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.

A Day of Fun at the Dania Card Show

Author: Mario Alejandro

For a collector of sports cards, there’s just nothing quite like attending a well-organized and active card show. As popular as collecting is on the Internet thanks to popular message boards and blogs, it just isn’t that huge in every state.

For example, in the early 90s I had four card shops within a 30 minute drive for me to choose from. Today, there is just one within 30 miles and 75% of the shop is dedicated to comic books. That’s why I absolute love checking out the monthly Dania Card Show run by Lou.

My only time attending the show was early last year. Unfortunately, it was under the worst of circumstances. For starters, I only had about $15 dollars to spend and thanks to the facilities’ awesome nachos, I was left with about $7 dollars to work with.

After hours of going through boxes hoping to find a Jose Canseco card I needed (I found one the entire day), I severely injured my back thanks to hours of crouching over short tables and ended up at a local hospital barely able to move all the while getting bitched out by my significant other.

This time around, I was fortunate enough to have a fresh C-note to work with just in case by some miracle someone brings along a box of Jose Canseco cards I might need. I also went sans the significant other and while that may be just a little depressing, at least I can take comfort in those nachos.

Show Review:

Atmosphere – B+

Lots of collectors, young and old and a surprising amount of females made their way to the Dania Card Show. Some of the dealers seemed less than thrilled to be there, though.

Variety of products – A

Tons of new, unopened box and “junk” wax to be found, as well as modern and vintage cards. There were even unexpected items like G1 Transformers and original GI Joe figures, as well as sports related books and signed memorabilia.

Overall – A

This show was much bigger than the one I attended in May of 2008 and had plenty of collectors buying and selling. As expected, new wax was overpriced but there were plenty of deals to be found on autographs and game-used relics. If you collect popular guys like Ripken Jr. and Pujols, you could have spent thousands of dollars.

Below is a few of the pictures snapped by my trusty camera. Thanks to Lou for putting on another awesome show for South Florida collectors. You can expect some much better photos from the 2010 Marlins Fan Fest next week.

The Five Elements of Good Card Design

Author: Matt W.

So here’s the question. What makes you want to buy a card? Obviously, if you are a player or team collector, the player or team featured on the card will be significant factors in guiding your decision. Giants’ fans like myself generally don’t have too much interest in buying cards of Dodgers (unless it’s an old Steve Garvey card to stick on the dartboard). But those factors aside, I would argue that the overriding factor, at both a conscious and subconscious level, is the design of the card. Simply put, does the damn thing look good?

One of the more noticeable trends over the past decade has been the rise of retro-themed sets. While more than a few collectors deride retro sets, there’s a reason for their popularity. Quite simply, the older designs which these cards are based upon are generally far superior from a purely graphical standpoint than most new designs. Topps Heritage didn’t just take the hobby by storm by accident. It has been successful because many of the early Topps designs belong in the graphical design Hall of Fame. Even today, sixty-five years later, the 1954, 1955, and 1956 Topps baseball sets are probably the three best-looking baseball sets ever created, and why the 1955 Topps All-American, 1955 Bowman, and 1956 Topps football sets are among the most popular football sets of all time.

So the real question is what these designs all have in common:

1. The player image dominates the appearance of the card

2. They use bright and vivid colors

3. The cards have defined borders (although the 1954 design works just as well as a full-bleed design because the background is a single solid block of color)

4. The player and team names are easily readable, and two of the three designs (1954 and 1955) also incorporate team logos

5. The card numbers on the back are easily readable

And as you might guess from the title of this post, these are also what I consider to be the five principles of good card design. Now before you say to yourself “oh, he’s full of it”, ask yourself this. Which do you like better….1955 Topps or 1955 Bowman?

1967 Topps or 1968 Topps?

Why do you think that 1975 Topps is by far the most popular Topps set of the 70’s? Even looking more recently, why do you think that 2009 Topps was so much more popular than 2009 Upper Deck?

I’ll bet that every time, you chose the design that best adheres to the five principles.

Now, while principles #1, #2, #4, and #5 are pretty straightforward, some of you may take issue with principle #3. Do cards really need to have borders to look nice? Well, my response would be to wonder why it is that people frame photographs. The answer is that for some unknown reason, our visual cortex likes the idea of having a defined boundary. This is why we think most images look nicer framed. That said, full-bleed designs can look good, but generally only under one condition, namely when there is a large amount of contrast between the player image and the background, such as with 1954-55 Topps Hockey, the first series of 1969 Topps football, 1993 Fleer GameDay football and the 1993 Score Franchise inserts.

One area where this is been most apparent is in the design of Upper Deck cards. Up until 1993, Upper Deck cards featured both borders and gorgeous photography. However, 1993 was the year in which Richard McWilliam forced out the original founders of Upper Deck, the result of which was an immediate switch to full-bleed designs and an increased use of foil (which should never be used for lettering unless against a high-contrast background like in 2009 Topps), the result of which has been fifteen years worth of cluttered and garish designs with difficult to read lettering (note to Upper Deck, as anybody who has dabbled in photography or graphic design can tell you, the key to good design/composition is simplicity, not clutter).

