By Joey Collins aka Joecoolio

As an avid sports card collector, I have seen the days where cards were just cards. Even rookie cards were not marked. We all saw the rise and fall of sports cards in the early 1990s. It seemed everyone was out to make a buck on older cards. Nowadays we see several different kinds of cards. We see base cards, autographs, inserts, parallels, and we also see a special kind of card that contains game- or event-used pieces of equipment. Originally these cards were very rare and only contained pieces of a player’s jersey. These special cards are affectionately known as jersey cards.

Sometime in the late 1990s someone had a brainwave to increase the value of regular sports cards. Until then, the only value in sports cards were either serial numbered rare cards (very rare), rookie cards of special players, or the odd insert or subset. Unfortunately, rookie cards often were overproduced, severely limiting their value and market interest. Sports card companies decided to purchase game-used jerseys from players and cut them into little pieces and put them in a sport card. At first glance, this sounds like a silly idea and a colossal waste of a star player’s game-used jersey. However, this idea was an instant hit with the collecting community, mainly because at first they were so rare. You would literally have to buy cases of a hobby-box product to get the chance to land a rare card with a piece of a player’s jersey. These cards were valuable indeed, and to the collector who was used to the plain card, they were quite a beautiful sight.

Soon, jersey cards had hit in full force. Collectors could not get enough of the chance to pull a card that contained a piece of uniform a player actually wore. It was exciting, as these cards added a large amount of value to the early products that showcased them. The excitement seemed to grow and, as typical human beings, we wanted more. Card companies started buying jerseys in droves and putting jersey cards in most, if not all, their main sets. The sports card community ate it up like cake. The downside, of course, was that now jersey cards were starting to be more common, significantly limiting the value and market interest of each card. Jersey cards were being created for every player as well, so instead of finding that jersey card of your favourite superstar, jersey cards starting appearing for part-time players and one-hit wonders (sometimes affectionately known as “bums”). The industry had changed; jersey cards were now standard and no longer rare.

To combat the fact that people were losing interest in jersey cards, card companies started to limit the print run of some cards in specific products. Some products were now offering short print (or SP) jersey cards, guaranteeing one or more that was serial numbered in each hobby box. The variations of serial numbering would differ from product to product, directly affecting the purchase price or supposed value of a set. Originally, if you got a jersey card which was numbered out of 1,500, you were overwhelmed with joy. Of course, as human beings, we always want more. After this, it had to be out of 1,000, then 500, then 250, 100, 50 and now the ultimate is that special 1-of-1 card. Card companies had hit the pinnacle of jersey cards.

Over the following years and to the current day, card companies still spit out several different types of jersey cards from unnumbered to those rare cards for a product, where only one is made. We line up like drones just for the chance to pull these special cards out of packs. Some products now specialize in the game-used portion of the hobby industry. A good example is SP Game Used Hockey from Upper Deck. Besides regular jersey cards, card companies have increased the stakes, adding jersey patch cards, jersey number cards and sports equipment cards (game-used balls, hats, sticks, skates, gloves, etc.), all designed to quench the human desire for more. The only question now is: Where do we go from here? Companies seem to have hit a wall when it comes to what else they can do with game-used sports equipment. Will they produce cards only made of jerseys? How about finding a redemption card for one of Wayne Gretzky’s or Mario Lemieux’s gloves in a pack? Perhaps you’ll be able to get full jerseys in hobby boxes. Only time will tell. For now though, the jersey card still has a special place in our hearts as the first memorabilia to get inside a pack of cards.