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Exploring Firsts in Sports Card Collecting

The values of sports cards are dependent on many factors, some of which include scarcity, condition, player, popularity, nostalgia, and aesthetics. Each of these factors come together to create a card's unique fingerprint, the value of which will differ depending on which attribute(s) a collector personally values. As the market floods with new cards, collectors look for cards that have characteristics that make them stand out from the crowd. One powerful element that could make a card stand out from the crowd is whether or not its part of a "First".

First pack issued card. First on card autograph. First dual autograph. First parallel appearance. First insert appearance. First chromium card.

Although "Firsts" can be a differentiator, the list of potential "Firsts" seems to be exponentially growing with the each new release. Which begs the question, WHY are "Firsts" even important to begin with?

Why Firsts are Important?

The allure of "Firsts" in collecting taps into a fundamental aspect of human psychology. We are inherently attracted to being the first at something, driven by an innate desire for recognition and achievement. Its only natural that sports card collectors would seek out "Firsts" as many collectors enjoy the hobby socially in addition to its solitary pursuits. This attraction often operates on both a conscious and subconscious level, fueling our quests for uniqueness and acknowledgement.

Possessing a "First" is more than just an acquisition; it's a symbol of status and achievement. It represents a moment of pioneering - whether in sports, art, or technology - and owning a piece of that history confers a sense of internal sense pride and exclusivity.

What Makes a First Important?

Not all firsts are created equal and their appeal varies widely. Here are some secondary elements to consider when researching what "Firsts" matter to you.

Historical Importance: We cherish Neil Armstrong as the first man who walked on the moon. We honor Jackie Robinson for breaking baseball's color barrier. We admire the Wright brothers for the being the first men to fly. Their "Firsts" and related accomplishments that are broadly recognized as moving society, technology, or culture forward. As it relates to sports cards, look to step-change events in the hobby such as the introduction of a new manufacturer or introduction of a new technology used in printing/distribution.

Example: 1952 Topps was the first set released by Topps

Sets the Standard for Future Releases: We are judged and compared to what has come before. When a "First" is established, that becomes the new benchmark for everything that comes after it. When the original iPhone was released, it became the new standard-bearer for all future versions of the iPhone, but also set the standards for the entire smart phone category.

Example: 2003-04 Exquisite Basketball was the first high end card release featuring on card patch autos as their base checklist.

Establishes Milestones to Anchor to: Terry Bradshaw was the first quarterback to win 4 Super Bowls and became the standard to gauge a QB's success. Babe Ruth was the first baseball player to hit 500 home runs and became the standard to gauge power. When milestones are achieved, an anchor point is created and we compare the results of now to what has already been established. As it relates to sports cards, the hobby compares new achievements like the first card to sell for over a certain amount.

Example: The T206 Honus Wagner sold for $1,265,000 in 2000 and was the first sports card to sell for over $1 million.

Purest Form of Expression/Intention: The "first" version of a sports card, in many ways, represents the purest form of expression from the manufacturer, encapsulating the initial vision and artistic intent behind the creation. These inaugural versions of these cards are often devoid of the influences and changes that come with later iterations, offering a unique glimpse into the early aesthetic and design choices of the era. They stand as authentic representations of the manufacturer's original concept, unaltered by market trends or consumer feedback that might shape subsequent releases.

Example: 2013 Innovation Kaboom - The first year design of a popular insert that has taken on drastically different design elements in subsequent releases


As the hobby grows and diversifies, "Firsts" remain a compelling aspect, reminding us that at the heart of collecting lies not just the pursuit of rarity, but also a deep appreciation for moments of breakthrough and the ever-changing sports world.

One final note to the collector reading this: We've established why "Firsts" can be important and many of the most iconic sports cards feature some "First" related element. Exploring "Firsts" can be a shortcut to discover cards that resonate with you that you may not have previously known about, but it behooves collectors to question why a particular "First" is important to avoid falling for disingenuous attempts to increase the market value of a card.


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