Topps Heritage: The Review

Author: Matt Warburg

To start with, I should thank Mario & Topps for arranging for me to receive a free box to review. Although I have collected Heritage on and off since its inception (2001-2005, 2007, 2009), for reasons which will become clear later in the review this is the first box I have ripped since 2005.

To start with, the base cards and checklist are good but unspectacular. My only quibble would be the fact that both Tim Lincecum and both David Wright cards are SP’s. Being an issue based on a previous release, you know exactly what you are getting in terms of design, although I have to say that I find the player photographs to be rather uninspiring due to the fact that almost all of them are posed shots rather than action photos in keeping with the original design. The only photo that struck me as being particularly horrible was the one of Jim Thome, and the airbrushing was done very skillfully for those players who changed teams during the offseason.

The main problem I have with Heritage, and the primary reason I do not buy boxes any more, is number of SP’s and how they are seeded. With 75 SP’s in the set, and only eight per box, you are looking at 10+ boxes (assuming near-perfect collation) costing $600-700 to acquire enough SP’s to complete the set by ripping wax and trading, something that is both patently ridiculous and decidedly unaffordable. So Topps: either reduce the number of SP’s and/or increase the seeding ratios!!! If you want to continue having 75 SP’s per set, then seed them 1:1 so that three boxes would get you 72 out of the 75 SP’s. Alternatively, reduce the number of SP’s to 50, but seed them 1:2, so that four boxes would get you 48 out of the 50 SP’s. Either option would make it much more affordable for collectors to complete the set solely through buying wax boxes, which would then encourage collectors to do so and increase sales. Given that it currently takes only $200-300 to complete the set using Ebay versus about $1000 using wax boxes alone, many collectors such as myself don’t even bother to buy any boxes when building the set.

The other issue I have with Topps Heritage are the inserts, which I find to be rather boring and uninteresting. Given that most Heritage collectors buy the product primarily to complete the set, there is really no need to have seven different insert sets (Baseball Flashbacks, News Flashbacks, Then & Now, New Age Performers, Chromes, Dice Game, and Babe Ruth 61) plus relics and autographs. I’d get rid of everything except the Chromes, which are fairly popular, and make the Baseball Flashbacks and Then & Now inserts subsets within the regular set (like the Baseball Thrills subset), instead. News Flashbacks have no place in a baseball set, and the New Age Performers not only look virtually identical from year to year, but seem to be an insert set without a theme (the two I got from this box were Tommy Hanson, a hot rookie, and Albert Pujols, a nine-year veteran superstar, two players with absolutely nothing in common).

As to the relic and autograph cards, the less said the better. The autograph checklist is absolutely horrible, with only four HOFers, only eight current players, and twenty-four retired nobodies, and let’s face it….nobody buys Heritage for the relics. Mine was a swatch of Kevin Millwood’s pants, which I’m not sure I could give away even if I tried. So Topps…if you are going to do relics in Heritage, at least limit them to HOFers whose jerseys/pants/bats are actually scarce and somewhat valuable. As the owner of my local card store put it, “…nothing quite beats the thrill of pulling a 1:367 autograph except discovering that the guy you pulled (Bobby Malkmus in his case) was a career .215 hitter with a whopping 8 career home runs and 123 lifetime hits.” And enough with the seat relics…those got boring about two weeks after the first one came out ten years ago.

As to the “dice game” cards, my comment would be that while they are an interesting idea, it was poorly executed. At eighteen cards, and seeded 1:72, there is no hope of completing the set, and the fronts would have been much more interesting had they used different photos than each player’s regular card. The fifteen-card Babe Ruth insert set is pathetically lame, as evidenced that completed sets are going for about $1 each on Ebay, if they even sell at all.

The bottom line is this: out of the 192 cards in the box I opened, only 170 of them helped me to accomplish my primary goal of completing the set. As good as the cards often look, that doesn’t change the fact that Topps Heritage makes it way too difficult and expensive for collectors to complete the set. This is why both I and many other collectors choose not to buy Topps Heritage wax boxes and instead choose to complete the set via Ebay, where a base set can usually be had for about $20-30, and the SP’s for about $2-3 each. Right now, Topps Heritage is a good base product cluttered by too many pointless insert sets, lousy relics/autos, and overly numerous and stingily seeded SP’s. Make it easier and more affordable for collectors to complete the set, and it becomes the best set out there.

Grades:

Base set – B

Inserts – D

Cost of completing the set solely through buying wax – $600-$1000

Overall grade – C

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Supply, demand, and the question of scarcity

Author: Matt W.

One of the things that I have always found a little bit puzzling about collectors given how much money they spend on cards is how little they seem to understand the basic tenets of microeconomics, i.e. the laws of supply and demand. But then, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised, given that large sections of the public seem to exhibit little understanding of economics as well.

The biggest mistake I see most collectors make is to assume that scarcity automatically confers value, as if demand does not even enter into the equation. Currently this is manifesting itself primarily in the fetish for 1/1 cards, which although scarce individually, are not overall. For example, there are currently over just under fifty-five hundred different 1/1 cards available for sale on Ebay (yes, that’s not a typo…I said almost 5,500), including 36 different Pujols 1/1’s, 37 different Jeter 1/1’s, 58 different Peyton Manning 1/1’s, 39 different Brett Favre 1/1’s, 77 different Kobe Bryant 1/1’s, 102 different LeBron James 1/1’s, and even 112 different Michael Jordan 1/1’s. So while each individual card may indeed be scarce, it is quite clear that in the aggregate they are not, especially considering that those currently up for sale on Ebay probably represent only a small fraction of those actually in existence.

