Base Card Design -
I remember when Fleer was a huge player in the card market. They had their hand in all the sports - basketball, football, baseball, and hockey. Fleer was always an innovater in the card world. They came early into the premium card game with their Ultra product line (I loved their commercials that flaunted their foil highlighting and graphics), was a big part of the insert-era by being one of the first companies to offer one insert card per pack, and delved into creating elegant and beautiful cards with their Flair sets. Fleer was definitely a pioneer... but unfortunately they went under. Upper Deck came along and bought the rights to all things Fleer, and has been continuing the Fleer tradition ever since. Though Fleer, as I mentioned, was a huge part of the card collecting world, I always felt that it had it's grip more on basketball, football, and baseball than it ever had on hockey. And that's why I found it curious that Upper Deck would release this line for hockey card collectors. I'll talk more about this point when I reach the insert section. For now, an analysis of the base cards.
The base cards in Fleer Retro have the feel of what I think a modern day low-end Fleer card would be like. The base cards have a white border highlighted by some foiling and simple graphics. The cards are very simple and understated, which surprised me a little. Though I could definitely see these cards released as a low-end Fleer set, I always felt that Fleer designs had a little more pizazz to them - that they should be more in-your-face. As this set is supposed to be a retrospective... I would have liked to have seen a more flamboyant design to the base card. As they stand, they are not just understated... but underwhelming. I'm asking myself where the crazy graphics are, where is all the color, and of course... why am I not getting nauseated by them? These base cards are just too tame and boring. And the photography selection doesn't help too much either. That, unfortunately, was a part of things they did take from an old Fleer base set. The photography on the cards don't stand out in any way. The only thing that is interesting is that the set contains a huge mixture of retired and current players with all the same design (no sepia or black and white coloring for legends or that sort of thing). It's a trip to flip through the cards and see Gretzky then Couture then Bobby Clarke whiz by as if they were all playing concurrently.
The back of the card is much better. The backs have an Upper Deck Ice-esque-ness to them. The blue hued ice background looks sweet. The darker borders really give the backs some visual punch. Not only are there stats on the back, but also a short write-up too - that's always great to see. Though I do enjoy the backs, they don't match the front design in any way. It's just a huge disconnect. Looking at the front of the card I would have imagined the backs having a white background with minimal design elements. So though I like the card back, I'm scratching my head with what the designers were thinking of when drawing these cards up.
Base Card Design Score:
Each box of Fleer Retro comes with six autographed cards. There are no game-used memorabilia cards, but there are plenty of inserts to be found. And this is why I am curious as to why Upper Deck chose to produce this product for hockey. I have never found hockey collectors particularly crazy about insert cards. Sure, in the nineties they were certainly popular, but never to extent of basketball. Even now, nineties basketball inserts (particularly those of Michael Jordan) command big prices. Insert cards from the nineties of Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux don't even come close to those of Jordan... and in fact, Gretzky and Lemieux inserts can be found for much less than they were once valued. Currently there is hype around Fleer Retro Hockey in its initial release, but I will be very curious if Upper Deck will be able to capture hockey collector's interests with these insert cards after the newness of the product dies down.
A lot of the 'insert cards' found in Fleer Retro will actually be older Fleer base cards re-done up with their new checklist of players. Upper Deck has chosen a select few popular Fleer sets and have used their designs here. This Crosby is from an early nineties Ultra set. As a kid, I bought a lot of the basketball version of this product. I remember how awesome it was to have a fully glossed-out card with foil. The marble border was so classy! For older collectors like myself, these types of cards are really fun to pull.
Another older base card design Upper Chose to include were the old EX-2001 acetate cards. These super-premium cards look just as good as they did back then. When older collectors lament over how creative cards were in the nineties, I can imagine them referencing these cards. Again, I don't remember buying a hockey version of this card. My experience with this card design was when I collected football cards. I think I have a Peyton Manning card like this somewhere in an old binder tucked away... I find it funny that as I sort through this box of Retro Hockey that I am making more connections to other sports. And for collectors like myself who collected a variety of things over the years, this is definitely a treat to look through.
