Some of the first relics cards that I pursued as a collector were cards of Hall of Famers. I have always preferred landing a nice autograph over a piece of jersey or bat, but with the limited modern card market for Hall of Fame players in the mid to late 90s, the relic cards offered collectors a shot a great looking card. A cool item for your collection and a point of pride.
In general, relics cards had some cool designs back when they were actually tougher to run across and they also held their value a little bit better than the dollar bin relic cards which too frequently grace many of today's products. Some of my favorite early relics sets included the 2000 Fleer Greats of the Game Yankee Clippings set and the Club 300 Set which was also put out by Fleer. A good look at a Club 3000 card of Cardinals Hall of Famer Lou Brock.
Both of these sets featured older players and were very popular sets at the time of their releases. Collectors of all types tried to stalk down these cards and add them to their collections. Of course, the relic card market evolved over time for older players and Hall of Famers. The changes were not really that great.
One of the first changes made to relics with older players was a shift away from the hard to find relic to the high end relic. While these cards were included in card sets with higher price points, the cards were made in larger quantities and were often pretty easy to find on the secondary market.
This Ken Boyer card is a great example. This card comes from the Topps Tribute set which was a higher end release in 2002, but it seems like the Boyer card is really easy to find. Boyer has relatively few relics and is a pretty popular figure amongst Cardinals collectors. Why does this card regularly sell for less than $10? Again, high quantities make this card a little bit less than what it should probably be. Of course this trend has continued for more than a decade. Cool old players, cool looking cards, tons of quantity.
Have a favorite team? Favorite player? Just like looking at cool cards of older players? Then there is something out there for you to find in the world of relics featuring a cool old timer. I have tried to pick up cool old Cardinals when they pop up in new products and am often shocked to see how cheap some of the relics cards can sink to once they have been out on the secondary market for a brief time. Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Bob Gibson, and many other cool Cardinals from generations past have made their way into my collection at surprisingly little cost. So with all the relics cards out there I have decided in recent years to become a little bit of a picky customer. Here's my breakdown of what to look for in a cool old relic card:
1. Old Players, Old Jerseys
Bats are hard to place an age on, but jerseys are not. I have seen baseball cards with lily white jersey pieces of Cardinals Hall of Famer Stan Musial. Considering Musial played his last game in 1963, it's hard to imagine that many white pieces of jersey from The Man are really floating around out there. Most likely the cards with the white pieces of jersey come from old timers games or some sort of event where Musial wore a Cardinals jersey. Probably not for long. Age can be easy to spot, but doesn't necessarily add a premium to the card. Shocking.
Donruss Champions was a pretty terrible something, but that piece of jersey is clearly very old and most likely from a real game worn jersey from Musial's career. Maybe not given some of the controversies that have recently surrounded the relic industry, but the piece is definitely the right era. It's always good to check out a site like Dressed to the 9s or SportsLogos before buying a relic card to see if the pieces match up well with the era the player appeared during, like the powder road jersey on the Lou Brock card on the top of the post. That jersey piece fits vey well with the uniforms the Cardinals would have worn during Brock's playing career.
2. Low Print Runs, Uncommon Players
As a Cardinals fan, it's easy to run out onto a site like Ebay or COMC and scope out dozens of cards of Lou Brock and Bob Gibson. Sure it's cool to own some nice relic cards of those players, but there are other options outside of the standard players that card companies frequently pop out at an alarmingly rate. Sometimes it's fun to find players that aren't at the center of everyone's radar. Case in point:
While Hornsby is one of the better Cardinals players of all-time he's not one of the really commonly sought Cardinals players. This card can be a little bit tricky to find at times and definitely offers collectors a great amount of bang for their buck. How many Rogers Hornsby relic cards have been produced over the past fifteen to twenty years? Not many. I wish this card had a print run quantity on it, but it's still cool without one.
Which brings me to my last recommendation for finding cool relic cards of older players: find cards with low numbers. While Topps Triple Threads often looks like it has a low print, the truth is that there are actually four or five different parallels of all the different parallels. Add up all the print runs of 1, 3, 9, 18, 27, 36, and sometimes more and that card which you think is short printed really is not all that short printed. My recommendation is to find cool cards in the Topps Sterling set. Great set, great cards, great short print runs. Add in that you can find cool players too and you have got some cards worth finding. One of my favorites:
The best parallels in the Sterling set have print runs of 25 and six relic pieces. The Sterling set also features a really good run of players going from World War II era players all the way up to 70s and 80s players. Topps has not put the set out in a few years, but are not too difficult to find on Ebay. Stay patient and you can add one of these cards to your collection.