The question I have for those collectors madly bidding up many of these cards to ridiculous prices is where they think demand for them is going to come from in the future? Those of us who have been collecting for many years have seen many hobby fads both come and go, and know that most cards peak in value immediately after their release and go steadily downhill from there. But what collectors seem to be ignoring is the fact that the overall supply of 1/1 cards, just like any other item that continues to be produced and does not wear out, is only going to increase in the future. This means that the only way that prices can hold steady is if demand continues to keep pace with supply, something that is relatively unlikely to happen. After all, given the impossibility of completing a 1/1 set from a given product, demand isn’t going to come from set collectors. And demand from player collectors is probably also going to weaken over time as they are presented with more and more choices of which 1/1 cards to buy. So the real question becomes one of who is going to want these cards a year or two down the road once new products have been released and demand for the current hot product has waned.

What’s also not surprising is that collectors of some of the other hot items of the day such as memorabilia and signature cards also seem to have failed to realize that the true supply of the items that they believe are scarce and are therefore paying through the nose for is also for the most part unlimited. Consider that virtually any player currently living, be they a scrub or a HOFer, has not only already signed thousands of items, but barring an untimely death, will sign thousands more items in the future. Most living all-time greats such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Joe Namath, Johnny Unitas, Jim Brown, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Bill Russell, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Wayne Gretzky, and Mario Lemieux have autographs that can easily be found for around $50. Even now deceased all-time greats such as Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and Joe DiMaggio signed so many items before their death that their autographs can be easily found for under $100. Kinda makes you wonder what the guys paying hundreds of dollars for “scarce” signature cards of the next hot rookie are thinking, doesn’t it? And last time I checked, there wasn’t too much of a natural limit on the supply of “xxx-worn” jerseys either, even ones with laundry tags, cool patches, and four-color swatches.

The bottom line is this. The supply of just about anything currently being produced is only going to increase over time, be it 1/1 cards, autographs, or other types of memorabilia cards. Demand for these items, on the other hand, is in most cases going to wane over time. So to all those collectors out these spending hundreds of dollars on supposedly “scarce” cards of the latest hot products and players, ask yourself this: In two or three years (or heck, even in six months), who is going to want the card you just paid hundreds of dollars for badly enough to pay you even more for it?

Just remember that supply is only half the equation…prices are a function of both SUPPLY and DEMAND, not just one or the other.

Is there any current wax that is NOT overpriced?

Author: Matt W.

So here’s a question. Take a look at these two cards:

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What’s the difference? Not much of one, is there? Similar design, similar quality card stock…pretty much identical in every respect.

But there is one huge difference. The card on the left, a 1984 Fleer, retailed for about two cents a card (15 cards and a sticker for 30 cents). In contrast, the card on the right, a 2004 Fleer Platinum, retailed for about 30 cents per card (7 cards for $1.99). That’s right, despite being virtually identical, and despite the fact that cumulative inflation over that twenty year period was about 70 percent, the card on the right had a retail price approximately 15 times (1500%) the card on the left. The question you have to ask yourself is why?

The only real difference between the two issues is the fact that the latter issue not only has base cards, but is also stuffed to the gills with inserts (twelve different ones if you are counting). And those inserts have to be paid for, despite the fact that in many cases buyers generally don’t really want them. After all, designing twelve different insert sets, securing and organizing the necessary autographs and relics, and making the auto and relic cards all cost real money, even if the end customer often doesn’t want them.

The bigger issue is the fact that virtually every single product suffers from the same problem…endless inserts, parallels, autographs, and relics that few collectors actually want. A perfect example of this was last year’s Goodwin release by Upper Deck. It was a gorgeous set with terrific visual appeal, but was extremely expensive at $2 per five card pack. Factor in the fact that one of those cards was a mini card, and now you’re looking at a retail price of 50 cents per base card. Combine the price with the zillions different insert sets, 60 SP’s, and the fact that many of the cards were of people that nobody really cared about (Evelyn Ng, Lyndon Johnson, Carey Price, Anderson Silva, Chad Reed, Chuck Liddell, Gerry Lopez, Laird Hamilton, etc.), and you end up with a gorgeous looking but rather overpriced product. Perhaps that’s why many collectors such as myself decided to bypass the retail product altogether and buy singles and sets on Ebay instead!

The good news is that there is a solution staring the manufacturers right in the face. They already have two separate distribution channels (retail and hobby), so why not create two different product configurations, one for distribution through each channel? For example, the retail product could be configured for set-builders like me, with packs containing only base cards and SP’s and retailing for an inexpensive 99 cents per eight or ten card pack. The hobby product could be priced much higher, and would feature both the base cards as well as the full array of inserts, thus giving all types of collectors an option priced to fit their collecting needs.

The bottom line is this. Unless collectors feel that they are getting good value for their money, they are not going to buy your product. And right now there are far too few products being released which are delivering good value for money.