Bravo, Panini

07.13.2012

Yes, it’s been a while. I know. Busy, busy.

Work.
Baby.
House.

Plus, the business side of 1&G has been doing great recently. That’s good, but it also means a lot more time and effort. Time and effort I used to spend on the blog side. I have been meaning to post for a while and have had several topics come and go without any writing. So instead of waiting for that magical moment when the stars align and I suddenly have tons of time and material, I’m going to try to ease back into this as time allows.

One of my thoughts on cards over the past several months has been the surprising improvement of Panini. After buying Donruss/Playoff, LP to enter the sports card market, Panini seemed to just pump out set after set of crap. Lots of uber-neutral and ho-hum designs. Nearly all sticker autos. Obvious backwards design flaws. One of the leading examples of these trends was always Prestige, the very early football release.

Let’s do a quick recap:

In 2010, Prestige featured all grey base cards, super close up photos of rookies with no uniform colors or logos showing (due to the set’s early release and Panini’s inability to show NCAA branding), and an overal blah feel to the product.

In 2011, Prestige added a bit of color to the card fronts and tried to make team logos more prevalent, but the rookie photos were still awful and despite the improved effort, the cards still felt very neutral and not particularly appealing.

Now, take a look at this:

Wow. What is this? Bold team colors. Prominent logos. Fantastic photo. Clean design. Instead of just taking a tired and old design and slightly tweaking it, Panini essentially threw away the Prestige of yesterday and completely redesigned the set. I’m not doing a full product review (and sadly, 1&G reviews may be dead for the time being), but I will point out that inserts were also pretty attractive and even…gasp…featured on-card autographs! Not every autograph, but some is better than none.

Is this a perfect card? No. Is it the end-all, be-all for early set releases? No. Would I be happy if every Prestige set in the future looks like this? Obviously not.

But it’s progress.

And that is very refreshing…

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Slowly but Surely

11.01.2011

When Emmitt Smith retired shortly after the 2004 season, I had not yet discovered the massive online sports card community and was just trying to track down a single card from each of his playing seasons. Then after graduating from college, I suddenly found you could buy just about any card on places like Beckett’s Marketplace, Check Out My Cards, and of course eBay. (Side Note: I have no idea why it took me until after college to think to look for this other than perhaps my waning interest in cards and my piqued interest in women and beer)

When the online hobby was revealed to me, I suddenly had every Topps base card from Emmitt’s career, every official rookie card, a slew of 90s inserts I had always drooled over, a small batch of my first ever authentic jersey cards, and even a real life Emmitt Smith autograph. Times were good. Then I got married, bought a house, and started my own card business, all which took significant time (and money) away from my box of Emmitts. In the past few years, I have really started to hit the new release calendar hard to do 1&G Reviews and offer fresh cards in my eBay store. But with Emmitt’s retired status, not many new releases have him on the checklist. So even though I am technically spending more on cards than ever before (albeit through my business and almost never for my personal collection anymore), my Emmitt box is pretty static.

Fortunately, there are a few 2011 cards for me. Earlier, I told you about the Topps Super Bowl Legends inserts. My buddy got a ton of the online code cards and got a few of the actual Emmitt Smith die-cut SB Legends cards, which he already said will be mine once they arrive. Sweet! I also just added this beauty on my own:

I just busted two boxes of 2011 Topps Gridiron Legends (1&G Review forthcoming). I was stoked to find that Emmitt was included. I will admit though I was disappointed to pull just one base card of my childhood hero. However, it is a great card and is a welcome new addition to the collection. At this rate, my Emmitt collection will never be worth comparing to some of the super collectors’ out there, but that’s okay. I enjoy my box of Emmitts and am just happy to add to it when possible.

Now to track down the 8 parallels from this set…


Product Review: 2011 Score

10.17.2011

Well, after much anticipation (or, perhaps, just a whole lot of delay and skipping around), we’re finally going to review 2011 Score. If procrastination was an art form, I’d be the next Picasso. Or at least Monet. Perhaps Howson? Anyway, here it is. Enjoy:

2011 Score box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with a whopping 36 7-card packs for a total of 252 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $26, which translates into a $0.10/card ratio. Score has consistently been the bargain bar setter in Football for many years, and 2011 is no exception. Keep that in mind when setting your expectations for the product.

