My buddy Dan G. of www.sportsecurities.com and I decided to specifically discuss the 1997 Finest Gold Embossed Refractor because it’s one we both enjoy. That and Dan just secured his McGwire and I encouraged him to write about it. Thanks Dan! In turn, I will be discussing my Frank Thomas of the same make. Let’s get to it. But before we do, notice that Dan’s McGwire is actually a UER (Un-Corrected Error) in that Mark’s last name is spelled with a ‘U’ instead of a ‘W.’ A common mistake.
Recently I inducted a new member into the McGwire collection. He goes by the name of 1997 Finest Gold Embossed Refractor. And, just like pronouncing its name, this card is very difficult to attain. How difficult? one might ask. Well, here are some numbers. These rare beauties were seeded at a rate of 1:1,152 packs or 1:48 boxes. Additionally, if you consider that there are fifty cards within the set that appear in this variation, a collector could potentially open 2,400 wax boxes in the attempt to pull a specific player. These numbers are astronomical, which calls in the next question: What are the print runs? Well, I have no concrete answer. All I can say, from some internet research and some hobby blog posts, is that the player collecting universe accepts the print range to be between 25 and 40 copies.
Because of their rarity, few collectors have seen these cards. I had never seen one until now and I have been collecting since 1989. But, when I finally had my opportunity, I was astonished. The 1997 Finest Gold Embossed Refractor takes all of the Finest technologies and tastefully brings them together in a kaleidoscope fashion. My personal favorite is the deckle edging also known as scalloped edges; however, the fact that the refractor technology also graces the backs of these cards makes me giddy as a little kid. For your enjoyment I have provided scans of both the front and back (above); however, the pictures do these cards no justice.
It wasn’t until 2003 that I discovered the 1997 Finest Gold Embossed Refractor parallels. That was back when I secured the silver embossed refractor of Frank Thomas, card 279. What you see here is the much more scarce gold version, card 160. For this entry, I will focus specifically on card 160, the gold version.
I can remember being in grad school when I first saw one of these surface on eBay. That was back in 2007. If I can remember correctly, the auction ended at around $80, which at the time, seemed low. Over the years, I have seen prices really climb for these examples. A copy listed on eBay in early 2012 had a price tag of $799! More interesting is that even that auction didn’t last very long. My guess is that a buyer made a private offer and the seller sold the card for something closer to $500, which is still a huge difference from from $80 auction I saw back in 2007. I purchased my example right around when the more expensive example was listed. Actually, if I can recall correctly, my witnessing of the more expensive example prompted me to pull the trigger on this copy. I had this card in my watch list for a few weeks and knew that at one point I was going to own it.
In hand, these cards are very special. In the ’90’s, Topps utilized a box-like, almost matrix-like refractive technology that really made these cards stand out. When you manipulate these cards near a light source, you can really see them come alive. Both front and back possess the refractor technology. I really appreciate a good design and these examples depict some of Topps finest.
In terms of rarity, these cards are little nightmares. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve ever seen one in person. With each passing year, these cards get harder to locate because they end up in permanent collections never to be seen on the auction block again. Sometimes I track sales of these cards from other players just for curiosity and over the past two years, I’ve seen the Michael Jordan 1997 Finest Gold Embossed Refractor routinely fetch upwards of $10K! While I am aware that MJ is an outlier in this hobby in that nobody comes anywhere close to the strength of his market yield, it is interesting to see such ultra high prices. With regard to baseball, Jeter, Ripken, and Griffey all perform really well. Frank Thomas is a bit more affordable but I have already seen that change in recent years possibly due to the following factors:
It’s pretty much a guarantee that Frank Thomas will make the Hall of Fame
People who collected Frank Thomas as kids in the ’90’s are getting back into the hobby. Because they are older now and likely have more discretionary income, they are able to invest in cards they always wanted as kids.
I purchased the example you see here back in March of 2012, 15 years after the product’s release. I paid probably close to the 1997 version of market value for this card, which was fine by me but when you consider that statement, think about how huge Frank Thomas was back in 1997. So huge that he was featured on some of the hobby’s first-ever game used cards. While that’s another discussion entirely, suffice to say, this card isn’t getting any cheaper or easier to find.
These cards were inserted at a rate of 1:1152 packs, which means that you would have to open 48 boxes just to pull one. The gold subset is 50 cards in total so player specific odds greatly increase that number to 1:2400 boxes. That’s 57,600 packs! With a price point of $40/box, expect to drop $96,000 just to guarantee that you pull your guy. While the odds are correct, this may or may not be possible because it’s unconfirmed whether that many boxes of this product still exist today.
Other baseball-related costs associated with $96K:
Pronounced Green-o. Patrick has a BA in Psychology, a BA in Sociology, and an MBA from the University of New Mexico. He also has a Project Management Certificate from UCLA Extension. He has lectured in Internet Marketing at the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of, Student to Founder: Secrets to creating a student organization in college and starting a business after graduation. He has been interviewed on Good Day New Mexico and in Albuquerque The Magazine. Patrick is a frequent speaker and panelist at universities and events where he shares his insights on leadership, technology, and marketing. He's been a baseball card collector since 1988, and he owns Radicards™ | Visit the store