A trading card (or collectible card) is a small card, usually made out of paperboard or thick paper, which usually contains an image of a certain person, place or thing (fictional or real) and a short description of the picture, along with other text (attacks, statistics, or trivia). There is a wide variation of different types of cards. Modern cards even go as far as to include swatches of game worn memorabilia, autographs, and even DNA hair samples of their subjects.
- Early baseball cards
- Modern trading cards
- Digital trading cards
- Sports cards
- Association football
- Gridiron football
- Ice hockey
- Non sports cards
Trading cards are traditionally associated with sports; baseball cards are especially well-known. Cards dealing with other subjects like Pokémon are often considered a separate category from sports cards, known as non-sports trading cards. These often feature cartoons, comic book characters, television series and film stills. In the 1990s, cards designed specifically for playing games became popular enough to develop into a distinct category, collectible card games. These tend to use either fantasy subjects or sports as the basis for game play.
Trade cards are the ancestors of trading cards. Some of the earliest prizes found in retail products were cigarette cards — trade cards advertising the product (not to be confused with trading cards) that were inserted into paper packs of cigarettes as stiffeners to protect the contents. Allen and Ginter in the U.S. in 1886, and British company W.D. & H.O. Wills in 1888, were the first tobacco companies to print advertisements. A couple years later, lithograph pictures on the cards with an encyclopedic variety of topics from nature to war to sports — subjects that appealed to men who smoked - began to surface as well. By 1900, there were thousands of tobacco card sets manufactured by 300 different companies. Children would stand outside of stores to ask customers who bought cigarettes for the promotional cards. Following the success of cigarette cards, trade cards were produced by manufacturers of other products and included in the product or handed to the customer by the store clerk at the time of purchase. World War II put an end to cigarette card production due to limited paper resources, and after the war cigarette cards never really made a comeback. After that collectors of prizes from retail products took to collecting tea cards in the UK and bubble gum cards in the US.
Early baseball cards
The first baseball cards were trade cards printed in the late 1860s by a sporting goods company, around the time baseball became a professional sport. Most of the baseball cards around the beginning of the 20th century came in candy and tobacco products. It was during this era that the most valuable baseball card ever printed was produced - the infamous T206 tobacco card featuring Honus Wagner. The T206 Set, distributed by the American Tobacco Company in 1909, is considered by collectors to be the most popular set of all time. In 1933, Goudey Gum Company of Boston issued baseball cards with players biographies on the backs and was the first to put baseball cards in bubble gum. The 1933 Goudey set remains one of the most popular and affordable vintage sets to this day. Bowman Gum of Philadelphia issued its first baseball cards in 1948.
Modern trading cards
Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., now known as The Topps Company, Inc., started inserting trading cards into bubble gum packs in 1950 — with such topics as TV and film cowboy Hopalong Cassidy; "Bring 'Em Back Alive" cards featuring Frank Buck on big game hunts in Africa; and All-American football cards. Topps produced its first baseball trading card set in 1951, with the resulting design resembling that of playing cards. Topps owner and founder Sy Berger created the first true modern baseball card set, complete with playing record and statistics, the following year in the form of 1952 Topps Baseball. This is one of the most popular sets of all time, due in large part to the fact that it contained Mickey Mantle's rookie card.
Topps purchased their chief competitor, Bowman Gum, in 1956. Topps was the leader in the trading card industry from 1956 to 1980, not only in sports cards but in entertainment cards as well. Many of the top selling non-sports cards were produced by Topps, including Wacky Packages (1967, 1973–1977), Star Wars (beginning in 1977) and Garbage Pail Kids (beginning in 1985). Topps inserted baseball cards as prizes into packs of gum until 1981, when the gum became a thing of the past and the cards were sold without the gum. Collectors were delighted, since the oil from the gum was ruining an otherwise pristine or valuable card.
