The Most Important Things the 2016 Topps Heritage Throwback Variations Have Taught Us



By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor | Commentary

Nostalgia comes in a lot of forms in the hobby. We can look back on not only our favorite players and designs but how we collected. A lot has changed over the years. In a lot of regards, that’s not a bad thing. But it has also created expectations where the vast majority of modern cards now considered “valuable” come with autographs or pieces of memorabilia.

But every now and again an exception comes along and a $750 Yordano Ventura card is born. Look at what the 2016 Topps Heritage Throwback Variations are bringing in. As far as formatting goes, an insert can’t get any more simple. Yet, they’re all selling for hundreds of dollars.

They show that sick hits can be basic cards. The stars have to align perfectly. A couple of deep-pocketed buyers help matters too.

“The prices we are seeing are from master set collectors,” says Brent Williams, bulk case breaker and seller brentandbecca on eBay. “Often after the first few weeks of release these cards rarely pop up, and collectors know that, so they are willing to pay that premium to obtain all the cards for their set versus chasing them down the road if they even show up.”

The idea behind the Heritage Throwbacks is a simple one. Featured players are pictured in “Turn Back the Clock” uniforms. That’s it. They don’t have pieces of said jerseys. They’re not signed. They’re not even serial numbered.

2016 T Her Throwback 8 Choo

What they do have is history, at least in Heritage. Throwbacks have been in Heritage for a few years now.

They’re also exceptionally tough to find. How hard? Topps hasn’t released odds, print run info or even a verified checklist. But given how popular Heritage traditionally is and how few have surfaced in what should be the product’s busiest period, it doesn’t look like much.

Here are a few numbers of what the 2016 Topps Heritage Throwback Variations sold for on eBay in the product’s first couple weeks of release (through March 13, 2016):

Jose Abreu

$799 (Mar 7)

Mookie Betts

$699.99 (Mar 9)
$699.99 (Mar 12)

Kris Bryant

$999.99 (Mar 4)
$600 (Mar 2)

Robinson Cano

$499.99 (Mar 5)
$300 (Mar 7)
$249.95 (Mar 9)

Matt Carpenter

$499.99 (Mar 6)
$400 (Mar 7)
$202.50 (Mar 12)
$200 (Mar 13)
$155.05 (Mar 10)
$155 (Mar 9)

Shin-Soo Choo

$299.99 (Mar 6)
$199.99 (Mar 5)

Carlos Correa

$590 (Mar 14)
$575 (Mar 13)
$450 (Mar 10)
$400 (Mar 4)
$395.99 (Mar 4)
$340 (Mar 3)
$299.99 (Mar 3)

Maikel Franco

$750 (Mar 6)
$400 (Mar 8)
$330 (Mar 13)

Paul Goldschmidt

$600 (Mar 9)
$500 (Mar 12)
$499.99 (Mar 5)

Matt Kemp

$499.99 (Mar 6)
$300 (Mar 12)

Dallas Keuchel

$500 (Mar 8)
$489 (Mar 7)

David Ortiz

$799 (Mar 9)

Brandon Phillips

$195 (Mar 3)

Carlos Rodon

$177.50 (Mar 8)
$119.99 (Mar4)
$80 (Mar 3)

Alfredo Simon

$205.10 (Mar 7)
$159.99 (Mar 3)

Yordano Ventura

$750 (Mar 9)

Joey Votto

$749.95 (Mar 6)

These stats have a few takeaways:

1. 2016 Topps Heritage Throwback Variations are rare.

The most obvious is that not many Throwbacks were printed. Given how much 2016 Topps Heritage has been ripped, these are small quantities. More than just the ones that have been sold on eBay exist. Several have changed hands privately as well. Still, they’re definitely the toughest of the variation types.

Based on what he’s opened himself and seen from other breakers, Williams estimates the Throwbacks are inserted about 1:30 cases and limited to about ten copies each. In the past they have been tough, but not nearly to this extent.

2. It’s not one just person buying them.

Although it has been reported on several message boards that Keith Olbermann is putting together the Throwbacks set, it’s more than just the newscaster. If it were only him, prices would be dropping quickly with each ensuing sale. They’re not.

If you look at when these were sold, the base line for the cards has risen as a whole. When Heritage first came out, $300 seemed to be a good starting point. A few days later, copies were fetching $500. Then you have a Yordano Ventura card selling for $750.

2016 Topps Heritage Throwbacks probably won’t stick around are such high levels, but don’t expect them to shrink much. These will settle for a lot more than $10 each. Supply and demand basics dictate this. With so few out there and several people willing to pay large amounts for them means that you’re probably looking at some of the most expensive inserts of the year.

3. Inserts can be compelling without autographs and swatches.

Heritage isn’t for everyone. No brand is. But over the years, it has tapped into something with many collectors and made it compelling for them. They want it all. The variations and limited print runs are gimmicks by definition in that they exist deliberately to sell more packs and boxes.

