Recently, a friend had reached out asking about a Derek Jeter rookie card his son had gotten in an old set of 1993 Topps and wondered about it and the variations. I’ll get messages from time to time similar to this as friends kids are now getting in to cards or they find an old box of cards in their basement. It got me thinking how much has changed over the years since I started collecting when I was nine. I hadn’t really thought much about it when my dad bought me a couple packs during the 1984 baseball season and the Tigers magical run, but by the time the team won the series, I was into full baseball mode.
I started in ’85 buying packs from the corner party store and come summer we were headed on a two week camping trip around Michigan. Dad game me $20 and told me to keep an eye open for something that would keep me occupied during down times of the trip. I ended up buying what was left of a box from the store and tore through the cards. At the time there were three companies producing cards with Topps being the mainstay since the early 1950’s and Donruss and Fleer coming along and breaking the card monopoly in 1981. In 1985, the party store only carried Topps but from sounds of it, Fleer and Donruss were almost as easily available.
I’ve posted numerous articles from other sites of what came next as the baseball card industry started to boom in the mid-to-late 1980’s and card companies started over producing like crazy. Score entered the baseball card scene and then the game changed came in 1989 with Upper Deck with its premium card and photography quality. I remember my dad coming home telling me that he had just prepaid for a box of a new card company which commanded a whopping $27 a box at the time.
I always remember that with now five card companies, I was able to tell you the price of the card as I would remember prices, sets, etc. from the price guides. Then 1990 comes along and Donruss release of Leaf another premium set, then Stadium Club in ‘91 and so on and so on. The product releases swelled to over 50 in the early 2000’s.
In 1991, the card companies started adding “inserts” in to packs of cards which were not part of the typical 660, 792, or 800 card base set. Inserts weren’t really new to the hobby as rack packs and cello packs in the 80’s had inserts of All-Stars, rookies, etc., however Topps started including “gold foil” stamped inserts into packs, while Fleer was rookie sensations, and Donruss had Diamond Kings. These cards were produced with smaller print runs making them theoretically more valuable.
Upper Deck upped the game starting in 1997 with inserts of cards that included game-used jerseys and equipment and Fleer started inserting 1-of-1 cards in its Flair set.
All these sets and competition made for a tough time with Pinnacle brands closing their doors in 1998, Pacific folded in 2001, Fleer went bankrupt in 2005 and was eventually purchased by Upper Deck. Major League baseball then in 2009 had announced that it had entered in to an exclusive licensing agreement with Topps, ending Upper Decks license in 2010.
Other changes that have defined the hobby is the rookie card rule, which Major League Baseball changed in 2006 and dictated that cards could not carry the official Rookie Card logo unless that player had met the guidelines (typically playing in the Majors). Despite that, Topps brands still release prospects or first card subsets in products like Bowman.
Today, Topps is the only licensed manufacture; however Panini releases cards under various names such as Donruss, Leaf, etc. Which carry the players’ names but not the team logos as they do not have the MLB license, but have an MLBPA license.
Regardless of it just being Topps having the MLB license, they released 30 products last year and when adding Panini, it swells to over 50.
Now days you can count on at least one autograph or jersey/equipment (relic) card in every box, however depending on which set, you may find numerous autograph/relics in those boxes and of course prices vary based on the amount of those inserts. Typically a box of Topps (there are 2 series, plus and update series) will have one auto or relic in it and will run roughly around $60 for a box. Then there are the mid-range boxes like Topps Allen & Ginter that have 3 autos or relics, along with other inserts and then those run about $100 a box. The new trend seems to be high end boxes like Topps Five Star. These “boxes” have a total of 6 cards which were all autographs or relics with boxes costing around $300.
One of the other big changes since I started collecting is the grading services. You send a card in, pay a fee,and it comes back in a heavy-duty case with a grade on it scaling from 1-10. Cards with higher grades tend to be more valuable as a 10 is rated as Gem Mint or Pristine depending on which company.
As you can see, so much has changed over the years and if you’re looking to get back in it whether it’s for yourself or kids, my advice would be to take it slow to start. Buy Topps or Bowman, pick up a price guide, and enjoy! Then you can jump in things like Topps Five Star and call me to watch you open it 🙂