I will not go through all the different types of base card inserts, but for the most part Upper Deck did a nice job of selecting base designs to showcase. There were a couple issues that I did have with a few selections though. In terms of Flair, the Flair cards in Retro look great and share the exact design of the original cards... but they are way too thin. Flair cards were cut thick, so thick in fact that they used to not fit in toploaders very well - and I always thought that to be a hallmark of Flair. It was sad to see such a thin Flair card. And my only other gripe was with choosing three Fleer Ultra designs, with two of the Ultra designs (92/93 and 93/94) being almost exactly the same save for one having a blue/green marble graphic and the other with grey. With such a rich history of Fleer, there could have been a better choice to go with than that.
From Fleer Metal comes the Precious Metal Gems (PMG). These were the cards that everyone was going ga-ga over in Retro Basketball. The PMGs look like the ruby, emerald, and sapphire parallels in 12/13 Black Diamond. For each of these cards, Upper Deck uses a super shimmery and shiny foil. Apparently, this foiling drives collectors crazy because these parallels command ridiculous prices. If the same trend holds true for hockey, then Crosby and Gretzky PMGs should be a very hot item. I personally think the PMG cards will be very popular and get good prices on eBay, but I also think there is too much hype over them at Retro's release. The PMGs will be very interesting to keep an eye on as they make their way onto the market. Red PMGs are numbered to 100, blues to 50, and greens to 10.
There are many fun inserts to be had in Retro. This Golden Touch insert card of Marian Gaborik is an example of one of them. Many of the inserts found in Retro have flashy foil, crazy die-cuts, and sweet designs. Though I find these cards to be very collectible, I wonder if other collectors will too. I wonder if the entire focus will be on the PMGs, or will there be room for some value in these types of cards. Some inserts found within Retro come at very difficult pulling rates! Golden Touches are listed to be inserted at a rate of 1:108 packs! Another insert, Jambalaya, are inserted at a rate of 1:360!
In terms of autographed content, the majority of my autographs were in the form of Autographics cards. These autographed cards were some of the first to be available in packs. The designs are simple and nostalgic. My biggest gripe about these are that they are sticker autographs. The sticker really ruins the look of the card - they were not meant to have them. Retro has a tiering system for all their autographed content - be it Autographics cards, insert autographs, or base autos. Before trading away the autographs you pull in it, it may be a wise idea to check on the rarity of what you have. Here is a good place to do that: click here.
Here is an example of a base autograph, again a sticker. Though this card may seem like an easy pull, this Phaneuf comes 1:364 packs. And that's what I mean about making sure you know the rarity of your autographed card pulls. Sometimes Upper Deck short prints a player that you may not suspect would be short printed. They just do funny things like that sometimes.
The final card I would like to show from my break is this Akim Aliu autographed insert card. It is part of the Rookie Sensations set. Now THIS is what I call a retro Fleer design! It's just all sorts of ridiculousness with the giant water droplets and the words going every which way. Love it! More of this please. It's one of those 'it's so bad it's good' kind of things for me with this one.
Overall Value -
I paid over $200 for this box of Fleer Retro. Was it worth it? Did I get my money's worth? Is this over $200 worth of cards? ABSOLUTELY NOT. I'm not sure if I could even get $30 for all the autographs if I wanted to sell them. I know there will be some people out there that say the hobby is not about the values and so forth. Well, I just have to say that sometimes you have to take that into account. Because, how else do you judge value?
Fleer Retro is a very high-priced product for what you get in it.
From what I have seen opened, the autograph content is very weak. Though there are six autographs per box, you'd be lucky to land a player of note. It's not like boxes that contain a Sidney Crosby auto will also have a Gretzky and a Stamkos. That's just not going to happen. If you get one player of note, you'd be already doing much better than most - better than my break for sure!
Value in Retro is not only contingent on autographs though. The PMGs are a big part of what make Retro appealing. The right PMG can go a long way in making the break worth it... but again... getting a great PMG is a very difficult proposition. I do have to say that hockey does have an advantage in having good PMG prices as compared to other sports as it's the only Retro product to feature the players in their official team uniforms rather than college ones. That, to me, adds desirability to the hockey PMGs.
I loved opening Fleer Retro. It was such a fun product! But aren't fun products supposed to be cheaper than this? I don't remember ever having to pay so much for Fleer products. The price point of Retro definitely diminishes the fun of opening it.
It's actually one of the most high-priced-high-risk-high-reward type products out there that you can get. At over $200 per box, I can't recommend this product except to the highest of high rollers out there.
Pick up what you need on eBay for a much better price.
Check out my box of 12/13 Retro that I opened at DandP Cards in Sacramento, CA: