This is the second installment of my blog, The Dealer's Deal, a look inside our hobby from the other side of the counter. Thanks to everyone that took the time to read my first blog. I wanted to use that first blog to introduce myself and tell my story. From here on out I will focus on various topics throughout the world of sports card collecting. This blog will examine "20 Things That Have Changed Our Hobby n the Last 20 Years". This list will feature items #20-15.To say that one item on the list is somehow more or less important than another would not only be a matter of opinion but would also be unfair as each item has had a significant impact on the hobby that we love. This industry is very much a, "Follow the Leader" business. When one company comes up with a concept, the other companies must also follow suit to keep up. Losing market share is not an option. I hope my list of 20 items reminds us of how far this hobby has evolved and hopefully the list gives everyone some food for thought. Let's get to it.....
#20 - Upper Deck Introduces the First Premium Trading Card Product - In 1989 a new card company broke through into the mainstream with quite a splash. The company, Upper Deck, was advertising their product as the first premium sports card product. The price per pack/box was much higher than their counterparts: Topps, Donruss, Fleer, and Score. The card stock felt different. The wrappers of the packs were foil, not wax paper. Sticks of chewing gum were replaced with team logo holograms. Even each card featured a small hologram on the back to prevent the card from being counterfeited. In 1991 Topps followed suit with their "Premium" Stadium Club product and Fleer also introduced Ultra. The next year Score went premium with their 1992 Pinnacle product. This year, Upper Deck, is celebrating their 20th Anniversary. Some folks thought they would never last. As you read this list, think about how many of these 20 items were brought to us by Upper Deck. Did they change the industry? Without a doubt! Who is to say that some of these innovations may never have come about if it were up to the other companies. Would the industry even exist today? Regardless of what happens in the next 20 years, there is no mistaking that Upper Deck changed how the game was played when it came to producing sports cards.
#19 - Certified Autographs - In 1990 Upper Deck introduced the "Find the Reggie" campaign with randomly inserted autographed cards of "Mr. October" Reggie Jackson in their baseball product. Collectors everywhere were ripping those foil wrappers off trying to be the lucky one to receive an autograph of the noted slugger. Jackson signed far more cards than most players would sign today for a card release, but that was just an indication of the mass production of that era. Still these autographed cards were rare finds and valuable. Upper Deck has always been very innovative with the concepts that they incorporate into their products. Whether or not they understood the long term impact this would have on the hobby isn't known, however there is no denying that this autograph program was the first mainstream major trading card product to feature such a concept. It also paved the way for the autograph frenzy that followed.
#18 - Serial-Numbered Cards - I still remember opening packs of Donruss baseball in the mid 90s hoping for an Elite Series insert. It didn't matter who the card was of, all the Elite Series were valuable. Flip one of those cards over and you'd see exactly how many of each card had been printed. Better yet, you knew exactly which card in that print run you were holding. The serial-numbering on these rare inserts were something that sparked an idea in the mind of most collectors. It made those cards seem even more rare, even more special, more sought after, which equates to more valuable. Looking back I believe these cards were numbered to 10,000. The fact that these were so hard to pull coupled with the 10,000 card print run should have been a clue as to just how much of these products were printed. However, it was a simpler time. A time when collectors wanted something new. Serial numbering was definitely something new that gave chase cards more appeal. It also paved the way for more serial numbered cards that followed in quantities from 10,000 to just 1 copy each.
#17 - Minor Leaguers Included in Major League Products - In 1989 Topps who had acquired the intellectual property of their rival from the late 1940s-early 1950s, Bowman, began to produce cards under the Bowman name. That first 1989 set was a throwback of sorts as it was oversized compared to modern cards. That was a tip of the cap to the cards produced from 1952-1956. The cards were simple in design. Contained mostly posed photos with only a few action shots. Another interesting concept that Bowman introduced was the inclusion of Minor Leaguers and recent Draft Picks in their Major League uniforms. This had been done here and there with some blue chip top prospects in other products, but not to this extent. In 1990 Bowman returned to "normal" sized cards and included even more players no one had ever heard of. This trend continued throughout the 90s. Bowman became known as "The Home of the Rookie Card" and now their Draft Picks and Prospect cards dominate the hot list in the baseball market.
