Friday, April 22, 2016

Way Too Many Words About 1996 Pinnacle: Part Deux

[This post is a sequel to my original 1996 Pinnacle post, so read that one first. Or don't, you rebel you.]

You know that thing when there’s a checklist of cards that are all relatively easy to obtain except for one that is just damn near impossible? Then you actually land the impossible one and figure, “Shoot, might as well knock out the rest of these?” That’s what happened with me and the Griffeys of 1996 Pinnacle.

I’ve already done a pretty thorough write-up on the 1996 Pinnacle brand (which you can read here and which contains my personal favorite crazy disco Pinnacle insert possibly ever) and my strong feelings towards it. Yet, as I’ve been on a 90’s kick of late and found a tremendous deal on the white whale of the set, I just went ahead and dumped a few dozen bucks (why doesn’t anyone ever measure money in dozens? I enjoyed that just now) onto COMC and started picking off the remaining inserts.

Since I’ve already shown the regular versions of all the base parallels here, we are going to begin with the inserts today; but before we do, let’s talk about Pinnacle’s inserts for a sec. The inserts this year fell into one of three fantastically-90’s categories: clear acetate, Pinnacle-exclusive Dufex, and the rarely-see matte-black-meets-holofoil combos (my personal favorites). Of these the Dufex are by far the most common and the most singularly Pinnacle. Now, 20 years later, clear cards can be found in common dime boxes and even the matte black/holofoil combo has made it onto some Topps cards recently, but Dufex remains proprietary and exclusive to Pinnacle. Panini did bring it back for the Team Pinnacle insert in the apparently one-and-done 2013 Pinnacle reboot, but apart from that the cool printing method remains woefully underused.

Let’s start with a bang - here’s that white whale I promised you:

1996 Pinnacle Skylines #1

The unparalleled star of the ’96 Pinnacle show is the infamous Skylines insert. Despite its dubious popularity among ‘90’s collectors, this card remains shrouded in relative mystery, particularly when it comes to its scarcity and value; but I’m here to put all that to rest. Here’s everything I know.

Skylines was available only in magazine and jumbo packs of 1996 Pinnacle. They were seeded at 1:50 magazine packs and 1:29 jumbo. Usher (yes, Usher) has a complete set in high grades registered with PSA. The Griffey sells on eBay pretty regularly between $150-$250, far more than most inserts seeded at 1:50 packs. Those prices suggest an insertion ratio closer to 1:hundreds. So why is this card so hard for collectors to find?

Answer: because the packs they were in were hard to find. I remember Pinnacle hobby and retail boxes being fairly easy to come by, but I had no idea jumbo packs of this product even existed. And I only just learned what a magazine pack is. From of all places: “Magazine packs were available at large retailers like Walmart and had a punch hole top flap to the wrapper so they could be hung on store display hooks.” Oh, so they’re called magazine packs because they hang on hooks like magazines (??).

“Don't let the odds fool you - 
1996 Pinnacle Skylines Cards from this set were inserted 1:29 jumbo and 1:50 magazine packs, and both packs were hard to find.”

Add to that the fact that it’s from a large, 18-card checklist which makes pack-breaking for a specific player an expensive endeavor. I remember retail packs like Pinnacle going for around $3.00 a pop. Magazine packs (if you could find them) were probably a little cheaper having only seven cards compared with the 10-card regular packs. Let’s say they went for $2.00 a pack. Do the math and that’s $1800 to pull a complete set and guarantee a specific player. Them’s Usher prices.

Then add to that the fact that, like it or not (many don’t), Skylines is a significant design in the history of acetate. We were just getting into the swing of the wacky mix of materials and printing methods that defined late 90’s, um, “cardboard.” If someone were to make a list of famous acetate card sets, this would no doubt be on the short list right next to Cut Above and Destination Cooperstown from E-X.

Finally, one of the biggest factors contributing to the high price of this insert is the use of city skylines right in the design. I can assure you that any Griffey collectors who are from the Seattle area or who are also Mariners fans (and I would bet that 99% of Griffey collectors fall into one or both of those categories) would love a copy of this card, and so would every other fan of every other city represented. That combined with the scarcity of the thing has probably resulted in more than a few bidding wars for Skylines cards, driving the prices up. After all, putting the player’s city right across the card front is essentially the cardboard equivalent of Axl Rose screaming “What’s up, Seattle?????” into the mic just to get the crowd all worked up (before running off the stage ending the show early and because someone in the crowd flipped him off or something because Axl Rose).

I’ve seen a lot of negative reviews for this insert from a lot of different collectors, and I honestly don’t understand what the problem is. I think the design is really cool. Plenty of other cards have used city skylines in their designs, and few better than this. Sure it looks a bit like Junior is a giant Godzilla-esque creature here to devour the city, but what about that isn’t awesome? Is that just resentment towards the hefty price tag? Haters step off: Skylines is the bomb.

