Last year I made up some nonsense about these Top Acquisitions of the Year lists each having a “magic number,” that being the number of cards at the top that all would have made a perfectly reasonable #1. This year, that magic number is 1. The card in the top spot and that card alone deserves that top spot all by its lonesome. The last time that happened the top card was the '93 Finest refractor. This year's is not as famous, but it is certainly more rare.
And yes, we are going to cram 22 relics into the next ten cards. If you're any kind of collector, you probably have a good idea what is coming up.
10. 1992 Lime Rock Griffey Family Hologram Set Autographed (autographed set of all three Griffeys)
The pre-2000 autograph elevator is in full effect here, rocketing these not-terribly-uncommon, back-of-the-card beauties into the Top 10. Despite the drawbacks here, these are on-card, super early, and from that very short time when all three Griffeys were Mariners. The last time all three Griffey signatures made this Top 30, they took the top spot. These are just a little less glamorous than that. Still pretty baddass, though.
9. 2001 Donruss #13 Chicago National Convention #/5
I’ve made blog posts before wherein a base set will have an insanely low-numbered stamped card show variation that I usually lump with the 1/1’s as ungettables. I mean, they were issued at shows which means some of the folks who ended up with one didn’t realize what they had or didn’t collect Griffey (or even baseball), and a lot of them were probably thrown in with the rest of their freebies from the show, never to be seen again. This is the only one of these I’ve ever actually owned, and I even paid a reasonably healthy sum to get it. Real-deal National stamps just don’t come up a lot. The fact that this is also a pretty cool Donruss design only increases the appeal here.
8. 2016 Panini Pantheon Rudiarius Patch Relic #R-KG Bronze #/10
Far too many relics these days are parallels of existing inserts. On the surface that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the result is that when you are lucky enough to finally pull a relic, it looks exactly like an insert you probably already pulled a few dozen of only thicker and with a little piece of the player’s alleged pants glued to it. Panini, on the other hand, dresses them up and gives them fun themes and crazy colors and designs that scream “Relics are still cool, and you just got one you lucky bastard!” This is the case EVEN IN THE FLAGSHIP SET, not just their premium stuff. Panini is my relic spirit animal.
7. 2017 Topps Museum Collection Primary Pieces Single Player Legends Quad Relics Bat/Jersey/Patch Relics #SPQ-KG Gold #/10
That said, check this mother out. I’ve got to hand it to Topps – they are trying to up their relic game. It’s still not on the creative level of Panini, but it’s better than it was.
6. 2017 Topps Transcendent MLB Moment Reproductions #MLBR-KG, #MLBR-KGR both #/87
It’s hard enough to get your hands on Transcendent cards (a box is like 5 G’s, bro), let alone some gorgeous, perfectly-executed art Griffeys. The metal frame thing that seemed gimmicky when they introduced it in 2014 absolutely SLAPS here. I’m pretty excited to have matching numbers, as well, which was not exactly by design.
5. 2017 Panini National Treasures 16-Player Materials Booklet Jersey Relic #PMB1-16 #/99 (w/ Barry Larkin, Cal Ripken, Frank Thomas, George Brett, Greg Maddux, Kirby Puckett, Manny Ramirez, Mariano Rivera, Mike Piazza, Ozzie Smith, Paul Molitor, Roberto Alomar, Ryne Sandberg, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs)
So I do try to keep the lens of a Griffey collector, and I bought this card anyway knowing full-well that at heart this is just a humble jersey relic. BUT this “card” is all about those 15 other guys. They are a veritable who’s-who of ‘90’s All-Stars. The wow-factor here is off the charts, even when showing it off to people who have never collected a baseball card. Teenage me reels at this thing.
Can you pick out all the guys who AREN’T in the Hall of Fame?
4. 1996 Upper Deck National Heroes 3 x 5 Jumbo #NH1 #/5000 Autograph #/250 (w/ UDA COA)
Is it just me or do jumbos carry a certain stigma? Actually, I’ll just come out and admit that no, it’s not just me. Jumbos are definitely not as revered as standard 2.5 x 3.5 baseball cards. It probably has something to do with the fact that you don’t (typically) pull them from packs, so you are not (usually) dealing with sky-high insertion ratios. If a hand-numbered /250, on-card autograph existed way back in 1996 on a standard, pack-pullable Upper Deck card, I imagine it would cost fortune. But, being that this is a jumbo, even with a COA I think I paid right around $100 for it. And it’s not like the auction ended at 7:45am on a Monday morning. I don’t know how it happened. More on undervalued autographs later.
3. 2015 Upper Deck Employee Exclusive Autograph #UD-KG (w/ Wood Display Box)
This autograph is not rare or particularly expensive (assuming a reasonable seller). But that box – THAT BOX is freaking magical, guys. Solid wood top and bottom, beautifully etched logo, shiny gold hinges, plush velveteen lining, and it closes with a mighty CLACK. If I live long enough to create a death plan and it comes time to pick out my coffin, I’m simply going to hand this box to the coffin guy with a post-it note on the inside that says, “THIS.”
One more shot of that box:
2. 1997 SPX Bound For Glory Autograph #/250
I apologize in advance, but I have strong feelings towards this card; so I wrote a short (well, long) dramatic scene to express them. Feel free to skip to the TL:DR at the end.
Interior: Card show, Route 29 Holiday Inn, Conference Room B, Spring 2018, late morning
A card collector enters the conference room, pays his two dollar entrance fee, and surveys the tables from the door. He has only been collecting again for a short time, having left the hobby behind in his youth and rediscovered it just a couple of years ago when his childhood hero was inducted into the Hall of Fame. He has fire in his eyes and cash in his pocket, and today he intends to walk out of here with some sweet new Griffeys.
Our hero ambles through the aisles, perusing the tables one-by-one and trying not to betray his almost total lack of experience with the latest players and brands. He is a child of the ‘90’s, after all. The most recent Beckett he owns is from June of 1995, and to him Panini is merely a type of delicious sandwich. That 1989 Upper Deck rookie must sell for far more than the $75 it did back then. Would he be able to find a deal here?
He is out of his comfort zone today.
He finally comes to a promising table, loaded with inserts from long-dead brands he is relieved to recognize. The friendly-looking dealer gives him a moment to peruse his wares then offers a greeting:
Dealer: “Good morning! Anything I can help you find?”
Hero, a little overwhelmed by all the colorful inserts and crazy relics on the table: “Um, I’m just looking.”
Dealer, who gets this all the time: “Anyone in particular?”
Hero: “I collect Griffey, mostly.”
Dealer: “You’re in luck! I’m the only dealer with Griffeys today. I only have two to choose from, but they are really nice cards, and even from the same set. Take a look.”
The dealer reaches into a box behind him and lays two Griffeys on the table, both with a distinctive die-cut design and holograms. This is the kind of stuff that was just beginning to come out when our hero quit the hobby in the 90’s. HOLY BUTT one of them is autographed! It must cost a small fortune…
Dealer: “So, we’ve got two of the greatest cards from 1997 SPx: the Bound for Glory Autograph and the Grand Finale parallel.”
Our hero looks closely at each card, trying not to show his excitement of holding a real Griffey autograph in his hands. The Grand Finale is extremely shiny and cool, but there is just no comparison here. He wants that Bound for Glory autograph. He attempts to throw the dealer off his desire to buy the autograph by paying more attention to the Grand Finale which happens to be exactly what the dealer would expect any seasoned collector to do.
Dealer: “You have a keen eye. The Grand Finale parallel is incredibly rare with only 50 copies produced. As you can see the hologram is gold which is what differentiates it from the regular gold parallel. The last one sold on eBay for fifteen. I’m only asking twelve.”
The dealer is proud of his use of the word “differentiates.”
Hero: “Twelve bucks? For a base parallel?” Wow, Griffey cards HAD gone up in price. In his collecting days most base cards were three bucks, and most parallels were only a little more than that. This one was pretty nice, though.
Dealer, realizing that this is not the seasoned collector he’d thought: “No, no. Twelve HUNDRED. The hologram is gold. See?” He points. “GOLD.”
Our hero nearly drops the screw case on the table. Maybe this hobby was no longer for him. It slowly creeps into his mind that he hadn’t even asked about the autograph yet.
