More than two decades have now passed since the first of the two 1993 ‘super premium” sets were released. While many brands have come and gone unceremoniously since, 1993 Finest Baseball is now considered a landmark issue that brought manufactured scarcity into current products.
Finest was first revealed at the 1993 National Sports Collectors Convention and to hobby dealers with a three-card promo set that also introduced the hobby to ‘refractor’ technology that would soon become a major hobby development. The refractor promo versions handed out then are far more difficult to locate today.
1993 Topps Finest was released as a hobby only product with boxes proclaiming the cards were "high tech". The chromium technology gave some depth and dimension and the cards were really unlike anything that had been issued to that time as Topps battled Upper Deck, Fleer and Donruss for market share. It was, in essence, the birth of ‘shiny stuff’ as vintage collectors sometimes disparagingly refer to the so-called premium brands.
There were 18 packs of six cards in each box, each with a 4 ½” by 6” jumbo card inside featuring one of the 33 All-Stars. It’s believed fewer than 1,500 of each were issued.
Topps also took the unprecedented step and announced that only 4,000 cases had been produced. Some dealers sat down, did the math, and were able to conclude that each refractor was issued to a print run of 241 copies. Now understand in 1993, when we as a hobby were dealing with limited print runs, the standard were usually serial numbered to 5,000-10,000 copies and autographs such as 1991 Upper Deck Nolan Ryan were issued to serial numbering of 2500.
With the quantity of cards being released, 10.000 of any card was actually a very small percentage of the base card in any set. If you look at 1992 Donruss, the 10,000 Elite cards are so difficult they are still in relatively high demand today. In fact, it would not be surprising to see an increase in these cards values over the next few years since they are of strong interest to the generation that grew up and collected avidly during the “over-production” era. I suspect you will find there may not be enough of some of these cards to go around.
So, with a stated print run of 241 copies for the refractors, a number never refuted by Topps, and the knowledge that refractors were only issued at a rate of about one per box, 1993 Finest exploded out of the gate and even had another major boost when the refractor singles soared in price early in 1994. Packs reached as high as $75 before settling.
One dealer on SportsNet assumed because the wax prices and the refractors were soaring in price then the base singles had to come along for the ride. However, in a really common sense demonstration of supply and demand, the set price actually softened during that period and the reason was real simple. Since everyone was chasing the refractors, and those cards could sell for such premiums, there was an infusion of the base cards into the hobby as more product was opened. Because of that, the base set actually softened in price during this period.
Some dealers were saying how out of touch Beckett analysts were then, but the reality was that the singles were softening slightly while the wax prices were going out of sight. Yes, that dichotomy can actually occur in this business and never more so than 1993 Finest.
One other thing wrong with 1993 Finest refractors was Topps did not identify them as such. You literally had to figure it out for yourself and for the uninitiated, it was easy to miss. Many refractors were purchased far under market value as singles or in lots by those who studied them and knew the difference. By 1994 and in all years afterwards, these cards are noted on the back as refractors and these days we have them in all sorts of colors and many of them are serial numbered.
The refractor distribution wasn’t always good. Some dealers found multiple duplicates in each case. Some are more scarce than others and those graded at the 9 or 10 level are often worth hundreds of dollars. This PSA 10 Bob Welch sold for nearly $2,000 on Sunday.
However, those who try to complete the set in high grade have been aggressive. There are currently ten completed sets on PSA’s Registry, all but one with a weighted GPA of 9 or better and several others registered at 90% complete or more.
The base set included 199 cards with a 33-card All-Star subset. While there are no notable rookies, the set includes numerous Hall of Famers and potential future Hall of Famers. Nolan Ryan, Ozzie Smith, George Brett, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken all have cards in the 1993 Finest set. The base sets typically sell for $50-150 depending on condition. In January, a Ryan All-Star refractor graded PSA 8 sold for $861.
Because of the often mediocre centering, plus scratches, scuffs and corner wear thanks to the type of card stock, it’s an extremely difficult set to complete in high grade.
Today, the set is still fairly popular. Unopened boxes usually fetch $375-450. In 2013, Topps paid homage to the debut set in its packs of the new issue.
1993 Finest refractors have become a sort of 1990’s holy grail for collectors who appreciate the history behind them. Whether you’re a fan or not, the set stands as a testament to where the hobby was headed for good.
Click here to see 1993 Finest baseball on eBay.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]