Monday, April 5, 2021

1996 Upper Deck Folz Vending Machine Minis. Also Kinda 1997. Also Collectors Choice. Also Cardzillion?

Any '90’s collector who’s spent enough time in online card circles eventually comes across these things and thinks the same thing: What the H-E-dubs am I looking at? Even years after first encountering them and months after finally landing one they remained a mystery to me. I did not like this feeling.

So here I have compiled all the information I can glean from the Interweb about this not-quite-oddball set for the good of the card-collecting community. This post contains everything I know.

If I leave anything out that you’re aware of, I want to hear about it. Away we go:

Folz was a nationwide proprietor of vending machines, selling things like candy, toys, trinkets, and – yes – even sports cards, out of vending machines at groceries, stores that end in -mart, and anywhere else that would have them. They were incredibly successful, too, with millions in revenue, nearly all of it in pocket change from Mom's purse.


In 1996 Folz contracted with Upper Deck to create a set of 48 baseball cards (as well as similar basketball and football sets) to sell in their machines at fifty cents a pop. And lookie who got card #1:

1996 Folz Minis Vending Machine #1

The first six cards in the set (including that of Mr. Griffey) were printed on foil stock. These foil cards are said to have been short-printed, but I haven’t confirmed this. There aren't any non-foil versions of these first six cards, so it isn’t quite accurate to call them a parallel. I’ve seen these foil cards referred to as “Prism,” but I have yet to find an official name for them.

Upper Deck used the existing 1996 Collector’s Choice design but with the Upper Deck logo in place of the Collector’s Choice one. Despite being the ‘96 design and hitting machines that same year, the cards have a 1997 copyright date printed in the legalese on the back. They are still generally accepted to be a 1996 set.


The cards were printed just a little smaller than standard 2.3” x 3.5” cards presumably to fit in the machines. Upper Deck simply did away with the borders on the original Collector’s Choice cards to make this work without having to resize the photos or fonts. We even get a tiny bit of extra photo not visible on the original cards.

Here's the Folz card on top of the regular. The
size difference is slight but noticeable.

The nature of these cards’ unique dissemination into circulation made for a lot of condition issues. I mean, what kid was bringing empty top loaders along with them on a trip to K-mart with their mom? The vending process itself is said to have been the culprit in most cases of damage, but I imagine many cards (like mine, I suspect) were probably stuffed into a pocket after being pulled from the machine by the kid who bought them. There are a lot of slight bends and soft corners to be found on Folz minis. That said, don’t wait for a pristine example. Grab them when they surface. They are few and far between.

Hey, kiddies! Ya like cLoWnSSSZZSS?????

Folz operated vending machines in 48 states, but I’ve read that these cards were released regionally in and around California. This is also unconfirmed, so I am curious to hear of anyone remembers finding them outside of that region. I can confirm that I never came across them here in New Orleans. What I do remember is the bank of vending machines at Zuppardo’s Supermarket in Metairie, La that sold sparkly foil stickers for a quarter each. Things like unicorns and Lisa Frank monkeys and a lot of vaguely-anime fare. The stickers came out of a little slot at the bottom sandwiched inside a folded paper card. Can anyone tell me in the comments if these cards came out raw or folded in a paper slip? Somebody remembers….

Sales were not great, and at some point Folz removed the remaining stock of cards and sent the machines to Japan where they apparently found more success (Lord knows what kind of stuff they were vending over there). The remaining cards were supposed to have been destroyed by Folz representatives. Of course many were not, and these eventually found their way out into the world and into the hands of collectors. Those that survived un-vended are likely in mint condition and, therefore, the highest-value specimens. Expect big premiums for clean copies.

This sealed box was probably the source of some of the
PSA 10's that are out there...

Personally I kind of prefer a Folz mini that’s a little dinged up, a sign that it probably went through a machine and into the pocket of some kid’s Oshkosh B’gosh overalls only to eventually find its way to me over 20 years later where it would be handled and stored with great care like the relic it is. To me a few creases and rounded corners only make these cards feel more authentic.

There is only one card here I care about, but as there is so little info out there on this set I would be remiss not to give you the full checklist of 1996 Upper Deck/Collector’s Choice Folz Minis:

1. Ken Griffey, Jr. (foil)
2. Frank Thomas (foil)
3. Ken Caminiti (foil)
4. Barry Bonds (foil)
5. Mike Piazza (foil)
6. Chipper Jones (foil)
7. Tim Salmon
8. Greg Maddux
9. Brandy Anderson
10. Mo Vaughn
11. Sammy Sosa
12. Albert Belle
13. Barry Larkin
14. Kenny Lofton
15. Andres Galarraga
16. Travis Fryman
17. Gary Sheffield
18. Jeff Bagwell
19. Johnny Damon
20. Hideo Nomo
21. John Jaha
22. Paul Molitor
23. Rondell White
24. Todd Hundley
25. Derek Jeter
26. Mark McGwire
27. Gregg Jeffries
28. Jason Kendall
29. Ron Gant
30. Tony Gwynn
31. Glenallen Hill
32. Alex Rodriguez
33. Juan Gonzalez
34. Joe Carter
35. Jim Edmonds
36. Cal Ripken, Jr.
37. John Valentin
38. Reggie Sanders
39. Manny Ramirez
40. Dante Bichette
41. Bobby Bonilla
42. Craig Biggio
43. Marty Cordova
44. Rey Ordonez
45. Bernie Williams
46. Brian Jordan
47. Ivan Rodriguez
48. Pat Hentgen

I often forget what a big deal Caminiti was back in the day.

As for the nomenclature of this set, the name “Cardzillion” was used for Upper Deck’s basketball and football vending machine sets (also adopting the Collector’s Choice designs), but the baseball set is usually called just “Folz Minis.” Beckett (BGS) calls these cards “1996 Upper Deck Folz Minis” and PSA refers to them as “1996 Collector's Choice Folz Vending Machine Minis.” Early PSA flips misspelled the company name “Foltz” but this has since been corrected. Neither Beckett nor PSA began grading Folz cards until very late 2011/early 2012.

LOL. "Foltz"

Oh, and COMC lists them as “1996 Upper Deck Collector's Choice Cardzillion/Folz Minis Vending Machine” which is a mouthful, but it covers all the bases, doesn’t it?

The Folz company was bought out by American Coin in 2007, but with the recent resurgence of card collecting maybe vending machine cards will make a comeback? Then again, given the current state of the hobby I suspect the moment the machines are filled they would be hijacked by opportunist millennial beardos with rolls of quarters who would empty them of every card and then turn around and list them all on eBay at a markup to fund their sneaker addictions and OnlyFans subscriptions. Savages.

Thanks for ruining the hobby, shitbirds!