Not mine

Plus the Bonds includes a shot from the Full House intro.

The “Skylines” insert was used again in 2000 Skybox, but it’s not expensive. Don’t be surprised to find one in a dime box, you lucky devil.

1996 Pinnacle 1st Rate #1

Here’s one that falls under the Dufex category. Where some cards are simply Dufex for the sake of Dufex, here the swirl plays nice with the action shot of Junior deep in mid-swing. Big and bold and characteristically Pinnacle.

1996 Pinnacle Team Pinnacle #6 (w/ Reggie Sanders)

More Dufex for the familiar Team Pinnacle insert. I'm happy to report that Griffey made it onto every imaginary team Pinnacle cooked up in their short lifespan - from Team 2000 to Z-team. He also got the slightly cooler Dufex side of this double-sider. Reggie Sanders got stuck with the slightly less-intriguing gold foil side. Tough luck, Reg. At least you made the team.

1996 Pinnacle Essence of the Game #7

As acetate cards go there are cooler ones out there, but few are more beautifully-assembled than this. We have a rare, noticeably hatless photo against a field of bronze stars and a prominent holofoil banner. Great fonts, a cool nameplate, and a dreamlike feel make this a personal favorite, arguably more so than the Skylines insert.

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #155 Hardball Heroes

Here we get to see the parent-teacher conference in the dugout through radiating bands of shiny Dufex. It doesn’t fix completely the clunky angles of the gold foil below, but it helps.

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #185 .300 Series

Here is a rare case of obtaining the rarest version of a parallel before the not-so-rare one. Unlike the rarer counterpart, the lovely swirl here is not broken up by clunky text stamped all up in the Dufex. Feels good.

1996 Pinnacle #394 Checklist Foil

Not much to speak about here – just a mystery foil version of one of Pinnacle’s many superstar checklists. I’m still not 100% on where these foil versions of Series 2 cards come from.

Here’s a bonus ’96 Pinnacle card:

1996 Pinnacle All-Star Fan Fest #3

These were pulled from 2-card giveaway packs at the event of the same name. Pinnacle sponsored the Fan Fest for three years in the 90’s (Upper Deck sponsored a lot more), and of those this the my personal favorite probably because the design appears to borrow from 1995 Leaf’s 300 Club insert, and I love me some ’95 Leaf. While not particularly rare and not technically an insert from 1996 Pinnacle, they’re great-looking cards and a must for any Philadelphian Griffey fans out there.

So that’s all the inserts and the vast majority of the parallels from 1996 Pinnacle. No, I’m not 100% done just yet. I do still need:

1996 Pinnacle Starburst #41 Artist’s Proof
1996 Pinnacle Starburst #61 The Naturals Artist's Proof
1996 Pinnacle Starburst #155 Hardball Heroes Artist’s Proof

But these are all just simple parallels of an already parallel-esque insert with little difference to speak of than their slightly higher rarity. At any moment I could say screw it and grab them all for 15-20 bucks a pop, but I’m in no hurry. I’d rather set my need for instant gratification aside (for once) and wait out some good deals. I’ll tell you all about it when I do get a hold of them.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

1997 SPx: Ludicrous Speed

This is arguably the SPx-iest set in the already wild and garish SPx timeline. It includes a little bit (a lot) of every element that characterized the SPx brand as the high-tech showcase it was: holograms, etched foil, extreme die-cutting – basically every design element vintage collectors spurned was integrated into this one lunatic set. I’m a 90’s nut and even I think it’s too much, but that’s also what I love about it.

I mean, just look at it.

It’s like a 90’s cardboard monster. In the context of all the baseball cards ever made, this should by all reasonable standards be an insert of the rarest kind; but it’s just a lowly base card. Given the tiny 50-card checklist and massive price point ($5.99 retail for 3 cards), 1997 SPx looks and feels more like a really big insert with parallels than a base set.

It's the design equivalent of ludicrous speed.

There are a lot of unique elements at play here, my favorite of which is the creative die-cutting that spells out “SPX” right in the shape of the card. This and Upper Deck X are the only brands I know of that integrate the brand name into the shape of the card using die-cutting. And Upper Deck X is just one big letter – this was much tougher to make work. Also, while plenty of sets have given us both an action shot and a portrait on the same card front, ’97 SPx pushes the envelope with a 3D hologram portrait, giving us a good look at Junior’s All-Star ears and cheeks in the process.