Digital trading cards
In attempt to stay current with technology and digital trends, existing and new trading card companies started to create digital trading cards that lives exclusively online or as a digital counterpart of a physical card. In 2000, Topps established themselves in the digital space by launching a new brand of sports cards, called etopps. These cards are sold exclusively online through individual IPO's (initial player offering) in which the card is offered for usually a week at the IPO price. The quantity sold depends on how many people offer to buy, but is limited to a certain maximum. After a sale, the cards are held in a climate-controlled warehouse unless the buyer requests delivery, and the cards can be traded online without changing hands except in the virtual sense. In January 2012, Topps announced that they would be discontinuing their eTopps product line.
Digital collectible card games were estimated to be a $1.3B market in 2013. A number of tech start-ups have attempted to establish themselves in this space, notably Stampii (Spain, 2009), Fantom (Ireland, 2011), Deckdaq (Israel, 2011), and 2Stic (Austria, 2013). These companies have struggled with two challenges: the high cost of digital licensing of quality brand content, and the difficulty of monetizing Internet content particularly in an 8- to 12-year-old demographic. The only successful business model unlocked has been B2B, licensing the tech to sales promotion companies and sports franchises as digital inventory generators. The bulk of the revenue generated digitally is by US and Japanese games companies such as Wizards of the Coast, with deeper game play and their own intellectual property.
The dominant paper-based card companies continue to experiment slowly with digital, being careful not to cannibalize their print markets.
Panini launched their Adrenalyn XL platform with an NBA and NFL trading card collection. Connect2Media together with Winning Moves, created an iPhone Application to host a series of trading card collections, including Dinosaurs, James Bond - 007, Celebs, Gum Ball 3000, European Football Stars and NBA. In 2011, mytcg Technologies launched a platform that enabled content holders to host their content on.
On July 1, 2011, Wildcat Intellectual Property Holdings filed a lawsuit against 12 defendants, including Topps, Panini, Sony, Electronic Arts, Konami, Pokémon, Zynga and Nintendo, for allegedly infringing Wildcat's "Electronic Trading Card" patent.
In 2012, Topps also launched their first phone application. Topps Bunt is an app that allows users to connect with other fans in a fantasy league type game environment wherein they can collect their favorite players, earn points based on how well they play and trade & compete with other fans.
In 2015 Topps launched a digital experiment in Europe (geotargeted to exclude the USA) with its Marvel Hero Attax, using digital as an overlay to its physical product.
Common functionalities that are shared between new and emerging digital trading card platforms, include collection, live auctions, virtual shops, multiplayer gaming, a mobile- web- or Facebook application, Digital Rights Management, card tracking, and embedded content.
Today, the development of the Internet has given rise to various online communities, through which members can trade collectible cards with each other. Cards are often bought and sold via eBay and other online retail sources. Many websites solicit their own "sell to us" page in hopes to draw in more purchase opportunities.
The value of a trading card depends on a combination of the card's condition, the subject's popularity and the scarcity of the card. In some cases, especially with older cards that preceded the advent of card collecting as a widespread hobby, they have become collectors' items of considerable value. In recent years, many sports cards have not necessarily appreciated as much in value due to overproduction, although some manufacturers have used limited editions and smaller print runs to boost value. Trading cards, however, do not have an absolute monetary value. Cards are only worth as much as a collector is willing to pay.
Card condition is one aspect of trading cards that determine the value of a card. There are four areas of interest in determining a cards condition. Centering, corners, edges and surface are taken into consideration, for imperfections, such as color spots and blurred images, and wear, such as creases, scratches and tears, when determining a trading cards value. Cards are considered poor to pristine based on their condition, or in some cases rated 1 through 10. A card in pristine condition, for example, will generally be valued higher than a card in poor condition.
Popularity of trading cards is determined by the subject represented on the card, their real life accomplishments, and short term news coverage as well as the specifics of the card.
While vintage cards are truly a scarce commodity, modern day manufacturers have to artificially add value to their products in order to make them scarce. This is accomplished by including serial numbered parallel sets, cards with game worn memorabilia, autographs, and more. Time can also make cards more scarce due to the fact that cards may be lost or destroyed.
