Monday, September 28, 2020

The Finest Month: 1993 Topps Finest

September is the Finest month here at The Junior Junkie. I’m going to be posting about the legendary first four Topps Finest sets in the timeline culminating with the original bastard of 90’s super-premium, the 1993 set. There will be many adjectives, much Chromium, and refractors refractors refractors.


After all these years and all these posts, I still don’t feel qualified to write this one. That said, just try and stop me.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Griffeys of 1993 Finest. Man oh man am I ever glad I snagged these back when I did because damn. It seems I wasn’t the only one who pined for these in my formative years when a $1250 card might as well have been a million dollar card.

But the hobby is back, baby. Just like ‘50’s and ‘60’s cards exploded in value 20 years later, transforming into legitimate investment pieces when the children of that era started having disposable income; so, too, are the great issues of the 80’s and 90’s having a moment of their own. It’s fantastic news for those who already filled their childhood checklists, but tougher to swallow for those just finding their way back to cardboard.

For two decades those old mid-90’s Beckett prices seemed insanely high, even laughable. Now we suddenly find ourselves right back where we were, at least when it comes to the big guys. And especially with Griffey. The guy remains a hobby phenomenon.

The importance of ’93 Finest cannot be overstated, and its reverberations in the hobby continue to this day. In addition to being Topps’ first super-premium set these were also the first Chromium cards AND the first refractors. Every other set nowadays is Chromium, and practically every set has refractors in one form or another.

Frankly it’s still amazing to me that a set like this was produced as early as it was.

The base set is broken up into two subsets: Baseball’s Finest and Baseball’s Finest All-Stars. The “regular” cards (if there is such a thing in a set like this) feature a big framed silver circle where the All-Stars are green with a gold and rainbow-framed Trivial Pursuit wedge.

One of the great things about ’93 Finest is that the big 199-card base set gave a truly desirable “Holy Grail” card to players (and their collectors) who otherwise might not have gotten one. For example, if you’re the David Nied supercollector (you’re out there, right?), you may know of three of four obscure cards that are scarcer; but most of us probably aren’t aware of those cards and wouldn’t recognize them as the prizes they are. Dave’s ’93 refractor, however, has instant credibility with just about any collector. You show somebody that thing, and they’ll immediately know that you mean David Nied business.

As for pack-busting ’93 Finest, you can forget it. I’m not saying it’s not possible there are still some pack-sealed monsters out there, but the nature of the boxes would make me very cautious. The boxes were sealed in regular old clear plastic in lieu of branded cellophane, so resealing one would be no challenge at all. The packs wrappers containing refractors were printed differently, so identifying them and fishing them out of a box is beyond easy. The potential for fraud and dishonesty among resellers is just way too high.

That said, if you are busting ’93 Finest packs, I want to hear all about it.

OK, let’s get to it.

1993 Finest #110

So the cards are incredibly cool. This is very important because if you invent a flux capacitor, you don’t stick it in a Chevy Nova and call it a day. You do it with some style, Marty. You spring for the Delorean and you screw the Libyans out of their plutonium with reckless abandon (and pinball machine parts).

That’s not just green. It’s ’93 FINEST green. Supergreen. Greener still because of that rainbow effect and all the gold trim. Rich and high-end, but still dynamic and crazy fun. The logo comin’ at ya from the top along with the simulated reflections and shading on every bit of gold trim give a three-dimensional effect rivaled only by the best holograms and lenticular designs. There is also a tangible, indented quality to the surface in the borders of each element as well as in the horizontal hatching of the rainbow. Despite all this, the card surface is smooth as glass.

I don’t think a Finest design ever looked better than the All-Stars of ‘93, and there have been some doozies since then. The ’94 design (and ’95 to a lesser extent) kept with the general aesthetic of the original set, but none ever nailed it quite as hard.

The back is simple but hits all the important points like previous year & career stats, player details, and a portrait in the same stately gold frame as on the front. A faded illustration of baseball happening fills out the negative background space (of which there is a lot). Also somebody tell me the name of that Finest font because I want it for my blog title.

Based on production figures there ought to be about 30,000 specimens per player, but it has been stated more than once and by multiple sources that the Griffey was one of several cards that was short-printed. I have no way to confirm this, but the market seems to agree.

1993 Finest #110 Jumbo

Here it is big! These were issued as box toppers, and per the stated production numbers there are about 1500 per player. Just like in '94 they are identical to the regular cards in every way apart from size. Only the All-Stars cards got the jumbo treatment which is a bummer for our David Nied supercollector.

2015 Topps 1993 Finest Retired Legends Metal #/99


And if you want to see what Griffey would look like on that alternate design, Topps gave us an idea in 2015 with this direct-sales metal set. It's thick, heavy, and downright dangerous (particularly those sharp edges and corners).

This has been really fun, guys, but we all know why you’re here.

1993 Finest #110 Refractor

I don’t know if you’re a fan of Dr. Werner Muensterberger (we call ourselves Muensterbergerians), but he is a psychoanalyst that wrote a book about crazy collectors like me (and possibly you) and our need for approval from our peers. Dr. M states that “need for authentication and approval by experts is a reflection of two forces existing within the collector: the desire for self-assertion through ownership and a sense of guilt over narcissistic urges and pride” (Collecting: an Unruly Passion: Psychological Perspectives, 1995).

