Fleer Trading Cards

Baseball Card History 101

Thanks to Upper Deck’s trail blazing debut in 1989, card manufacturers were forced to enter the high-end card game just to keep up. In 1990, Donruss introduced Leaf, which blew every product out of the water so Fleer decided to prepare a proper response for 1991. Their effort, titled Fleer Elite, was supposed to be the next big thing but flopped. That wasn’t their only mishap, though. By the time they paid for advertising, Donruss put together a nasty lawsuit as they had just created the Donruss Elite inserts, which ultimately became a stand alone product. Fleer, had no choice but to change the brand’s name to Ultra and then sat by and watched as all their hard work flopped.

1991 Fleer Elite

1991 Fleer Ultra

Looking to rebound from their 1991 mess of a debut, Fleer Ultra came back in 1992 with a much more suitable, high-end product which was a favorite among collectors that year. What many don’t know is what options Fleer had to choose from when preparing their sophomore efforts. First, let’s start with a scan of a front and back of a 1992 Fleer Ultra card, taken from COMC because I’m not in the mood to scan my own.

For starters, this card features three, bright and crisp photographs and a card back that could easily be featured as a front. No one in the hobby was putting out anything close to this in 1992, including Topps’ Stadium Club line. Fleer most definitely struck out with ’91 Elite/Ultra but hit a bomb to center field with their second effort and only improved with future releases.

Not bad for 1992 …

So now that we have seen the final product (who hasn’t?) that hit the market in 1992, a much more innocent time for us all, let’s take a look at what was left behind on the cutting room floor. Below are images found on Photobucket that belong to FCB member, “MRMOPAR”. He sold the Will Clark set of 3 for $300 but still has others available, including the Jose Canseco set you see below.

I know what you’re thinking. These scans don’t really do much due to the quality. I completely understand so check out the images below of Hall of Famer, Frank Thomas’ ’92 Ultra card that was issued and the one that almost made it. Call me crazy but it looks like the people at Fleer chose the wrong design. What’s interesting is that the card back features Jose Canseco’s 1988 season but reads 1992, which implies it is a promo for 1993 Ultra.

Whatever year they are, this to me is baseball card history. If only more promo/prototype images of iconic brands were available to the public. For example, I’d love to see an early take on 1993 Finest or 1997 Bowman Chrome, for example. There’s a whole section of collectors out there who find this kind of stuff absolutely fascinating. Here’s hoping some of this early 90s stuff is still out there waiting to be discovered.

The real thing

Even better than the real thing

Categories: Fleer Trading Cards, The Hobby | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Awful Product, Amazing Insert Pt. 2

Skybox / Fleer  & Pinnacle Brands were two card manufacturers who were creating truly out of this world, strange products in the mid to late-90s. One such brand that made it past 1-2 releases was Circa. All these cards had trippy, psychedelic backgrounds which showed players floating in mid-air, among other unusual design themes. I never fully appreciated Circa but enjoyed busting 1-2 packs of this stuff per year. It was a nice change of pace from the usual, normal baseball cards Topps and Upper Deck were putting out.

So, while Circa didn’t make it to see the new decade, the hard to find Rave and Super Rave parallels only grew in hobby stature thanks to player collectors fighting to complete want lists on eBay. Unlike Topps’ Refractor technology and even Pinnacle with Dufex, these Circa parallels were not all that special. However, Fleer was CLEARLY ahead of its time because they knew collectors wouldn’t care about looks but how rare the parallels were. Rave parallels are #’d to 150, Super Rave cards are #’d to just 25.

So yes, Chrome Refractors and Pinnacle Dufex cards look better than these Rave cards but Chrome and Dufex were not numbered back then, making these dull, Rave cards and the collectors who pulled them, rich overnight. Wait, did I say overnight? I meant like 15 years later when Super Rave cards of Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz sold for over $500 a piece. That of course was 2012, today, these cards have dropped  in price much like everything else in our hobby but the Jose Cruz, Jr. below did just recently sell for $60.

There are currently unopened boxes of 1998 Circa Thunder on eBay for under $60. This is one product that is extremely risky because if you don’t find one of these ultra-rare Super Raves, you’re pretty much left with a ton of these weird, trippy Circa cards. If you do decide to keep them, I recommend displaying them the same way I do, back of card facing front. Fleer has a long history of making better card backs than anyone else in the business and 1998 Circa Thunder was no different.

The second coming of Ken Griffey, Jr.?


