Monthly Archives: March 2013

Refractory Refractor: The 1995 Bowman’s Best Blue

jeter 95 b best refThe word Refractor comes to us from the noun refraction, a physics term which refers to the change of direction of a ray of light, but when it comes to the 1995 Bowman’s Best Blue Refractor, the term comes awfully close to the definition for another similar sounding word, the adjective refractory, which means hard or impossible to manage, obstinate, or stubbornly disobedient. Coincidence? Maybe. To date, however, the 1995 Bowman’s Best Blue Refractor #1 Derek Jeter RC Rookie Card does not exist in Gem Mint condition, as neither PSA nor BGS have ever graded a single example above the grade of Mint 9. It is without question one of the most exquisite Derek Jeter cards ever produced, not just from his 350 different rookie cards produced between 1992 and 1996, but from among all of The Captain’s cards ever made. It is also his most condition sensitive.

95 bowmans best boxThe 1995 Bowman’s Best Blue Refactor #1 Derek Jeter is a parallel version of the regular 1995 Bowman’s Best Blue issue. It is about 50 times scarcer than the regular version and about 1,000 times more challenging to find in decent condition. The 1995 Bowman’s Best issue is a 195-card premium, all-foil (or, some call it chromium) set in its second year of production. Also called chase cards, the refractors were seeded one per every 6 packs of the high-end product. One pack contained seven cards, and one box contained 24 packs, so each wax box contained an average of 4 refractors and 164 regular cards. In other words, it would take about 1.2 wax boxes to yield a standard non-refractor Jeter, and it would take nearly 49 boxes to yield a single Jeter refractor. The problem with finding a decent Jeter refractor, however, isn’t that boxes cost anywhere from $200 to $300 on eBay. The problem is that most of the refractor cards are notoriously off-centered, either from top-to-bottom, like the card graded PSA 9 (OC) pictured above, or from left-to-right, which collectors can easily determine by counting the vertical lines to the left and to the right of the “Derek Jeter Yankees” text at the card’s top.

For several years, in fact, the refractor parallels of the Vladimir Guerrero and Andrew Jones rookie cards from this set were some of the most coveted and expensive cards in the hobby, with raw examples selling for as much as $500 to $1,000, depending on their centering, and what few PSA 10s that exist fetching over $2,000. Even to this day, PSA has graded just four examples of the Guerrero and five examples of the Jones in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition, from 294 and 244 submissions, respectively, and most collectors of the set agree that less than 500 examples of each were produced. For its part, Beckett Grading Services has never awarded its Gem Mint grade to either key rookie card, and it has only given the coveted Gem grade to just two cards from the entire set from over 1,300 submissions on record. Now that’s tough!

jeter 95 psa 9 errorjeter 95 psa 9 error backWhat’s even tougher? While even novice collectors can quickly discern the difference between the regular issue and the refractor parallel, there exists a third Jeter version that has eluded even the most advanced of collectors for years. Most price guides are quick to note that card numbers 72 (Carlos Perez) and 84 (Orlando Miller) can be found in the refractor variation both with and without the word “REFRACTOR” printed in the lower left of the reverse, but no price guides make any mention of cards that say “REFRACTOR” on the lower reverse but that do not actually show the refractor finish on front. A Derek Jeter example of this uncatalogued variation is currently up for auction in Small Traditions Monthly Masterpieces #7, along with 221 other premium Derek Jeter cards graded by PSA or BGS. We’re not sure whether the card is a bona fide error or simply an unfinished printer’s proof, and we’re also not sure if it’s the only example in existence. We are sure, however, that it’s the only example we’ve ever encountered, and we’re almost just as sure that it’s the only example you’ll ever encounter as well. It was printed almost 20 years ago, and after another 20 years, it may just prove to be the rarest Derek Jeter rookie card in the hobby.

