The spring 2014 Bowman release included what were thought to be the most highly coveted 1st Bowman Chrome autos of Chicago Cubs then-prospect Kris Bryant. But as I wrote here in an article dated September 29, 2014, those 2014-year cards labeled “1st Bowman” used by Topps to promote the spring Bowman release turned out not to be Bryant’s 1st Bowman Chrome auto at all; Topps would issue a full range of trumping 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Bryant autos in a variety of Bowman-branded releases throughout 2014, thus impacting the value of every 2014 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant auto collectors had purchased in the spring.
It would be the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Superfractor 1/1 that was listed on eBay for $90k and sold for an undisclosed price in April 2015. Meanwhile, the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft autos continue to trade at a significant premium to their 2014 counterparts.
It’s now March 2016, and it appears the odd happenings with 2013 Bowman Chrome Bryant autos are far from being over. And it starts with this Black Wave #/50 variation, which it seems few people knew even existed until one was listed on eBay in raw (ungraded) form earlier this month. Below is a graded example.
No such Black Wave autos were issued in packs of any kind in 2013 or 2014 (or 2015 for that matter). A Google search for “2013 Bowman Chrome Kris Bryant Black Wave” turns up zilch. And even this “definitive guide to collecting Kris Bryant Bowman Chrome autographs” from dailywax.com dated March 31, 2015 mentions every parallel variation of the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant auto – except the Black Wave #/50s, and also a set of Blue Wave #/50 parallel autos that apparently nobody has seen before, either.
Adding further to the intrigue, the only other evidence that the Blue Wave #/50 and Black Wave #/50 autos exist lies in the BGS population report (and also the Beckett online price guide), along with a single, notable grading date.
Blue Wave, Black Wave, and a 125-Card BGS Submission
A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Jesse Koontz, who is a Kris Bryant fan/super-collector from Chicago. Like me, Koontz collected cards as a kid in the early 90s, quit for a couple of decades, and recently got back into the hobby in a big way.
Koontz’s version of getting back into the hobby has meant trying to build a rainbow collection of Bryant’s 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft autographed cards, including these BGS 10/10 Pristine monsters.
In his quest, Koontz had made a series of startling discoveries, starting with the ungraded Black Wave #/50 listed on eBay.
Having never seen a Black Wave variation of the card before, Koontz turned to the BGS population report for answers. What he found were 125 sequentially-numbered entries for 2013 Bowman Chrome Bryant autos of a variety of colors, which included 15 Blue Wave autos and 15 Black Wave autos:
- 60 Base Autos (#8297424 – #8297483)
- 10 Black #/35 Autos (#8297484 – #8297493)
- 15 Black Wave #/50 Autos (#8297494 – #8297508)
- 15 Blue Wave #/50 Autos (#8297509 – #8297523)
- 25 Green Autos #/75 (#8297524 – #8297548)
The sequential BGS numbering is the first clue that all 125 cards were graded on the same date and likely submitted by the same person (or entity). And as it turns out, it appears all 125 cards were graded on the same day: September 3, 2014.
If that date sets off alarms, it’s because as of September 3, 2014 no color parallels of the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant auto had yet surfaced – only base autos had thus far showed up– in the June 2014 Bowman Inception and July 2014 Bowman Platinum releases. The first 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant color parallel autos would not appear until the release of 2014 Bowman Chrome several weeks later.
This brings up more questions:
- How is it that one person (or entity) wound up with 65 colored refractor parallels of the 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Bryant auto several weeks before anyone else knew for sure that they even existed?
- How is it that this submission included 15 Black Wave #/50 and 15 Blue Wave #/50 parallels that, as of March 2016, had never been issued in packs and few people (if any) even knew existed?
Is Topps Grading Cards for Replacements?
On Wednesday, March 23, the question was posed in a thread on the Blowout Cards forums. Collectors believed that Topps was:
- Holding back cards as replacements for damaged cards or other redemptions
- Having those cards graded by BGS, and
- Using the enhanced value of the graded cards to lower the cost of replacing cards.
In the message board thread, some feared the previously unknown cards may have been backdoored (literally walked out the door) by a Topps employee, but that strikes me as unlikely. For one thing, somebody showing up at BGS on September 3, 2014 with 65 copies of unreleased colored refractors (including Blue Waves and Black Waves) would almost certainly have raised red flags.
For another, several forum members in the thread confirmed having received graded 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant autos from Topps as replacements, including base, Green #/75, and Black #/35 cards with BGS serial numbers matching those in the September 3, 2014 submission.
In other words, the most likely scenario appears to be that Topps itself had those 125 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft Kris Bryant autos graded by BGS.
Sports Collectors Daily reached out to Topps for an explanation but as of this writing, no one from the company has responded.
There are more questions and potentially a lot of issues here that collectors would probably like to get a handle on:
- If Topps is responsible for the 15 graded Black Wave #/50 and 15 graded Blue Wave #/50 autos, then where are the others?
- Did Topps keep all 50 Black Waves and all 50 Blue Waves to use as replacements?
- Is it common practice for Topps to keep entire parallel sets (e.g. all 50 Blue Wave or Black Wave refractors) for only certain players (e.g. high-value players) to use as replacements?
- The Sept. 3, 2014 BGS submission included 15 of the 50 Black Waves (30%), 15/50 Blues Waves (30%), 10/35 Black Refractors (29%), and 25/75 Green Refractors (33%). Is it common for Topps to hold back as many as 29%-33% of cards of a given issue for replacements, or is it just top tier prospects like Kris Bryant?
- If Topps is in fact having cards graded, should collectors wonder what’s stopping them from cherry-picking the highest-quality copies of a given card after it is produced and packing out the weaker ones for collectors to pull from packs?
- And if Topps is having cards graded itself, are they only doing this for certain players? Or are they doing it for all players in equal quantities?
These are questions that collectors are hoping will be answered. And if the answer to any of these questions is that Topps is withholding cards for certain players in different quantities than others, collectors can’t be blamed for thinking they’re sitting in a poker game where the dealer is exercising the option to keep all of the aces for himself.
For a timeline of the Bowman Chrome Bryant events, click here.
Jeff Hwang is the best-selling author of Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy, the three-volume Advanced PLO series, and The Modern Baseball Card Investor. Follow Jeff on Twitter @RivalSchoolX.