2011 Score pack
Americana much?

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 174 (0 duplicates)
   Rookies: 36
Parallels
   Glossy: 36
   Gold Zone: 4
   Scorecard: 3
   Red Zone: 1
   End Zone: 1
Inserts
   Hot Rookies: 8
   Millennium Men: 5
   Complete Players: 6
   In the Zone: 8
Hits
   Signatures (base parallel): 1

2011 Score2011 Score
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: improved. Last year, I gave 2010 Score a fairly positive review, but I did note that the “kindergarten art table design elements” weren’t really doing it for me for the second year in a row. This year, Panini remade Score. The result reminds me of early 90s sets like Pro Set. It’s a very clean and simple design and I really like the use of team colors and those almost old school helmet images. The card backs are also really colorful and fun and tie in nicely to the design of the card front and I do like the little extra treatment the photo got (rather than simply copying and pasting from the front image). Overall it’s a great design for a low end set. There is one issue though. While white card borders are nothing new or even anything I typically complain about, the solid white border at the top of each base card seems a bit overkill. This area is effectively used for the parallel card notations (we’ll get to those), but is just far too wide on the base card. I noticed it with the very first pack and it stuck out like a sore thumb straight through Pack 36. It’s really a shame because it does take away from an otherwise solid card design.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: Overkill. The parallels are what really hurts this area. There are just far too many. In a product like Score, collectors aren’t going bonkers trying to collect all of the various parallels like they might with Topps Chrome or Finest. Parallels can be fun, and this is supposed to be a fun product, so keep 1, dump the rest. Especially the Glossy cards, which are barely distinguishable from the base cards. The other inserts aren’t all that bad. They might be a bit busy, but again, this is geared for the kiddies. And while I would normally be happy to pull a rookie autograph, I question if there should be any in this product. Score is low end. It has a big base set. Why does it need “hits”? These aren’t exactly highly prized autographed cards, so I’d rather Panini just not have any hits and reduce the price of the box even further. But that’s my opinion.

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: outstanding. In 252 cards I pulled exactly zero duplicates. There are much higher end products that have well less than half of the cards per box that can’t boast a zero duplicate rate. That is a huge kudo for Score. You may not like the Jake Long base card you pulled, but at least you only pulled one.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: expected. I feel like I could just copy and paste my analysis from last year. Score is Score. You know exactly what you’re getting. You’re simply not getting a lot of raw value, but you also didn’t pay much. This is a great entry-level product and something that you could give to friends and family under 12. If you manage to turn just one of them into a lifelong collector or get to spend a few quiet moments sorting through cards with the TV off, 2011 Score just may be the most valuable product available.

RED ZONE RESULTS: FIELD GOAL 2011 Score isn’t a great product, but it’s also not terrible. There is definitely a lot of potential in those packs. Not necessarily monetary potential, but certainly priceless potential. I wouldn’t think twice about giving a stack of these cards to my son if he were a bit older (it’s hard to appreciate football cards when you’re three weeks old). They can teach colors, shapes, numbers, and organizational skills. They also don’t require batteries. In an age when everything makes noise or pleads for attention, a box of 2011 Score might be the best understated gift you could give a child this holiday season. I think that’s worth at least three points…

NEXT UP: 2011 Panini Threads


Product Review: 2011 Topps

09.06.2011

In a hobby that seems to be constantly evolving, there are some things that remain the same. People like rookie cards. There should always be stats on the back. Topps makes a flagship set every year. It’s true. Well, at least it has been since 1956. 2011 Is the 56th consecutive year that Topps has produced a flagship football set (and for a long time that was the only set available from ANYONE). What does it have in store for us? Let’s find out:

2011 Topps Jumbo box
The Box – Click for Detail

I went the Jumbo box route for this review. Jumbo boxes come with 10 50-card packs for a total of 500 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $87, which translates into a $0.17/card ratio. Topps’ flagship set has always been on the lower end of the spectrum but it still quite popular for its base set size and its mix of fancy inserts and, more recently, hits. Also, after 56 years, there is obviously some brand recognition in play for Topps.