Sports card is a generic term for a trading card with a sports-related subject, as opposed to non-sports trading cards that deal with other topics. Sports cards were among the earliest forms of collectibles. They typically consist of a picture of a player on one side, with statistics or other information on the reverse. Cards have been produced featuring most major sports, especially those played in North America, including, but not limited to, association football (soccer), baseball, basketball, boxing, American football (gridiron), golf, hockey, racing and tennis.
The first stage in the development of sports cards, during the second half of the 19th century, is essentially the story of baseball cards, since baseball was the first sport to become widely professionalized. Hockey cards also began to appear early in the 20th century. Cards from this period are commonly known as cigarette cards or tobacco cards, because many were produced by tobacco companies and inserted into cigarette packages, to stiffen cigarette packaging and advertise cigarette brands. The most expensive card in the hobby is a cigarette card of Honus Wagner in a set called 1909 T-206. The story told is that Wagner was against his cards being inserted into something that kids would collect. So the production of his cards stopped abruptly. It is assumed that less than 100 of his cards exist in this set. The 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner card has sold for as much as $2.8 million.
Sets of cards are issued with each season for major professional sports. Since companies typically must pay players for the right to use their images, the vast majority of sports cards feature professional athletes. Amateurs appear only rarely, usually on cards produced or authorized by the institution they compete for, such as a college.
Many older sports cards (pre-1980) command a high price today; this is because they are hard to find, especially in quality condition. This happened because many children used to place their cards in bicycle spokes, where the cards were easily damaged. Rookie cards of Hall of Fame sports stars can command thousands of dollars if they have been relatively well-preserved.
In the 1980s, sports cards started to get produced in higher numbers, and collectors started to keep their cards in better condition as they became increasingly aware of their potential investment value. This trend continued well into the 1990s. This practice caused many of the cards manufactured during this era to stay low in value, due to their high numbers.
The proliferation of cards saturated the market, and by the late 1990s, card companies began to produce scarcer versions of cards to keep many collectors interested. The latest trends in the hobby have been "game used memorabilia" cards, which usually feature a piece of a player's jersey worn in a real professional game; other memorabilia cards include pieces of bats, balls, hats, helmets, and floors. Authenticated autographs are also popular, as are "serially numbered" cards, which are produced in much smaller amounts than regular "base set cards".
Autographs obtained by card manufacturers have become the most collected baseball cards in the hobby's history. This started in 1990 in baseball when Upper Deck randomly inserted autographs of Reggie Jackson into boxes. They are commonly referred to as "Certified Autographed Inserts" or "CAI's". Both the athlete's and card company's reputations are on the line if they do not personally sign these cards. This has created the most authentic autographs in existence. These cards all have some form of printed statements that the autographs are authentic, this way, no matter who owns the autograph there is no question of its authenticity. CAI's have branched out into autographs of famous actors, musicians, Presidents, and even Albert Einstein. Mostly these autographs are cut from flat items such as postcards, index cards, and plain paper. Then they are pasted onto cards. In 2001, a company called Playoff started obtaining autographs on stickers that are stuck on the cards instead of them actually signing the cards. There is strong opposition against these types of autographs because the players never even saw the cards that the stickers were affixed to.
The competition among card companies to produce quality sports cards has been fierce. In 2005, the long-standing sports card producer Fleer went bankrupt and was bought out by Upper Deck. Not long after that, Donruss lost its MLB baseball license.
The first Association football (soccer) cards were produced in 1898 by Marcus's Tobacco in England. The set consisted of over 100 cards and was issued under the title of "Club Colours". They featured illustrated images of players on the front of the card, and a tobacco advertisement on the back of the card. The next series of cards were produced in 1934 by Ardath, which was a 50-card set called Famous Footballers featuring images of players on the front of the card, and a tobacco advertisement and short biography of the player on the back of the card.
Modern Association football trading cards were sold with bubble gum in the United Kingdom from 1958 to 1975 by A&BC, and later by Topps, UK from 1975 to 1981. Similar smaller sized cards were issued in Spain and Italy beginning in the late 1940s. Cards have been produced from 1981 to present, save 1985 and 1986. Other variations of football products exist, such as marbles, cut-outs, coins, stamps and stickers, some made of light cardboard and attached with glue or stickers, into albums specifically issued for the products.