Does this card give me narcissistic urges? Oh, hell yeah. Pride? Certainly. Self-assertion through ownership. Ugh, when you put it that way… well, still yes. I didn’t have all these killer Griffeys when I started this blog, but maybe what Dr. M describes is what has kept all this madness going. Perhaps all this self-actualization through material ownership is holding me back. Maybe there’s more to this life that cannot be validated through little paper cards and bits of cloth and ink, but by self-awareness, discipline, social responsibility, community with nature, family, and love.

Yeah, no, Griffeys are good. I’m good. This is all good.

So this is the card that originally killed my desire to collect Griffeys altogether. It was stuff like this:

Beckett Magazine October 1996 (courtesy of Jeff Makela)

And this:

1996 Beckett Ken Griffey, Jr. Tribute Checklist

As a tike I genuinely thought I could own all the Griffeys someday, but that 1996 Beckett Tribute checklist was the nail in my collecting coffin (though I did end up completing that checklist recently). Then to add insult to injury a bunch of even more difficult, prohibitively expensive Griffey cards came out just weeks after that issue was printed. I just couldn’t hang. The Griffey game was unwinnable. If you asked me then what caused me to bow out of the hobby, my answer would have been plain and honest: “The ’93 Finest Refractor.”

As it happens I finally landed my refractor back in 2013 with a best offer of $450. I was a few glasses deep into some single malt and feeling froggy. I couldn’t really afford it at the time, but am I ever glad I pulled the trigger when I did. These have been slowly creeping up in value over the years, but they are back-of-beyond ridiculous now following the great collecting surge of 2020, surpassing even the #/25 Red Crusade for high grades. For reference the generally-accepted quantity of '93 refractors is 241 per player. It's a big difference.

Refractorporn

It’s easy to see why. This thing is legendary. It was a household name among the cardboard kids at my school. We would reference it all the time. Sure, we loved anything with our favorite player on it, but the ’93 refractors were the pinnacle – the very top of the high-end of amazing cards ever produced. Superlatives like that often seem foolish beyond childhood, but not that one. That one holds true.

Behold my narcissistic urges and pride!

Whether the alleged short-printing of the Griffey carried over to the refractors is anybody’s guess; but if you go strictly by market performance, especially in the past few months, it almost certainly did. Either that or Griffey’s cards are heavily undervalued in the current Beckett listings, but what are the odds of that? (The answer is “good,” btw. The odds are good.)

You can also thank this card for the existence of my annual Top Griffey Acquisitions lists. I invented that concept just to be able to put that card on a list at #1. Some years that’s one of the only posts I make.

I ask you honestly and with full sincerity: are refractors less refractor-y now than these early ones? You’d think they would only get better, but I don’t know, man. I don’t have any other cards that shine quite like this one. Is that the narcissistic urges talking again or did something change?

Now for something I know many of you will be very happy to see, especially those that peruse eBay listings and get all bent out of shape about the faulty ones. I’ve certainly seen enough glaring errors on eBay to know this next part is needed in the world.

How to tell if your 1993 Topps Finest card is a refractor:

All Finest cards are shiny. ALL of them, even the non-refractors. Refractors are different shiny. Like, rainbow shiny. The coating “refracts” the light, creating a bright, obvious spectrum of color not unlike a prism or crystal held in sunlight all Pollyanna style. Here are a few examples.

On-glass Scan, refractor on left
Refractor on left, regular on right

Refractor on left, regular on right
This is a refractor. The regular cards don't do this.

It’s the difference between Metallica’s Black Album and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. It’s very, very obvious, guys. If you’re still not sure then you don’t know how eyes work. Don’t err on the side of stupid. List responsibly.

I’ve wracked my brain trying to think of a set that transformed the hobby as much as Finest. My short list is the card stock, holograms, and photography of ’89 Upper Deck; the jersey relics of ‘97 Upper Deck; and the Chromium printing and refactors of ’93 Finest. There are plenty of other firsts, particularly in the ‘90’s, but those are my big three.

The big three Griffey game-changers

And to you folks just getting in (or back in) to cards, I wish you the best of luck. You could not pick a better Kid to collect. May your refractors be shiny and plentiful.

That does it for The Finest month. I'm going to keep the themes going for next month with the awkwardly named Pinnacle-tober. I've finally completed the Pinnacle flagship Griffey master set, and to celebrate I've put together posts for all the remaining Pinnacle flagship sets I haven't gotten to yet. Look out for that beginning next week.

Thanks for reading.

6 comments:

  1. That Griffey refractor is sweet! Don't think I've ever seen one in person... and the only 1993 refractor I've ever owned is the Gwynn. Sure wish I would have picked up a Henderson a few years ago. Now they're back out of my price range.

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  2. I can't relate to much of what's in this post -- the knowledge of $1,500 cards when I was a kid, collecting Rockies when I was a kid -- all I know is I really like Finest from this period.

    Also, screw Dr. M. I'm supposed to be happy taking walks with my family to the end of time?

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  3. Watching video on YT and hearing people go "I can't tell if that is a refractor" when IT CLEARLY FUCKING IS makes me a wee furious. Thank you for pointing out the dumb of people. And the amount of blind people that post videos.

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  4. Not at this level, but so so happy I have the 1993 Finest Mattingly. Such an amazing set, and really holds up over time. I have a few of the Finest All-Stars from this year, but it's not - and never will be - the same.

    1993 Finest was an industry game changer.

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  5. Well now I need a David Nied refractor.

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