2011 Topps Jumbo pack
Interesting choice in Mark Sanchez…

The Breakdown:
Base Cards: 423 (24 duplicates)
   Rookies: ? (somehow I forgot to count them separately…)
Parallels
   Gold (#/2011)): 5
   Black (#/55): 0
Inserts
   Toppstown (online codes): 10
   Super Bowl Legends: 10 (2 dupes)
   Game Day: 10
   Faces of the Franchise: 10
   1948 Bowman: 10
   Super Bowl Legends Giveaway (code cards): 10
   Super Bowl Legends Stamp (#/100): 1
Hits
   Base Card Auto: 1
   Rookie Relic Patch: 1
   Game Day Auto (Redemption): 1

2011 Topps2011 Topps
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: In a word: classic. Topps never seems to completely recycle designs in its base set from year to year, yet somehow every one just has that Topps “look” to it. For all of you baseball fans out there, this design should look familiar. As is often the case, Topps used the same design for its football set as it used for its baseball set of the same year. This year, there are no complaints. The design is pretty basic, but effective. The team logo is prominently placed and the name banner is team-colored, which is great. The card back is also straight outta the Topps text book with its multiple-year statistics, horizontal orientation, and even the positioning of the card number. This isn’t a set that I will sit around and “ooh” and “aah”, but it is solid for a low-end base set. With 440 cards in the set, it is obviously geared for set collectors and can stand as a sort of yearbook. This design will look great page after page in a binder, so that’s really as you can ask. And, for the record, I am not turning this into a Ravens-themed blog. I busted this box with a friend who is a huge B-More fan so I let him pick out all Ravens for the review scan.

2nd Down, Inserts: In a word: many. If there’s one thing Topps knows how to do, it’s producing a whole lot of cards. Along with the 440-card base set, there are a bunch of insert sets. The Toppstown cards are really just for fun and games online, but they actually look good as cards. I’m digging the shiny blue background, although it admittingly looks better with some team uniforms than others. The Game Day cards I suppose are common affair for a low-end insert set. Nothing flashy, but I do like that they are strongly team-oriented with colored backgrounds. The Faces of the Franchise cards toes the line of one of my least favorite subjects, multi-player cards, but does so safely. The card is strongly team branded so the theme works. The 1948 Bowman cards are a cool throwback. I love the original mini-card size and the painted look of the photos. This was actually a well done tribute card and will probably be the subject of a future “A Look Back” post. The Super Bowl legends cards are also a nice concept, although with base, rings, coins, and stamps (not to mention an entire Super Bowl-themed giveaway), it may be overdone. I have to wonder if maybe Topps shouldn’t have just put more time into the designs and had this be a seperate product. One final nice touch for the jumbo box was the rookie relics. Every Jumbo hobby box has a rookie relic PATCH, not just a plain jane swatch, which really adds value to the box as a whole.

3rd Down, Collation: In a word: misleading. When I sorted through everything and had the entire box organized, I was shocked to find out that I had only pulled 24 duplicates out of nearly 500 cards (the relic packs didn’t have as many cards). I was also pleased when I figured out I only needed 41 out of 440 base cards to complete the set. That’s not too bad, I thought. But if you crunch the numbers, you find that the duplicate rate, either compared to just base cards or to the number of cards in the entire box, is actually only marginally better than that of 2011 Panini Rookies & Stars, which is ripped apart for having too many duplicates. So either my expectations have become unreasonable or this box wasn’t as well collated as I originally thought. I think maybe I need to re-evaluate my standards.

