’d not yet found.

The thing that surprised me most was that I had mostly covered it already. There were some areas of the show that were definitely new. But much of it was repeat booths I’d already been by.

A highlight for me was sending my wife out on her own to try to locate stuff for me. Now, she doesn’t know much about card values or even specific sets. But she definitely can distinguish pre-war cards from post-war vintage for the most part. So we split up and she covered some new areas, texting me pictures back of interesting tables.

Here she is in the peach shirt looking over a table.

So we dug around a little bit more and then I got a Twitter DM from a collector friend I’d never met in person. He (Jason) informs me that he, another guy named Bill, and a third guy, Andrew, are all headed for lunch and ask me to join in. Bill was new to me but HeavyJ is a fellow Dwight Gooden collector and co-leads SABR’s baseball card committee. Andrew is actually the son of Mike Aronstein of TCMA and an early famous collector.

We head for a short walk to a restaurant that I don’t even remember the name of. But the food was good, the beer was cold, and most importantly, I got to sit and rest my feet.

Here we are — me, the overweight black guy, Jason the de facto ringleader, Andrew to his right, and Bill in the back, who was gracious enough to buy everyone lunch.

After a while we headed back to the show for some more cards. Much of the day was just spent browsing. And I also saw some unique items.

One curiosity that bugged the crap out of people was a Babe Ruth ‘card.’ The dealer didn’t know what it was and, to my knowledge, no one ultimately could positively identify it.

The Ruth sort of had the look of a W511 strip card. Those cards had grainy pictures, poor quality production, and printed on a cardstock that looked similar to this. And interestingly, Ruth is No. 1 in that set and his card has a No. 1 on it.

But alas, this is no W511 and anyone that has cards from that set can easily tell that. Beyond that, the No. 1 Ruth card in that set is a batting image. What this was exactly, who knows. But my guess is that it’s probably not a legitimate card — not even a strip card — and is some sort of picture cut from something else. The 1. could have been added to give it the appearance of a card but seeing it in person, I didn’t believe it to be an actual card.

One thing I should point out is that, there was so much of the show where I had no idea what was going on. At some point on Saturday around the Topps booth, there was a lot of yelling and action. I still never figured out what it was. There was stuff like that all around me.

But I did get some cards, too. Here’s my modest haul from Saturday, which mostly included 1930s gum cards.

Oh yeah, and Heritage totally kept that promise about a free chair at my disposal.

Dreams really do come true.

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