Not even close but how can you resist that brooding look?


Categories: eBay Treasures, Fleer Trading Cards | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Card Wars: Panini Stickers vs. Metal Universe

I absolutely love baseball card photography. I can completely and without realizing, gloss over autographs, memorabilia relics, even Refractors and get lost in photographs. One of my pet peeves when it comes to baseball card photography is when manufacturers repeat the same photograph for different releases and/or years. Although it happens often, it usually only occurs once in a blue moon due to the massive amount of different players. For example, I have well over 1,000 different Jose Canseco cards but only two instances where a company used the exact same photo (Fleer) prior to the year 2000.

Who knew in 1996, years after the investor card craze of the early-90s, Panini was even still around? Not only were they still doing putting out nice-looking stickers, they put together a pretty nifty set and card of Jose Canseco (below), likely about to check his swing while playing part-time for the Boston Red Sox that year. The sticker cards were mostly available in Europe and Latin American countries but eventually made their way to the states thanks to distribution by Fleer Trading Cards.

Speaking of Fleer, they somehow came up with the wacky idea of incorporating comic book-like elements into their baseball cards. Despite being fairly thin and easily damaged due to the all-foil fronts, the new Metal Universe brand was extremely fun to bust and had some pretty great inserts at the time. By 1997, they were producing some of the biggest and most valuable “90s style” inserts ever seen. Just look at this Michael Jordan parallel which sold for an astonishing $10,000+ dollars.

So let’s see just who came out on top. Panini Stickers or Metal Universe?

Price: In the price department, you can’t beat Panini’s stickers. They usually came with 6-8 per pack and almost always for under a dollar. However, they weren’t baseball cards … they were extremely thin stickers. Metal Universe were real cards with serious flash and some nice design work put into it. The card backs also looked great, which was a nice bonus and easily puts Metal Universe on top. Winner: Metal

Design: This one all depends on your preference. The Panini stickers are small but put it in a sleeve and Top Loader and they look pretty damn nice. The Metal Universe cards look good and the colors pop but much like Topps Finest’s first effort in 1993, still needed some work. Now, once you add the inserts Metal Universe put out that year, it becomes clear which was the better brand, design-wise. Winner: Metal

Impact: This one is also somewhat tricky. As I wrote earlier, Metal Universe kicked major ass with their sophomore effort in 1997 and their inserts and parallels remain incredibly hot items on the secondary market almost 20 years after its release, However, it’s now a dead brand, at least in baseball. Sure, Upper Deck owns the Fleer name but that’s like being married to a 95 year-old with a bad ticker and stage 4 Cancer. It’s only a matter of time.

Panini on the other hand all but disappeared after this release before making their comeback a few years ago. While they now own the Donruss name, they still have a long way to go seeing as their non-licensed cards have turned off many collectors. That being said, Panini’s future is much, much brighter than Fleer’s so … Winner: Panini

Overall: So there you have it. David vs. Goliath? Not quite. In 1996, Panini Stickers could never compete against a still innovative Fleer, owned by Marvel Comics. While inserts and parallels produced by Metal Universe will live on forever thanks to player collectors and eBay, Fleer as a baseball brand is long-deceased. On the other hand, Panini America has come back from the dead, resurrected an historic brand among collectors (Donruss) and pumped some life into it.

To put it into perspective, in 2015 we will see a Panini-produced baseball release.

Fleer on the other hand will remain dormant, at least until someone rescues it from Upper Deck’s cold, dead hands.

Categories: Card Wars, Fleer Trading Cards, Panini America | 1 Comment

My Version of Thrift Treasures

Copyright: Cardboard Icons

I’ve never done one of these before. Maybe that’s because when I collected there were still card shops around so the last place I’d ever look for baseball cards were in flea markets. Well, it’s now 2015 and there is not a single card shop around me or within 60+ miles. I guess all those years of being surrounded by card shops since the early 90s were taken for granted.

My first stop this morning was the Red Wagon Flea Market in Bradenton, FL. After 26 minutes, my daughter and I had combed through every vendor and found exactly zero baseball cards. I was, however, able to pick up a Transformers Unicron figure for $10 dollars so I am pretty fucking happy. That story belongs on another blog, though.

My second stop was back near my house in Sarasota. The place is called the Sarasota Swap Meet and this place was about 1/3 the size of the Red Wagon and that place was small so imagine this place. Fortunately, it wasn’t a complete bust as I found a factory box of 1994 Donruss Baseball. Unfortunately, the guy wanted $35 dollars so I kept on walking. By this point, I had wasted all morning and was frustrated. Thank God I didn’t give up.