4th Down, Overall Value: In a word: expected. With Topps’ flagship set, you know what you’re getting. You know you’re going to get a ton of well designed base cards, a random smattering of inserts, and a few “hits” to boot. The value of any particular card is probably not going to astound you, but it also shouldn’t be rock bottom. My buddy got really excited about the Super Bowl Legends giveaway and ordered two cases of jumbo boxes in addition to this lone box. I am helping him to sell off all of his unwanted cards (basically anything that’s not purple and black), and the selling prices have been pretty decent. It’s not often that you sell simple parallels for $2, relics for $10, and autos for $15, especially out of a low-end product, so I have been pretty pleased. Again, that brand recognition may be playing a factor, but it’s a good brand to take for a spin.

RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, PAT GOOD It’s Topps. What more can I say? It’s a brand and a concept that’s been working for 56 years. Sure, it’s not always something special and some sexy new things have come and gone in that time, but Topps does what Topps does year in and year out. And that’s produce a solid flagship that has appeal to collectors young and old, team/player and set, and simple and fancy. It’s impossible to have a single product that has everything, but 2011 Topps sure can give you a lot of bang for your buck.

NEXT UP: 2011 Score (Honestly, I’m getting to it…)


Product Review: 2011 Topps Allen & Ginter

08.12.2011

Wait a minute. Something doesn’t look right. Isn’t Allen & Ginter a baseball set? Aren’t I reading a football card blog? Did banks get tired of buying each other and opt to start buying and merging sports card blogs? I’m confused.

The answer to those burning questions would be: Yes. Yes. Not yet. So to clarify, I will remind you all that I already posted a disclaimer about this one. I got caught up in the moment and bought a box of baseball cards. I wasn’t able to enter Gint-a-Cuffs III, so I figured I might as well do a box break review. This is that review.

2011 Topps Allen and Ginter box
The Box – Click for Detail

Hobby boxes come with 24 8-card packs for a total of 192 cards. I got this box from Dave and Adam’s Card World for $82, which translates into a reasonable $0.43/card ratio. Allen & Ginter is a rare breed. It appeals to set collectors with its large base set, short prints, and variants, but it also appeals to hit collectors (though certainly not as much as a super high end set) with its red ink autos and DNA relics. So $0.43 is just about right: low enough for set collectors to buy in bulk but not so low that it thwarts all mojo collectors.

2011 Topps Allen & Ginter pack
If you get around Blogland, you’ve seen this olde tyme guy a lot by now…

The Breakdown:
Base Cards
   Total: 127 (3 duplicates)
   Rookie Cards: 13
   Short Prints: 12
Minis
   Base Minis: 6
   A&G Ad Back: 6
   Black Border Parallels: 3
   Portraits of Penultimacy: 2
   World’s Most Mysterious Figures: 1
   Animals in Peril: 2
   Step Right Up: 2
   Uninvited Guests: 2
Inserts
   Hometown Heroes: 18
   Floating Fortresses: 3
   Baseball Highlight Sketches: 4
   Minds That Made the Future: 3
   The Ascent of Man: 4
   Base Code Card Parallels: 3
   N43 Box Loader: 1
Hits
   A&G Captured Mini Relics: 3

2011 Topps Allen & Ginter2011 Topps Allen & Ginter
2011 Topps Allen & Ginter
Click each image for a full-sized scan

FIRST AND GOAL’S FOUR DOWNS:
1st Down, Design: I love it. Other folks have mentioned they don’t particularly care for the A&G design this year and that it’s slowly been going downhill over the past few years. This is my first real look at A&G, so I guess I haven’t been jaded by even better sets, because I really like this design. The painted feel of the photos is great and the overall design is very clean. I also really like the logo placement and what Topps did for the non-MLB base cards. I do admit the player name placement could be better. The last names just sorta hang out there. One thing I’m not a fan of is the horizontal cards. They just seem awkward and don’t fit the feel of the set as well, especially the ones that have an action shot. The card backs are interesting. Maybe A&G has always done this, but I was amused by the lack of any graphics and having all statistics in word form.

