15 Fantastic Baseball Card Sets for Autograph Collectors
Little in the hobby drives sales more than the autograph. They're in almost every modern set. But not all autographs are created equal. A classic set of baseball card autographs involves several factors. The checklist, the initial cost, rarity, and whether the signatures are on-card are among the big reasons.
Many baseball card sets deliver tons of autographs, but the checklist might be mostly so-called prospects that will make a bigger impact at the post-game spread than in their careers. Perhaps the autograph list delivers some big-name stars and legends. But if the design shows no imagination and is riddled with sticker autographs that have loops and squiggles running off the sides, then they're going to be forgotten.
It takes a perfect storm to get most everything right, or at least to deliver so well on so many fronts that some minor issues can be forgiven.
Here are 15 baseball card sets that get autographs right. They offer big names, reasonable insertion rates, solid designs and a large enough print run that individual cards can be tracked down, even if it requires a bit of hunting.
The first MLB set to deliver at least one autograph in every pack, 1996 Leaf Signature Series Baseball has a clean design and a potent lineup of mid-90s stars. Released as two series, each has more than 200 signers. While there are a lot of commons, major superstars are also front and center. Key signers include Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Greg Maddux, Kirby Puckett, Frank Thomas, Randy Johnson, Sammy Sosa and Jim Thome. 1996 Leaf Signature Series also has one of the few certified Mariano Rivera autographs.
Autograph cards in the first 1996 Leaf Signature Series set have bronze, silver and gold versions. Short prints in both sets also fuel the chase.
Many collectors have gone after complete 1996 Leaf Signature Series autograph sets. The set is also popular with team and player collectors.
With a foil photo, clean design and ample space for signing, 1998 SP Authentic Baseball Chirography is one of the most attractive autograph sets of all-time. The checklist makes it even more attractive. Among the 30 available players are Ken Griffey Jr, Chipper Jones, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Gwynn, Roberto Alomar, Roger Clemens and Mike Mussina. With one Chirography card inserted in every 1998 SP Authentic Baseball box, collectors have excellent odds at a great signature.
When 1998 Upper Deck Retro Baseball was first released, a lot of the attention was placed on the unique distribution method. Instead of traditional boxes, tin lunchboxes were used. Looking back, the Sign of the Times autographs are what should have gotten the hype. Insert one in every 1.5 boxes, the autographed baseball cards were tricky to find but certainly not impossible. What's even more impressive is that more than half of the 31-card checklist is populated by Hall of Famers. Key signers include Ernie Banks, Ken Griffey Jr, Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver and Bob Gibson.
Upper Deck's first autograph-per-pack baseball product, 1999 SP Signature Edition Baseball has a distinct design and a massive autograph checklist (although not nearly as big as either 1996 Leaf Signature Series release). Among the highlights are Nolan Ryan, Ken Griffey Jr, Harmon Killebrew, Reggie Jackson, Stan Musial, Frank Thomas and Mariano Rivera. One of the drawbacks of 1999 SP Signature Series Baseball is that it has a handful of redemptions. While there is probably very little unopened wax left, it is still worth noting.
Card makers used the new millennium as an opportunity to look back in history. This was around the same time that vintage themes were becoming a common part of the hobby rather than a novelty. All these come together in 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends. 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends Epic Signatures were inserted one per box. The horizontal design uses the space very well. A fair-sized player shot covers a third of the card. This leaves a ton of space for the signature. To say that the 30-card set is loaded would be an understatement. Barry Bonds, Nolan Ryan, Greg Maddux, Yogi Berra, Mike Schmidt and Tom Seaver are among the names. Given the names on the checklist, the cards are still very affordable.
2000 Fleer Greats of the Game is where vintage autographs really came together. Seeded four per box, the autograph lineup has a ton of Hall of Famers as well as other notable stars from the 1950s through the 1980s. Nolan Ryan, Stan Musial, Reggie Jackson, Johnny Bench and George Brett are among the most popular cards in the set. Short prints also come into play for many cards.
The 2000 Upper Deck Legends Baseball Legendary Signatures have a similar appeal as the previously mentioned 1999 Upper Deck Century Legends Epic Signatures. Once again, Upper Deck combines a classy design, strong checklist and a one-per-box insertion rate. Autograph highlights include Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken, Mike Piazza and Derek Jeter.