One aspect of this set that can be confusing is the differentiation of the parallels. There are seven versions of the above Griffey card available: the regular base card, a sample version, and the Steel, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Grand Finale parallels. Here’s a quick list of all the versions and how you can tell them apart (and I really wish this list existed back when I was doing research for this post):

Base card: etched silver foil behind action photo, holofoil on X and nameplate are both team-colored
Sample: etched green foil behind action photo, holofoil on X and nameplate are both team-colored, says “Sample” across the back – derp.
[All Parallels: Black nameplates, photo on back of card is black and white]
Steel (1:2): smooth, mirror-like foil behind action photo
Bronze (1:4): bronze foil (almost orange)
Silver (1:7): etched silver foil behind action photo and on X, holofoil on X is silver
Gold (1:17): gold foil, hologram portrait is silver
Grand Finale: gold foil, hologram portrait is gold

Basically if you have a black nameplate, you have a parallel. Keep in mind that while the Grand Finale parallel is /50, it is not serial numbered. You may have a Grand Finale parallel and not even know it.

Here are the Griffeys I have from 1997 SPx:

1997 SPx #45

The hologram portrait is the star of the show here with the bespectacled fielding shot just along for the ride. I’ve said before how Upper Deck is the master at detailed etched-foil printing which we get a taste of in the background of the action photo. The team coloring in the X is a nice touch here and helps a lot in spotting parallels.

The back is that foil that hates scanners. They had to abbreviate the stat box and wrap the text around it to accommodate the card shape, but it doesn’t take away from the card. And is that a bat flip on the back? Kinda?

I hope you like this card, because here it is five more times:

1997 SPx #45 Sample

Not much changed from sample to final product. Here we have green etched foil in the action shot instead of silver. The blurb is also different, describing a few power-hitting highlights from 1996 while the final version describes Junior’s amazing start to 1997, the year he would go on to win AL MVP. And if you’re a real Griffey card lunatic like myself, you may also have noticed the image of the bat flip on the back was taken just a few milliseconds later than the one that made it onto the final version.

1997 SPx #45 Steel

This is my personal favorite among the parallels, despite being the most common one.

1997 SPx #45 Bronze

This one, apart from being one of the more obvious parallels, has far and away the most legible blurb.

1997 SPx #45 Silver

Don’t confuse this one with the Steel version. The silver has etched foil in the fielding photo and on the X while the Steel is smooth, mirror-like foil in those places. The back of the silver is identical in every way to the back of the Steel.

1997 SPx #45 Gold

This is the rarest of the 1997 SPx Griffey rainbow that I have, and it’s a looker. There is only one rarer, the Grand Finale parallel, which is similar to the Gold parallel but with a gold front hologram where this one is silver. It is in an unnumbered edition of 50, a very tough get for a parallel from 1997. Grand Finale parallels command top-dollar, especially the Griffey, but if you ask me they seem kind of thankless. An un-signed, unnumbered card with a tiny part in gold instead of silver doesn’t seem like enough to justify the expense. There’s one on eBay as I write this with a $1500.00 BIN, and while I am sure it will sell for far below $1000, it will still be too much for such a small difference.

Of course I still totally want one.

1997 SPx Bound For Glory #19 #/1500

This thing is awesome. HUGE field of gold etched-foil behind SuperGriffey who’s soaring through space probably to make some gravity-defying save at the wall. We have a flipped-up shades portrait on the back bathed in golden late-afternoon sunlight and a perfect combination of gold and Mariner green. Plus we have a big ol’ motherfriggin’ backwards cap holo-portrait.

I’ll say it again: backwards cap holo-portrait!

Masterpiece. Given the constraints on the design from the die-cutting, I don’t think this insert could possibly have been done any better short of having a hundred dollar bill stapled to it. Bravo.

Oh, wait – there’s an autographed version of this card #/250. Guess you can do it better. Dang, I need that card.

1997 SPx Cornerstones of the Game #1 #/500 (w/ Barry Bonds)

At only 500 produced these Cornerstones cards are rare pulls for this early in serial-numbered inserts. Some of the pairings are really amazing, too. They gave us a Pudge with Piazza, a Maddux with Chipper, and even an A-Rod with Jeter. Pretty cool.

Then there’s this card where Junior, one of the all-time heroes of the game, got stuck with one of its biggest anti-heroes. Harumph. The design is great – a pair of holofoil portraits with a large side-mounted swing shot featuring a solo Junior (at least they got that part right) over an extra-trippy field of black and gold etched foil. Then again, Barry Bonds is on it, making me resent how much I like this card.

As if the parallel confusion wasn’t enough, there is a #/500 insert called SPx Force that looks an awful lot like it should be an SPx card, but it’s actually from Upper Deck’s SP brand. Take a look:

You can see where the confusion may come in.

Here are the Griffeys I still need from 1997 SPx:

#45 Grand Finale /50
Bound for Glory Supreme Signatures #2 #/250

Just the two rare ones as you can see. While it would be nice to track down a reasonably-priced Grand Finale, I’m not really itching for one. What I’d love is one of those Bound for Glory autos as, being signed and all, their value seems less abstract.

I'm back, y'all!