2nd Down, Inserts: Where to start? I guess the minis. These are cool, espcially since they have the old cigarette feel to them, especially once you add the Ad Backs. The various inserts were all very interesting subjects, I’m just still not sure how I feel about non-sports cards in my sports card box. One thing I need help from an avid A&G fan is about the mini vs standard sized inserts. Other than base cards, all of my minis were from different sets than my standard sized inserts. Is that common? Do they separate inserts so that this group is only available as minis and that group is only available in standard sized? I also really like the A&G relics. I find it really cool that the actual relic swatch is embedded on a mini card which is then encased inside a standard sized card. Cool stuff. I’m also digging the plaid Upton relic. For more information on that, go read Night Owl’s post. Overall, these are pretty cool inserts. Even if I do have my doubts about sponges being a part of the “ascent of man”. It probably doesn’t help that I believe in intelligent Creation…

3rd Down, Collation: Solid. Out of 127 base cards, a mere 3 were duplicates. I tend to hate duplicates, but that really isn’t a bad ratio at all. And one of those was from my favorite team (Pedro Alvarez), so I really can’t complain (although I’d rather have a duplicate of Neil Walker or Andrew McCutchen). I feel like I got all of the short prints, minis, relics, and various other inserts I was supposed to get, so that is another plus. Really, this was one of the best collated boxes I’ve seen in a long time. Hopefully this box is indicative of the entire product run.

4th Down, Overall Value: Well, it certainly helps that this is one of the most popular products of the year across any sport. As I said, there are a lot of pieces to lure in a lot of different types of collectors. You’re getting a very nicely designed product with some rather nice “chase” cards for a decent enough price. One factor that probably goes unnoticed in these product reviews more than it should is the fun factor. This product was just fun to open. I never knew if the next card was going to be a base card of Chase Utley, a mini parallel of Wee Man, or a very colorful card of a fish. Not every card appealed to my tastes in collecting (where are the Emmitt Smith A&G minis?!?), but each one has a cool factor. Considering this is a HOBBY (which a lot of people seem to forget on a daily basis), what more could you ask?

RED ZONE RESULTS: TOUCHDOWN, PAT GOOD As I mentioned above, maybe it’s just because I haven’t had prior experience with the Allen & Ginter line, but I loved this product. There were very few items that made me question the folks behind the scenes and it was just a blast to open. I got thrashed for saying the Big Time inserts in 2011 SAGE were nice because they were colorful and reminded me of my childhood for some reason, but I’m going to play a similar card here. Even if these cards were worthless (and I’m not sure how many people are storming eBay looking for cards of old wooden ships), this product would still have a fair amount of value in every pack. It’s well designed. It’s spontaneous. It’s fun. It deserves the TD and PAT.

NEXT UP: 2011 Score


A Look Back: 1935 National Chicle

05.24.2011

Well over a year ago, I got the bright idea to take a retrospective look at some of the legendary sets in the history of football cards, particularly those that have been revisited over the years by modern card manufacturers. That first “Look Back” article explored the world of 1894 Mayo, the first all-football card set ever produced. Today, we’ll take a look at another first for the industry: 1935 National Chicle.

In 1935, the National Chicle Gum Company produced the first ever nationally distributed football card set. The entire set consisted of just 36 cards, but it appears that National Chicle intended the set to extend to 240 cards, as noted at the bottom of the card backs (see below). As the first all-football set since the 1894 Mayo set (Goudey’s 1933 Sport Kings set was multi-sport and only contained 3 football cards), nearly the entire set is made up of rookie cards, including 6 Hall of Fame RCs. The lone non-rookie is #9 Knute Rockne, who was one of those three football Sport Kings. The legendary Notre Dame coach is also the only non-NFL player to be included by National Chicle, which leads many to believe the company intended to reach into the college ranks to fill out its 240-card checklist. Each card in the set measures 2 3/8″ x 2 7/8″ and features full-color, painted imagery. The card backs, in stark contrast, contain only plain text and actually give football playing tips, rather than focusing on player statistics like modern cards. Another note of interest for the 1935 National Chicle set is that it contains 2 of, if not the 2 most coveted and valuable football cards in existence: Rockne and HOF Bronko Nagurski’s rookie card.


