Full house at Columbus Sports Card Show illustrates collectors' enthusiasm

A. Kevin Corvo
ThisWeek group

As David Glickfield inspected an array of 1959 Topps baseball cards with the intensity of an FBI agent, the 56-year-old Indiana man in a San Francisco Giants cap seemed oblivious to the animated owner of a comic book shop in the Queens borough of New York City standing several feet away and negotiating the purchase of a 1954 Mickey Mantle baseball card.

The New Yorker, Mike Carbonaro, 63, bought the Mantle card for $2,300, $200 less than the asking price, after some back-and-forth bartering, one of just many negotiations that could be overheard Jan. 16 at the Columbus Sports Card Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard.

Baseball-card collectors trying to build complete sets of Topps cards from the 1950s spend hours picking from binders such as these at the Columbus Sports Card Show. Any card from the era will cost several dollars. Many sell for more than $25, but cards of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays command thousands if they are in excellent condition. The card show is held every other month at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard, and the most recent one was Jan. 16 and 17.

For Carbonaro, the cash purchase merely was business for Ivy's Paranormal Art and Mike's Comic Book Pop Shop, in Middle Village, Queens.

“I’ll enjoy it for a while and then trade or sell it,” said Carbonaro, who breezed through the sports card show after traveling to Mansfield to purchase a comic book collection.

For Glickfield, the cards he purchases are meant to stay in his collection.

David Glickfield, 56, of Indiana carefully inspects a 1959 Topps baseball card depicting Pittsburgh Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh and Pirate teammates Frank Thomas and Ted Kluszewski. Glickfield was at the Jan. 16 Columbus Sports Card Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard to look for cards to improve the condition of his 1959 complete Topps set.

Glickfield owns at least one complete set of Topps baseball cards dating back to 1954.

In most instances, such as 1959, he owns multiple sets and moves the best-condition copy of each card from a secondary set into a primary set.

“I’m always looking to upgrade,” he said.

Whose face is on a card always is important, of course, and scarcity and desirability are factors, but condition always is the first consideration, Glickfield said.

Collectors look for sports cards depicting their favorite diamond or gridiron hero Jan. 16 at the Columbus Sports Card Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard. The show is held there six times a year.

His eyes always are looking for the sharpness of the corners of vintage cards and how well-centered they are.

The former is a factor dependent upon how previous owners handled the card; the latter is left to the whims of a printing process that did not have much quality control in the vintage-card era, considered to be cards issued in the 1970s and earlier – but some collectors also draw another line for cards issued in the 1950s and earlier.

Any card of particular desirability usually is in a protective card brick with a paper label illustrating its “PSA rating" on a 1-to-10 scale as determined by the Professional Sports Authenticator, a card-grading service that also includes services for other sporting collectibles, comic books and autographs.

Those cards included the Mantle card Carbonaro had purchased.

“I collect cool stuff,” said Carbonaro, who was attracted to the scarcity of the Mantle card he had purchased relative to other Mantle cards.

The Dan-Dee card was issued regionally, only in Ohio and Pennsylvania it is believed, in 1954 in packages of Dan-Dee potato chips and is considered among the tougher Mantle cards to find, especially in excellent condition as many copies – those that even survived – are oil-stained by the product.

And in 1954 and 1955, Mantle was under a contract with rival Bowman cards, resulting in even fewer 1954 and 1955 issues at a time when Mantle and the New York Yankees were at the center of the baseball universe.

Carbonaro described other cool stuff as an issue of "Action Comics No. 1," featuring the first appearance of Superman, published in June 1938 and for which he recently paid $425,000.

He said he has purchased and resold several copies of the same comic book, for which about 150 copies are cataloged to exist.

But that six-figure price tag for a comic book that was issued for 10 cents is the equivalent of spare change for the record recently set for the purchase of a single baseball card.

According to foxbusiness.com, Rob Gough, an entrepreneur and actor, bought a copy of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card, graded by the PSA as a “Mint 9” for $5.2 million.

The same card sold in April 2018 for almost $2.9 million, perhaps indicating resurgence in card collecting, which has waned in popularity since the 1990s.

The show in Hilliard was a full house.

Even in the midst of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, masked customers at the Columbus Sports Card Show had to step carefully to maintain recommended social distancing.

J.D. Heckathorn and his wife, Stacy, own and operate the show, as well as Card Kingdom, a business specializing in pre-1970 cards and memorabilia. They drive from Rochester, Indiana, to Hilliard every other month for the show, presented six times a year. The most recent two-day show was Jan.16 and 17, and the next show is scheduled 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 6 and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. March 7 at the fairgrounds' Ganyard Building. Parking and admission are free.

Derek Hone, 42, of Westerville helps his son, Gracen, 8, choose football cards featuring Ohio State University players Jan. 16 at the Columbus Sports Card Show at the Franklin County Fairgrounds in Hilliard.

“I think COVID actually helped (card-collecting)," Heckathorn said. "People stuck at home began pulling out their old cards and got involved again."

The card-collecting hobby likely also has received a shot in the arm by the over-40 crowd that has the discretionary income to buy cards they could not afford as kids.

Sometimes it’s a Mickey Mantle card, but not always.

Among the most popular cards asked for at shows is one that might be found for as little as $5 but once sold for more than $100, then well beyond the reach of teenagers mowing lawns in 1986 who had longed to get their hands on a Jose Canseco rookie card – particularly the 1986 Donruss “Rated Rookie” card valued far more than the 1986 Fleer issue that he shared with another player. Topps did not issue a regular-set Canseco card until 1987.

Canseco was just one of many players in the 1980s who fueled the baseball-card craze. Some, such as the Yankee-pinstriped Don Mattingly, became All-stars, but others were brief flashes in the California sun. (Everyone remembers Wally Joyner, right?)

A 1986 Donruss Jose Canseco "Rated Rookie" card is valued by collectors. In his first full season, the Oakland outfielder had 33 home runs and 117 RBI.

“But people thought those cards would buy their kids a college education,” Heckathorn said.

Baseball cards in the 1950s and 1960s were made to be played with, and their relative scarcity – mom really did throw away baseball cards – make them collectible, but by the 1990s, the card companies and collectors fell into a lockstep of trying and failing to “manufacture collectability,” Heckathorn said.

Sports-card producers flooded the market, and many collectors soured. The fall of many marquee baseball players to suspicions or proof of using performance-enhancing drugs did little to help.

But the hobby seems to have recovered and even is welcoming new collectors, Heckathorn said.

Although most of the collectors strolling the aisles Jan. 16 were old enough to remember watching the Cincinnati Reds win the 1990 World Series while yanking Chris Sabo rookie cards from wax packs, 8-year-old Gracen Hone was not among them.

Attending with his father, Derek Hone, 42, of Westerville, Gracen was looking for football cards of Ohio State University players.

The two were spending a father-and-son weekend at the show, and Gracen left with a selection of cards, including those featuring former Buckeye stars J.K. Dobbins and Chase Young, who both now play in the National Football League.

“We love to see kids like that. ... It’s the future of the hobby,” Stacy Heckathorn said.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo