By Richard McAdam aka RGM81

In this hobby there are a number of different types of collectors: there are the case breakers, the set builders, the team collectors, the player collectors, the flavour of the month collectors, and the casual collectors that dabble in a little bit of everything. Most collectors fit into multiple categories, of course, as a person that mostly focuses on a favourite team will have a side project of a particular set. While all of us that enjoy this hobby are super collectors in our own right, there are a handful of collectors that are recognized, both formally in venues like SCF’s Super Collector Hall of Fame and informally by their peers, as being capital-S, capital-C Super Collectors. What elevates the perception of a collector from being just another face in the crowd to this lofty designation?

In my opinion, there are a handful of factors that designate a hobbyist as being a Super Collector. They are, in no particular order:

1. A superior collection that outshines most, if not all, others.
2. A high level of dedication to getting a balance of quality and quantity in the collection.
3. A long-term approach to the collection.
4. An emotional investment in, and attachment to, the player/team and his/their success.

A collection that not only meets, but exemplifies, these criteria is crucial to determining whether a person is a Super Collector of a particular player and/or team. If one of these criteria is not met, the status of being a true Super Collector cannot truly be attained. While there are measurable stats and figures that are used at SCF to gauge whether a person qualifies for a Super Collector badge, often the deciding factors are intangible and go beyond just the numbers. Each of these four criteria will be discussed at length below, followed by an examination of the manner in which SCF designates a Super Collector to give our membership a little glimpse behind the curtain of our decision making process when we receive an application.

The most striking factor in deeming someone a Super Collector is that their collection is simply amazing to behold. When you look at a player collector’s Photobucket or their show and tell threads, you recognize that person as being “the man” (or “the woman”) when it comes to that particular player.

An essential for any hockey Super Collector

An essential for any hockey Super Collector

There may be a number of other major collectors of that player, but this collector is recognized not only by the majority of hobbyists but also by his competitors as having the best collection out there. When you look at a team collector’s collection, you have to take into account the team’s standing in the hobby, the depth and breadth of individual players that have been on that team, and the key cards and other items in the collection. To have a really superior team collection a person must have a vast number of cards that spans much of the team’s history. While it is nice to focus on a current roster, given how easily players can be traded or waived today, it is crucial that the greats of the past have an assured place in a team collection for it to be elevated to the ranks of a truly superlative collection. A Chicago Blackhawks collector can have a lot of Toews and Kane, but if it is lacking in any or all of Savard, Esposito, Hall, and Mikita, can it really be considered among the best of the best? I would argue against it. It is important to be contemporary, but the past must also be respected and honoured within a collection for it to outshine all others.

The second criteria in determining a Super Collector is their level of attention to getting a great mix of quality and quantity in their collection. With so many product releases today, a person can very easily get overwhelmed with the volume of high-end cards on the market, making it difficult to obtain the superior pieces that, as discussed above, separate a collector from his peers and competitors. Given the difficult economic climate and limited budgets that many collectors face, the task can be even more daunting. While we all enjoy breaking boxes, in a zero-sum game that box break may mean no eBay singles purchases for the PC, and buying five or six smaller cards may mean having to neglect a key collection piece. When you look at judging quantity for a player collector, you’re taking into account how long that player has been in the NHL, how many cards have been produced, and how many are in the collection. The closer to a complete master set, the better—this is of course difficult for a superstar player like a Derek Jeter or Sidney Crosby, which is why a lowered expectation of reaching a certain number of cards or a percentage is sufficient to assess a collection. Same goes for quality. If a person has a significant number of 1/1’s and other low print run cards in their collection, the key rookie cards (i.e. SP Authentic Future Watch, Panini Limited, Bowman Chrome), and several great high-end cards in conjunction with great numbers overall that include the usual parallels and GU’s and autograph cards, that person is a likely candidate to be considered a Super Collector.

You have to have quality cards to be a Super Collector

You have to have quality cards to be a Super Collector

The third important aspect of what defines a Super Collector is their dedication over the long term to that collection. If a person amasses a solid amount of a player’s cards during the player’s rookie campaign, and then drops that collection during a sophomore slump, how can they hope to be considered for special recognition? Rookies are of course a driving force in the hobby: when a young player bursts onto the scene with a hat trick or a shutout or a no hitter or three touchdowns, they instantly garner attention and interest. Prices will spike due to the demand and all of a sudden the hobby has a new darling on its hands. That is all well and good, as it attracts new collectors into the hobby and brings new collections to existing hobbyists. What happens, though, when that initial limelight fades and the player settles into being a regular player? How interested are you in getting that fifth year autograph? A lot of player collections out there fade dramatically after the rookie season. While the rookie collection may be impressive, to be a true Super Collector you have to stick with it for many years. To give a shout-out to a friend, there is a Rob Blake collector—scratch that, Super Collector—that has been collecting Blake for 20 years. I have said to my friend Barrie that his Blake collection is what I want my Carey Price collection to be when it’s all said and done. A Super Collector has been through it all, through thick and thin, through Stanley Cup years to the days where he’s benched. Simply put: a Super Collector is in it for the long haul.

