Thinking about venturing away from online, high-stakes sports card auctions and attending your first card show? Good for you. But remember, a live show is very different than what you’ll encounter online and, for the uninitiated, the experience can be confusing and even a little overwhelming.

Scottsboro, Alabama card show
Card shows like this one in Scottsboro, Alabama, can be great sources for collectors. (Image: Johnny Kampis)

We’re here to help, and urge you to consider these tips for how to enjoy a successful day out while also finding good deals.

Take it In, but Form a Plan

The just-completed National Sports Collectors Convention in the Chicago area featured thousands of dealers and vendors, and hundreds of autograph signers over five days. You can imagine how head-spinning that event can be. Your local or regional card show won’t be quite so crazy, but you can easily run out of time to see it all if you don’t form a plan.

Get There Early

It probably goes without saying, but the sooner you get to the show, the more time you’ll have for browsing. The most popular quarterly card show here in north Alabama runs for just five hours on a Saturday, so time is limited for participants who want to see and do it all.

If the show you’re attending features your favorite sports stars signing autographs, get in line early before the queue gets long and sucks away too much of your time. Most shows include a manageable number of dealer tables. Quickly scan over them and then return to the ones that seem to have more of the items in which you’re interested. If you spend too much time at one table, you might miss out on a better one across the room.

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

Many collectors like to buy in-person rather than online because they can see and feel the cards, plus they don’t have to wait for shipping. But many dealers like to charge extra due to this. If the prices are significantly higher than comparable recent sales on eBay, just pass on the deal and look for the cards you want online.

Dig Through Those ‘Dollar’ Boxes

With the rising values of cards, it’s not surprising that dealers turn their attention to those higher-priced sales and dump their cheaper stuff into card shoeboxes with those singles marked at one price. Sometimes, these are “dollar” boxes, sometimes less. At a recent show, I bought quite a few Mike Trout and Tom Brady base cards out of a “quarter” box. You can often find very good deals in these cheaper boxes, so they’re worth a look.

Always Negotiate

Whether you’re buying Luka Doncic Prizm rookies or a stack of Fernando Tatis base cards out of one of those dollar boxes, always try to get a lower price. Dealers are usually willing to give you a slight discount if you ask for one, much like a homeowner putting on a yard sale. Haggling is expected.