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Friday, March 28, 2014

2014 Topps Heritage Review: Close, but no cigar. One egg short of a dozen. One card short of a full deck.

I'm not crazy about Topps Heritage. I recognize its appeal, though. A large percentage - perhaps a majority - of series collectors were alive and probably collecting as children during the Golden Age of baseball. The designs bring back memories of when life for them was simpler. Generally, the release is geared towards set builders, with reproductions of poses, errors, and other nuances of the original set. And many of the designs from this era were quite attractive, some timeless.

But I don't have a connection with the 1950s and 1960s. My first packs as a child collector were bought in 1989. And, as I seem to mention every year, the designs are great but purposely making the photos grainy to match the originals is just irritating. I wish the Heritage sets for the painted sets were, well, painted. So I don't collect the base set. Besides, I have the flagship issue and a few other throwbacks to chase every year.

This post isn't about Heritage hate... not exactly. I don't think poorly of anyone who collects the set; it's just not my cup of tea. It's one of the releases for which I enjoy seeing the cards themselves and gathering singles for my type collection.
 The base cards this year are styled after 1965 Topps. I personally consider this to be the best design Topps used in the 1960s. The card backs are fun with a handwritten-style font and cartoon, as per the original. Gattis' card has extra space to mention that he had several prior jobs. I guess that's pretty rare these days, as most MLB roster members have probably never had a real job other than part-time work in high school... if that.

There are 500 cards in the base set; the last 75 are short prints. Four variation styles can be found as short prints for some cards: error replications (6 cards known), throwback uniforms (20 cards), action images (25 cards), and team logo variations (25 cards).
 100 cards from the base set have a series of parallels in varying quantities:

  • Chrome, #/999
  • Chrome Refractor, #/565
  • Chrome Purple Refractor
  • Chrome Black Refractor, #/65
  • Chrome Gold Refractor, #/5
  • Mini, #/100
Additionally, 25 cards have a blue-border parallel found only at WalMart, and 25 cards have a red-border parallel sold exclusively at Target. It appears that there is no overlap in those two checklists, but I think all 50 red/blue border cards are also found in the Chrome and Mini parallel sets.

All cards have a black-back parallel, which seem to be pretty rare. These replace the blue shading with a black (grey) shading.

 Topps Heritage has a few insert sets that come back from year to year. They borrow design elements from the base set design, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. Two of those are the Baseball Flashbacks and News Flashbacks sets. Each set has 10 cards. There is a 10-card Baseball Flashbacks relic autograph set, with each card serial-numbered to 10. A look back at 1965 is an interesting history lesson - both in baseball and pop culture.
 Two other annual offerings in this year's Heritage set are New Age Performers, a 20-card set, and Then & Now, a 10-card dual-player set.
 Heritage has been known to contain inserts based on inserts or other releases by Topps from the year the  set is based on. In 1965, Topps released an Embossed set, and this year's Heritage has an Embossed insert set. This is extremely rare; a single card from this 15 card set is found about 1:15,000 hobby packs. Are these 1 of 1s? How many hobby packs are there, exactly?

The other pack-based insert in Heritage this year is First Draft, featuring players who were drafted in 1965's first ... well ... draft.
A 20-card embossed "Giant Baseball Players" box loader set is limited to 50 copies each, with a relic set #/25; 10 cards are also found in autographed versions, #/10.
The other form of box loaders are the usual advertising panels, which are strips of three cards on the front; the backs have one "traditional" card back with the other two cards' space being an advertisement for the product.
 There are two non-game relic card sets. One is the Framed Stamps set, a 16-card set serial numbered to 50. The other is 65 Mint, with 50 subjects in nickel (#/15), dime (#/10), quarter (#/5), and JFK half-dollar (1/1) versions.

Note, that based on the odds given for the framed stamps, different possibilities for the number of 2014 Topps Heritage hobby packs exist:

  • Nickels #/15 1:2830, 2,122,500 packs
  • Dimes #/10 1:5660, 2,830,000 packs
  • Quarters #/5 1:16,864, 4,216,000 packs
  • Half Dollars #/1 1:161,890, 8,094,500 packs.

