Much to the chargin of some readers, this post has nothing to do with cards that have been produced in the past decade:
Like a lot of collectors, I believe the Hobby hit a sort of peak in the late 90s. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that this was my first personal peak in collecting. I was in middle/high school, had a 2 part-time jobs (if you consider mowing grass once every two weeks for a small apartment building a job, if not, then I only had 1 part-time job at a local car wash), was completely dependent on my parents, and had nothing else on which to spend money (sadly, a girlfriend at this point in my life was a figment of my imagination). I bought all sorts of retail wax and saw many different concepts. One that I found fascinating was a box of 1997 Donruss Preferred football. The “box” was actually a large tin featuring Barry Sanders. When I eagerly ripped off the celophane wrapping and removed the metal lid, I was shocked to find 24 much smaller tins inside, the “packs” each featuring different NFL players. COOL! (it was the 90s, “cool” was en vogue then). Obviously I was thrilled to find several Emmitt “packs” amongst the 24. I tried to open just a few of the tins thinking that I would keep the rest sealed so they would be worth tons of money in the future when I opened my card shop (I was a bit dillusional, what can I say?). After flipping through the very well designed cards, I came to a sweet Barry Sanders insert card that Beckett said was worth $20. Needless to say, those remaining tins did not stay sealed for much longer.
When I returned to the hobby in 2008, I bought a bunch of new wax and while I was happy (ignorance is bliss), I realized that I never quite recaptured the joy of that box of 1997 Donruss Preferred. After a little searching online, I found a sealed box for sale and immediately purchased it. When it came in the mail, I was stoked beyond belief to find that the box I bought was none other than the Emmitt Smith box! COOL! (I still say “cool”, get off my back). I pulled some more great inserts and then headed back to the Internet card shops to track down a few elusive Emmitts to add to my collection. Below, I have listed each part of and an explanation of why this is one of my favorite sets of all time. NOTE: All images below lead to larger views
1. The Box
A lot of current and old sets have featured players on their product packaging. What 1997 Donruss Preferred did was transcend a basic package that would ultimately be thrown away (unless bought by me, but I am hoping to change that trend soon). They created another collectibility aspect to their product. Not only did you want the coolest cards of your favorite player(s), you know you HAD to get the tins, too. But more than a groovy concept, the metal box also doubles as a great storage container. When I received my Emmitt box, I immediately put my entire Emmitt collection in it. Granted, now that my collection continues to grow, I am struggling to find a way to still incorporate the box’s storage capacity and yet keep my entire collection all together, but I digress. To make matters better, there was even a parallel to the blue box: a gold box, adding yet another collectability factor. The box was awesome. Hands down.
2. The Packs
Similar to the box concept, Donruss made each pack it own collector’s item. The small tins were wrapped in celophane and contained 5 cards, which were also wrapped in a clear plastic wrapper. Similar to the boxes, the tins had parallels available. Each player had silver and gold tin variations and there were special “double wide” red tins that were literally twice as wide and featured two players on the front and 10 cards inside. In a day before serial numbering was out of control, the tin parallels had a serial number stamped inside the hinged lid. And you thought wrapper redemptions were cool.
3. The Base Set
In a time when inserts were reaching ridiculous heights (and some, I admit, were just ridiculous), 1997 Donruss Preferred felt like an entire set of inserts. The 150-card set was printed on all-foil cardstock and featured micro-etching on the surface and sides. The set was broken into 80 bronze cards (5:1 odds), 40 silver cards (1:5), 20 gold (1:17), and 10 platinum (1:48), with obvious studs being platinum, stars being gold, and so forth. Granted, that meant pulling a card of the superstars was harder than ever, but prices for those stars flew off the charts, especially for a “base set” card.
4. The Subset
Given the fairly scarce odds of pulling a gold or platinum base card, and therefore a superstar, Donruss made it a easier for moderate collectors to obtain their favorite player(s) by creating the National Treasures subset. The 30-card subset (#118-147) featured the day’s best players and was part of the Bronze portion of the set. That took the odds of pulling an Emmitt Smith or Brett Favre from about 1:480 to around 1:16 (based entirely on product averages). Maybe that’s why I have almost 10 copies of this card.
5. The Parallel
As parallels were picking up steam in 1997, obviously Donruss included a parallel in Donruss Preferred. Although rather than create 18 parallels of various scarcities a la modern sets, Donruss Preferred had just one parallel set to the main set: Cut to the Chase. This was a die-cut parallel set and each level of the base set featured a different intricacy from a basic side notch for Bronze cards to a very nice curve and square design for Platinum cards. Odds for pulling these parallels were 1:7 (Bronze), 1:63 (Silver), 1:189 (Gold), and 1:756 (Platinum). While I did pull quite a few bronze parallels and even a few silvers, I was not forunate enough to ever pull a platinum, let alone the Emmitt parallel (sorry, no picture).
6. The Insert
Not to be outdone by other sets in 1997, Donruss Preferred featured some awesome inserts, the first being Staremasters. This set featured close up portraits of 24 stars on all-foil board and holographic foil accents. Sequentially numbered to just 1,500 copies (scarce for that era), Staremasters added a little mysterious element to the some of the best NFL players of the day. Maybe it was that ghosted reflection…
7. The Themed Insert
Chain Reaction, another insert of 1997 Donruss Preferred, added a team collector element to the set. The 24-card set featured 12 offensive teammate pairs that were sure to move the first down markers. If you laid the two teammates side-by-side, they would fit together to create a full set of chains. The set was printed on clear plastic cardstock and also featured holographic foil accents. Each card was sequentially numbered to 3,000.
8. The Ridiculous Insert
As I mentioned above, inserts were reaching ridiculous heights in the late 90s. 1997 Donruss Preferred featured one of those inserts. Technically a partial-set parallel, Precious Metals was a 15-card set that contained 1 gram of actual silver, gold, or platinum. Not only that, but it was reported that no more than 100 copies of each card were produced. Talk about collectibility! Too bad I have never seen one of these cards in person, let alone own the Emmitt Smith card (sorry, no picture).
That pretty much sums it up. Great base set. Amazing inserts. Classy parallels. Innovative and collectible packaging. What could be any better? What do you think? Did you go nuts over Donruss Preferred in 1997, too? Have you never heard of it but think it sounds like a sweet product? Do you think it’s lame and totally uncool? Opinions are welcome…