Chasing the Rainbow: The 1996 Select Certified Set

22221553Love of ’em or hate ’em, parallel insert cards are as unavoidable in today’s hobby as are cell phones and computers in our daily lives. Ironically, both of these realities entered the mainstream at about the same time. It was late summer of 1996 when my incoming freshman class at Lehigh University was informed, for the first time ever, that all students would be required to maintain email accounts. It was also that summer when Pinnacle Brands issued its groundbreaking 1996 Select Certified set, a 144-card hobby-only issue that contained an unprecedented six levels of parallel insert (or chase) cards, meaning that every regular card in the set could be found in an additional six different variations (or parallels).

Although Topps and Upper Deck had already been implementing parallels of their own for several years, the 1996 Select Certified set featured the shortest-printed parallels ever produced, with its Mirror Gold parallel boasting a print run of just 30 total copies. Yes, just 30. Visually speaking, they were also one of the most stunning cards the hobby had ever seen, featuring a flashy holofoil surface that shimmered like actual gold when reflected under light. They were an immediate sensation with collectors, who ripped through the $4.99 MSRP packs like hotcakes on a cold winter morning, and today they remain among the single most coveted insert cards ever produced. Major stars like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Ken Griffey, Jr. can fetch more than $1,000 in top grades, and the set’s key card, the 1996 AL Rookie of the Year, Derek Jeter, has sold for as much as $5,000 in raw condition. No copies have ever graded Gem Mint at BGS, and only two of the 30 copies produced have ever graded PSA 10 Gem Mint. If either of those copies ever comes to market, however, many Jeter collectors expect the sale to challenge or to even surpass the extraordinary $25,000 price tag that recent sales of the 1993 SP Foil Derek Jeter RC has generated in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition.

jeter mirror blue jeter mirror red jeter blue jeter red jeter select cert ap

The other five parallels from the 1996 Select Certified set are no less popular than the mighty Mirror Gold, just slightly more affordable. They include the scarce Mirror Blue and Mirror Red, which were also produced to extremely low print runs: just 45 and 90, respectively. Like the Mirror Gold, they feature a similarly sensational visual appeal, and they also command hefty price tags in top grades. Next is the Certified Blue and Certified Red, which were produced to print runs of just 180 and 1,800, respectively, and last is the Artist’s Proof parallel, which appears similar to the regular issue except for the inclusion of an “Artist’s Proof” stamp in the lower left corner of the front surface and was produced to a print run of just 500. Like the regular cards, every one of these parallels was issued with a thin protective film, or skin, over their sensitive reflective surfaces. Removing this so-called skin is a delicate and dangerous process, but the skins tend to dull the appearance of the cards, and once removed, the cards shimmer with an undeniable luster, each more brilliant than the last. Together, the various parallels encouraged a new concept in collecting, enticing hobby enthusiasts to “chase the rainbow,” that is, to collect a complete run consisting of one example of each parallel for a particular player.

Pinnacle Brands didn’t reinvent the wheel when it issued its Select Certified set in 1996. The Topps Company had been issuing its limited edition Tiffany sets since 1984, and a decade later it would change the hobby forever with its massively popular Refractor parallels in its 1993 Finest product. Both Topps and Upper Deck had also been producing various gold and silver foil-accented parallels to their regular issues since the early 1990s, but nothing had yet matched the masterpiece effort of the Select Certified Mirror cards of 1996. The following year would witness the hobby’s first ever one-of-one cards, taking the tiered short-print parallel to its ultimate limit with the legendary 1997 Flair Showcase Masterpieces. Today, short-printed parallels are so prevalent that almost every pack contains at least one card bearing some sort of variation from its standard issue, and as a result they no longer carry the eye-popping premiums as the hobby’s earliest parallels, which are now fetching thousands of dollars in top grades. New and old collectors alike, including vintage collectors looking to expand their horizons as well as forlorn collectors from the 1980s and 1990s looking to revitalize their passion for cardboard and to resuscitate their collections from the so-called “junk era,” need remember only three little words in order to grasp what’s currently happening in the hobby: 90s inserts rule!