Love 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.
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!