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An 'Ultimate' Showdown with $100 Hockey Packs

by Paul Angilly
May 10, 2005

Despite the unprecedented loss of an entire NHL season due to an ongoing labor battle, hockey card collectors are still hungry for new material.

Issues such as In The Game's Heroes and Prospects (featuring retired NHL legends along with AHL and CHL prospects) and Upper Deck's base-brand issue have been strong sellers.

But now the ante has been raised: Upper Deck released its $100-per-pack Ultimate Collection at the end of April and In The Game's fifth annual Ultimate Memorabilia product (with a pack price likely to be well in excess of $100) is expected at the end of this month.

In The Game was none too happy with Upper Deck's use of the word "Ultimate" in its product name. The company sent an e-mail to its customers a few months ago and has posted many of the responses from collectors critical of Upper Deck on its web site.

It's perhaps a petty move, considering a card store called Smokey's Sports Cards originally used the Ultimate brand name in 1991-92 for a hockey draft picks set and a historical card set called "Original Six" - another brand name used by In The Game last season. Also, Upper Deck released an "Ultimate Victory" brand set (a high-end partial parallel of its regular Victory set) in 1999-00, the year before In The Game issued its first Ultimate Memorabilia set.

Although it now carries the Ultimate Collection name, Upper Deck's new set is essentially a continuation of the Premier Collection hockey card series it started issuing in 2001-02. The $100-per-pack Ultimate Collection line began with a basketball card set in 2000-01, then spread to baseball in 2001 and football in 2003.

In The Game's Ultimate Memorabilia series began in 2000-01 as a very popular, though highly-priced ($99 suggested retail price per one-card pack) product, with each card featuring a prime piece of memorabilia. There were just 25,000 total cards made in the series with a maximum print run of 90 for any one card, with each one individually numbered.

The company has followed with similar sets each year since. For the third issue in 2002-03, a limited rookie card was included in each pack along with the memorabilia card. For last year's fourth edition, an autographed base card was included with the memorabilia card.

This year the company is taking the concept a step further.

The 2004-05 edition of In The Game's Ultimate Memorabilia will include three cards per pack: one game-used memorabilia card, one Ultimate Autograph card and one Ultimate base card or Ultimate Archives 1-of-1 card. An early eBay pre-sale auction last week was offering packs for $169.95 each.

The production of the fifth edition has been cut back to just 10,000 total packs - 40 percent of what was produced in the first four editions.

The game-used memorabilia card in each pack will be limited to a maximum of 25 of each card. Many of the inserts will be far scarcer.

The autograph cards will include hundreds of 1-of-1s, including Paper Cuts, Paper Cuts with Memorabilia, Maple Leafs Forever, Broadway Blueshirts, Beantown's Best and Bleu Blanc et Rouge. The pinnacle of the autograph cards will be the "Holy Grail" card, a 1-of-1 cut signature of Lord Stanley of Preston.

The Ultimate base set contains 200 players, each numbered out of 49, featured on a retro design. The base set also has a 1-of-1 gold parallel.

Among the memorabilia and/or autograph series issued as part of the Ultimate Memorabilia set are: "AutoThreads," featuring large swatches of game-used jerseys personally autographed by the player; "Scrapbook Autograph" autograph cards, including 15 cards of deceased players (whose autographs were obtained years ago and have been die-cut into the current card design); "Original Six," with six swatches of memorabilia per card (one player from each of the Original Six teams); "Day in Hockey History," featuring a specific date and commemorating two events that took place in the hockey world in different years on that date; and "Ultimate Hero" memorabilia cards commemorating the career of Patrick Roy.

Upper Deck's Ultimate Collection has what might be a slight advantage among some collectors because it offers current players as part of the mix. Of course, "current players" is something of an inaccurate term these days - perhaps "current NHL player's union members" is more accurate.

Either way, Ultimate Collection offers an 84-card base set, including 42 regular cards numbered out of 350 copies plus 42 other subset cards all numbered to 299: six Ultimate Rookies, 10 Ultimate Legends and 26 World Cup of Hockey Heroes.

Every 4-card pack of 2004-05 Ultimate Collection has a minimum of one autograph card, one memorabilia card, one regular card and one World Cup insert or other subset card. Every case contains a low-numbered buyback autograph card. One low-numbered patch card is found in every four-pack box on average.

Among the autograph inserts are: Signatures (1:2 packs), Buybacks (1:16) and Ultimate Cuts (serial-numbered 1-of-1). Memorabilia cards include Game Jerseys (numbered to 250), Game Jerseys Limited Parallel (numbered to 75), Game Jerseys Limited Autographs (numbered to 5), Autographed Patches (numbered to 50), Dual Autographed Patches (numbered to 10), Signature NHL Logos (1-of-1), Dual NHL Logos (1-of-1), Signature Patches (oversized swatch, signed right on the patch, numbered to 10) and Game Jersey Patch (varied numbering).

Upper Deck Ultimate Collection boasts an impressive checklist, both in the regular set and memorabilia and autographed inserts, mixing today's best players with some of hockey's all-time greats. Included are: Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe, Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, Peter Forsberg, Cam Neely, Martin Brodeur and Mark Messier, among others.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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