Forgotten Wax – 1996 Fleer Ultra

26 11 2009

Thanks to the price of the average Hobby box going through the roof and a long-slumping economy, collectors have suddenly found new interest in those forgotten wax boxes from the mid-90’s, in hopes of pulling rare inserts.

By 1996’s standards, Fleer Ultra was nothing special. Even back then, brands like Topps Finest, Select Certified, and SPx had all the collectors buzzing thanks to true “high-end” technology.

It’s only now, thirteen years after its release, that one can truly appreciate the greatness of 1996 Fleer Ultra. For starters, the checklist is 600-cards deep and features pretty much everyone who suited up for a game in 1996.

The parallel is flashy and a bit over the top but you won’t need to track down fifteen different versions. It’s simply an exact copy of the base card but with a thick, gold background.

Each base card features not one or two but three photographs of the player featured on the card. Find me one single release in the past three years that even has two photographs on the card back, let alone three.

Where Ultra really shines, however, is with the inserts. You could bust an entire case (doubt you’d find one today) and still not get tired of the inserts as there are 18 different kinds to pull.

While some of those 18 inserts have not aged well, many of them still look and feel fresh, like the ‘Hitting Machine’ insert. Seeded just 1:288 packs, the 10-card checklist features superstars like Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas.

Fleer Ultra is almost perfect except for the fact it’s missing two very popular elements collectors can’t seem to live without: autographs and game-used relics. Aside from that, I’d highly recommend this product to any collector and fan of the game of baseball.

As for the Ultra brand, it was last seen as a disastrous “high-end” release in 2007. Since then, Upper Deck, who bought Fleer when they filed for bankruptcy, has retired the name in their baseball line-up.

Who else thinks that 2010 is a perfect time to resurrect the Fleer name and tradition? If they can follow in the steps of 1996 Ultra and not the terrible 2007 version, they could have a surprise hit on their hands next year.


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11 responses

26 11 2009
SteveTX

I’d love to see the Fleer brand revived, either as a 1963 re-do (similar to Heritage) or using some of the memorable designs from the 80s and 90s.

If there’s one thing the OPC set proved, it’s that there’s a market for a retro themed product *with a low price point) for the set collectors out there. Fleer could be another great addition to the hobby–they just need to know what market they want to go for (whether it’s the high-end collectors or set builders).

26 11 2009
SteveTX

PS- Happy Thanksgiving, Mario!

26 11 2009
Ryan Cracknell

I love the Gold Medallion design from 1996. The base design – the fonts are very off-putting, although the photography is nice. The Call to the Hall inserts are a favorite of mine. I’m slowly piecing it together as I come across them.

Honestly, though, I’ll be happy if Ultra remains retired. It was killed by too many inserts. I’d be fine if bits and pieces came back via inserts, but there’s no reason to bring back every old brand. Ultra was really just Fleer’s version of Stadium Club or Upper Deck’s base set.

26 11 2009
Chris Harris

While thumbing through some commons (to finish various sets) at a Hobby shop down here in VA, and came across a ’96 Ultra sell-sheet. Reading it 13 years later, you realize just how much The Hobby has changed.

BTW, the Hitting Machines were case hits.

27 11 2009
Chris Payatag

Back then, I think they just put more time into making sets instead of just churning out sets.

Why no mention of the 1996 Fleer Ultra basketball edition? In my mind, the set is such a classic and design holds up so well that I am surprised they haven’t done a retro set of the design yet. The Michael Jordan card is a thing of beauty.

Another forgotten wax classic would be the 1994 collectors choice cards. The gold chase cards were so cool and understated.

27 11 2009
Newspaperman

I think those Hitting Machine cards are ugly, IMO.

I still think 92 Ultra was pretty badass, first time Fleer went glossy cards for the brand, and those inserts are white hot. The gloss on top of those black border made the cards look like they were etched in marble. The All-Star and award winner cards were crazy on the secondary market, and the all-rookie team cards of Pat Listach, Kenny Lofton and Eric Karros were dynamite. That set also was like 600 cards deep.

96 was OK. The backs look a bit like 93 Flair with the multi-photos.

27 11 2009
cynicalbuddha

I have to agree with newspaperman again the 92 ultra was pretty great. But I rememeber pulling a Frank Thomas Hitting Machine from the 96 Ultra and thought I had struck gold. I still have that card. Remember with the Big Hurt was so kick ass?? But your right Mario the multiple inserts were great and it would be nice to see a Fleer resurrection. I just hope UD can do it justice. Too bad Topps can’t come up with some better inserts, the cheerleaders set comes to mind as to whaaa? Not that they aren’t nice to look at but jeez come on.

27 11 2009
zEphyr

OMG! Its like i have waited for this post! It gets me started hehe…
Back then i bought alot of packs of Fleer Ultra (’95 though) (im from germany) and STILL FREAKING LOVE the inserts. ..Diamond producers, the All-Star set, Prime leather, Hitting machines, Power plus (AWESOME looking insert), MVP’s, Top Prospects and many more I cant think of the name right now at work.

The first three packs I bought in the local card store were Hot Packs! First I thought wtf is going on here that cant be (never pulled a hot pack before), until the shop owner enlightened me hehe.
The packs went for middle-upper pirce range. What I wanna say is they look very nice, feature the most decent players for the time, but are worth shit nowadays! Well for me they are worth something, from time to time I pull them out, look at them and think back of the nice time I had in the small card shop trading with friends and discuss the latest emotes with shop owner.

27 11 2009
Bryan

I like the base cards, esp. the back of them.
I would appreciate a set like this these days.
Maybe it could be a low end product without a lot of hits made for set builders.
It shouldn’t be 600 cards though.

27 11 2009
Jeff

I don’t think we appreciated the 90’s Fleer products when they came out. But now looking back on them, overall, they are very interesting. Good, large base sets covering most of the players for the year with not much filler, and interesting insert sets. I would like to get a hold of some unopened boxes of Fleer from the mid-90’s to open and put the sets together.

12 06 2010
Marilyn

Looking for some advice/opinions on whether to try selling some Fleer cards on ebay or taking them to a store. It’s a box of 1996 Fleer Ultra Series 1, box is open, 24 packs of cards are unopened. These are the find the RBI King card and look for wood, leather, and crystal insert cards.

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