How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.
The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when we look for Mike Trout or Bryce Harper to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.
Topps had a monopoly on baseball cards from 1956-80, but then the landscape changed dramatically. Other companies were given MLB licenses and the competitive environment almost ruined the hobby as too many product offerings and too much supply turned fans away from collecting. Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.
So, for someone who hasn’t collected in years, what do these new, upscale products offer? Recently, a friend of mine purchased some sealed boxes of 2016 Topps Museum Collection baseball cards. One box costs almost $200 and includes 20 cards (4 packs of 5 cards) and you are guaranteed to get at least one “hit” per pack. That hit could be an autographed card or a autograph / relic combo card or a jumbo relic (patch) card or a quad relic (memorabilia from four different players). Each of these cards has a limited print run and the number is stamped on the card so the buyer understands the scarcity of their new collectible Let’s see how this collector made out…
> Of the four signed cards pulled from the packs, the most valuable is a beautiful “Signature Swatch” card of the Mets young star Michael Conforto. It not only has the autograph, but also includes three uniform pieces and only five of these were produced…this one is numbered 5/5, making it the last one manufactured. There’s also a “Signature Swatch” of D’Backs Closer Brad Ziegler numbered to 25, as well as a combo game-used material and autograph of the Mariners SS Ketel Marte…that one is also limited to a run of five. The final one is a metal card signed by the Mets 3B David Wright numbered to only 15.
> The relic (uniform jersey) cards are numbered anywhere from 99 down to 10. The two lowest are of Mariners star Robinson Cano (02/10) and Athletics Catcher Stephen Vogt (01/10) and then there’s a multi-piece card numbered to 25 of Pirates All-Star Andrew McCutchen. There are future Hall of Famers like Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki along with a HOF member from the past, Orlando Cepeda.
> The quad relic cards are especially great for fans of a certain team. This group has the Royals (Gordon, Holland, Hosmer & Ventura), the Tigers (Cabrera, Verlander, Kinsler & Castellanos) and the Dodgers (Kershaw, Greinke, Gonzalez & Puig)…each of these is numbered to 99 or less.
Oh sure, you can still buy “regular” baseball cards but having options is always nice. No, they’re not your Dad’s Topps cards anymore.