Either some cards don't appear in all versions (I haven't really studied the checklist a lot), or someone has a problem with math at Topps. Regardless, using this data means that the Embossed inserts, which are hobby-only and found 1:14,667 packs, are limited to somewhere between 10 and 40 copies each. I haven't looked at the odds for any other sets to see if this pans out... keep reading and I'll see what happens.
 Topps Heritage has one true relic set, Clubhouse Collection. There are 40 cards in the set, with a gold parallel numbered to 99 copies. There are additional "Clubhouse Collection" sets:

  • A 5-card dual-relics set, numbered to 65 copies each.
  • A 5-card triple-relics set, numbered to 25 copies each.
  • A 5-card quad-relics set, numbered to 10 copies each.
  • A 10-card autographed relic set, numbered to 10 copies each.
  • A 5-card dual-relic dual-autograph set, numbered to 10 copies each.
Additionally, there is a 25-card patch booklet set, all as 1-of-1 cards, found 1:65,000 packs. The odds here show an even-lower hobby pack supply, about 1.6 million packs.

Real One Autographs are a big draw in Heritage, with on-card signatures from stars past and present. There are 56 subjects in this year's set, with a "Special Edition" red-ink parallel numbered to 65 copies. Additionally, there are 10 dual-autographed cards #/25, and 5 triple-autographed cards #/5, found 1:33,728 packs. And yet again, the 25 triple-autographed cards in the product indicate that there would be only about 800,000 hobby packs of Heritage.

Two mega-hit sets are found in Heritage: 20 1:1 cut signature cards and 20 1:1 celebrity cut signature cards. The checklists seem to show baseball players as some of the "celebrity" subjects, including Bob Gibson, Johnny Bench, and Tommy Lasorda. There are some celebrities, like Elvis Presley and Betty White.

Hobby-only inserts seem to help get an idea of the print run for a product; extrapolations about retail supply could also be made with accurate data. However, Topps' odds are all over the place. Then again, my odds are based on those posted at Cardboard Connection, and they could be combined odds for some products. an 800,000 hobby pack run for Heritage is possible, I suppose. I read an article recently that Topps is seeing a decrease in orders and thus reduced its print run, and with the same-old same-old (yet straying from Heritage's successful formula) it should be no surprise.

When I first saw the sell sheets for Heritage, I had at least some interest in the Embossed cards. And when I saw the first actual card image online, I wanted the insert and box loader sets. But if they're really available only in quantities of 50 or less each, there's no way I could try to build a set. And that's how Topps loses customers... and that's why they're close, but no cigar in this release.

I do have a full set of News Flashbacks already, because I'm a minor history buff and I've been building the set since it began being inserted into Heritage. I don't have any actual Heritage cards in my possession yet, though. I hope to find some singles this weekend at one of the local stores (though it's a slim chance).

However, if there actually is a lower print run, this year's Heritage set could be highly coveted in the future.


  1. When you run the math out on the odds, I start to understand why Topps has struggled to make money. If it can't give the proper calculations on probability, how would we expect them to figure out accounting standards?

    1. I don't think Topps really understands what is going on. They cater to a narrow demographic which, right now, is supporting them financially. But that group won't be around forever, and I don't see them actually working to attract and keep younger collectors. I know that's a tough thing to do, but it can be done.

  2. The embossed set was originally supposed to be 2 per box--that's how it was originally advertised. Shortly before release, I heard it was going to be 2 per case. The people (not me) got their cases and...nothing. I've seen it estimated that the embossed cards fall one every 50 cases. More math for you. There are 15 players in the embossed set and each is numbered to 15. They are split evenly (or as evenly as can be done) between hobby and retail product. I doubt this year's Heritage has a lower press run than in past years. This is a product that prints to demand, usually (I pay very little attention to the odds, myself), and demand for the '65 design has been quite high, as far as I can tell.

    I'm a big fan of Heritage for lots of reasons (short prints are not one of them). But you're dead right: Heritage is not a product that should feature cards only rich people and people who bust over 50 cases will ever own. I have better odds of pulling the Golden Ticket to the Willy Wonka factory (the Gene Wilder version) and that doesn't even exist. Save that crap for your high end products, Topps.

    1. 15 copies. What could have been a sales-driving insert set is limited to 15 copies. I was really looking forward to collecting the set, but I will probably never even see one card.

      A thread on Blowout hints that the print run this year for flagship seems to be much lower, and Sports Card Radio paraphrased something that Topps said which seemed to hint that orders are down. Beckett says that Topps admits that the first seven baseball products of the year are making less money than last year. "By under-producing a product such as Heritage, it creates a stronger chase factor." Demand is high because it can't be found, perhaps?

  3. At first I thought your odds for those embossed inserts was a typo. These singles must be fetching big money on eBay.

    1. The box loaders, sometimes with relics or autographs, are going for less than the inserts.