With the recent admission by Topps that it erred in judgment when labeling their relic cards as 'memorabilia' in 2009 Tribute and other products, I fear we're about to get a glimpse at the man behind the curtain. We now have an admission from the leading sports card manufacturer that they denoted no difference between seat and bat in one of their most prominent (and expensive) products of the year.
But, let's delve a little deeper. Numerous board members began to question the authenticity of several of the relics in the set, most glaringly Babe Ruth. None of the customers received a straight answer when contacting Topps for further information.
Are we expected to believe that Topps spends thousands of dollars on material attributed to arguably the game's most iconic figure and maintains no readily available documentation or database that tracks such material? It is either deceitful or incompetent on their part when replying to those inquiries.
A similar situation happened to me in 2007 with a Mantle relic out of Triple Threads. The 'jersey' swatch looked a little too white and I contacted Topps for additional information. They told me they had no idea what it was and that they couldn't help me. Again ... the player who has defined Topps since the company's inception ... and they are not tracking what they buy and where the material is placed? Ludicrous.
If these are in fact authentic game used items of players like Mantle, Ruth, etc. then the company has to be internally tracking it because of the amount of the company's capital it represents. The fact that the Topps representatives do not know, nor offer up anyone else to consult who does, has me very, very nervous.
When you purchase a game used item ... even from the 'vintage' era ... the vast majority of the time the piece is presented with provenance, dated information, factory records, etc. Yet none of this information has yet made it onto the back of a trading card or into a searchable online database of records for its customers.
Hillerich & Bradsby, the company that manufactures the famed Louisville Slugger, have records going back pretty much to the days when the Pittsburgh Pirates were the Louisville Colonels, and numbering and labeling on the bat can pretty much narrow down who it was made for and when. Yet none of this makes it onto the card. When dealing with pre-war players the situation becomes even more murky. Numerous companies manufactured bats in the era (Zinn-Beck comes to mind) who are no longer in existence the records were conveniently lost in a ubiquitous fire. Bats of this kind, without documentation only expert opinion and provenance, result in prices of about $1,000-$2,500 for serious Hall of Famers like Jimmie Foxx and Rogers Hornsby. Bats of those same players can sell for upwards of ten times that if it is a Louisville Slugger with accompanying factory records. I can only assume that the bulk of the pre-war bat relic cards are comprised of the lesser, as it comes down to simple economics.
I am very uneasy about my considerable HOF relic card collection these days.
I will say this. At least Donruss had the decency to take a picture of the item and throw it on the back of the card with the COA some years back!