Collectible card games

Trading card

Various trading cards

A trading card (or collectible card) is a small card, usually made out of paperboard or thick paper, which usually contains an image of a certain person, place or thing (fictional or real) and a short description of the picture, along with other text (attacks, statistics, or trivia). There is a wide variation of different types of cards. Modern cards even go as far as to include swatches of game worn memorabilia, autographs, and even DNA hair samples of their subjects.

Trading cards are traditionally associated with sports; baseball cards are especially well-known. Cards dealing with other subjects like Pokémon are often considered a separate category from sports cards, known as non-sports trading cards. These often feature cartoons, comic book characters, television series and film stills. In the 1990s, cards designed specifically for playing games became popular enough to develop into a distinct category, collectible card games. These tend to use either fantasy subjects or sports as the basis for game play.



Trade cards are the ancestors of trading cards. Some of the earliest prizes found in retail products were cigarette cards - trade cards advertising the product (not to be confused with trading cards) that were inserted into paper packs of cigarettes as stiffeners to protect the contents. Allen and Ginter in the U.S. in 1886, and British company W.D. & H.O. Wills in 1888, were the first tobacco companies to print advertisements. A couple years later, lithograph pictures on the cards with an encyclopedic variety of topics from nature to war to sports - subjects that appealed to men who smoked - began to surface as well. By 1900, there were thousands of tobacco card sets manufactured by 300 different companies. Children would stand outside of stores to ask customers who bought cigarettes for the promotional cards. Following the success of cigarette cards, trade cards were produced by manufacturers of other products and included in the product or handed to the customer by the store clerk at the time of purchase. World War II put an end to cigarette card production due to limited paper resources, and after the war cigarette cards never really made a comeback. After that collectors of prizes from retail products took to collecting tea cards in the UK and bubble gum cards in the US.

Early baseball cards

The first baseball cards were trade cards printed in the late 1860s by a sporting goods company, around the time baseball became a professional sport. Most of the baseball cards around the beginning of the 20th century came in candy and tobacco products. It was during this era that the most valuable baseball card ever printed was produced - the infamous T206 tobacco card featuring Honus Wagner. The T206 Set, distributed by the American Tobacco Company in 1909, is considered by collectors to be the most popular set of all time. In 1933, Goudey Gum Company of Boston issued baseball cards with players biographies on the backs and was the first to put baseball cards in bubble gum. The 1933 Goudey set remains one of the most popular and affordable vintage sets to this day. Bowman Gum of Philadelphia issued its first baseball cards in 1948.

Modern trading cards

Topps Chewing Gum, Inc., now known as The Topps Company, Inc., started inserting trading cards into bubble gum packs in 1950 - with such topics as TV and film cowboy Hopalong Cassidy; "Bring 'Em Back Alive" cards featuring Frank Buck on big game hunts in Africa; and All-American football cards. Topps produced its first baseball trading card set in 1951, with the resulting design resembling that of playing cards. Topps owner and founder Sy Berger created the first true modern baseball card set, complete with playing record and statistics, the following year in the form of 1952 Topps Baseball. This is one of the most popular sets of all time, due in large part to the fact that it contained Mickey Mantle's rookie card.

Topps purchased their chief competitor, Bowman Gum, in 1956. Topps was the leader in the trading card industry from 1956 to 1980, not only in sports cards but in entertainment cards as well. Many of the top selling non-sports cards were produced by Topps, including Wacky Packages (1967, 1973-1977), Star Wars (beginning in 1977) and Garbage Pail Kids (beginning in 1985). Topps inserted baseball cards as prizes into packs of gum until 1981, when the gum became a thing of the past and the cards were sold without the gum. Collectors were delighted, since the oil from the gum was ruining an otherwise pristine or valuable card.

Digital trading cards

In attempt to stay current with technology and digital trends, existing and new trading card companies started to create digital trading cards that lives exclusively online or as a digital counterpart of a physical card. In 2000, Topps established themselves in the digital space by launching a new brand of sports cards, called etopps. These cards are sold exclusively online through individual IPO's (initial player offering) in which the card is offered for usually a week at the IPO price. The quantity sold depends on how many people offer to buy, but is limited to a certain maximum. After a sale, the cards are held in a climate-controlled warehouse unless the buyer requests delivery, and the cards can be traded online without changing hands except in the virtual sense. In January 2012, Topps announced that they would be discontinuing their eTopps product line.

Digital collectible card games were estimated to be a $1.3B market in 2013. A number of tech start-ups have attempted to establish themselves in this space, notably Stampii (Spain, 2009), Fantom (Ireland, 2011), Deckdaq (Israel, 2011), and 2Stic (Austria, 2013). These companies have struggled with two challenges: the high cost of digital licensing of quality brand content, and the difficulty of monetizing Internet content particularly in an 8- to 12-year-old demographic. The only successful business model unlocked has been B2B, licensing the tech to sales promotion companies and sports franchises as digital inventory generators. The bulk of the revenue generated digitally is by US and Japanese games companies such as Wizards of the Coast, with deeper game play and their own intellectual property.

The dominant paper-based card companies continue to experiment slowly with digital, being careful not to cannibalize their print markets.

Panini launched their Adrenalyn XL platform with an NBA and NFL trading card collection. Connect2Media together with Winning Moves, created an iPhone Application to host a series of trading card collections, including Dinosaurs, James Bond - 007, Celebs, Gum Ball 3000, European Football Stars and NBA. In 2011, mytcg Technologies launched a platform that enabled content holders to host their content on.

