In the card collector and sports memorabilia world there are three main companies which provide the fan and collector with sports buy clone cards to create a “closer” fan experience. These companies are the likes of Topps, Upper Deck, and Panini. Now I know what you are thinking, “There are multiple other companies involved in the production of sports cards!” I realize that these three are not all inclusive, merely the “Big Three” in the sports card collectors world.
For collectors that have been around a while these three companies have the market covered on all fronts. Each company provides their own unique aspect of the sports card. Each company is not only competing for the collectors business, they are competing with each other to create the most unique, interesting, and sought after cards in the business. So, with the basics out of the way, let’s discuss a few of the “high-end” cards these companies are generating to peak collector interest in an attempt to provide a superior product to the collector. These are not listed in order of my preference. I have listed them alphabetically so no favoritism is show to any one company.
This group was started in the 1950’s. Their original production was not that of sports cards, but of confectionery. Their first production of trading cards was entertainment based. This was during the 1960’s and 70’s. They did not begin in the sports card niche until 1965 when they began with racing cards. Then in 1981 they produced a series of baseball and golf cards. Donruss continued to produce cards until 2005 with some roadblocks and hurdles in between due to bankruptcy of Pinnacle Brand cards. During this time, in 2001, Playoff Corporation acquired the rights to produce baseball cards. However, In 2005 MLB changed their card production criteria. Currently Panini America is licensed to produce NFL and NHL cards. They also have the exclusive rights to production of NBA sports cards.
Today Panini America is regarded as one of the strongest and cutting edge trading card companies around. Their sports card collections are sought after and releases are anticipated with great excitement. A few of their most prized releases are the yearly releases of National Treasures. These cards feature Autographs, Relics, Autographed Relics, and multiple signature cards. The look and feel of the cards is amazing and lends to the idea that Panini is trying to get it right. Their cards have come a long way since the late 80’s renditions of slim paper and basic entry level sports cards. Panini’s “Black Boxes” have become quite the prize when they are released at the annual Industry Summit. These cards feature One-of-a-kind cards with multiple variations. Most registered member of the industry summit are given a box to open as part of their fees for attending.
The Topps Trading Card Company is regarded as one of the oldest, if not the oldest, trading card producer in the United States. The Topps company was founded in 1938, however they go back much earlier with their ties to American Leaf Tobacco which was founded in 1890. The most famous set of Topps is the 1952 Topps baseball card. The design came from Sy Berger. Considered to be the “father of the baseball card”. He was a veteran of WWII and designed the cards from his home in Brooklyn. That was the beginning of a 50 year career with Topps.
Today, Topps still produces sports cards and is an elite competitor in the field. Of their most prized products, Topps Five Star far exceeds their other products with the Tribute line running a close second. Topps Five Star are printed on thick cards stock and packaged in individual tins with a maximum of 8 cards per tin. The look and feel of the cards are exquisite and have an elite feel. They feature on-card autographs, multiple autographed booklets, and multiple other variations of autograph and relic cards.
The Upper Deck Company was founded in 1988. They are a major player in the trading card industry but have also branched out into the authenticated sports memorabilia world. This includes the production of sports figurines and the well known game World of Warcraft. Upper Deck was the first trading card company to insert randomly autographed cards of sports superstars.