#16 - Topps Introduces the Industry to Refractor Parallels - In 1993 Topps had introduced another "premium" product called Finest. These Finest cards were the coolest looking cards ever made up to that point. They also had different versions of each card. Some of them were called refractors and when you tilted them in the light the card surface would exhibit a rainbow appearance. Collectors went wild for these new inserts. Some wondered if they were inserts at all? Had Topps made a mistake and printed some cards with a different front? The truth is that Topps knew exactly what they were doing. The had actually introduced the hobby to parallels the previous year in 1992 with the gold parallels in their products. Finest refractors incited a craze that still rages today. Those 1993 Finest Refractors are still sought by collectors. Today parallels are a staple of almost every card product. No matter what nothing will ever be as cool or have the impact that refractors have had. We have Topps to thank or blame (depending on your position on the issue of parallels) for this hobby innovation.
#15 - One Hit Per Pack Concept Shakes the Hobby - In 1990 Upper Deck introduced the mainstream hobby world to pack inserted autographed cards. In 1996 Donruss took this concept to another level with 1996 Leaf Signature Series. This product featured one or more autographs per pack and could be considered the first high end card product. Collectors loved the fact that each pack had an autograph in it and they didn't mind shelling out big bucks for packs of this product. Looking back over the checklist, there were far more commons than big names. That is still the case today with these type products. The idea of perceived value on the part of the consumer made this one a winner. This concept as we now know has been taken to yet another level with products like Exquisite, National Treasures, and Topps Sterling but it all started with this landmark release in 1996.
#14 - Upper Deck Bases a Product Around Legends and Retired Players - Upper Deck had introduced certified autographs in 1990. In 1997 they took that concept and applied it to elite veteran players and retired greats. 1997 Upper Deck Legends Football was born. Upper Deck had shown it's appreciation of sports history with various insert sets over the years that payed homage to some of sports biggest names. However, this was the first product made up entirely of retired greats. Could these guys that had been out of the spotlight for years carry a product on their name value alone? The result was a resounding yes! Although this product didn't sell well right away it slowly found its niche and set the standard for all Legends based products that followed including the very popular Fleer Greats of the Game releases. Card companies realized that collectors enjoyed pulling autographs of retired legends and Hall of Famers. Once that light bulb came on, it has burned brightly since!
#13 - Game Used Memorabilia Cards - No list of hobby innovations would be complete without the mention of this landmark concept. The idea had been around in the racing card market on a small scale for a couple of years but Upper Deck took the concept to the next level with their 1996 Football product. Ten players had jersey cards in this product. Many of those players are now Hall of Famers. The beauty of these first game used gems is still evident today. The following year, Donruss tried the game use concept with a special Frank Thomas Collection insert series in their Leaf product. Also that year Upper Deck brought the concept to their baseball product. Just like the first pack inserted autograph card, these cards featuring a little square swatch of fabric cut from the player's game worn jersey were very hard to pull, 1:800 packs. Upper Deck used this idea as a test concept. It was a bonus of sorts in the 1997 Upper Deck baseball product. There were only three players that had these type cards produced, Ken Griffey Jr, Tony Gwynn, and Rey Ordonez. When the company saw how popular this idea was amongst collectors, another great idea was born. It was another 2-3 years before these cards returned in a big way and became a staple of every card product produced. Now GU cards are everywhere. They are so common that we don't even get excited when we pull one from a pack anymore. Perhaps the card companies gave us too much of what we wanted too fast. This concept forever changed the trading card industry. Some say that change was for the better, others argue that it was for the worse. This concept helped facilitate some of the more unpleasant things in our hobby like pack searching. However, on the whole, game used memorabilia cards are the very reason many of us collect today. What will the next game changing innovation be? Only time will tell.......
Join me next time for items #12-6.