Friday, December 18, 2009

Pre-Holiday Update - A Hodgepodge of Observations and Notes

Wow, been a while since my last update here, but that's not due to a lack of hobby activity.

Since the Nov. 5th update, the Toronto Fall Expo has come and gone (what a whirlwind that was! I think a 3 day recap of that experience would merit its own entry), UD Series 1 has made its mark and some new slabs from ITG's latest Ultimate Collection are weighing down mail trucks worldwide. I have also done some wheeling and dealing and purchased another large lot of inventory ahead of this Sunday's Toronto Monthly Show.

Where to begin?

How about a little bit on the Expo to get us started... in a word, the Expo this November was inasane. I was lucky enough to have a box full of high-enders to trade around for some fresh items, and completed three or four blockbuster deals - here is a bit about a couple of them:

The biggest deal saw a Crosby Rookie Review Auto/Patch /100, Gretzky Signature Patch SP /25, Canucks Triple Patch /10 and Smyth Cup Foundations Quad Patch /10 leave my hands in favor of a 05/6 Sidney Crosby Marks of Distinction Autograph /25. I realize that this may not have been the best deal for me in terms of inventory control, but based on research around the show and afterward, I have found that the Crosby MOD's have sold for close to or above book value, while everything I parted with would fetch significantly less. This was proven last week when the exact Gretzky card I traded away closed at $280 online.

At the time of the Expo, Steve Stamkos was tearing up the NHL, so I made a move and acquired a 08/9 The Cup Gold RC /91 with an average patch swatch. Based on market demand at the time and the card's inflated book value, I was able to trade it even up for a 06/7 Wayne Gretzky Limited Logos single. There aren't enough good things to say about that trade, as not only did I score a Gretzky Auto/Patch for a Stamkos parallel RC, but my dad and I had been on the lookout for a copy of the Gretzky LL since the release of that product. I know that the dealer I traded the Stamkos to was able to sell it at the Expo, so it would have to be considered a win/win!

I was chatting with a dealer and found that he was a huge Carey Price fan - I had been holding onto a Price SPX Patch/Au RC /25 for about six months, and he happily flipped me a Sidney Crosby Programme of Excellence Auto /10 for it. Another case of both traders walking away very happy.

My favourite trades occurred when I ran into a couple of Hobby Insider members (Phil & Justin) from the NY area. Justin and I had been chatting about making a trade for a couple of weeks, and I came away from the table with a 07/8 UD Premier Quad Remnants Auto/Jersey /10 commemorating Marty's 500th win. Justin received two beautiful pieces for his collection, and I scored one that ranks in my top-10. It was also a blast to talk hockey with someone from outo of the area who could give me a different perspective on the NHL and the hobby in general. On Sunday morning I ran into Justin again and he suggested I chat with his buddy Phil - I did, and we consommated a deal that saw a Wayne Gretzky Signature Sticks /15 come my way. A stunning card which shows the Great One in an Oilers uniform.

Just a taste of the kind of deals that can go down at the Expo if you are patient and open to shuffling the deck.

Upper Deck Series 1 was released and widely broken at the Expo and elsewhere and one problem was prevalent in almost all cases: the ever-popular Young Guns singles were affected by "roller marks", leaving many cards damaged and undesirable. Upper Deck responded to the problem with lightning speed and spent most of the Expo distributing mint copies in exchange for the damaged cards. Kudos are in order, so here they are!

ITG Ultimate also hit the market, and dazzled collectors at every turn. The "1/1" cards featuring jumbo pieces of memorabilia are spectacular, and I believe that the "Ultimate Stick Racks" subset is among the best ever conceived. This year's base cards featured sparkling pieces of manufactured patches, leaving them exponentially more appealing than previous issues. I found that several dealers were overcharging for these at the Expo, seeming under the impression that game-used memorabilia swatches were used, even though the backs of these cards clearly state that that is not the case. ITG Ultimate remains plagued by two issues, in my opinion: 1) the plastic "slabs" have got to go. Not only are the slabs bulky and near impossible to ship (last week I was forced to either pay $13 to ship a pair of these as a small package or to prepare two separate envelopes and ship them separately for $4 each), the labels are often cluttered by text, which I believe takes away from the card itself... Consider this little doozie - all of this text on one line:

John Tavares/Alexander Ovechkin07/19

May not look like a lot here, but on a label that's only a few inches long, its hard to handle - and of course there isn't enough room to leave a space between the player names and the serial number.

Problem #2 has been an issue as long as ITG Ultimate has used sticker autographs - there are hundreds of brutally cut-off signatures that get packed out. As an avid collector, I am familiar with the sigs of most players, so what a dealbreaker it is to see a Brodeur autograph with half of the "30" cut off, or a John Tavares sig that seems to start halfway through the "J", I know Scott Glennie isn't a huge name, but I haven't come accross a card that features his full signature on a sticker.

For a company that prides itself on quality control and attention to detail, I find it absolutely embarassing that ITG would charge the prices they do by the pack for this product considering this issue. If stickers must be used, I suggest establishing some kind of standard for quality and communicate this to the athletes, increase the size of the stickers, or better yet, drop autographs altogether if they can't be executed to an appropriate level for inclusion in a premium product.

The days of charging hardworking people hundreds of dollars for packs of cards promising them autographs that aren't all there have got to stop. I am aware that ITG does not have an NHLPA license is doing a great job with what is available/possible, but I feel as if many collectors are doing favors by buying and backing these cards, which haven't changed much in years due to the aforementioned limitations. Upper Deck uses their share of stickers as well, and these are also often cut off and even put on backwards at times... to their credit, however, I have not seen them employ this method in a premium product.


Happy holidays to all!