Sitting an hour and seventeen minutes away, the Wagon Wheel Flea Market in Pinellas Park, FL. didn’t look all that appealing but with no where to buy baseball cards besides Walmart and Target, I was desperate and began the long trip with my now grumpy 3-year old daughter. Upon my arrival, I was greeted with good news. First, there were four different vendors selling sports cards and I came away with some nice finds! Second, the place was absolutely awesome and had a little bit of EVERYTHING.

Vendor #1

The first guy had a few boxes or random cards all for $1 a piece. No game-used or autographs anywhere in sight but so much 90s goodness I couldn’t help not bite. He also went out of his way and started looking through boxes to help me find Jose Canseco cards, since they were in no order whatsoever. I’ve never been to a shop where the guy takes time out of his way to help you find stuff. This was a pleasant surprise.

1994 Leaf Slideshow – These cards were kind of a big deal back in the day and were inserted into Series 1 and 2 Leaf at a ratio of 1:54. He had several but I chose “The Big Hurt” Frank Thomas, who just entered the Hall of Fame. The price was $1.

1998 Topps Tek – Here is another Frank Thomas card even though I will admit … I never was a fan. I simply bought this because it was from Tek’s debut and Topps’ ressurection of the brand was a huge hit among collectors. Once again, I paid $1.

1987 Topps – Here we have a card which at one point sold for at least $12 back in the early-90s. I know this because I have seen it myself. Unfortunately, Bo Jackson, who was once a hobby superstar, never played the same after a horrific football injury shattered his body. For just a buck, I couldn’t resist picking this card up for my collection.

1983 Topps – Here we have what in my opinion was the best design ever created by Topps, at least in the entire decade of the 80s. In my fifth grade Science book, there was this very card pictured for some reason I can’t recall and it’s always been a card I wanted to own. Again, can’t go wrong with a dollar. On the back of this card it shows his 130 steals for 1982, a season in which he hit .267. One can only imagine how many more steals he would have had if he was a better hitter that year.

1996 Topps Chrome – It took all of three years for Topps to incorporate Chrome technology into more than just one brand and they did it in 1996 with Topps Chrome. This was the first year for Chrome Baseball and owning the Kirby Pucket card seemed like a good fit even though I will admit, I was never a fan.

1998 Leaf Fractal Foundations – I tried reading this brand’s description on BaseballCardPedia and literally went cross-eyed. I don’t know exactly what to make of it but the cards are nice and all serial numbered. I picked up recent Hall of Famer, Pedro Martinez, #’d 2525/3999. Despite this brand’s zaniness, I would LOVE to bust open a box of it. The cards feature an elegant design and the card backs are good enough to be fronts. Once again, the card cost me $1,

2000 Upper Deck Drawing Power – Here it is! I somehow found a Jose Canseco I did not already own. With that out of the way, the card is kinda lame and features Jose in a check swing position. Who thought that would make a good card? Still, I didn’t own it and now I do so the day was a huge success!

Vendor #2

While enjoying the rest of what Wagon Wheel had to offer I found a small display of cards, which included a complete set of 1996 SPx Baseball and 1994 Leaf Limited Baseball. Unfortunately, it was a little bit too high for my taste so instead I went with some cheaper offerings.

1991 Topps Micro – An entire factory set of the smallest baseball cards I have ever seen and all for $3 dollars. The Micro Gold cards alone make this buy a complete steal and in case you’re wondering, there is a Canseco in the set.

1987 Fleer Miniatures – Another smaller than usual set in size. It is essentially 1987 Fleer but half the size. Again, I couldn’t pass it up for $3 dollars even though I have very little interest in ’87 Fleer.

1989 Topps Big – This is a set I am thrilled to own and for just $3 dollars it couldn’t be more perfect. I was actually watching three unopened boxes of this on eBay for $30 dollars or best offer but this will likely fill my Topps Big needs for quite some time.

Vendor #3

My first eBay purchase has arrived! I won this card, of Jose Canseco from 2014 Topps Tek for under $4 dollars thanks to Gixen’s sniping services. It’s my first eBay purchase since 2009 and all I can say is that the card is beautiful. It’s also serial numbered to 99 copies.

