2014 Leaf Originals Continues to Build on a Strong Year

This time of year is the perfect chance for unlicensed companies like Leaf to go nuts with being first to market. With a product already out like Leaf Metal Draft, they have shown that 2014 is already looking better than a horrendous 2013. Today they released a second product in 2014 Leaf Originals, which is fashioned after some of the earliest leaf cards around. The product is all on card, and looks great, only to further capitalize on a young season so far.

2014 Leaf Originals Johnny Manziel Auto RC

2014 Leaf Originals Sammy Watkins Yellow Parallel Mini Auto /25

2014 Leaf Originals Jadeveon Clowney Yellow Parallel Mini Auto /25

2014 Leaf Originals Teddy Bridgewater Auto Mini RC

My only complaint is that the set does get a bit repetitive if you open a lot, but with 5 autographs a box, there is a big chance to pull something nice. Leaf is building off their very popular Originals Wrestling product, and I was excited to see how it came through with football. I had a chance to bust a box today and was lucky enough to pull two cards out of 25 (Louis Nix and a scrub), plus a crazy nice Johnny Manziel mini auto. I was impressed by the painted style approach that matches the original set from 1948 and 1960, and it transfered even better to the mini cards you get two per box.

Leaf has also included what looks like another mystery style card, in the Hot Rookie Memorabilia Redemptions, which is already garnering a lot of speculation on what they could be. Knowing Bryan Gray, they should be big hits, and possibly another card like the Manziel from 2013.

If I am an unlicensed company, this is my time to release all the big products I have in my arsenal. Because the values drop so drastically when the NFL stuff hits, I want to make as big an impact as I possibly can. Leaf has already announced that Trinity will be back for a second year, and I am happy to see that they are continuing their commitment to hard signed cards. Originals is a great idea to bring more of that type of content to the early part of the year, and we still have more to go.

2013 National Treasures Football is LIVE!

Today is a big day as we finally get to see how National Treasures ends up. We have gotten quite a few looks at the box content thanks to cases broken at the industry summit, but now we also get to see if super high end can exist in 2013.

Here are some of the big hits so far:

2013 National Treasures EJ Manuel Rookie Auto Patch /99

2013 National Treasures Bill Parcells Class of 2013 Auto – Love these cards

2013 National Treasures Geno Smith Rookie Auto Patch Gold /49

2013 National Treasures Tavon Austin Jumbo Patch Auto Booklet

2013 National Treasures Colin Kaepernick HOF Logo Patch /4

2013 National Treasures Giovani Bernard Rookie Auto Patch Gold /99

We are also getting first looks at cards that Panini has built around their exclusive with the pro football hall of fame, all of which look gorgeous. Although there are a lot of sticker autographs, the design looks great. I have to give them credit for finally figuring out how important this content can be.

That being said, I still feel as though we are being cheated out of autographs we deserve to have on card, and its clear the checklist may be to blame. So many people, so many autographs, I would much rather have a focused list with all on card autos, or even redemptions to ensure we get them. In a product that costs as much as this does, collectors deserve that type of commitment. Although Panini has stepped up the on card autos for non-rookies, its still disappointing that they cant figure out that hard signed is the most important thing for a set like Treasures.

Also, I have to say im disturbed that my favorite player seems to have given his cards to a friend to "sign", as in my opinion, the autos dont look to match previous examples. Its too bad, because I like a lot of these cards for 2013. Im still waiting on confirmation that I will never get, but I am going to have just stay away.

It looks like Panini is bringing back the event used swatches from the Pro-Bowl, which I CANNOT FUCKING STAND. This is a game that no one cares about, and the jerseys arent even game used. Its a double slap in the face, which I find to be completely counterproductive for a set of this caliber. These cards are a freaking joke, as they were in Topps’ Museum Collection, and I wish all companies would just give up on this game’s need to be a part of our football lexicon.

This is easily the best looking year of National Treasures we have seen yet, and its completely a shame that it is being wasted on a class as shitty as this one is. Even the base cards look their best, and Im not kidding when I say that its worth checking them out. Lets just hope this product isnt redemption laden with cards that should be live, and with the new rewards system looming, it can be quite the representation of how much a product like this might be affected. Just saying.

High End Class: SCU’s Interview With Heroes of Sport Founder Will Jaimet

Over the last few years, products that arent created by any of the big group of manufacturers, have been on the rise. These products are often built by collectors for collectors, with a focus on highlighting the best of the hobby in every way. Whether its the big hits you have always wanted to pull, or autographed memorabilia you would love to put in your man cave, these products showcase the stuff PC centerpieces are made of.

