Have signature cards become the base cards of today? If we travel back in time to the first in-pack signatures cards, they would be of course in 1990 when Upper Deck included Reggie Jackson signed Baseball Heroes cards in their High Series boxes. At that time the hobby was leaving the Error Craze behind and entering the Insert Craze.
Signature cards were popular but they were not as popular as your basic inserts. For a time collectors left collecting a player’s rookie card as their card of choice and pursued the player’s rarest insert, even if occasionally that insert card was released two or three years after the player’s rookie card.1992’s Fleer Rookie Sensations inserts was a prime example. Many preferred Frank Thomas’ Rookie Sensations card over his Leaf rookie card from two years earlier.
Slowly though, the basic insert began to lose ground to the more popular signature and game used cards that were inserted into packs since Jackson’s was released in 1990. The signature card itself, whether as an insert or a redemption began taking over the collecting world until it seems that now, it is the card that everyone pursues. Base rookie cards seem unimportant to the modern collector who much prefers a card of a young star player that includes his signature, a game used bat or uniform piece, or both. They now sometimes pay thousands of dollars for these cards, and if not, it is usually at minimum in the hundreds.
Has the signature card replaced the base rookie, or base first card, of a player as the card that best represents him in a collector’s PC? Has the signature card become the modern day’s basic insert card of the 1990’s? It seems so. The craze for inserts in the ’90s eventually fizzled out and the rookie, or first card (with Bowman becoming a staple in the collecting world there are lots of first cards that don’t qualify as rookie cards) gained prominence once again. But not for very long it seems as today everyone is trading and talking about the latest signature card, not the rookie or first card of a player. Collectors now buy cases of product to increase their chances of hitting a nice looking rare signature card, leaving the thousands of base and insert cards aside to try to get rid of later.
Are base cards even important anymore? Does anyone try to complete base sets at all? Is doing that too boring for the modern collector? It seems PCs involve only the collector’s favorite players or favorite team. With the thousands of rare cards release every year, to the point where if you wanted to complete a master set of a certain set, you would need to find and buy literally over 10,000 cards, of which many will be numbered to under 5 or even 1/1’s, it is easy to see why most collectors gave up on set collecting and reduced their ambitions to players or teams. It is less frustrating and, in a way, more enjoyable (you actually have a better chance of completing you PC of a player or team than you would a set).
I, personally wonder why collectors aren’t more frustrated with collecting today. If they pursue signature, relic, game-used cards of prospects, which is what they need to do if they wish to even have a reasonable chance of getting the player’s card at an affordable price, they still set themselves up to have a worthless PC in the future as 99% of these prospects never make the major leagues, of if they do never have a HOF-type career which would justify their inclusion in a majority of collector’s PCs. Budget-minded collectors must spend hundreds of dollars so that they don’t spend thousands of dollars later on the few cards of prospects who actually make it and succeed spectacularly. They think they are saving money in the long run but most of the time they actually aren’t. Depending on how expansive the prospect collecting is, and for many it is quite wide so they don’t have some falling through the cracks and succeeding without them in their collections, a collector can expect to see 100s of the cards they spent $100.00-plus on become $5.00 throw-aways in bargain bins at their LCS or on eBay within a few years.
Is it all worth it? I guess so because the behavior continues. Personally, I don’t have the wallet to act in this way. I gave up long ago on modern signature/relic cards and am stuck back in the 80s and 90s completing sets I collected in my youth. For me, that is much more satisfying and a lot less expensive.