Aside from coming with autographs or pieces of memorabilia sports cards these days come numbered/short printed. As I have mentioned become numbered cards are cards that have a fraction on it (usually in foil), the bottom number is how many cards were made while the top is the specific card you have. So if a card read 7/125 that means there are 125 cards made and you have number 7 in the run/print. The rarest you can get is 1/1 meaning it’s the only one in the world.
However, there has been a trend lately, especially in secondary markets like Twitter and eBay where cards are labeled as “super short print” or “SSP.” Often these cards are numbered out of a very low number like /5, /10, or even /20. Yet cards numbered /50, /99, or /199 usually lack this “SSP” label, but labeled as a “short print” or “SP. So at what point does a card go from being a short print to a super short print?
In order to answer this question, we’d have to figure out how many baseball cards get produced each year. After some thorough research I was unable to find a rough estimate yet alone an exact figure. But based on some other figures and math we could make an estimate. After looking at PSA’s (Professional Sports Authenticator, one of the biggest names in sports grading) population report for the number of cards they have graded it breaks down as the following: 10,941,907 baseball cards graded in company history ranging from 1881 to 2015 in dates. For cards made in 2013 Beckett has graded a total of 35, 100 cards, while 2014 cards dropped to 14,796. However, this is only counting baseball, so basketball, football, and hockey cards are not part of these figures. Nor is PSA’s biggest competitor, Beckett figured into these numbers. In 2014, Topps produced 20 different sets of baseball cards alone, not including any sets from Bowman, which they own. Considering that Topps sells its products in North America, Asia, and parts of Latin America I believe it is safe to assume they produce cards in enormous quantities each year. Furthermore, you have Topps competitors such as Panini and Upper Deck producing cards each year.
Looking at 2014 Topps Series 1, there were 330 cards in that set. Additionally there were seven different parallels of these cards, none of which were numbered. 330 x 7 = 2310. That means to have at least one of every card from 2014 Topps Series 1 and the first seven parallel versions of the base, you’d need 2310. However, since none of these cards are numbered there is probably a ton of these cards out there. Topps is known to do a gold border parallel of their cards where it is numbered out of the year. In this case it would be 2014. So that means they produced 2014 gold parallel versions of every single card from the 330 card set. So how many gold parallels did Topps manufacture in 2014 for series 1 alone? The answer is 664,620 cards (2014 x 330). I’d agree that 664,620 of any product is not a small quantity, but when you consider that the 664,620 is spread out over a global market, it seems small by comparison. If you bought one hobby pack of this set, the odds of getting a gold parallel are 1:9 or 1 in 9 packs. The camo (camouflage) parallel from this set is numbered out of 99 or /99. The 99 camo versions of the 330 card set make up 32,670 total cards available on a global market. The odds soar to 1:250 in hobby packs. Neither the cards numbered out of 2014 or 99 are considered to be super short prints, despite the fact only a finite number of them exists and they were intentionally produced to be that low.
If we drop down to the Topps black border parallel from the 2014 set, which is numbered to 63, the total number of cards drops to 20,790 (330 x 63). Globally there are “only” 20, 790 Topps cards produced in 2014 for Series 1 that have a black border. At this number, it starts becoming a grey area as to whether it is a short print or a super short print. The odds of pulling a black border in a pack jump up to 1:104 or 1 in 104 packs (if you’re wondering why these odds are lower than the camo parallel, that is because the camo cards were also placed in retail packs and boxes, while all blacks were exclusively hobby packs). If we go to the platinum 1/1 parallel where only 330 exist in the world, one of each card in the set, it is definitely a super short print. The odds of pulling one in a pack are 1:25,500. Where does the hobby/collectors draw the line?
The honest answer is that there is no definitive answer here. There is no sports card authority or council that has created rules of card collecting and dictates what a short print is and what a super short print is. It is entirely up to the discretion of the seller and buyer. The card collecting community often has debates about this and where should the line be held. In my personal experiences of collecting, I believe this line to fall somewhere in between cards that are numbered /25 to as high as cards out of /50. I have yet to meet a collector who believes that cards numbered /99 are super short prints. The cards that are out of /50 or close are interesting contenders as they walk the line and I have seen some people consider cards /25 to not be super short prints but just short prints. However, I completely agree that cards numbered 1/1, /5, and /10 are super short prints. Regardless, I think numbered cards for the most part are under appreciated and not many collectors understand just how rare they are, or the math behind numbered card compared to their much more common unnumbered counterparts.
Got a super short print you want to show me or have thoughts on where the line is drawn? Leave a comment below.