Saturday, January 5, 2013

Why I love this hobby #1: Refractors

Since I'm serious about my resolution to create some more original content for this blog, something that's been lacking for quite a while, I've decided to proceed with an idea I've had for a bit.  To counteract the negativity and frustration I've experienced, mostly thanks to Topps the last few years, I'm going to start a new feature where each post discusses an aspect of the hobby that really appeals to me.  I think this will get me to appreciate my reasons for collecting even more, and hopefully it'll also garner some comments from readers like you, whether you agree or disagree with each post's topic, or better yet, have something really interesting to add.  So here we go, the first of what will hopefully be many posts about things that keep me collecting despite some of the more disappointing aspects of what can now be referred to more accurately as an industry, yet is still enjoyable enough for people like us to spend time blogging about it.

Today's post will focus on something that I know to be wildly popular among collectors--and for good reason:  Refractors!
1993 Finest Refractors #46 - Jim Abbott/241 - Courtesy of
Let's start with a bit of a history lesson, which I can do because I'm old enough to have been at least a casual collector when these first hit the market.  1989 Upper Deck is often considered the first "premium" baseball set due to its overall design, the anti-counterfeiting holograms, and its higher price point.  Four years later, Topps certainly upped the ante with its 1993 Finest offering.  While collectors stuff commons boxes with this type of card today, those chrome cards were where it was at 20 years ago!  Packs would originally set you back an unheard-of $3.99, and when the set really got popular, they would go for five times that much.  Besides the new card technology, the fact that Topps announced how limited the print run would be (also unheard-of at the time), which was 4000 cases of 12 boxes, caused a mad rush to acquire what were extremely rare cards for the era.  And the fact that the one-per-box Refractors--also a huge leap in design tech--were limited to just 241 copies simply sent prices through the roof.  The original Finest set and its Refractor were so idolized that singles prices are STILL way above-average to this very day.
From BaseballCardPedia
While it's hard to believe cards available in quantities as "high" as 241 could easily reach $100+ in price, it's easy to forget just how amazing these cards were in 1993.  Cards had plodded along with the same old stale cardboard style since the beginning, and while various subsets and inserts took a shot at injecting some variety into collecting, things were pretty vanilla for a long time.  That's not to say there was anything wrong with things up until that point, but I'd argue that this set, and especially its brand new Refractors, were card collecting's equivalent of switching to color TV.  Think about it:  these cards were so colorful, and chrome, and SHINY!  And then there were the Refractors:  "Whoa, what's that cool rainbow thing this card is doing?!"  THEN consider the fact that rarity and collecting go together like Louie C.K. and funny.  It doesn't take a genius to figure out that card collecting would never be the same, and that for the most part, it had changed for the better.
One of my personal favorites from my PC
Soon this insert became a bit more common, especially as it began to appear in more and more of Topps' products, including Bowman Chrome, which really introduced the super-crazy-premium RC to collectors, and then the idea of completing a "rainbow" of color parallels.  As with anything that becomes easier to find, Refractors generally lost their crazy price premium, but they're no less exciting a pull for collectors today, and in some cases they've actually been improved with the introduction of various colors and serial numbering.  And why shouldn't they be an exciting pull?  Inserts may have given way to relics, autographs and manustuff, but few cards of any type look better than a Refractor--when you see one, you know it!  Just ask Kevin who runs the Diamond King, and who in November of last year surpassed his goal of 1000 Refractors from any sport.  You don't see people feverishly acquiring Bowman Gold inserts, but you can count on collectors like Kevin to amass that many of their favorite insert--and want MORE--for many years to come!
Mmmm...I loves me some Jewel Staite!  (from Fanpop)
So as do many others, I love Refractors for their novelty, their history, and the fact that they're just plain BEAUTIFUL as far as cards go.  Now here's a look at a few others that are favorites in my collections:
Rich Hill 2008 Bowman Chrome Red Refractor (#1/5)
Bill Freehan 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites Refractors (#145/299)
Jason Avant 2006 Bowman Chrome Gold Refractor auto (#35/50)
Leon Hall 2007 Bowman Chrome Rookie Autographs Blue Refractor auto (#07/75)

Love or hate Refractors, or have any other opinions on the topic?  Please leave a comment below!

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more posts like this one, as soon as I think for a while about what I'd like to cover next.  Until then, the next time you're flipping through your collecting, see if you don't find a Refractor and think about how great it was when you pulled it or picked it up.  SHINY!


  1. Love me some refractors! I got out of collecting right before they were introduced so when I came back around 2000 I couldn't get enough. I don't even collect basketball anymore but I still find myself going through boxes at shows looking for any Finest refractors. Long live the shiny!

    1. That makes it even more enjoyable that they can get so cheap and easy to pick up! Pretty much any Refractor is a good Refractor.

  2. I'm 50/50. I do love refractors and always have but as a guy who tries to pick up any Sox card he can, the many different refractors gets annoying just because it's so many more cards to get. But I really do like them. OK, maybe it's more 80/20

    1. Yeah, I hear ya. For most of my collecting, I'm just happy to pick up any Refractors that make sense for my PCs, but for the supercollector, the explosion of color versions has made things a bit harder. Still, I do like many of the colors that have been used, just not purple so much. I'm also not as big a fan of the X-Fractor as most.

  3. The first Refractors I saw were from the 93-94 basketball set. I've been a fan ever since.


    1. I couldn't even tell you which Refractors I first saw, or even the first ones I owned, but I do know I pulled some from the 96 and 97 baseball sets. I can't imagine seeing one for the first time and not being hooked!