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Setting The Record Straight: The 1994 Collector’s Choice White Letter Variation(s)

I remember several years ago when I was in graduate school, learning eBay for the first time and selling off my card collection to raise some extra money for groceries, books, and beer. I listed a group of Alex Rodriguez cards that I had thought would fetch $20, maybe $30. In the end, the group sold for more than $400 because it contained a rare variation of Alex’s 1994 Collector’s Choice Future Foundation Silver Signature rookie card. The variation had something to do with the color of the letter “A” on the back of the card, commencing Alex’s brief biographical write-up. It was supposed to be gray, but the lone letter was white instead, and as far as I remember, the rest of the card featured the standard Silver Signature design, meaning that the text on the front of the card $T2eC16dHJHYFFkRCeHm1BRq8fc(mr!~~60_57was all in gray, not white. Perhaps I am remembering incorrectly, but more than 10 years later I have yet to encounter another 1994 Collector’s Choice White Letter Variation exactly like that.

The White Letter Variation for which collectors pay such serious premiums these days is different. Like the Derek Jeter card pictured to the left, the White Letter Variation shows the same silver foil facsimile signature, but the rest of the text on front is all in white. As you can plainly see from the other examples pictured below, every player in the Future Foundations subset can be found with this variation to his Silver Signature card, which is a parallel to the standard issue that does not feature any facsimile signature whatsoever. The Silver Signature parallels were seeded one per every wax pack and three per every jumbo pack. There also exists a Gold Signature parallel that was seeded one per every wax or jumbo box or five per every factory set. The Gold Signature parallels are some of the most coveted cards from 1994, and although some websites like baseballcardpedia.com reference them, it is unknown whether the Gold Signatures can be found with a White Letter Variation. The Silver Signature White Letter Variations, however, do exist, and they are extremely rare, with ARod and Jeter examples selling for multiple thousands of dollars in top grades, and even common players who never played more than a few Major League games can fetch as much as $30 to $50 in raw condition.

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There is perhaps no other variation from the 1990s more misunderstood than the 1994 Collector’s Choice Silver Signature White Letter Variation. For several years, The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards has included the following statement in its pricing for the 1994 Collector’s Choice set: “#647 Alex Rodriguez White Letters. Some ARod Silver Signature parallels were mistakenly printed on base cards with his name and other details on front and back printed in white rather than gray.” Currently, it is the only price guide that acknowledges the variation, but because it only acknowledges the ARod variation, Professional Sports Authenticator, or PSA, the industry leader in graded sports cards, refuses to acknowledge that the variation exists for other players besides ARod, most importantly Derek Jeter.

4958a_lgAccording to PSA, in order to register a variation of an issue, PSA’s research department requires the submission of said variation to be accompanied by printed materials that directly reference the variation, and since The Standard Catalog only acknowledges the ARod, PSA has refused to hear the overwhelming collector demand that other 1994 Collector’s Choice Future Foundation Silver Signature White Letter Variation cards be distinguished from their standard Silver Signature cards. Casual readers and even many long-time hobbyists may not understand the significance of this. No big deal, right? Wrong! To designate a separate line item for the White Letter Variations in PSA’s population report would essentially create a new Derek Jeter rookie card for Set Registry collectors to pursue. Moreover, creating a separate category for the variation would also highlight its scarcity. Since so few are known to exist in any condition, in another ten or twenty years it will most likely stand as one of the single rarest Derek Jeter rookie cards to encounter in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition, commanding prices as high as $10,000, or more.

4060a_lgAlthough it is not a print resource, Baseballcardpedia offers a somewhat better statement on the White Letter Variation. “A legitimate variation on the Alex Rodriguez card (#647) was verified several years after release. The standard card features the “A” from Alex on the card back text in grey/silver whereas the variation features his name in white. It’s believed that the A-Rod “White A” variation is a significantly tougher card, but exact estimates of its scarcity are not known. In subsequent years, other cards (such as Johnny Damon) were also verified to have this white letter variation – thus it’s generally believed that the entire Future Foundations subset was produced with white (and standard grey) letter variations.” This acknowledgement, however, sounds more like the variation I described in my introductory anecdote than the variations clearly pictured in this post. Although they supply no visual proof, further down in their listing for the 1994 Collector’s Choice set, Baseballcardpedia also states: “Like in the base set, “White Letter” variations also exist for the Gold and Silver Signature parallels of the Future Foundations subset.” Gold Signature White Letter variations! What?

Here is the BGS population report for the 1994 Collector’s Choice Derek Jeter variations, including an erroneous category for a standard, non-facsimile signature White Letter Variation:

Set Player # 7.0 7.5 8.0 8.5 9.0 9.5 10 Total
1994 Collector’s Choice Derek Jeter 644 2 6 11 28 14 6 0 67
1994 Collector’s Choice Gold Signature Derek Jeter 644 0 0 2 9 12 1 0 24
1994 Collector’s Choice Silver Signature Derek Jeter 644 1 2 8 15 19 2 0 50
1994 Collector’s Choice Silver Signature White Letter Variation Derek Jeter 644 0 0 2 3 1 1 0 7
1994 Collector’s Choice White Letter Variation Derek Jeter 644 1 4 8 34 60 13 0 124

To make things even more confusing, Beckett Grading Services, or BGS, the industry leader in modern graded sports cards, mistakenly created a separate grading category for the Derek Jeter White Letter Variation of the standard, non-Silver Signature issue in addition to a separate grading category for the Silver Signature White Letter Variation. While we certainly appreciate Beckett’s effort to distinguish the Silver Signature White Letter Variation, to set the record straight, every regular non-Silver Signature issue shows a white letter on back, so don’t be fooled into buying one of these under the impression that it is the Silver Signature White Letter Variation.

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4060c_lgVariations, parallels, printer’s proofs, errors, and misprints comprise the core of advanced collecting. Most of the 514 cards comprising the legendary T206 Tobacco set, for example, can be found with 16 different advertisement backs, the rarest of which command small fortunes Gold Dat market. The 1949 and 1954 Bowman sets and the landmark 1952 Topps set are also rife with variations. So, too, is the 1994 Collector’s Choice set. Exactly how many, however, remains a mystery. Clearly, there is the Silver Signature White Letter Variation, pictured multiple times in this post, and this variation should absolutely be recognized by all grading companies. Perhaps a better name for this variation, however, should be the Silver Signature “White Lettering” Variation,4215c_lg because who knows if The Standard Catalog and my graduate school memories aren’t both correct. Maybe there is a Silver Signature variation that looks exactly like the Silver Signature parallel except for the lone letter on back appearing in white instead of gray. An accurate name for this variation would then indeed be the Silver Signature “White white DLetter” Variation, as opposed to the “White Lettering” Variation. Do these two different variations also exist for the Gold Signature parallel, that is, a Gold Signature White Letter Variation as well as a Gold Signature White Lettering Variation? I’ve never seen either, but if they do, they’d be worth a boatload, and I sure hope to find one someday.

Happy Collecting,

Dave Thorn at Small Traditions

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.