Two legendary cards and a rather unique card back

Interestingly enough, even with the sudden retro-happy trends of the card industry, there are only two real National Chicle throwback sets of which to speak. The first was produced in 2009 by Upper Deck and was actually an insert set within another retro-themed product, 2009 Philadelphia. The set was heralded as an authentic tribute to the original NC set. The card size and the painted look (including the generic football-themed backgrounds) were a very good representation of the legendary set. However, the checklist was anything but similar. The 100-card set consisted of 19 historical figures, 10 cars, 10 airplanes, 10 trains, and 51 football players. Other vintage card sets did include such an odd assortment of subjects, but National Chicle did not. The 2009 Philadelphia insert set also included 50 autographed parallels — all of football players.

Upper Deck’s 2009 rendition had a similar style but drastically different checklist

Topps also tried its hand at a National Chicle tribute in 2009, making it the focus of a seperate product. The base cards featured all original painted artwork…but unfortunately the similarities to the original National Chicle set seem to end there. The Topps cards were standard modern sized and the product had a very modern feel overall. Topps decided to include typical inserts such as sticker label autographs, game-used relics, various insert sets, and a slew of base card parallels. Somewhere between the dual autographs and the printing plates, the original magic of the 1935 National Chicle set seems to be completely lost. Topps did pay proper homage in one way, although I assume unintentionally so. Similar to the 1935 set, 2009 Topps National Chicle was originally intended to be a larger set than it ended up being. The base cards are numbered from 1 to 200, but the set only consists of 197 cards (including 49 RCs), with numbers 59, 99, and 191 never being printed. Obviously 98.5% of the intended checklist is a far cry from the 15% completion of the original set, but it is an interesting link between the two.


Topps’ 2009 rendition took a legendary theme and plugged it into a modern template

There has been one additional National Chicle tribute in recent memory, but from a different sport. While most companies borrow baseball designs to produce “fresh” football products, Topps actually did the opposite in 2010 when it essentially took the 2009 football product and just swapped out footballs for baseballs. The baseball card community greeted the faux throwback with mixed reactions.

For more information on the legendary and original 1935 National Chicle set, please visit these sites:
Nearmint’s Vintage Football Card Blog
Nearmint’s Vintage Football Card Gallery (excellent site for info and images of all 36 original cards)
Beckett Media


Not Like the Others

04.29.2011

How many of you readers at home used to watch Sesame Street when you were growing up? I usually don’t like discussing childhood things with a mixed crowd because I either wind up sounding like a young whipper-snapper or horribly dating myself. But given Sesame Street’s unprecedented 41+ year run (and counting), I’m going to assume you all can follow along with me on this one.

A popular segment of the show was One of These Things (Is Not Like the Others). We’re going to play that game now with some cards from my Emmitt Smith collection. I know this might seem a tad too educational and developmental for this blog, but just go with it.

Are you ready? Here goes:

#1                 #2                  #3

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

Well, how do you think you did? If you picked #3, you’re correct! Perhaps the bigger question though, is WHY is #3 the odd one out?

Any guesses?

Because I don’t think it exists. If your logic is adequate, I’m sure you’ve figured out that card #3 is the 1999 Donruss Elite Primary Colors Red insert. Parallels and serial numbers were all the rage in the late 90s, and I’ve fallen victim to the hype. Not only do I really want card #3 to complete the mini primary rainbow, it is serial numbered to just 25 copies and I have never seen one anywhere. Perhaps all 25 copies are already in prized Emmitt Smith collections. Maybe there are a few still stuck inside sealed packs in someone’s dusty storage facility. All I know is that not a one has found its way to my home. I do have the die-cut red insert, but that is #/75 for I can’t fathom what reason. In my current box breaks, it’s nothing to pull a #/25, #/10, or even a 1/1. But do you think I could find a #/25 from 1999? No.

*SIGH*

Maybe some day…

EDIT: A buddy of mine just found a copy for sale! Now I just need to do some deep soul searching to decide if it’s worth $120…