The Art of Creating a New Class of RCs
The chase for the next big RC has long been the lifeblood of the Hobby. Of course, as the Hobby has evolved, the introduction of multiple sets, limited print-run parallels, autographs, and the insertion of game-used memorabilia cards have exponentially increased the sheer number of RCs circulating within the market. Gone are the days of the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle #311, where there was little to no debate about a card being a player’s true, or core, RC.
Enter Topps Living Set®
In 2018, Topps Living Set® was introduced, throwing even more of a wrench into the great RC debate. Topps Living Set® releases artistic renderings of players and characters pulling from three major sources for its subjects: the MLB, The UEFA Champions League, and the Star Wars franchise.
According to Nick Bouris, current brand manager of MLB & Star Wars Living Sets, Living Sets are unique because “the cards are made available for one week on the Topps website on a print-to-order basis. You cannot go searching for a Topps Living card in a pack that you might find at a local card shop, Target, or Walmart.” And while this direct-to-consumer model makes the chase convenient for set collectors and player collectors alike, it has added a whole other dimension to some debates over a subject’s true rookie card.
“The teams working on the Living Sets can be a lot more nimble,” says Bouris, comparing Living Sets production times to a traditional hobby set. When producing cards with the most up-to-date cultural relevance, it is much easier for Topps to release an individual card rather than build it into a traditional retail and hobby set.
To RC, or Not to RC?
One such example comes from 2019 when season one of The Mandalorian and Baby Yoda memes took the internet by storm. Holding the official Star Wars trading cards and stickers license, Topps was preparing the first Star Wars: The Mandalorian hobby set, but this would not hit store shelves until a year later in 2020.
Wanting to deliver something timely for collectors, Topps turned to its Star Wars Living Set®. “It was a lightning-fast turnaround with The Child’s first rookie card in the Living Set,” Bouris said. Within just four weeks of Baby Yoda’s (Grogu’s) debut, the team kicked out The Child’s first-ever trading card featuring the artwork of Kris Penix. The Star Wars Living Set® The Child beat the hobby edition by nearly a calendar year. So, what constitutes The Child’s true RC, Living Set or retail? Nick Bouris said, “Because we were able to get The Child’s rookie card out in the Living Set so far ahead of the hobby edition, it’s become a friendly item up for debate amongst collectors about what Grogu’s true rookie card is.”
This is just one example of how the innovative team at Topps is changing the meaning and the chase of RCs. In the world of sports, the Living Set has also had some recent modifications to add to the excitement of the chase for high-demand cards.
New Chase, Who Dis?
Topps Living Set® has been creating the first artistic created RCs since its inception nearly five years ago, and 2023’s Living Set offers something new and exciting. This year, Topps Living Set® has introduced chase parallels for each card. For each player featured in the 2023 set, there will be the common print-to-order card. However, those who purchase the card may end up with a Black Bio Text edition limited to ten cards – although the super exclusive parallel will not be numbered. “We wanted to give collectors something new and fun to chase after,” explains Bouris, “It’s an extra incentive for those who collect the Living Set.” And it is small changes like these that will continue to change not only how RCs are chased after but also what value they will be assigned once they hit the secondary market.
The hunt for a player’s RC will continue to dominate all aspects of the Hobby, from conversations on message boards to breaks and panel conversations at The National. Topps will continue to do its part in fueling these conversations by continuing to keep the chase, value, and even the meaning of an RC ever-evolving.