When 2015 Topps Strata arrived last week with just two cards per box, some collectors may not have noticed one of the features that the high-end brand includes on its Clearly Authentic Autographed Relic and Clearly Authentic Relic cards.
But it’s something that many collectors say they have been seeking for a long time.
What is it? Added authenticity — as in specific game-dating — thanks to the little silver MLB Authentication sticker found on every single card in those two sets.
For those who don’t know, the MLB Authentication program launched in 2001 and it’s a program where MLB-hired authenticators pull items from play and sticker them with a code which is then entered into a database. This tiny sticker’s code contains the key to unlocking the info about the item that was entered into the system at the time the item was pulled. (If an item was not witnessed as being used — as in a jersey pulled off a player’s back — it’s labeled as team-issued.)
In the case of memorabilia cards, which have been around since the mid-1990s but not produced in heavier volume until beginning a few years later, they’ve sometimes featured an image of the item on the back of the card but often not. That has left collectors to take the card company’s word that the item was used.
Not all items used on the field are authenticated as game-used. But, only MLB-authenticated items were used for the Clearly Authentic Autographed Relic and Clearly Authentic Relic cards in 2015 Topps Strata. Those items were then cut up and then, sometime during the card’s manufacturing life — in this card’s case on Aug. 19, 2015 — a second MLB Authentication session took place to add another sticker to each and every swatch that eventually went into every single card.
The added step in the process means added security for collectors (as well as added cost for Topps) and the company obviously hopes that the feature will turn into added interest in the cards and, of course, added sales and added value. After all, collectors say they want to know exactly when and where their game-used were used.
That game-dating is something that’s probably only a reality using items that have gone through the MLB Authentication system — but, again — not all items authenticated are specifically known to be game-used and specifically dated.
In the case of the gray Sonny Gray swatch seen in the card above? Well, it came from a road jersey worn on May 8, 2015, when he went six innings, striking out nine and walking two but got no-decisioned as his A’s lost to the Seattle Mariners 4-3. Is the card more valuable than one that might have a piece of his jersey from five days earlier when he beat the Rangers or five days later on May 13 when he lost to the Boston Red Sox? Who’s to say — but perhaps it would be more valuable to someone who found the card, happened to look up the authentication code and happened to be at the game?
In all other products and past releases, only those people lucky enough to land a piece with the entire item’s MLB Authentication sticker would know where it came from — and that’s typically placed on a patch or a laundry tag. The rest of the swatch owners — hundreds of people, maybe more depending on swatch and jersey sizes — were left to wonder. And, of course, given the simple authentication statements on cards — part of keeping that months-long production process as simple as possible for thousands of cards printed and manufactured — that left some collectors wondering about a lot of things.
Topps first tried stickering swatches like this in Tribute but those cards were found so infrequently that they probably didn’t make them into the hands of most collectors. Now, although Strata has a steeper price tag per card (click here for the latest box price), these types of cards are closer to a reality for us all.
Are these cards foolproof? No — because the stickered swatches still need to make their way into the correct cards and there’s always the chance that a sticker could be tampered with — but it’s a step closer to what collectors say they want.
Are you buying?
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I’m a fan of increased transparency. Things should be as they appear and if there’s something certifying it is as it appears, I’m more inclined to add it to my collection.