The final factor in determining a Super Collector flows from the third and boils down to a single word question: why? What is the driving force that compels a person to choose to primarily collect a particular player or amass a mammoth team collection? In my view, this final factor is the most important of all in determining what makes a Super Collector. They are emotionally invested in that player or team’s success. Yes, they are financially invested in that player or team’s success, by virtue of having spent money on their cards or memorabilia or tickets to see the game. But to that collector, the money is secondary to the confidence, support, and indeed faith in that player or team. If the collection is worth $30 or $3000 per the Beckett price guide, that takes a back seat to the level of joy and pride in the collection. There is often a great reason that a person chooses to collect a player or team: they were there when the player scored their first goal, they grew up with their father cheering on Sunday afternoons, the first wax they ever broke had that player’s best card in the set, or the player was instrumental to their team winning a championship or their country winning a gold medal. There is a piece of the person’s history that identifies with that player or team on a level that makes them central to the person’s enjoyment of this hobby. I mentioned earlier that a Super Collector is there through thick and thin, and it simply because they care about the player and the team they are collecting.

Sometimes, there is a very difficult choice to make: the player the person collects is on their favourite team as a central figure – what do you do when the player is traded or moves on to another team? If you are a team collector, it is a little easier: the player goes into the archives section of the collection and you focus on the players that remain and are yet to come. But what happens when your favourite player is Johnny Damon and he signs with the New York Yankees? You can of course still love the Boston Red Sox, but do you still like Damon enough that you can support him and collect him when he’s wearing a hated enemy jersey? If the answer is yes, then you can be a Johnny Damon Super Collector if you chase his cards and maintain the same fervour that you did when he was in Boston. A Super Collector is dedicated and loyal to the player for the duration of their career, not just snapshots of it. Jaroslav Halak was pretty popular in Montreal last spring; only a small handful of people have followed him to St. Louis. Having establish what I feel are the four criteria in determining a true Super Collector, I will now turn my attention to discussing how they are applied when I review an application to the SCF Super Collector Hall of Fame.

Presently, a member’s collection is approved for the SCF Super Collector Hall of Fame primarily based off the second and third criteria mentioned above. To ensure that there is a long-term aspect to the collection, we require that the player be in the NHL for at least three seasons. This ensures that we do not receive any “flavour of the month” rookie applications and that the player has a fairly decent amount of cards produced; the floor is set at 175 cards made. There is a large emphasis placed on the numbers in a collection, as it is required for the collector to provide a breakdown of the numbers of RCs, autos, memorabilia, and 1/1’s in the collection. The numbers are then compared to the overall numbers of cards that player has, and measured against a certain percentage depending upon the number of cards the player has had produced. As an example, if the player has 1000 cards, it is a baseline mark that the collector will have at least 55%, or 550, cards of that player. We also look for the numbers of high-end, low serial-numbered cards so that the totals aren’t padded too greatly by the cheap and inexpensive inserts and parallels. Quality and quantity are definitely key aspects in determining whether a member will qualify for the Super Collector badge.

The numbers game is half of the overall picture. It is the tangible, measurable aspect of a collection that allows us to say with a degree confidence, “This person has a superb collection that deserves recognition.” If those criteria are met, or even if they are just narrowly missed, we then move on to look at the other half of the picture. By looking not only at the numbers, but also at the collection in the context of the hobby and how important it appears to be to the collector, we are able to make a final assessment.

The determination as to whether this collection is the best of the best is not something really done at this time. When we receive an application for the badge, the application is judged solely on its own merits; there isn’t a relative scale that is used to gauge whether a potential candidate measures up to others that have been approved or other player collections out there. It would be an interesting concept to explore provided that a reasonable barometer was applied. Obviously if someone’s been at it for five years with a mid-level niche player we’re not going to say, “It’s not as impressive as the guy that collected a Hall of Famer for 13 years,” and leave it by the wayside. But it would be very interesting if next season, when Drew Doughty collectors become eligible to have their collections inducted into the Super Collector Hall of Fame, we receive multiple applications of his collections. As one of the game’s brightest young stars, Doughty has a pretty good following in the hobby and there are a number of superb collections out there. At that point, is it possible for two collections of the same player to be recognized? How closely will each be judged comparatively, and how much will the “the other guy has [insert 3 random high-end cards #’d /8] in his collection that this guy is missing” factor affect decision-making processes? It is not something that has been encountered yet but may be something that should be explored in the future. What if there is a Super Collector for a particular player, but another collector comes along with a collection that is even better than the one already enshrined? This will provide us with interesting food for thought.

It is not a surprise that those collectors currently in the SCF Hall of Fame have pretty lengthy comments on their application forms as to why they collect the player that they do. It is clear that the Super Collector cares about their collection and is genuinely interested in the player. Conversely, on those applications which are denied—sometimes contentiously—there appears to have been minimal effort input into the written portion of their applications. This is their chance to really emphasize what makes them more than just another collector that happens to have a lot of the cards in the collection. Goalies are fairly popular in this hobby, often because the collector plays the position themselves. In that situation, why collect Marc-Andre Fleury and not Kari Lehtonen? What sets him apart? Seeing so many blank and one-line sections is just a real letdown because it’s the collector’s chance to wow us and demonstrate to us that they are invested in the player and will continue with the collection for years to come. While there are no defined points used for evaluation, if I am on the bubble regarding a vote and I see a weak effort to explain why a person collects a player, it may push me in the direction of voting against that collection’s inclusion in the Hall of Fame.

So this is what defines a Super Collector to me. You not only have a great—maybe even the best—collection of a player but you are known for it. You have a fantastic mix of high-end and low-end cards that gives both a wow factor and the numbers that demonstrates your commitment. You have been working at it for a long time and show no sign of slowing down any time in the future. Finally, you are at that point because you want to be at that point because that player means something to you. If those four statements above apply to you, you are a Super Collector.