What are buyback cards? They are a popular way of blending the new and the old. Therefore, many collectors have been finding excitement in chasing these past gems.
These cards are also one of the lesser-known types of sports cards and are commonly misunderstood. In today’s article, we’ll unpack the format and give you everything you need to know.
Buyback cards are a way of mixing the old and the new.
They happen when a card manufacturer inserts its own older cards in newer products. Then, they have to “buy back” these cards on the secondary market, which is what gives them their name.
Sometimes the cards are inserted into the packs precisely as they were in their original form, but other times they are altered slightly. In addition, it’s common for buyback cards to either be autographed or stamped by the manufacturer before being reinserted into packs.
There’s a lot to like about buyback cards and a lot of problems that many collectors identify with.
Here’s a look at the typical pros and cons of buyback cards. Sometimes they can be massive hits.
For example, Upper Deck has put signed versions of the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan and 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie cards back into packs as buybacks. As you’d imagine, collectors were elated by the chance to pull some massive cards.
They’re also attractive to collectors for other reasons than value, such as how they work to build out the narrative of card collecting. Having cards from the past given new life in today’s products builds out the legacy of cards and can connect generations of connectors. It can even be something fun for collecting parents and their children.
On the flipside, these cards have some drawbacks too.
For one – like many other inserts – not all buybacks are valuable. For example, 2022 Topps Heritage has a pretty deep checklist to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the product, and many of these cards –stamped with a 50th Anniversary Foil – can be picked up for less than $10.
Also, you mustn’t lose sight of what these cards are – old cards repackaged! For the 2022 Topps Heritage cards mentioned above, you must realize that it’s a fifty-year-old card repacked after being bought on the secondary market. Therefore, you cannot expect PSA 10s. Instead, expect creases, white corners, and scratches.
Asking if buyback cards are valuable is like asking if autographed cards are valuable. In short, it depends.
Some of them can be tremendously valuable. On the other hand, some of them won’t be the most valuable card coming out of a pack from a low-end product. So there’s a wide range of appeal and value when it comes to these cards.
Thankfully, a buyback card’s value is closely aligned with the value of any other card. In other words, it matters if it’s a rookie, the condition, the player, and the year. Of course, the same rules still apply.
Stamped buyback cards are probably the least popular option of the three (stamped, auto, original) standard forms of buyback cards for most collectors.
They’re the old card from a historical setting, but they’ve been stamped with a holofoil seal or symbol denoting them as a buyback card. The stamp might be celebrating the anniversary of the set, the league, the release of a historical card, or something else.
Many collectors would prefer original buyback cards – unaltered cards that could essentially be resold on eBay without anybody knowing they were pulled as a buyback. It’s not that there’s a negative stigma around buybacks, either. However, to some, stamps feel like “defacing” the old cards.
Buyback autos are much more popular than stamps because they add a player’s personal touch to the buyback card. Plus, many of the cards for these buybacks were initially released before players autographed cards for the manufacturers. Hence, it’s a way to pull the autographed versions that were never possible in the past.
Panini doesn’t do buyback cards as much as they do “white box” or “black box” cards (which are very, very similar). However, the phrase is much more popular with Upper Deck and Topps.
Beyond that, which products have buyback cards is primarily based on the history of the set. As noted earlier, most buybacks are tied to the historical legacy of the set. It’s not uncommon for a set to go years without a buyback and then buybacks because the set is turning 25-years-old, a decade old, or something similar.
Sometimes buybacks of one particular card are put into a set to celebrate its birthday. For example, we’ve seen several Derek Jeter buyback autograph releases to celebrate these cards’ 10th, 15th, and even 20th anniversary.
It didn’t take LeBron long to earn his first buyback rookie auto… one year, to be exact. The 2004-05 release of his 2003-04 Finite RPA was numbered to /19. It is one of the most valuable buybacks ever. It outsells #2 on this list, even, but is less “iconic” in the scope of collecting.
It’s no surprise to find this card on the list. It may be Jeters’ best rookie. In addition, each card came with a COA, and at the time of writing, one is currently on sale for $25,000.
Even typing “Michael Jordan rookie auto” feels a bit taboo because the 1986-87 set never included such, but that’s part of what makes this card so amazing. The autographed version of the 1986-87 set was released on the 15th anniversary of the iconic rookie card and was limited to 23 total cards. So perhaps that’s why one recently sold for $125,000.
Many misunderstand buyback cards. Just remember they’re a way to splash the past into the present of collecting. They are a lot like other cards. But even the lowliest of buyback cards infuse a bit of fun into the hobby and work as a torch-bearer for hobby tradition.