Heroes of Sport is a product that I have latched onto, mainly because of its focus on delivering the highest end collectibles. Their newest product Iconic Heroes, Chapter 1 was recently released, and has generated some amazing pulls in its first few weeks. Add these onto an already impressive brand full of amazing stuff, and its a recipe for success:

Heroes of Sport Derek Jeter Full Sized Autographed Bat

Heroes of Sport Sidney Crosby Full Sized Autographed Stick

Heroes of Sport Yasiel Puig Game Used Baseball from Rookie Season

Heroes of Sport Walter Payton Signed 8×10

With the scope of my collection focusing on obtaining the most valuable items I can get for my favorite players, it should be no surprise that I am a fan of the HoS brand. I had the chance to meet Will Jaimet, founder of Heroes of Sport, recently at the Chicago National Convention, and I was impressed with his knowledge of the industry. He also happened to be carrying around a bag full of some of the most incredible stuff you have ever seen.

Here is the great thing. We are entering an era of the industry where collectors have taken it upon themselves to change the landscape of the hobby rather than just talk about it. Jaimet seems to be one of those people, who wasnt satisfied with the status quo and has committed his time to change it. Any time I see that evident in a brand or new venture, I like to reach out. Will was kind enough to answer a few questions, which after reading his responses, look like there are some great things to come for Heroes of Sport. They have developed a cult following with each of their products, and the people who buy have nothing but amazing things to say about their experiences.

Thank you to Will for all the time he spent answering the questions.

Sports Cards Uncensored: For the people out there who don’t know, what is Heroes of Sport?

Will Jaimet (HoS): We believe that we create the finest unopened box opportunity in the hobby. We specialize in rare and highly unique cards and memorabilia that many people don’t know exists. Our sealed boxes contain 4 items that are a combination of cards and redemptions for memorabilia. We feel that if you get a memorabilia redemption, you deserve to have it ASAP, so we try to ship the same day redemption codes are entered into our system. We want you to have the item as soon as you possibly can.

SCU: What got you into this line of making a product?

WJ: Growing up, I opened a ton of wax. I started as a high schooler in the 1996-97 era when all the companies started serial numbering cards and putting in autographs. I opened so much over the years, that I feel that I can “sit in the shoes” of someone who busts wax. I know how painful it is when you miss, and how much of a rush it is when you hit something you love.

In 2006 after leaving college, I started buying and selling for a living. We have been incredibly successful buying below market values and selling for more. I am buy nature a pretty creative person and I started thinking that if I could accumulate large quantities of the finest collectibles below market value, I could then put them into a product line that would have a retail value of the sale price or more as a whole. This is more challenging than I originally anticipated because of manufacturing costs, employee costs, redemption Fedex costs, and the cut distribution takes. However, I think with our newest release we are at that point. We’ve been able to streamline our systems of operations, improved how we buy, and basically are getting more connected in the industry.

SCU: Of the last 3 products you have done, what was your favorite thing you put in the boxes?

WJ: It’s too hard to pick just one, but 2 of my 4 favorite items haven’t been pulled yet from this product, after they get hit I’ll let you know. The other item I love which hasn’t been pulled either, but we decided to market it is the 1988 Summer Slam worn Hulk Hogan boots from his match against Andre the Giant. These boots are so cool because they are iron clad 100% legit. When I bought them about 6 months ago, they were signed “These are my real boots, with my real blood, that I wore at MSG”, and they even have his chewing gum in the laces. I was completely in love with them the moment they arrived. Then about 2 weeks ago, a friend of mine was going to be with Hulk and I overnighted him the boots to show Hulk. He said that when he showed him, he was completely floored, instantly remembered them, and it brought back all the memories of that iconic night. Hulk offered to do the video talking about the boots and if you haven’t seen it, it’s truly remarkable. I love the level of authenticity, and it will be hard to ship them out once they are redeemed. My other favorite item was from All-Sport, which was Babe Ruth’s personal life insurance document. I love personal pieces from legends. Anything with a story behind it is what I think has the most investment potential.

SCU: What are some of the upcoming plans you have for the HoS brand?

WJ: We just continually strive to be better. I am incredibly blessed to have a team of people around me who pour their hearts into this. We all rise early and grind until late and strive for our own highest level of personal greatness. The better we can become on every facet, from operations, to customer service, to sourcing the best material in the hobby, the better experience our customers will have. I grew up in this industry and won’t ever leave it, and will never do anything to hurt myself as a personal brand. If there comes a time where people don’t absolutely love to open our products, then I will shut it down. To be frank, me and my team can make a living doing anything in this hobby. We are only going to pour our hearts into Heroes if our customers love what we do. So far, that is the case, and we won’t get lazy or stray and hopefully the enjoyment continues to grow from here.

