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The impact of new ventures

Sports Collectors Digest Editor Bert Lehman takes a look at the impact Upper Deck has had and is having on collectibles industries.

In 1989 the baseball card hobby was changed forever when Upper Deck released its first baseball card release. Up until that point, with a few exceptions, the baseball card hobby was dominated by card releases from Topps, Fleer and Donruss.

It wasn’t the first time a new company had released a new baseball card set, but the Upper Deck release wound up being the one that had the biggest impact on the baseball card market. In my opinion, there were a few reasons for that.

First, the 1989 Upper Deck Baseball card release featured cards on white paper stock, which was also more high-end than the traditional cardboard previously used for baseball cards.

1989 Ken Griffey Jr Upper Deck

Second, the change in paper stock allowed the color photography on the cards to be showcased, especially when the cards included action photos. Vivid colors were also present on the back of the cards, which was almost unheard of up until that point.

Third, each card contained a hologram on the back of the card. I didn’t think too much about the hologram at the time, other than it was “cool.”

I graduated from high school in 1989 and my collecting habits were changing. With college on the horizon I had stopped buying packs of cards. Each year I would buy the Topps Baseball factory set as well as the Traded set. Other than those two sets I was selective in which factory sets I bought.

I consider myself to be a traditionalist, so I wasn’t always keen on new companies entering the hobby, or for current card companies to release more than their traditional set each year. That said, I usually bought a complete set of a new product from a new company because of the potential for it to increase in value.

In 1986 I bought the Sportsflics factory set, which was a new release. After I bought it I tucked it away to keep the cards in the best condition possible, again, with the hopes of an increase in value. That didn’t happen.

I also bought a factory set of the 1989 Upper Deck Baseball card release, again with the hopes of it increasing in value. I fared better with the Upper Deck release increasing in value than the Sportsflics release. Having Ken Griffey Jr.’s rookie card in the 1989 Upper Deck release helped that cause.

Now, nearly 30 years after Upper Deck released its first baseball card product, it is easier to see the impact it had on the trading card hobby. The quality of the cards in the 1989 release, in my opinion, helped spur other trading card companies to up their game and release their own high-end products. It led to such releases at Topps

Stadium Club and Fleer Ultra. No longer were collectors satisfied with the quality of the cardboard of traditional trading cards. And those collectors who did like the traditional cardboard would have the opportunity to purchase products that used that cardboard as more and more baseball products were released each year by all the card companies.

Even though I consider myself a traditionalist, my card collecting enjoyment was re-energized a couple of years after the release of the 1989 Upper Deck Baseball set. Being able to collect high-end card products was part of the reason. And Upper Deck led the way.

Upper Deck is once again joining a new market with the release of its Grandeur Hockey Coin Collection. This issue of Sports Collectors Digest includes an article about Upper Deck’s new venture. In the article, Upper Deck President Jason Masherah shares why Upper Deck decided to join the collectible coins market, as well as what collectors can expect.

The impact of Upper Deck’s collectible coins launch may not be known immediately, but I’m sure in 30 years, it will be clear what the impact was.