We spent the past couple of weeks talking about the likely impact that case breakers are having on inflating the supply of new card issues, and whether or not case breakers are good or bad for the hobby. Regardless of where you stand on the latter issue, the one thing that is clear is that increasing supply creates logistical issues of great impact for manufacturers, particularly as it relates to product configuration and ultimately box value.
One key area impacted by supply growth for any given product are the numbered parallels. Finest Baseball, for example, generally has a 100-player base checklist with 50 gold refractors #’d/50, for a total of 5,000 gold refractors every year. The problem is, if product supply rises but the number of base set gold refractors remains fixed at 5,000, then the gold refractors necessarily become harder to hit, resulting in lower box value. To fill the need to support box value in the face of rising supply, Topps’ response has generally been to add more rare parallels to the product.
This has certainly been the case with the Bowman Chrome family of products, whose gold refractor history we traced in The Modern Baseball Card Investor. Topps introduced the Gold Refractor to Bowman Chrome as a #/99 in 2001, before becoming a staple #/50 in 2002. The now ubiquitous 1/1 Superfractor and #/5 Red Refractors were introduced in 2005 Bowman Chrome (the Red Refractor was a 1/1 in 2004 and 2005 Bowman Chrome Draft, before becoming a #/5 in 2006). The standard Orange Refractor #/25 was introduced in 2006.
But in the face of exploding case breaker demand, 2013 Bowman brought the Black Refractor #/99 to the Bowman Chrome Prospects set; 2013 Bowman Chrome included Yellow Refractors #/10, Black Refractors #/15, and Magenta Refractors #/35; while 2013 Bowman Chrome Draft included Silver Wave Refractors #/25, Red Wave Refractors #/25 (previously a redemption feature), Black Refractors #/35, and Green Refractors #/75.
And the other key area impacted by supply growth for a given product relates to autograph production.
The Rise of the Bowman Chrome Auto
Everybody knows that a baseball player’s key card is generally his first Bowman Chrome auto, topped by the rarest parallels of those cards. This has been the case going back to 2001 Bowman Chrome, which included the Albert Pujols RC Auto #/500. Meanwhile, the top of the modern hobby is arguably the 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Mike Trout Auto Superfractor 1/1, which a few weeks ago we argued could conceivably fetch $100,000 today.
This has lead to a growing fixation on the Bowman Chrome brand. Moreover, because Topps prints to pre-order demand, we have observed a dramatic increase in the supply of new Bowman Chrome issues over the past decade.
Through 2013, Bowman Chrome auto had been inserted at a rate of one per Hobby box since 2003 Bowman Chrome, and three per Jumbo box since 2010 Bowman. And because the Bowman lines have continued to grow – and because more and more boxes were produced with one chrome auto per Hobby box and three per Jumbo box – this means that Topps must print more autos as base set production continues to grow.
There are two ways Topps can do this:
- Print more autos per player, or
- Widen the autograph checklist.
The good news for the investment-minded collector is that auto print runs haven’t changed much in the past decade. We know from stated print runs (taken from Beckett.com) that 2003 Bowman Chrome included 2,500 autos per player (including 1,700 base autos), while 2004 Bowman Chrome included 2,800 autos per player (with 2,000 base autos). Recent Bowman Chrome prospect issues don’t appear to be materially different, while the 2012 Bowman Chrome Draft prospect autos appear to be relatively short with about 1,741 autos (give-or-take, including about 1,000 base autos) per player.
The bad news is that the prospect autograph checklists have grown spectacularly over the past decade, such that the spring 2014 Bowman release included a record-smashing 54 Bowman Chrome Prospects autos plus 16 RC autos, while 2014 Bowman Chrome – slated for a September 24 release date – looks to have a whopping 73 Bowman Chrome Prospects autos and 5 RC autos (thanks to Jaypers on the Freedom Cardboard forums for providing the checklist).
Bowman Chrome Prospect Autos by Set and Year
|Year||Bowman||Bowman Chrome*||Bowman Draft||Total|
Sources: Beckett.com, cardboardconnection.com, sportscardradio.com, freedomcardboard.com
*Bowman Chrome 2001-2005 contains cards that would fall under RC auto category from 2006-present
Note that the MLBPA changed the definition of an official rookie card beginning with the 2006 card issues. Consequently, though the Bowman Chrome autos from 2001-2005 are listed as RCs in the Beckett price guides, they are generally equivalent to the Bowman Chrome Prospects autos from 2006-present. Meanwhile Topps has become increasingly reliant on Bowman Chrome RC-logo autos, which are in many cases the second Bowman Chrome auto for a given player.
Bowman Chrome RC Autos: 2006-2013
|Year||Bowman||Bowman Chrome||Bowman Draft||Total RCAutos||Total Prospect Autos||Total RC + Prospect Autos|
Source: Beckett.com, The Cardboard Connection, Sports Card Radio
But as a consequence, the Bowman Chrome prospect autos as a class – which were already speculative to begin with – have become exponentially weaker and more speculative as a whole, increasing the risk of buying a box and having your box “hit” wind up being a super dud. This is likely why 2014 Bowman Chrome Hobby boxes will include two autos per box for the first time, while the Jumbo boxes will include five autos per box, compared to three per box in 2013.
Jeff Hwang is a gaming industry consultant and the best-selling author of Pot-Limit Omaha Poker: The Big Play Strategy, the three-volume Advanced Pot-Limit Omaha series and The Modern Baseball Card Investor. Follow Jeff on Twitter @RivalSchoolX.