Most people will warn you off if you ask about Leaf Trading Cards on any of the prominent collectors’ forums.
Detractors like to call Leaf and other non-licensed cards worthless. They are not. They are just worth less. It is clever wordplay like that, which keeps you coming back to Cardlines.
Leaf Trading Cards are a relative newcomer in the sports card game, entering the market in 2010. The founder is Brian Grey, the former manager of Razor Entertainment Group.
That group was perhaps best known for signing Tim Beckham to an exclusive contract in 2008. However, their heavy investment in the #1 Baseball America high school prospect for 2013 did not exactly pan out (hey, every collector has been there). Beckham’s vaunted five-tool potential turned out to be maybe two tools at best.
In 2010, Grey bought the rights to the Leaf brand name. Several companies had sold cards under that name in the past. Most notably, the Leaf company has evolved into one of the biggest pastry companies in the world.
For many collectors, the fact that Leaf Sports Cards are unlicensed makes them less attractive. Let’s face it; we don’t enjoy looking at cards with the cap or helmet conspicuously doctored like that.
While Leaf has tried to overcome that by getting some exclusive license deals, like the one they made with Damian Lillard in 2012 and Nico Hischier in 2016, it has not raised their prestige much. Indeed, they ended up selling their exclusivity to card giant Panini not long after.
However, keep in mind that some popular sports card series is also unlicensed. For example, Donruss baseball has maintained a strong presence in the market by providing a greater likelihood of getting a ‘hit’ than its licensed Topps equivalent.
Donruss has the big money of Panini behind it. Therefore, they have managed to overcome some of the issues with lack of license through design triumphs.
For example, their well-loved Downtown series. Of course, it helps that they can use this series with their licensed NFL and NBA products to increase product familiarity. Leaf can’t do that.
But aside from that limitation, Leaf is clearly a smaller company and unable to invest as much in graphics. Like the Here Comes The Boom! series, their attempts at making similar cards just don’t pop in the same way.
It is easier to get Leaf boxes and packs than Panini and Topps. But getting them requires the same techniques, namely watching for drops and refreshing your browser way more often than you would like.
You can buy directly from the website. However, they also sell out quickly. Most drops are gone within a couple of hours.
What are the Best Leaf Trading Cards Releases?
If you are an ancient collector like myself, you probably remember Pro Set as one of the companies that jumped on the wagon during the Junk wax era. They had beautiful cards focusing on action, challenging the Topps aesthetic of staged photo shoots at the time.
Leaf founder Brian Grey had his first job with the Texas-based Pro Set. In a fit of nostalgia, Leaf brought back the name with a new series of cards. We don’t know if they will hold value. But the idea is exciting, and the designs are cool.
The series is banking on scarcity to maintain value. Leaf makes these cards to order, so it will only print the number required to fill immediate orders. Adding to scarcity, the company prints each one for ten days.
The cards are not particularly expensive:
You can order them here.
The box is one of Leaf’s higher end products. It contains nothing but autographed cards. Each one is numbered and comes in a penny sleeve and top loader. The set does manage to convey the look of a high-end product quite successfully. However, to the disappointment of many collectors, not all of the signatures are on-card anymore.
This series appears to be quite desirable and surprisingly challenging to find. It is out of stock at most of the major online resellers and goes for about $400 on eBay.
Flash football covers the prospects most likely to be selected in the upcoming draft. The term Flash is certainly apt for the cards, which are a bit too splashy for my taste but are good for what they are. Each box contains five auto cards.
These are a bit easier to find and less expensive. You can get one for $225.
Leaf Lumber Baseball is the newer version of what used to be called Leaf Lumber Kings Baseball. The release aims for the high-end baseball crowd by offering a fairly impressive range of autos and memorabilia cards. The most common cards are numbered /20, but most are numbered lower, and there are many 1/1 to be had.
However, each box contains only four cards.
Many of the cards are relic cards, often for multiple players. Keep in mind that Leaf makes a lot of these without pictures of the players. So make sure you are into that if you invest in Lumber Baseball.
Lumber baseball is relatively easy to find. You can get these boxes for between $300-330 on eBay and the leading reseller websites.
From the early days of Leaf, they have focused a lot of attention on this release and have earned a good deal of respect for it. Though Leaf often ‘borrow’ the design from other companies (the Upper Deck Young Guns series is a frequent victim), they come on high-quality chrome stock and feature exceptionally crisp on-card autographs.
It is no mystery why these cards hold more value than just about any other Leaf product. Therefore, some people have preordered the 2021 hobby box for close to $4,000.
Speaking of the Leaf Draft football series, the well-respected series has released both a hobby and retail blaster box for the series. Each blaster contains 50 cards. The difference between the two is the number of autographs.
They are both pretty good deals right now, considering the potential of this draft class.
You are never going to see a Leaf card as the highest-priced card for a popular athlete. For Baseball, that will remain Topps, Basketball it will be Prizm, etc.
What is more frustrating and not necessarily justified is that Leaf tends to hold less value than other unlicensed products.
We did a check with some key rookie cards, comparing Leaf to licensed and unlicensed equivalents. The comparison is between raw cards since few collectors grade Leaf cards at PSA or Beckett. We focused on autographs because that is what Leaf is best known for.
Fernando Tatis Jr. RC Auto:
We tried the same experiment with another high-profile rookie to see if we got similar results.
Ronald Acuna Auto:
So the verdict regarding individual cards is that Leaf is a pretty typical unlicensed product. It may be second to Donruss in maintaining value, as it is arguably a better investment than Diamond Kings.
However, they are not bad for flipping either. The investment per auto hit tends to be lower. So you may be able to list two autos for the price you would pay for one from a licensed box.
Just like Donruss baseball, Leaf focuses on hits. They are perhaps best known for having a high autograph yield.
Indeed, many Leaf products offer a strong autograph showing at a relatively low price. As we saw, their autos are comparable to Donruss ones and superior to most other unlicensed cards. Therefore, they are not a bad investment.
One encouraging element about the Leaf business plan is their managed scarcity. Leaf is very aware that overprinting lower value and is careful not to fall into that trap.
The most prominent reason to purchase Leaf sports cards is to chase autographs. When it comes to autos, the value per dollar spent appears to be pretty good.
The best-respected Leaf cards appear to be their Leaf Draft Football series. The Patrick Mahomes short print auto has sold for $10,000 on eBay. While that is the exception, it shows that the series has rightfully earned some prestige among football collectors in its ten years of existence. The Valiant Football series also has potential.
Collectors mock Leaf at their own risk. Their high-end cards offer good value autos, and their strategy of managed scarcity is a good one.