Baseball cards will usually feature one or more baseball players or other baseball-related sports figures. The front of the card typically displays an image of the player with identifying information, including, but not limited to, the player's name and team affiliation. The reverse of most modern cards displays statistics and/or biographical information. Cards are most often found in the United States but are also common in countries such as Canada, Cuba, and Japan, where baseball is a popular sport and there are professional leagues.
The earliest baseball cards were in the form of trade cards produced in 1868. They evolved into tobacco cards by 1886. In the early 20th century other industries began printing their own version of baseball cards to promote their products, such as bakery/bread cards, caramel cards, dairy cards, game cards and publication cards. Between the 1930s and 1960s the cards developed into trading cards, becoming their own product. In 1957, Topps changed the dimensions of its cards slightly, to 2-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches, setting a standard that remains the basic format for most sports cards produced in the United States.
Basketball cards will feature one or more players of the National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Olympic basketball, Women's National Basketball Association, Women's Professional Basketball League, or some other basketball related theme. The first basketball cards were produced in 1910, in a series cataloged as College Athlete Felts B-33. The complete series included ten different sports, with only 30-cards being associated with basketball. The cards were issued as a cigarette redemption premium by Egyptiene Cigarettes. The number of cigarette packages needed to redeem for the tobacco cards is not known.
The next series of basketball cards were issued in 1911, in two separate series; T6 College Series, measuring approximately 6" by 8", and T51 College Series, measuring approximately 2" by 3". These series included a variety of sports, with only 4 cards being associated with basketball, one card from the T6 series and three cards from the T51 series. Both series were produced in two variations, one variation reading "College Series", the other, "2nd Series". The cards were acquired in trade for fifteen Murad cigarette coupons. The offer expired June 30, 1911.
Basketball cards were not seen again until 1932, when C.A. Briggs Chocolate issued a 31-card set containing multiple sports. In exchange for a completed set of cards, Briggs offered baseball equipment. The number of basketball cards in the set is not known.
According to Tallent, one of the first boxing cards on record in "America's Greatest Boxing Cards", and encyclopedia and check-list of boxing cards, was of John C. Heenan issued by Charles D. Fredericks in the 1860s.
A gridiron football card is a type of collectible trading card typically printed on paper stock or card stock that features one or more American football, Canadian football or World League of American Football players or other related sports figures. These cards are most often found in the United States and Canada where the sport is popular.
Most football cards features National Football League players. There are also Canadian Football League and college football cards. Player cards normally list the player's statistics.
Golf cards were first introduced in 1901 by Ogden.
The first hockey cards were included in cigarette packages from 1910 to 1913. After World War I, only one more cigarette set was issued, during the 1924-25 season by Champ's Cigarettes. NHL player Billy Coutu's biography includes an example of one of the 40 cards issued at that time.
During the 1920s, some hockey cards were printed by food and candy companies, such as Paulin's Candy, Maple Crispette, Crescent, Holland Creameries and La Patrie.
Through 1941, O-Pee-Chee printed hockey cards, stopping production for World War II. Presumably, the 1941 involvement of the US in the war affected the hockey card market, since Canada had been in the war since 1939.
Hockey cards next appeared during 1951-52, issued by Shirriff Desserts, York Peanut Butter and Post Cereal. Toronto's Parkhurst Products Company began printing cards in 1951, followed by Brooklyn's Topps Chewing Gum in 1954-1955. O-Pee-Chee and Topps did not produce cards in 1955 or 1956, but returned for 1957-58. Shirriff also issued "hockey coins."
Racing cards consist of a card stock with stats and pictures on it. Sometimes it shows the car, sometimes it shows the driver's face, and sometimes both. It also shows the endorsing companies for the car.
Non-sports trading cards feature subject material relating to anything other than sports, such as comics, movies, music and television. Supersisters was a set of 72 trading cards produced and distributed in the United States in 1979 by Supersisters, Inc, featuring famous women from politics, media and entertainment, culture, and other areas of achievement. The cards were designed in response to the trading cards popular among children in the US at the time which mostly featured men.