SCU: How do you see products like HoS changing the way collectors buy into the hobby? There seems to be a growing trend of wax being generated in this fashion.

WJ: I think there will always be a need for brand new products to be created by Panini, Topps, and Leaf. I think a couple years ago, the newer wax started to loose some of it’s luster, but the 2012 Football class got everyone excited again. I also feel that Panini has been incredibly innovative over the past year and a half. The National Treasures baseball product they made was amazing, then Flawless and Immaculate basketball came and changed the game. I love the time and care it must have taken to build both those basketball products. Being on this side of the fence, I understand how hard those guys have to work over there, and I truly respect it.

I think our products are a different breed, and don’t necessarily compete with them. The thing I love about our product content is that most of the items you can pull are stable in value. With newer releases, if something goes wrong, cards can quickly lose their value. The majority of what we include has an established price point that most likely will either appreciate or maintain in value. This gives our customers a chance to hit something cool, hold onto it for a while, and then be patient if and when they decide to re-sell it. With our newest release, we are getting a lot of new registered users on the site every day and I feel that the demand and our reach is spreading rapidly.

SCU: Do you foresee a higher end focus being the continued direction of HoS, or will there be ways for lower end collectors to get involved too?

WJ: There is a lot of demand for us to do a lower price point product. I completely understand where people are coming from, but it honestly scares me to make one. The reason we make the higher price point product is that I can be laser focused when I buy. We MUST buy at wholesale levels or our products will be weak and a gimmick instead of something people can be proud to open. When I am buying higher end items, I can do research and be methodical to avoid paying retail for items. This is something I feel that I can be the best at as I have a strong knowledge of everything from the 1800′s to the newest cards being produced today.

There is a large fixed cost that goes into producing a product from scratch composed of graphic design, manufacturing, and labor. To be able to cover that, you have to do relatively large releases to make it work. This is why doing a lower price point worries me. Say for instance we wanted to do a product that was $99 a slot (which we might at some point), we would have to acquire at least 3,500 – 4,000 items. If we were scrambling to buy, it would be very easy to overpay for lesser priced items because it would be hard to know what it’s all worth. If we started putting cards into the product that we thought were worth $100 and collectors were selling them and getting $70-$80, the product wouldn’t be a good deal. When I’m focused on buying $1,000 items, I don’t make mistakes, and that’s why I think a higher price point is a much better option for our customers, and we will never burn them.

SCU: If there is one thing you want collectors to know about HoS, what is it?

WJ: Our business plan is long term. We’re not trying to make a quick buck and hurt people. We have no shot to build something special unless the people who buy our products are truly happy. We are striving to be the best company in this hobby. Every item I buy is something I would enjoy owning. Every time I build a case, I try to imagine how I’d feel if I opened it. Every time we interact with a customer, I try to think; If I were them, how would I feel I deserved to be treated.

We genuinely love this business. All I have ever known is this hobby and I think it’s the coolest thing in the world. I love how in this era of collecting and social media, you have to be a stand up businessman or you’ll quickly become an outcast. The guys who work for me give it 120% everyday, and no one is going to out work me.

SCU: Any closing comments you have or anything else I havent covered?

WJ: I am about to start a blog and want to share with people some of what I know about collectibles. I want the hobby to get a better understanding that just because something sold somewhere for a certain price doesn’t mean that’s what a similar item is worth. People who hit items from our products always ask me “What’s it worth”, and my reply is “Who is going to sell it, where is it being sold, and how is it represented”. A lot of the sports cards and memorabilia we deal in are relatively unique, and if they are misrepresented or not marketed properly they can sell for fractions of what they should. It makes me sick to my stomach when I see our customers sell items in a fashion where they get less than they should, as it under delivers our brand. I think people should study the game more. With the internet, you can learn so much about collectibles. Research items and try to see why certain sellers get more than others. Learn where the best market places are, what key words need to be used and which ones shouldn’t, use the highest quality images possible, tell a story when an item deserves it, etc.

=======================

Heroes of Sport can be bought through most of the major group breakers, as well as some of the large online retailers. You can find information on where to buy at www.heroesofsportinc.com.

 

2013 National Treasures: Panini Promises Prime Patches Galore

Next week will be a big week among football collectors as Panini releases National Treasures. With more on card content this year, as well as some crazy patch cards, this is shaping up to be a good year of the product despite the disastrous rookie class. Although it will still be very difficult to break this product and come out ahead, we are starting to see more cards show up thanks to early group breaks at the 2014 Industry summit.