Now although I feel that the industry as a whole is struggling mightily, one aspect that I find promising is the renewed emphasis on good design by collectors. Gellman, over at Sports Cards Uncensored, routinely slams poorly designed relic and autograph cards, and many other bloggers have become increasingly critical of lackluster designs such as 2009 Goudey (whose artwork was a pale shadow of the 2008 version), or Topps’ 2010 National Chicle.

Or think of it another way, consider which sets and cards have remained the most popular over the years? It’s the well-designed ones which people still enjoy looking at. There aren’t too many people with a 1970 Topps card on their mantelpiece, but I bet that there are more than a few with a nice 1956 Topps sitting there.

Upper Deck: Where Do We Go From Here?

Author: Mario Alejandro

It looks like I picked a perfect time to walk away from blogging about the sports cards industry. In my short time away, Upper Deck was sued by Konami for an unforgivable act, released the final 2009 products with logos in full view, and were sued by Major League Properties just days after 2010 Upper Deck Baseball Series One began to hit stores.

I haven’t had an opportunity to view any 2010 products in person but judging by scans, this year’s non-licensed U.D release looks sharper than Topps’ flagship, even without a license. On the other hand, Topps’ flagship is no slouch and although there is officially no apparent competition, they seemed to have put in quite an effort to please collectors.

I have long been a supporter of Upper Deck products because they came out of nowhere and crushed the competition in 1989. Not only that, they introduced to the hobby game-used relics and pack-inserted autographs. Although both these gimmicks are now extremely overused and dull in my eyes, their entrance into the card market forced Topps, Fleer, and Donruss to step up their game.

With that said, this counterfeiting lawsuit made me lose all respect for the current version of Upper Deck. I’ve read ‘Card Sharks’ and even had a chance to interview the author of the highly controversial and eye-opening book and something inside of me wanted to believe those acts by the Carlsbad, California company were long gone, never to appear again.

I have nothing against creative use of logos in non-licensed products. These recent Upper Deck releases (Ultimate, Stars, 2010) look better than anything produced by a non-licensed company. To me, Topps vs. Upper Deck is a war and clearly U.D wants to do everything in their power to win — even if it does bring in even more lawsuits.

However, when the word “counterfeit” enters the equation, there is just no excuse and in my eyes and thousands of collectors’ eyes, Upper Deck will not get a free pass this time around. What they have done (and were forced to settle) is despicable and sadly makes me question the authenticity of all Upper Deck products from this point on.

I’ve always wondered about how easy it would be for a company to lie to collectors. In a time of an economic downturn and with a seemingly endless supply of lawsuits being hurled their way, what’s to stop Upper Deck from using leftover memorabilia and labeling it a “Babe Ruth Game-Used Bat”, for example?

Come to think of it, what’s to stop Topps or Panini from doing the same thing? It’s this kind of negative publicity that will make collectors stop trusting the card companies and help them decide to take their money and business someplace else. If Upper Deck does survive the latest rounds of lawsuits, they owe every collector an apology.

I will admire the beauty that is 2010 Upper Deck but it comes with a bittersweet taste.

The Introduction of Matt W.

Author: Matt W.

My name is Matt and I have an addiction. I’m addicted to little pieces of cardboard with pictures of professional athletes on them. Now while this seems completely normal to me, it is rather incomprehensible to my wife, something only partially explained by the fact that she was born in China. After all, she’s probably not the only woman in the world who thinks that spending hundreds of dollars on little pieces of cardboard is crazy. But then, I’m probably not the only guy out their wondering why women need sixty-five zillion pairs of shoes and a purse for every day of the week!

Anyway, much like ToddUncommon, Mario and I have also been talking for a while about my doing some guest blogging on Wax Heaven while he is preparing for his comeback. Those of you who have been loyal Wax Heaven readers will know me from the comments section as mfw13, and while you may not agree with what I have to say, I hope you will nevertheless enjoy my commentary and find it thought-provoking.

What is my background, you might ask? Well, aside from having a rather gorgeous Chinese wife, I’m a native San Franciscan currently living in Seattle who is a die-hard Giants and Sharks fan. I first started collecting cards in 1977 (the first card I ever pulled from a wax pack was Larvell Blanks), and although my fervor has waxed and waned, I’ve never really stopped collecting. My favorite players include Willie McCovey, Bob Brenly, Will Clark, Arturs Irbe, Mike Ricci, and Ronnie Lott, and while I am primarily a set collector, I also collect Topps test issues from the 60’s and 70’s and well as unopened rack and cello packs with stars showing. Recently completed collecting projects include the 1977 Topps Mexican football set (a story for another post) and the 1971 Kellogg’s baseball set, and current projects include the 1961 Fleer basketball set (only need four cards) and the 1969 Topps Team Posters set.

So anyway…here goes….hope you all enjoy my posts!