How Fleer Won the Parallel Battle but Lost the War

In the height of this blog’s popularity, Topps’ Superfractor parallel ruled the hobby. It was a craze which I didn’t understand. Looking back, I see it was all about the “1 of 1” and essentially having the best parallel, from the most popular brand of any given prospect that was hot at the time. These days, Topps has mixed things up quite a bit to keep collectors from getting Superfractor burnout. Panini America also has their own version of the Superfractor, which is like the Walmart version of a Target product. The “Gold Vinyl” cards look good, I suppose, but Panini came to the party WAY too late.

Ironically, while Panini America clearly ripped off Topps’ Superfractor design, the true Godfather of the Superfractor, in my opinion, comes from 1992 Donruss Elite inserts. Why is that ironic? Because Panini America owns and uses the Donruss license so technically, they kinda, sorta are just ripping themselves off.

One company who could never be accused of stealing, Fleer Trading Cards, produced what is one of the most beautiful and well-done parallels of all time and perhaps most tragic of all, they only used this particular design for one year with 1998 Metal Universe. Precious Metal Gems were #’d to 50, ridiculously hard to pull from packs but if you were lucky enough to find one, you would never forget the day. Unfortunately, by the time 1999 Metal Universe rolled around, the Precious Metal Gem parallel was completely overhauled. It was just as rare but with a toned-down overall appearance. In 2000, the parallel was discontinued along with the “Metal” brand altogether.

Fleer / Skybox had something really special on their hands with both the Metal Universe brand and its one of a kind Precious Metal Gems parallel. Today, a card numbered to 50 isn’t even considered rare but these Precious Metal Gems still rack up BIG NUMBERS on the secondary market. It seems once Marvel dumped Fleer in 1999 is when their cards lost that special magic. Fleer ceased all operations in 2005 but by that point they were just a shell of their former selves. Upper Deck bought them out in 2006 and produced a few products but with zero of the personality of the original Fleer / Skybox products.

It’s interesting that it was Upper Deck and not Topps that purchased Fleer because in 2000, Upper Deck produced a parallel called “Radiance” which looked a whole lot like the 1998 Precious Metal Gems. These cards weren’t as pretty as their Skybox inspiration and were twice as common (#’d to 100) but it was still a welcome card design that was an improvement over Upper Deck’s previous Radiance parallels featured in the dying SPx brand.

What’s exciting is the possibility of an Upper Deck return to baseball cards in 2021 with the Fleer license in tow and maybe, JUST maybe an open mind for some retro-themed products including a possible resurrection of the Metal Universe and those gorgeous Precious Metal Gems that still carry weight among collectors so many years after their abrupt disappearance from the world of baseball cards.

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