Continuing with what made the previous year's set so great, 2001 Fleer Greats of the Game Baseball has more autographs from retired legends. A nice addition is signatures from a handful of Negro League veterans.
The 2001 Topps Archives Baseball Autograph set is perhaps one of the most challenging sets to build. With just one signature per box and 170 cards in the set, the odds are against you as far as getting your favorite player. However, the checklist has a lot of A-list signers like Willie Mays, Carl Yastrzemski and Hank Aaron to lead the chase. The majority of the players on the 2001 Topps Archives Autographs checklist are popular players from their eras, although maybe not superstars. The format laid the groundwork for the All-Time Fan Favorites sets a couple years later and 2012 Topps Archives.
Many of us collect autographed baseball cards because they're easier to store than baseballs. 2001 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Baseball offered the best of both. Using baseball leather as a backdrop for the signature, the design has inspired many imitators over the last decade. But what inspired collectors was the strong lineup. While there are a few commons, the debut of Sweet Spot Signatures is very strong. Balls signed by Mickey Mantle and Joe DiMaggio were cut up to fit the format as well.
Although 2003 SP Legendary Cuts Baseball was the set's third year, it offered an overall upgrade from earlier sets by introducing regular autographs in additional to the cut signatures. While cut sigs are common today, most are somewhat generic as they do not use player images. Upper Deck got that right with the trademark cards, making them extremely desirable. Because the cut signatures were tough to pull, often collectors were left disappointed. But with the addition of the Hall Marks Autographs, it gave collectors better odds of at least getting some ink. While not as iconic as the set's cuts, the impressive lineup includes Ozzie Smith, Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski.
Similar in format to 2001 Topps Archives, 2004 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites Autographs fall two per box. The loaded checklist features all on-card signatures using classic Topps designs. It mixes Hall of Famers, local favorites and a couple other surprises. While a Sy Berger autograph might not have a ton of mainstream appeal, for cardboard historians, it's a nice inclusion.
Collectors love signatures from Cooperstown icons. That's pretty much all 2005 Upper Deck Hall of Fame Baseball has. Yes, it relies on sticker autographs and yes, there are a dizzying amount of cards across the release, but it's almost all Hall of Famers. Every tin promises one autograph or autographed memorabilia card.
Breaking down the list of 2007 Upper Deck Premier Baseball autographs is somewhat daunting. There are several different inserts, combinations and parallels. But one thing stands out: overall, the names standout. Maybe this shouldn't be a huge surprise seeing as how it was a high-end release. It's impressive to see how the checklist holds up. Not everything is a winner, particularly with the then prospects, but even those are raised up a notch because they're often paired with someone who made it.
Yes, the set just came out. It might be a bit premature to include 2012 Topps Allen & Ginter on such a list. But the checklist -- it's loaded. Even if Mike Trout and some of the other new stars don't pan out, there are enough Hall of Famers and big-time non-baseball signers to carry this set into the future.
Other great baseball card autographs:
- 1993 Nabisco All-Star Autographs
- 1997 Donruss Signature Series Autographs
- 1999 Hillshire Farms Home Run Heroes
- 1999 Topps Traded Baseball Rookie Autographs
- 1999 Upper Deck Retro INKredible
- 2001 Topps Baseball Golden Anniversary Autographs
- 2002 SP Authentic Baseball Chirography
- 2002 Upper Deck Sweet Spot Classics Sweet Spot Signatures
- 2003 Topps Retired Signature Edition
- 2003 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Signatures
- 2004 Fleer Sweet Sigs Sweet Sigs Copper
- 2004 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection Ultimate Signatures
- 2005 Topps All-Time Fan Favorites
- 2005 Upper Deck Reflections
- 2006 Topps Allen & Ginter Framed Mini Autographs
There have also been a handful of sets released over the past couple years that look like they'll hold up well, but it seems early. Yes, the inclusion of 2012 Topps Allen & Ginter goes against that idea, but the legends alone are enough to carry that set for a long time to come.
What's your favorite set for autographs?
Related Topics: Baseball Cards: Guides