Every Snail on Earth

Looking for a new Luke Skywalker with Blast Shield Helmet Star Wars action figure? Maybe that rare 1955 Roberto Clemente rookie card? How about a 1953 placard advertising Coca-Cola? Then poke around the event that bills itself as South Florida's Largest Collectibles Show. An alternative to the tiny hotel conference rooms that usually serve as venues for collectibles conventions in South Florida, this monster unfolds over the 77,000 square feet of the Dade County Fair and Expo Center. Dealers from across the nation will set up in 450 booths.

Along with a few friends, John Martinez, who specializes in collecting American proof coins, dreamed up an event that would appeal to the general public in addition to the usual swarm of obsessed collectors. His plan began as a vague idea to give something back to local churches and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers, as well as those friends and neighbors who offered support after he was struck by a drunk driver and lost both legs. "I have a lot of people to thank," says Martinez. "I'm alive, and I thank God for the good people around me. I wanted to give something to the community."

Martinez came up with an interesting eclectic mix. Besides amusements like face-painting clowns, mariachi bands, and local television news and public service information stands, his event will offer a mind-boggling array of collectors' booths. Many different subcultures will come together under one roof: dealers of coins, toys, comic books, sports memorabilia, and a range of those who target more specific markets such as Beanie Babies, Star Trek gear, and Gene dolls.

"People collect everything," Martinez marvels. "I know a fellow who collects snail figurines in porcelain, pewter, gold, silver, made out of wood, made out of paper. He wants every single snail in existence."

Among the more popular collectibles on sale at this confab will be celebrity autographs. Many large conventions feature celebrities -- from sports figures to comic book artists -- willing to sign merchandise for a fee. Martinez says such autographs can cost anywhere from $10 to $50. One of the big names confirmed to be on hand this weekend is Mark Nodell, creator of DC Comics' Green Lantern.

If the convention is a success, Martinez plans to make it a regular event. "It's our inaugural show," he ventures. "Depending how it goes, we'll have the next show in December and then another in March. We'll have a contract with Miami-Dade County for three shows a year."

-- Hans Morgenstern

South Florida's Largest Collectibles Show takes place Saturday and Sunday, August 29 and 30, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day, at the Dade County Fair and Expo Center, 10901 SW 24th St. Admission is $3.50 for adults, $1.00 for children, and free for kids under age five. Call 305-443-3000.

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Hans Morgenstern has contributed to Miami New Times for too many decades, but he's grown to love Miami's arts and culture scene because of it. He is the chair of the Florida Film Critics Circle, and most of his film criticism can be found on Independent Ethos (indieethos.com) if not in New Times.