Have you checked your Topps Chrome and Finest cards from the ’90s lately. If you haven’t in some time, you may want to take a look at them again. Word of warning: you may not like what you see.
I only found out about this issue early last year, when I started to complete a set of 1998 Finest that an old high school friend originally started to compile. Because he had only worked on the first series, it seemed to me I could greatly speed the process along by buying a complete second series and then finding the missing cards from the first series. After finding what I was looking for on eBay, I eagerly opened the box to take a look at my new cards and was stunned by what I saw. Nearly ⅓ of the cards were either completely faded into an odd greenish tint (as seen on the 1994 Lenny Dykstra Team Stadium Club Finest I posted a scan of back in November) or developed a very splotchy fade that seems to form in the more brightly colored portions of the photo. (All the cards given to me by my friend were absolutely fine.)
Fairly quickly, I contacted the seller to see about sending it back for a refund — I wanted nothing to do with what I considered damaged goods. He was just as surprised as I was; he thought they were all in mint condition but admitted that he hadn’t looked at the cards himself in years. After sending him a few scans proving that I wasn’t fabricating this issue, we ended up working out a partial refund and I kept what he sent. Shortly thereafter, I used one of the sellers in the Beckett Marketplace to replace some of those cards and was just as shocked when roughly the same percentage of the cards had the same issue. That’s when I started to realize that this wasn’t an isolated issue and decided some research was in order.
The first thing I did was start looking far more carefully through my own collection, and sure enough many of my 1998 Finest Phillies cards displayed the same issue. Furthermore, the splotch and fade problem affected other sets as well. Various Bowman and Topps issues from 1994 through 1999 had this problem as well, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the cards still bore the peel-off protector. Since I didn’t closely look at the cards on a regular basis, I have no idea when the various cards first started exhibiting signs of this happening. It just may be that some of the early ’00s just aren’t old enough to start displaying the splotch and fade yet.
From there, I tried to do some research online and found this had become something of an issue that other collectors were discussing on various message boards. A lot of suppositions and theories were being thrown around, but no one knew what was causing it. What was especially appalling was that I couldn’t find anything on the Beckett or Sports Collectors Digest sites about this problem. Admittedly, there may have been some articles back when my hobby involvement was at a minimum and I just didn’t enter the right combination of search terms to find the information I was looking for, but if it’s out there it’s hard as hell to find. Certainly, no one else on the message boards I read was linking to articles describing the phenomenon.
So, the question is how do we know that any new Chrome or Finest cards purchased today won’t eventually experience similar issues? Why spend serious bucks when the cards harbor a chance of looking like a splotchy mess years down the road? Those rare sepia chrome parallels look awesome now, but will they look like a mess 15 years from now? What, if anything, has Topps done to ensure that this issue will no longer affect any of the cards that use this printing technology? And, if neither Beckett nor SCD has tried to investigate, then why the silence? (I suspect that Beckett has never investigated. Otherwise,
hobby apologist Beckett Baseball Editor Chris Olds would have quickly come to his publication’s defense in my comment on “First Look: 2015 Topps Chrome Baseball.”)
In the meantime, I’m seriously considering just making scans of my 2012 Topps Chrome Halladay batting variation SP and the various sepia parallels I’ve picked up over the past few years and then selling them all while they are still the proper color. I just don’t want to find myself holding the bag if/when they start experiencing the hideous splotch and fade.
FWIW, yes, I’ve seen the ravages of time on the older Finest (thankfully, I gave up buying any after the second year) and I first noticed it around 2005. I have not seen anything similar with Chrome, though I don’t go out of my way for shiny as a rule. I have seen discoloration issues on other 90s sets (regardless of storage methods), but nothing I would remotely compare to what happens with Finest. I have noticed that my Finest which have been stored in individual Top Loaders (no additional sleeve) from their purchase date have NOT suffered from the affliction as those stored in any other manner (pages, snap cases, regular xxx-count boxes…those all had problems). Of course, storing sets in individual Top Loaders presents other issues (space, for one). But, thankfully, I never much cared for Finest to begin with. Fools Gold. Give me Heritage any day.
I apologize for taking so long to respond, but I did finally go back and check my Chrome cards a little more carefully. I did overstate the problem — the Chromes in my collection all seem to be fine, at least in regards to the fade issue. However, more than a few of them have an issue with sticking to the individual sleeves I originally inserted them into. At this point, it just seems to be a nuisance — I hope that it isn’t a harbringer of some other future degradation.