Monthly Archives: October 2017

Product Spotlight: 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic

A clear winner?

After being threatened with multiple iterations of Topps Archives Signature Series in 2017, it was a surprise to see the first $50/card autograph product turn out to be Clearly Authentic. Topps borrowed the Archives Signature Series format for what amounts to a Tek-style acetate autograph parallel of base 2017 Topps with reprint autographs like those previously seen in Tier One released under a name used in 2015 and 2016 for authenticated memorabilia cards in Strata. It’s a mishmash of elements from other products, but the end result is surprisingly coherent and straightforward. But is it enough to carry an entire product?

Card Design

The basics here are all familiar. The design of the cards themselves is straight out of base Topps. Unlike Tek, Clearly Authentic uses a black and white reverse negative photo for the back image. The background and the front player photo are subtly whitened in the autograph area, ensuring that the signature pops. The photos on the back are not similarly whitened and tend to bleed through in scans. The scans do not do these cards justice.

As with Archives Signature Series, all cards are encased in magnetic holders with foil sticker seals. The magnetic holders themselves are different from the BCW magnetics previously used for Archives Signature Series; these have no brand logo and are slightly larger in all three dimensions. Another change is that the magnets are all aligned to the same polarity so the enclosures can be stacked without pushing themselves apart. That really bugged me about Archives Signature Series, so it’s a nice little touch. The stickers are silver and are placed either over the magnetic clasp or to the right; there appears to be no pattern to the placement.

As with any encased card, the tradeoff for having a pristine card inside is damage to the case outside. The cards are placed directly into each box without a bag or sleeve for protection and most are scratched straight from the factory (note the marks on and around deGrom’s right arm above). It only gets worse when less thoughtful sellers mail the cards without putting them in a proper team bag first or use abrasive or adhesive materials for packaging. Redemptions are all packed in the same kind of holder without the seal. Presumably, the redeemed card will be encased, leaving you with a bonus magnetic holder for your trouble (plus a likely worthless bonus autograph card like Topps has been sending with redemptions lately).

Mets Selection

If you were hoping for anyone new or notable here, you haven’t been paying attention to premium Topps releases lately. It’s a small checklist, so only five Mets made the cut for the base set, all familiar signers: stars Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, Rookies Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo, and Steven Matz. Matz’s cards were issued as redemptions and only include Red, Blue, and Gold parallels, no base or Green parallels. Nothing to get excited about, but nothing terrible either.

Parallels

Each base card has four parallels: Green (numbered to 99), Red (numbered to 50), Blue (numbered to 25), and Gold (numbered 1/1). Coloring is done the same way as in base Topps, with the color in the area under the nameplate and in one or two bands placed behind the photo.

Inserts

Each case of 20 single-card boxes includes two reprint autographs, typically of rookie cards or other notable cards. Three Mets are featured here: Nolan Ryan (1969 Topps), Jacob deGrom (2014 Topps Update RC), and Noah Syndergaard (2015 Topps Update RC). (Another Nolan Ryan card was issued as a redemption, but that one is listed as a California Angels card in the checklist). The deGrom and Syndergaard are numbered to 135, while the Ryan is numbered to 45. All of them have a Gold parallel numbered 1/1.

The Verdict

Let’s face it, you’re never going to get your money’s worth out of a $50/pack (closer to $60/pack when bought individually) autograph product unless you get really lucky. Case in point, I took a chance on a couple of these when Brent Williams broke three cases and offered random hits for $50 each. In the first case, I got this guy:

Can’t complain about that, so I will. This was probably my favorite card in the case, but I was hoping for someone I didn’t already have an autograph from (and there are a lot of nice names on the reprint checklist). Still, it is an iconic card from a great player, even if the name isn’t missing from the front of the card… It was also one of the rare cards worth more than the price of admission. Round 2 was not as kind to me, all I can say is blach. I sat out the third case, which of course hit the Nolan Ryan reprint.

By the case or by singles on the secondary market, you can get some pretty nice cards out of 2017 Topps Clearly Authentic at a reasonable price. Single boxes, on the other hand, are very hit-and-miss and are bound to disappoint eventually. And while the autograph subjects are more of the same, the cards themselves are something different and are executed well, case scratches aside. I’m just not sure where we go from here. It seems like Topps Strata is no more, which is a shame, and it’s not clear (no pun intended) what’s going on with Tek. That could leave Clearly Authentic positioned well to expand next year. But Topps isn’t exactly known for stopping at “quaint novelty,” so I’m worried that they’ll find a way to ruin it by trying to do too much. Clearly Authentic demonstrates the power of clean simplicity. But this hobby is rarely satisfied with that.