Category Archives: Product Spotlights

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.

Product Spotlight: 2017 Bowman

Too much of a good thing or just too much?

The base Bowman franchise is one of the cornerstones of the Topps product line. As such, it is a rock, always there, yet always changing in subtle ways. It’s frustrating sometimes, refreshing sometimes, but always there. 2017 Bowman is no exception – it’s there, there’s a lot to like, and there’s a lot that just makes no sense.

In 2015, Topps seemed to be headed in the right direction. 2014’s excess of confusing and unnecessary parallels yielded to the order of 2015 Bowman’s sensible parallel structure. 2016 Bowman did away with the ice parallels and wave refractors introduced in 2012, which was probably due, but it introduced full-size shimmer parallels in green and gold, numbered the same as their non-shimmer counterparts. 2016 Bowman Draft turned this concept into blue and gold wave refractor autographs. And 2017 Bowman combined both ideas and cranked it up to 10 – 10 shimmer refractor parallels, 5 base and 5 autographed. Double the autographs, double the fun?

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Product Spotlight: 2015 Topps Heritage High Number

Back in packs, RCs are stacked

Heritage and I have a strange relationship. When the debut edition became the hottest product of 2001, I chose to sell while it was hot rather than chase the set. I skipped the next decade of Heritage and have bought some each of the four years since, never quite finishing any sets and always falling short of getting my money’s worth. Still, I keep coming back to be somewhat disappointed the next year…

Heritage High Number is a different story. I skipped it in 2012, bought a set at about full price in 2013 and made most of my money back on the autograph, and then never got around to buying a set in 2014. When I finally did pick one up the next year at a steep markdown, I still made back about half the price on the autograph. Not a bad track record, but there’s only so much you can get out of the 100-card factory set format. 2015 Heritage High Number though returned to a standard pack format and in the process became a strong contender for the hottest product of 2015.

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Product Spotlight: 2015 Topps Archives Signature Series

Buybacks are back, alright!

It was a dismal year for Topps Archives, so the announcement of another Archives product at the end of the year was a bit confusing. Would this be a second helping? A non-card product like those Tristar autographed 8x10s? Or something completely different? As it turned out, 2015 Topps Archives Signature Series was the second coming of 2004 Topps Originals and brought with it everything good and bad about that release.

2004 was the height of the retired player autograph boom. In addition to the usual retired player products that were all the rage back then, buyback autographs took center stage with 2004 Topps Originals and 2004 Donruss Timelines. All four (yes, four, such a foreign concept today…) licensed manufacturers had done buybacks previously (though Fleer didn’t get the autograph part and just slapped handwritten serial numbers on some old cards and stuck them into packs), but these products merged the concept with the one-hit-per-pack insertion method. The end result was a pack that, for about $50, would yield a $5 autograph from a minor ’80s star on a card that was far from pack fresh.

Archives Signature Series takes that model and, um, does the exact same thing. There are some notable changes though. First, cards are packed in magnetic holders instead of cheap snapdowns. Second, players who were active in 2004 and have since retired are now included. And third, the choice of cards is more like Donruss Timelines with all sorts of oddballs in the mix, many as 1/1s. And that’s really all that’s changed in 11 years.

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Product Spotlight: 2015 Topps Heritage ’51 Collection

Old hobby formats die hard

If you look at the biggest failures of the last few years for Topps, two factors are recurring themes: mini cards and novelty factory sets.  Topps Mini was a no-show at this year’s national convention after last year’s version hit 75% off at the Topps web site.  Bowman Chrome Mini has been a tough sell even at 50% off the wholesale price (and shows no signs of coming back for 2015).  Topps Heritage High Number ditched the factory set format after two years of dismal sales and turned into one of the best products of the year.  2015 was the year of Topps learning its lessons, apparently.

But old habits die hard.  Unable to resist temptation, Topps dipped back into the well of failure twice in late 2015.  Topps Mini returned in factory set form, embodying the worst of both worlds and trying to make work what even Bowman Chrome couldn’t succeed at.  And Topps Heritage ’51 Collection came seemingly out of nowhere, adding a fourth 2015 Topps baseball product to the Heritage lineup.  The only one in factory set form.  And with lots of minis!  This is not the product the hobby needed or wanted, though it isn’t without redeeming value.  Not entirely.

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Product Spotlight: 2015 Bowman Chrome

The firsts keep coming

2015 Bowman brought consistency to the convoluted Topps parallel system. After several months of smooth sailing, 2015 Bowman Chrome kept the same formula (a first, at least among recent years) and brought us the first Kevin Plawecki base Rookie Cards and the first MLB-licensed autographs from Akeel Morris, Jhoan Urena, Milton Ramos, and Michael Conforto? Um, what’s his 2014 Bowman Draft autograph doing here?

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