But their popularity runs deeper and it looks like Topps has found the sweet spot with these.

Most basic inserts are tossed aside today. Often, they can seem like additions to make a checklist bigger and add a feeling of value. But no matter how rare the cards are, if they don’t resonate with collectors, it doesn’t matter much. They simply won’t bring big prices because not enough people care.

In today’s hobby, being rare isn’t enough. It certainly helps, but there are more factors involved. They need something more.

Look at inserts from the late 1990s, particularly in basketball. Some of these have reached ridiculous levels and prices. Part of that is because they’re so hard to find. Part of it has to do with the presence of Michael Jordan. But the biggest part is that a group of collectors have become passionate about them.

There were fewer autographs and memorabilia cards as the 1990s gave way to the new millennium but they were still around. These hits will always have a certain appeal, but wouldn’t it be great if more inserts got prices like the 2016 Topps Heritage Throwback Variations? Great checklists would be easy. You wouldn’t have to worry about redemptions.

The hard part is making it work. Autographs and memorabilia cards are proven sellers when it comes to getting product out initially. Cutting back comes with risks. And there’s no guarantees that what works in one set will translate into another product.

But whenever we see cards of any type catch on with collectors, that makes for stronger products in both the short-term and over time. So even if you’re not a fan of the Heritage Throwbacks you should be a fan of what they’re proving.

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks.


Ryan Cracknell

A collector for much of his life, Ryan focuses primarily on building sets, Montreal Expos and interesting cards. He's also got one of the most comprehensive collections of John Jaha cards in existence (not that there are a lot of them). Got a question, story idea or want to get in touch? You can reach him by email and through Twitter @tradercracks.

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  1. Paul Angilly 15 March, 2016 at 21:08

    I’m not knocking Topps at all, but there is a downside to this. By making these variations impossible to obtain for those of us without deep pockets, frustration can set in and it’s possible to start losing interest in the release altogether. Mookie Betts is my favorite player and I’d love to have his throwback variation as part of my collection – the card looks great – but I know that’ll never be possible. I’ve always made a point of getting a Red Sox mini master team set of Heritage every year with all the non-auto, non-memorabilia variations and inserts, but now that’s no longer economically possible. I still love Heritage, but now I’m left thinking if I may have to just stick with the base team set every year and forget the parallels and inserts. If other collectors start feeling like I do right now, the number of master set collectors driving up sales of these variations may dwindle and future demand could be much less.

  2. IamNotARobot 16 March, 2016 at 12:10

    I like the idea of having a hard to find (though not impossible),rare insert that isn’t auto’d or a memorabilia card. I pulled one from O-Pee-Chee hockey a couple of years ago and it was a cool variation that caught me by surprise. Since it wasn’t a player I collected, I sold the card on an auction site (to the newscaster mentioned in the article for a healthy amount (but lower than almost all the cards listed above.)) It felt great to get a rare card, and the sale helped me buy additional items for my collection. I believe inserts like this are a win for the hobby. Sure, all collector’s may not be able to afford them on the secondary market, but you never know when you have something to trade for the card.

  3. Chris Harris 16 March, 2016 at 13:03

    I guess “The Most Important Thing the 2016 Topps Heritage Throwback Variations Have Taught Me” is, collectors no longer have a realistic chance to collect Topps Heritage. So what’s the point of even trying?

    • Ryan Cracknell 16 March, 2016 at 13:16

      I’d argue it’s been years since ANY product in any sport has been attainable from top to bottom. Are these much different from the ridiculously tough inserts of the late 1990s like some of the Crusdaes?

  4. Paul Angilly 17 March, 2016 at 12:10

    Ryan – Yes, they are different, because these are base card variations of one of the most popular sets for collectors out there. It’s easy to ignore a lot of other super rare inserts, but frustrating to not be able to get a photo variation of a base card that actually has a much more interesting photo than what’s on the base card.
    And those “ridiculously tough inserts of the late 1990s” were the main reason I never tried to collect any of that stuff back then, and why I still don’t chase after high-end sets today. Heritage is supposed to be a set for collectors, but unless they have deep pockets, collectors are mostly being shut out of these extremely limited variations.
    I’d be OK with it if Topps would release something like Heritage team factory sets that included all the variations, but with some kind of stamp to distinguish them from the rare versions. That way the value of the rare inserts wouldn’t be diminished, but collectors like me who just want to enjoy a nice-looking card would still be able to.

  5. joe 6 October, 2016 at 12:58

    I bought 2 packs of 72 cards mostly doubles but I did get two uniform so called worn cards worth 10 bucks each

  6. chad 1 January, 2017 at 09:51

    you guys may already know this, but some of those throwbacks dont actually look like throwbacks at first glance. Look at the serial number on back/bottom of card and see what the last 3 digits are. you may just have one and not even know it.

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