Can Baseball Cards Make Metals Precious?

During the baseball season unopened boxes of baseball cards rotate pretty quickly through our shop, and I imagine, most local card shops. Big weekends, like the Father’s Day just passed, only serve to make the frenzy a bit more fun, if hectic. Of course, when those times roll around they are followed by the need to recover and re-stock the shelves. In all honesty, THIS is one of my favorite times because I usually treat myself to opening whatever packs are left in boxes that are going to be pulled off the shelves in favor of newer (or more full product).

Early this week was the time for our recovery and re-stock, and on one end of a shelf sat a half-empty (or half-full, I guess) box of 2014 Topps Museum Collection. That has been a fun product for our customers, but with only the two mini-boxes left, I decided to give myself a little thrill and see what we would find. After all, there is a “hit” in every mini-box, right?

The first mini-box would have been a bust for many collectors, but as a fan of the Kansas City Royals since July 4, 1969 (I was there when they beat the Seattle Pilots in both ends of a double-header) the Momentous Material Jumbo Relic of Alex Gordon was a pleasant surprise for my own personal collection. And it left one mini-box to go.
Well, all I can say is that it pays to clean up the Museum. What a beautiful card was revealed when I pulled the Museum Collection Framed Museum Collection Autographs Silver of Miguel Cabrera out of that last box. Framed with the heavy silver frame and numbered 02/10, this card shone brightly as it reflected the sunlight coming in the window. The silver ink auto is bold, the silver frame is pristine, and the card is really something to hold.

Yep, it pays to clean up.

In showing the card to a few customers before I put it online I began thinking out loud about the use of metal in packs of baseball cards. Frames such as this one have been popping up the last year or so and make a nice statement. And a couple of years ago Panini used actual silver ingots embedded in cards as part of their Limited series. The player’s name was engraved in the silver piece above their actual autograph. Classy.

But metal on a baseball card is one thing. That led us to talking about baseball cards that are actually made of metal. It was suggested that the 1/1 printing plates that have been sought after in packs since the late 1990s might be the first “cards” actually available that were printed or etched metal, but that was quickly over ruled as we looked on some of the items on our own shelves.
Taking advantage of the baseball card craze in the mid-1990s the Avon Company (yep, the cosmetics folks) had a line of metallic baseball cards in their catalogs. In cooperation with the Hall of Fame’s Cooperstown Collection branding and a company named Metallic Impressions, the established perfume makers offered specially printed tins that housed five metal cards of a single subject. The cards were standard sized, embossed, and color printed on metal stock, and they actually have a decent feel about them. Several subjects were produced including Babe Ruth (1994), Willie Mays (1995), and a set of the original Hall of Fame inductees. There were also sets of Mickey Mantle, Nolan Ryan and one called “Iron Men” that featured Lou Gehrig and Cal Ripken, Jr. together (see them all on eBay . It is unknown how many of these were produced, but as it was in the mass produced era and the fact that they an all still be found for sale in the range of $10-$15 a set, the number is likely pretty large.

By the way, that same Metallic Impressions company would also work with Upper Deck on a set featuring Mickey Mantle. It is considerably more difficult to find, and it has eight cards rather than the Avon number of five cards.

Leaf SteelA more conventional baseball card set printed fully on metal was produced by the Leaf Company in 1996. In their packs of the well-received Leaf Preferred set that year the company placed one metal card known by the name “Leaf Preferred Steel” (imaginative cards, not so much on the name).

As stated, these were seeded one per pack, and the all-steel set featured silver framed color action player photos of the leagues more dominant players on a silver tinted background. The backs carry another player photo with the card logo as background and player statistics. This 77-card set also had one of the first parallel sets which was a gold rendition of the inserts. The gold versions were seeded at an approximate rate of one in every 24 packs.

I remember one of the more distinctive qualities of the Leaf Preferred Steel set was how heavy it would make a small card box or a notebook with pages. Of course, more than one collector found that the cheap pages would rip through with those metal, weighty cards.

But if we back earlier we find yet another all-metal set of printed baseball cards. Between 1981 and 1989, the National Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum issued a set of metallic baseball cards reproducing the plaques of the baseball greats inducted that hang in the famed Hall of Plaques in Cooperstown. This special set of 204 Metallic Plaque Cards included every player, executive, manager and umpire who was a member of the Hall of Fame through 1989. Sized like standard baseball cards, the plaques are pictured on 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ blank-backed gold anodized aluminum with every detail of the plaque fully reproduced. Think but very sturdy, the cards have corners that can actually poke a person who is less than careful. No dog-eared corners exist on these cards.
The set was sold through the Hall of Fame’s gift shop beginning in 1981, and with a new “series” of players introduced each year though 1989. Sold as singles in the gift shop, it seems that most cards are still in collections as singles as collectors bought only the players they desired. The Hall of Fame has stated that only 1,000 plaques of each player were produced. However, it has been reported that many cards were damaged in production/distribution so the number actually available of any one card is likely under 1,000. Such a number is on the lower end even today, but it was really a limited number in the years leading up to the mass-production era.

Even if some of the cards were damaged initially, those that have remained are condition stalwarts. There have been 293 cards from the 1981 series submitted to Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) for grading. Of these, 252 have graded at a 9 or a 10.

GehringerThere was a special “faux-leather” embossed three-ring binder available for the cards through the Hall of Fame as well. The original albums approximated the look of baseball glove leather. The series was discontinued for economic reasons in 1989. Each “card” has the date of issue printed on the front, and so it is easy to determine what series a card is from. Values are, to some extent, based not only on player popularity, but on year of issue; that is, later plaques tend to be more expensive because fewer were sold. The complete set of the 1981-1989 Hall of Fame Metallic Plaque Cards is comprised of 204 cards.

This unique Hall of Fame set is not on a lot of collectors’ radar at this point in time but, like the Callahan cards from the early 1950s, could be considered a sleeper with upside potential in the future as it has all the qualities of a collectible set: great subject selection (all Hall of Famers), limited production (1,000 or less per card), and the ability to be found in good condition (the greatest problems are scratched surfaces). They may not have the immediate appeal and impact of the Miguel Cabrera silver framed autograph, but as a set the plaque cards can definitely hold their own.