Understanding Your Sports Cards: The Fine Print

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Sports cards are nothing new and some date as far back to the late 1800s. However, back then they were never meant to be collected. Instead they were offered in packs of gum and cigarettes as gimmicks to get you to buy them. It wasn’t until the 1980s did sports card collecting take off and the manufactures started making cards for the purpose of collecting. As the industry grew, the card companies looked for new ways to attract buyers and collectors. Starting in 1997, card companies introduced autographed cards and relic cards, or cards that contained a piece of game used material such as a jersey or bat. Today, autographs and relics are the highlights of most collections. However, if you look on the back of these cards, you will find some fine print regarding the autographs and relics. This article will explain what each phrase means so you can be reassured by the guarantee.

Understanding Your Sports Cards: The Fine Print

In the early 2000s, game used relic cards actually came with a picture on the back that said “this is a photo of the actual jersey from which this swatch was taken.” Gone are these days, but collectors really enjoyed seeing a photo on the back of the card displaying the actual jersey that the relic on the front was from. Personally, I would like to see this style back but doubt it will happen.

One of the highlights of my personal collection is a dual autographed card of Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra (you can find it and other cards mentioned in this article on my Twitter account if you wish to see them). Derek Jeter stopped signing cards sometime between 2008 and 2009. However, on the back of this card and other high profile names it will read something to the effect of “You have received a trading card personally signed by (player’s name/names). This trading card was sent to (card manufacture’s name) directly from (Player’s name). This certificate expressly warrants the authenticity of the depicted athletes’ signatures.” This means that the card, before being signed was sent to the athlete, (or more likely their agent), the athlete signed the card on his own time, then mailed the card back to the company. While the card was not signed or autographed in the presence of the company or a representative, the card was personally signed by the person on the front and they certify its authenticity.

Much more common today and almost featured on all autographed cards is something along the lines of “this trading card was signed in the presence of a company representative to guarantee authenticity.” Wondering what this means? It could mean one of a few things. One, the athlete and a company representative met at a location, and after being handed a stack of stickers and/or blank cards the athlete signed away or two, the athlete stopped by the card company’s headquarters and spent the day signing stickers/cards. (The stickers with the autograph are then placed on cards later). Either way someone representing the company and willing to put its reputation on the line witnessed the cards being signed and swear the signature on the card is authentic.

To the ire of most collectors some relic cards will say “the enclosed event-worn/used materials are guaranteed by (manufacture’s name).” Why this angers most collectors is because these relics or materials were not worn/used in an actual game. Instead, they were just worn by the player at an event, often created especially for this purpose by a card company like Panini or Topps. The players show up, put on a jersey the card company provides, take it off and hand it back to the card companies so they can use them in memorabilia cards. Sometimes, these jerseys come from actual events like draft day, but for the most part they are from photo shoots set up specifically so the athletes can wear a jersey, take it off, and the companies can then put pieces of it in a card.

Found most commonly on Topps relic cards is the phrase “the relics contained in this card are not from any specific game, event, or season.” A lot of collectors have been confused by this statement and are curious as to what it means. Some are worried it means the relics are not authentic or game worn from the player. Thankfully that is not the truth. What it means is that the relic is not from any specific game, event, or season. Topps cannot guarantee that the relic on the front of the card was used on a game played on June 29th, 2012, an event like the All-Star Game, or Derek Jeter’s last season of baseball. One of my other favorite cards in my collection is a triple bat relic of Jackie Robinson. On the back of this card is the statement. The pieces of bat in the card are authentic and from a bat Robinson used in an actual game. However, they are not from his debut game where he broke the racial barrier and made history. That is all this statement means.

Hopefully this cleared up your concerns and you have a better understanding of what the fine print on the back of your cards means.