A Collector’s Guide to Attending The National4 min read

The 2021 National Sports Collectors Convention will take place at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois, from July 28 to August 1. The National, as it is known amongst collectors, is the hobby’s grandest stage. Hundreds of dealers, thousands of collectors and millions of cards spread out over a five-day period. For those of us who love this hobby, the National is a grand, exciting, exhausting and overwhelming experience where you will see some of the greatest and rarest cards and memorabilia in the world. It’s an incredible show and there should probably be an official guide for attending the National.

With the exception of 2020, the event is an annual pilgrimage for many collectors. After years of attending, these people know what to expect and have honed their game plan to perfection. However, if you are new to the hobby or have never been to a previous National, the following tips might be the difference between having a fantastic show or falling somewhat short of expectations. These suggestions are in no particular order. They are simply things to contemplate and plan for prior to attending the hobby’s version of The Greatest Show on Earth.

Lines at the PSA Booth, shown here in 2019, can be long. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes and have your online submissions already prepared!
  • Wear comfortable shoes. Over the course of the weekend you will be walking tens of thousands of steps across a concrete floor. Comfortable walking shoes will make a huge impact on your overall enjoyment of the show.
  • Because there are hundreds of dealers at the National, some collectors prefer to spend the first day just looking and not purchasing, so they are guaranteed to get the best price. However, that methodology is risky if the item in question is rare, because someone else might buy it before you return. Take rarity into account when considering each purchase. If an item is relatively common, then you will likely find multiples of it at the show and can afford to hunt for the best price. However, if it’s rare, consider jumping on it quickly so that you do not miss out on the opportunity.
  • If you plan on getting cards graded at the show by PSA, sure to visit us at booth #1531 and make sure you’ve already processed your order in the online submission center.
  • As the show goes on, dealers become more willing to discount merchandise. If you can wait, Sunday is a great day to get fantastic prices on cards that dealers do not want to pack up and bring back home.
  • While many of the larger vendors are able to accept credit and debit card payments, others are not. However, cash is still king, as dealers are not required to pay credit card transaction fees on cash deals.
  • Obtain a copy of the vendor map and make notes on it throughout the show. That way you can easily locate and return to a particular booth when necessary.

    Dealer showcases will be on full display in Chicago.
  • Bring some sort of carrying case or satchel. You never know how much you will end up buying, and your acquisitions can grow quickly beyond what can be carried by hand. A backpack or shoulder bag can be a huge help. While there will likely be someone selling supplies at the show, you might also want to bring along some of your own storage materials so items can be quickly and safely packaged if needed.
  • Whether you have them written in a notebook or saved to the cloud and accessible on your phone, do not forget to bring your “want lists.” You will undoubtedly find dealers with singles from whatever sets you are trying to complete and you don’t want to be unprepared for the opportunity to cross some items off your list.
  • If you plan on attending any of the athlete signing sessions at the autograph pavilion, be sure to study the player appearance schedule. You might need to get in line an hour or two before a particularly popular athlete appears to ensure that your item is signed. Sometimes the demand for an athlete is greater than the time allotted for that person to sign. Collectors at the end of the line could miss out.
  • If you have developed connections with other hobbyists online or via social media, try to meet them in-person at the show. The hobby is always better when experienced with friends.

Attending a large show like the National can be overwhelming if you are not prepared. By employing these tips, you should at least have the basics covered, and then apply your own experience to make future shows even better. Above all, have fun and add some great items to your collection!


Posted by Todd Tobias

Todd Tobias is a longtime hobbyist and PSA staff member who is constantly on the hunt for vintage lacrosse issues and autographed cards for his American Football League (1960-1969) collection.

Johnny Robinson - Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019!!!

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