All in all, today was an awesome day. I am very thankful for Wagon Wheel and that one of my two eBay purchases arrived. Next up … a very special card from Leaf that I am hoping arrives on Monday.


Categories: eBay Treasures, Fleer Trading Cards, The Topps Company | Tags: | 4 Comments

The Hobby’s Forgotten Sweet Emotion

During my hey day of blogging, it seemed that 75% of my thousands of posts were about the greatness of Pinnacle Brands and how much we collectors needed a return. Well, during my long hiatus … it happened. So now it’s time to start campaigning for another long, lost brand. There was many to choose from but when it came down to it there was just one that I really want to come back. It was a brand that only lasted four years during the mid to late 90s but created one of the most memorable (and beautiful) base cards I have ever seen in 1997.

The brand was Emotion and was produced by Fleer/Skybox and although it went by different name in each of its four years, it is hard to deny the impact its cards left behind. Sure, it’s 2015 and there is probably not a lot of collectors  clamoring for Emotion but that’s where I come in. Along with several upcoming posts and even box breaks of Emotion, I plan to track down at least one of the people behind this brilliant yet now forgotten product, which there is a chance of a revival as Fleer is owned by the Upper Deck Company.

So let’s begin by taking a look at all four releases.

1995 Emotion – 200 base cards, no parallels, minimal inserts

In its debut, Fleer/Skybox focused more on design and less on gimmicks although to be fair in 1995 there really wasn’t much gimmicks to fall back on. Pack-inserted autographs were extremely rare and we were still a year away from the introduction of game-used relics in baseball cards. In 1995, Emotion concentrated their efforts on design and photography and blessed collectors with extra-thick base cards with a theme describing each of the 200 players featured. If you look below, Jose Canseco’s theme was “Strength”.

There is very little value for this product on the secondary market and with a little work you can pick up a box for well below $30 dollars on eBay.

JoseCansecoPC19950421996 Emotion XL – 300 cards, still no parallels, a few extra inserts and “lenticular” chase cards

In 1996, Fleer/Skybox stepped their game up design-wise. Just look at the base card below. By next year they would take designing baseball cards to legendary levels but this was a great preview of what was to come in a year’s time. Once again, Emotion skimped on the parallels but there were some decent inserts to tide collectors over.

What Emotion did differently in 1996 was insert at 1:100 packs, a lenticular “motion” card which was a nice attempt to test the waters with gimmicks. Ultimately, Sportflics stopped being fun in the 80s so it fell kind of flat. Again, not much secondary market activity so much so that there isn’t even a recent unopened wax box sale.


1997 E-X 2000 – 102 cards, two serial numbered parallels, a high-end, die-cut insert, and autographs

This was the game-changer. Hands down, the most beautiful baseball cards ever made. You gotta give Fleer/Skybox credit, it took them three releases before playing the parallel game and they did it just right. Instead of multiple levels of parallels, they did just two and both were serial numbered (#’d 299, #’d 99). To be perfectly honest, however, they weren’t as pretty as their base cards, which is a rare feat with parallels.

For the first time, Emotion, now using its third name, E-X 2000, featured pack-inserted autographs seeded at 1:500 packs. If you remember how expensive this product was in 1997, by those standards, you will slightly comprehend how hard these autographs were to find. I’ve personally never have seen one. The biggest name in the checklist, unfortunately, is Alex Rodriguez.

As for secondary market value, this product is as strong as ever. An ungraded Griffey Jr. insert, with nothing more than a die-cut gimmick almost hit $200. A parallel featuring the same player sold for over $100. Even players who sucked at baseball do pretty well on eBay. Full boxes of this product don’t come up often but can usually be had for much less than $100 dollars.

I busted a box of this product on video in 2008. To watch, click HERE.


1998 E-X 2001 – 100 cards, two serial numbered parallels, a big chase card, and much easier to find autographs

Nothing lasts forever. By Emotion’s fourth effort, it was all gimmicks and way over the top design. The base cards, once classy and elegant, now were printed on acetate and had all kinds of holographic crap on it. Perhaps this was one of the reasons this product was officially retired after 1998. Despite this fact, collectors still go ga-ga over 1998 “Emotion” and its hard to find parallels.

This product kills it on the secondary market and is a favorite among player collectors. Once again, Griffey Jr. leads the pack with a nearly $600 parallel after a small bidding war. Hell, even a hobby pariah like Bonds hits $400, although to be fair the card was graded Gem Mint.


Categories: Fleer Trading Cards | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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