Serial Killer: The Numbered Card Predicament

These days, everything is serially numbered, even the base cards in some cases. Its reached epidemic levels, especially with some of the recent releases from Topps and Panini that number the worthless insert cards. In fact, its gotten so bad that the number on a card no longer means a single thing. I remember back in the late 1990s, having a serially numbered card meant it was EXTREMELY RARE. Back then, the low numbered cards were usually some of the most expensive non-autographed modern cards ever. Don’t believe me? Check out this Jordan from Metal, ending tomorrow, that will most likely clear three g’s. What do we have now? Nothing even close.

I was looking over my collection, and not once has a serial number made any sort of difference to me. I want a good looking card above anything else, and the rarity is just a bonus. The problem is that contrived scarcity is so common these days that 1/1s don’t even have the clout they once used to. Personally, if serial numbers went away, I wouldn’t have an issue, mainly because of how much of my collection centers around autographs. So much so that an autograph could be numbered to 1999 and I wouldn’t care as long as it was well designed and had a cool picture.

The worst part is that its gotten to the point where manufacturers are using parallels as a crutch to fill out a product, with Panini taking it to such an extreme that it has become a meme within the hobby ranks. In fact, you are lucky if you find a Panini card that ISNT serially numbered in some way. Instead of spending the time to design more cards for the set, most times, the manufacturers will just create an extra 5 or 10 parallels to a card. That’s how we end up with an insert numbered to 1999, 999, 499, 100, 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1. Guess what? You could put together a complete set of all those cards and not have something to sell on eBay for more than 100 bucks.

I will tell you that my favorite part of this whole adventure continues to be the collectors that pay a premium for a card numbered to the player’s jersey number. I have no idea why someone would think a Brett Favre autograph numbered 4/25 is worth more than the same Brett Favre autograph numbered 5/25. I can understand HOW this practice came to be, but it literally makes zero sense to me. Here is a John Wall Limited patch auto numbered 2/10, which is selling for a shit ton of money because its numbered to his jersey. Yeah, not really going to say that is anything but ridiculous.

The reality of the situation is that this is just another example of a new innovation that has been exploited to the point of parody. When you have a set like Topps Moments and Milestones that contains over 40,000 serially numbered cards, you know that it has gotten worse than anyone has expected. How long will it take for every card to be numbered so low that even the ridiculously scarce parallels mean nothing unless it’s the backwards mirror of the player’s high school jersey number? Don’t worry, that’s an eBay 1/1.

8 thoughts on “Serial Killer: The Numbered Card Predicament

  1. Another timely post, Mr. Gellman. I’ve been working on collecting all of the 2010 Chrome Steven Jackson refractor variations. I have all of them except for the 1/1 superfractor. Last night, I laid them out in front of me to enjoy the brilliant rainbow of different colored borders and varying serial numbers all with the same exact photo and I thought, “This is fucking dumb”.

  2. The jersey number things makes sense to me as a player collector. Anyone can get a random serial number but what makes a great personal collection is having the jersey numbered cards. I’d much rather have a Canseco numbered to 33 that lets say 1068. I guess I feel like you’re just as stupid for not understanding that as you think people are for doing that. Every other part of the post stands up to me though. Paralelling to death has become an issue but people still love to collect rainbows so that trend is probably here to stay.

  3. Couple things:

    #1. @TJ – That is such a funny post. I laughed out loud at the surprise ending. No lie. I think we have all been there. I certainly have with my player collections.

    #2. I confess that I think finding a serial number to the players jersey is fun. I personally don’t pay more for them, but when I break boxes, I definitely look for the jersey number. I have pulled the number a couple times. One of my favorite all time pulls is a Steve Smith (panthers) Topps Chrome Gold box topper numbered 89. I couldn’t believe I pulled it. I am just trying to say that I understand the draw.

    That’s all.

  4. The jersey serial number bit falls under the same category and the eBay 1/1 ~ Marketing hype. It’s a nice novelty if you’re a player collector and you happen to come across one, but is never worth paying a premium for….

  5. I agree with you on the parallels, they are killing card values. How much longer before they just eliminate unnumbered base cards altogether and the /1999 card becomes the new common?

    I disagree about the jersey serial #. I always check right away to see if the numbers match, and many collectors are willing to pay more for them. An item is worth what people will pay for it, and these are in high demand.

  6. I think if they blend the SP variation card with the serial numbers card manufacturers would have something there. Imagine the base card is a regular training camp photo, the first serial number card is from a preseason game, and maybe a harder serial number is from draft night. Or change it up to preference. Just give collector’s something different than just a palette swap of the design. Heck, maybe go crazy and put full stats on one variation of the card, and maybe college stats on another card, and some coaches/player comments on a third.

  7. I have a 2009 Leaf Certified emerald Joe Montana jersey/patch/auto card numbered 211 from the set. I know that it’s supposed to only numbered to 5 since it’s emerald. But it’s missing both the numbered to 5 and the auto. What would its value be and would it be a 1/1?

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