Hero: “Nice card. What about the autograph?” he asks, expecting some astronomical number. It must be thousands. This is a waste of time. He tries to keep his cool, though. He doesn’t want to look like a noob.
The dealer knows he is dealing with a noob. The last Bound for Glory autograph sold for less than $200 on eBay, but he figures he can get a few extra bucks out of this guy if he sells it right.
Dealer: “The Bound for Glory insert is numbered out of 250 and features an on-card autograph, hand-signed by the Kid himself. Pre-2000 autographs tend to carry a hefty premium, too, as the vast majority of autographs came out after his trade to the Reds. I’m asking three hundred.”
Hero, his eyes widening: “Dollars?”
Hero, incredulously: “Lemme get this straight: this un-autographed, unnumbered card that looks almost exactly like another parallel is $1200, and this numbered, on-card, pre-Reds autograph is $300??”
Hero: “Are…you sure?”
Dealer, quizzically: “Yeahhh….?”
Our hero promptly takes three $100 bills from his pocket, snaps up his new Griffey and leaves. Both men feel like they got the deal of the century.
Sorry – that was really long. It’s a total fabrication, of course, but I hope you see my point. Bound for Glory is the bitch’s bastard. Get yours before everyone else wises up!
TL:DR – Bound for Glory Autograph = good. Grand Finale parallel = kinda $illy.
Okay, here comes the big one - number one with a bullet. If you read the blog or see me around the Griffey-collecting Facebook groups, this should come as no surprise:
1. 1996 Pinnacle Zenith Diamond Club #3 Real Diamond Parallel
Yes, that is a diamond. It is real…and it is spectacular.
When I first heard of this card in 1996 my response was something along the lines of, “Psh. Okay.” I mean, cool? But what do you want me to do with this information? Buy a thousand packs just to pull the Gary Sheffield? No thanks. I actually did buy a couple packs of this stuff back in the day because I still have a few of the diamond protector cards that came in them; but none of them protected any diamonds, I can tell you that.
This card was always kind of abstract to me. It’s hard to explain. You hear about certain cards in this hobby that you simply never see. You may see a photo of one in a full-page ad in a card magazine or hear whispers about it among collectors, but it’s not like they pop up at the occasional card show or on eBay with some astronomical BIN or in the “mail day” posts of the Griffey Facebook groups. It’s hard to even acknowledge their existence at this level because how can you be sure they really even got made? And 22 years ago, no less. This is the hallmark of the dreaded Gimmick.
I like to classify cards (whales, grails, you’ve heard them all), but this one kind of defies classification; so what to do? Why, create a new classification system, of course!
So, there are chase cards, quest cards, and gimmicks. Chase cards can be easy or tough. They are your mid-90’s Collector’s Choice gold signatures or your standard refractors. Quest cards are significantly tougher and can take years to acquire if you can even find one at all. These are often things like sub-100 numbered parallels, the scarciest of 90’s inserts, and most cripplingly expensive cards in general.
Gimmicks are a different animal, a type that might as well not even exist. The original Ultra Masterpiece 1-of-1’s are gimmicks (though I know where some of them are). On that note nearly every legitimate 1-of-1 ever made is a gimmick. Those boxes of commons they sell at Target that advertise that *someone* is going to pull a T206 Honus Wagner or ’52 Mantle out of them are gimmicks, too. No one is going to pull those things. You might as well buy lottery tickets.
So back to the card at hand: Pinnacle putting real, actual diamonds onto a handful of cards and building a whole brand around it is a gimmick. They do it to excite collectors and move product, not to give out diamonds.
And yet here it is. Now that I know gimmicks actually exist, I want to chase them all down; but knowing what I know, specifically of the incredible luck it took for me to end up with this one without a second mortgage, I feel blessed to have gotten to own just the one. This card made my whole collecting year.
As for this year, it's already off to a decent start, with a nice selection of 90's inserts and early relics making their way to Junkietown just in these first few weeks. At the same time it's already evident that this year is going to be relatively lean in terms of acquisition numbers. I continue to cherry-pick whatever Griffeys come along that excite me, but fewer cards are doing that for me nowadays.
But this is not me throwing in the towel - not yet. I still plan on surprising you with a few posts this year like I did at the end of 2018.
Thanks for reading!