2013 National Treasures Robert Griffin III Auto Jumbo Patch 5/5

2013 National Treasures Brett Favre Auto Jumbo Patch /5

2013 National Treasures EJ Manuel Auto Patch On Card

2013 National Treasures Sonny Jurgenson Notable Nicknames On Card Auto

On their blog yesterday, Panini released images of some of the patch cards that are going to be filling out their checklist for NT, and it should be no surprise that they are quite the sight to be seen. In past years of National Treasures, we have seen that Panini has inexplicably focused more on adding more room for patches than designing good looking cards. This year still has issues in that department, but its looking like there are not as many problems.

Companies need to realize that putting JUMBO patch swatches on vertically orientated cards doesnt work, as it forces them to squish the player into the top of the card. As a result, the area left to add embellishments and other design elements is drastically reduced, leaving the collector to flip over the card to find out which player it is depicting. For 2013, it looks like they were trying to find a happy medium, but I still think the focus is in the wrong place with these cards.

Everyone who reads this site knows how picky I am with card layouts, and a big player photo is one think that I want to see more than a big swatch. I dont find interest in swatch cards to begin with, so at least make them look nice. Because so many collectors judge the “beauty” of a card by the craziness of the swatch included, the manufacturers feel like they are designing things correctly. I cannot disagree more.

Am I going to say that I am not impressed by these cards? No, they are definitely something worth checking out. I think its really cool when Panini lays them out to show the big logos like a puzzle. But you will not find me among the collectors in line to buy one once release happens next week. Lets face it – the era of the jersey card has come to an end. Panini is still trying to resurrect it with each passing product, but even with these logos, the pictured cards wont be worth the king’s ransom they used to command. They will be valuable, but not like they would have been back in 2007.

Penning the Hobby: Can You Trust Your Favorite Player Anymore?

Discussing authenticity of autographs delivered by card companies may seem combative in its very nature, but its something I want to discuss my opinions on. Let me start off by saying that this issue at heart is not an issue as much with the manufacturers themselves. In some cases they may directly contribute to the issue existing through the processes they us, but they don’t have any control over the players. I do not hold them 100% at fault in any way, but do want them to take notice of the culture they may be cultivating.

Since the early 1990s, autographs have been included in packs. In the early part of the 2000s, the amount of autograph content delivered in an accessible fashion blew up, to the point today where EVERY product has autographs including cheap ones. In fact, I would go so far as saying its close to impossible to have a successful product with no autograph content on a large scale. As a result, most of the cost of a product comes from the hits of the set, rather than some of the other more traditional elements.

The question becomes, when hundreds of thousands of autographs are required each year for your products, how can the process be managed to ensure authenticity? The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Its easy to say that companies just need to witness every signature, but that might not be cost effective. The public wont buy without autographs, but they also wont buy if the price is too high for the level of content delivered in the set. To get more witnesses to autographs means more cost in obtaining them, and of course, more redemptions. Now you have to deal with athlete schedules more than ever before.

All that being said, things are a machine today, and we need to study the cogs to see what makes it work.

To start, check out these autographs side by side – what do you notice?

2011 Topps Five Star Cam Newton Auto Booklet RC

2011 Gridiron Gear Cam Newton Auto Jersey

2011 Certified Dez Bryant Auto Relic Fabric of the Game

2011 Plates and Patches Dez Bryant Auto Patch RC

2010 Certified Ryan Mathews Auto Freshman Fabric

2012 Absolute Ryan Mathews Auto Patch

The main way that autographs are obtained is not through direct witness, but instead a returned signed card accompanied by a sworn affidavit declaring the authenticity of the card. For some players, signing cards is something they see as a necessary part of being a pro athlete. For others, it’s a chore or even a nuisance. Considering how much athletes are paid for playing, and how much they get for signing, its easy to see why so many of the cards go unfulfilled. On top of that, the card companies have little to no recourse in pursuing delinquency, because there is no threat of monetary damages that can override the amount of money they already make. Any recourse will also sour the reputation of the company bringing the heat, and that is worse for business than anything. Go after one player, and you could lose all players under that same agency. No one wants to do a chore for someone they are bothered by, right?

Because of this situation, you are probably starting to see why the rookie premiere is so important in basketball and football. The rookies, at least in football, are forced to attend by the NFLPA, and also forced to sign as much as needed. Because they have a captive audience, things get done in huge volumes.

