The 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.
The 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!
What’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.