Outside of that, it all depends. Companies need tens of thousands of autos per rookie each year, and you can only guess what it must mean to sign in that quantity. Its also easy to see why some athletes may skirt the action itself, or take less ethical means to complete it. This is where things get messy. Lets say, for instance, an athlete decides they don’t want to sign, but still want to complete the signed contract. They have a friend or family member sign secretarial signatures, and return them to the card company – likely through the agent. Because the card company has intake of 100,000 signatures, they cant inspect every card.

The card gets packed out, and collectors notice something is up. Manufacturer is obligated to approach the agent to find out what is going on, but because everything is self-reported, nothing is gained by this action. Of course the player and agent will say he signed, because they want to get the action done and out of their hair. They don’t want the inconvenience of dealing with further signings, so they just agree that it was done ethically.

The company, who knows this is all a vicious circle, lets that one act go, but will no longer do business with that athlete. Meanwhile, they cant say the autographs aren’t real, because they want to save face, and also not piss off the rest of the players out there. They are put in a very precarious position. Collectors are in a worse position, because they think the company is bullshitting them (potentially), and they want their stuff replaced. Everyone loses.

I have never had to experience this first hand until this season, when Cordarrelle Patterson started to draw my ire. In my opinion, some cards signed by him for a few Panini products don’t look consistent with his normal autograph. The slant of the letters, the start and stop points, and the pen pressure don’t look right. I cant prove that anything is going on because of the things mentioned above, so I am left just avoiding the cards all together. F so I am left just avoiding the cards all together or a player collector, this is the ultimate test of my patience. I don’t fault Panini, because he has signed thousands of cards for them that look correct. Some sets have a combination of good and bad if you can believe it.

Manufacturers cite player laziness and volume as the main reason why autographs can differ. They are blowing smoke up your ass, and it hurts that autograph forgers use the same excuse. “OH ITS REAL! I SAW IT MYSELF! HE WAS JUST SIGNING A TON, SO THAT’S WHY ITS DIFFERENT THAN 100% OF THE PREVIOUS EXAMPLES!

An example for you.

In 2012, I had the opportunity to meet Christian Ponder at an event in Minnesota. He was a guest of a party, where his whole night (4 hours) was nothing but signing autographs. In talking with him, I asked him what this must be like, and he provided some pretty poignant words. He was used to it. In fact, when I asked him if any players felt differently, he said that some like it and some hate it, but they all do it. I asked him if his autograph changes based on volume, and he said that he does shorten some of it sometimes to get to more people, but the basic elements stay the same. He said it was common practice. Because Adrian Peterson was at the party as well, I used him as an example – especially in the way that people talk about his autograph being inconsistent. Ponder said that Peterson signs more than anyone, but has done it so much that everything looks the same.

This autograph was about 900 of 1500 he signed:

I was pretty shocked.

In 2013 I talked to a family friend who is a handwriting expert for a local check fraud division of the police. It was in regards to an article I was writing, and he confirmed Ponder’s explanation. Certain things about a person’s signature never change, including internal letter shape, slant, pressure, etc. The content of an autograph or signature can change, but the athlete has to make a conscious decision to change something, which can happen. Once that change happens, they need to stick with it to perfect it. They rarely go back and forth during a certain period of time. Its how they can verify criminal activity in forging checks.

Based on these off the cuff explanations, I really don’t believe any of this crap about laziness or volume. Players can change their autograph all they want, but to see variations of the same signature with different slant, start/stop points, and pressure will likely never happen, no matter how much the volume they are signing. They may sign AG#21 instead of Adam Gellman 21, but it will be a consistent pattern from previous iterations of their signature. Rarely does someone blow it up and start over. They cant, because its such a part of their life.

At the National convention, Topps said that they have always made it a point to witness all signatures first hand, but don’t always get to the 100% mark because it isn’t feasible. You can see that they have the best track record in this sense.

So – how can you avoid it?

1. Trust autographs you know are signed in front of the company – products like Inception in FB are signed practically 100% at the rookie premiere, with the company reps standing over the players. Same thing with Prestige on card, and Elite on card.
2. ALWAYS compare against other certified autographs you know to be real in a side by side fashion. It’s the truest sense of an autograph. Look at the shape of the letters, and try to find common points.
3. If something changes in a signature, wait to buy until you see it show up in other products. This doesn’t mean its legit, it just means that its not isolated. Isolated changes are a huge red flag.
4. Ask! Many of the message boards have people who spend hours a day pouring over cards to find the ones they want. At this point, I think I am better at identifying Peterson autographs than PSA or JSA. Just saying – I know my shit. There are other people out there just like me.

Again, everything in this article is just my opinion, and I encourage you all to not take me at face value. Do your own research and prove me to be wrong. I WANT TO BE WRONG, but my confidence has been shaken as of late.