On July 1, 2011, Wildcat Intellectual Property Holdings filed a lawsuit against 12 defendants, including Topps, Panini, Sony, Electronic Arts, Konami, Pokémon, Zynga and Nintendo, for allegedly infringing Wildcat's "Electronic Trading Card" patent.

In 2012, Topps also launched their first phone application. Topps Bunt is an app that allows users to connect with other fans in a fantasy league type game environment wherein they can collect their favorite players, earn points based on how well they play and trade & compete with other fans.

In 2015 Topps launched a digital experiment in Europe (geotargeted to exclude the USA) with its Marvel Hero Attax, using digital as an overlay to its physical product.

Common functionalities that are shared between new and emerging digital trading card platforms, include collection, live auctions, virtual shops, multiplayer gaming, a mobile- web- or Facebook application, Digital Rights Management, card tracking, and embedded content.


Today, the development of the Internet has given rise to various online communities, through which members can trade collectible cards with each other. Cards are often bought and sold via eBay and other online retail sources. Many websites solicit their own "sell to us" page in hopes to draw in more purchase opportunities.

The value of a trading card depends on a combination of the card's condition, the subject's popularity and the scarcity of the card. In some cases, especially with older cards that preceded the advent of card collecting as a widespread hobby, they have become collectors' items of considerable value. In recent years, many sports cards have not necessarily appreciated as much in value due to overproduction, although some manufacturers have used limited editions and smaller print runs to boost value. Trading cards, however, do not have an absolute monetary value. Cards are only worth as much as a collector is willing to pay.


Card condition is one aspect of trading cards that determine the value of a card. There are four areas of interest in determining a cards condition. Centering, corners, edges and surface are taken into consideration, for imperfections, such as color spots and blurred images, and wear, such as creases, scratches and tears, when determining a trading cards value. Cards are considered poor to pristine based on their condition, or in some cases rated 1 through 10. A card in pristine condition, for example, will generally be valued higher than a card in poor condition.

Condition Description
Pristine Perfect card. No imperfections or damage to the naked eye and upon close inspection.
Mint condition No printing imperfections or damage to the naked eye. Very minor printing imperfections or damage upon close inspection. Clean gloss with one or two scratches.
Near Mint/Mint No printing imperfections or damage to the naked eye, but slight printing imperfections or damage upon close inspection. Solid gloss with very minor scratches.
Near Mint Noticeable, but minor, imperfections or wear on the card. Solid gloss with very minor scratches.
Excellent/Near Mint Noticeable, but minor, imperfections or wear on the card. Mostly solid gloss with minor scratches.
Excellent Noticeable imperfections or moderate wear on the card. Some gloss lost with minor scratches.
Very Good/Excellent Noticeable imperfections or moderate wear on the card. Heavy gloss lost with very minor scuffing, and an extremely subtle tear.
Very Good Heavy imperfections or heavy wear on the card. Almost no gloss. Minor scuffing or very minor tear.
Good Severe imperfections or wear on the card. No gloss. Noticeable scuffing or tear.
Poor Destructive imperfections or wear on the card. No gloss. Heavy scuffing, severe tear or heavy creases.


Popularity of trading cards is determined by the subject represented on the card, their real life accomplishments, and short term news coverage as well as the specifics of the card.


While vintage cards are truly a scarce commodity, modern day manufacturers have to artificially add value to their products in order to make them scarce. This is accomplished by including serial numbered parallel sets, cards with game worn memorabilia, autographs, and more. Time can also make cards more scarce due to the fact that cards may be lost or destroyed.


Phrase Definition Ref.
9-Up Sheet Uncut sheet of nine cards, usually promos.
Autograph Card Printed insert card that also bear an original cast or artist signature
Base Set Complete set of base cards for a particular card series.
Box Original manufacturer's container of multiple packs, often 24 to 36 packs per box.
Box Topper Card Card included in a factory sealed box.
Blister Pack Factory plastic bubble pack of cards or packs, for retail peg-hanger sales.
Card Sleeve Sleeves that cards are to be put in to protect the cards.
Case Factory-sealed crate filled with card boxes, often six to twelve card boxes per case.
Chase Card Card, or cards, included as a bonus in a factory sealed case.
Common Card Non-rare cards that form the main set. Also known as base cards.
Factory Set Card set, typically complete base sets, sorted and sold from the manufacturer.  
Hobby Card Item sold mainly to collectors, through stores that deal exclusively in collectible cards. Usually contains some items not included in the retail offerings.
Insert Card Non-rare to rare cards that are randomly inserted into packs, at various ratios (e.g. 1 card per 24 packs). An Insert Card is often different from the base set, in appearance and numbering. Also known as chase cards.  
Master Set Not well defined; often a base set and all readily available insert sets; typically does not include promos, mail-in cards, sketch, or autograph cards.
Oversized Card Any base, common, insert, or other card not of standard or widevision size.
Parallel Card A modified base card, which may contain extra foil stamping, hologram stamping that distinguishes the card from the base card.
Pack Original wrapper with base, and potentially insert, cards within, often called 'wax packs', typically with two to eight cards per pack. Today the packs are usually plastic or foil wrap.
Retail Card Cards, packs, boxes, and cases sold to the public, typically via large retail stores, such as K-mart or Wal-Mart.
Rack Pack Factory pack of unwrapped cards, for retail peg-hanger sales.
Promo Card Cards that are distributed, typically in advance, by the manufacturer to promote upcoming products.
Redemption Card Insert Card found in packs that are mailed (posted) to the manufacturer for a special card or some other gift.
Sell Sheet Also 'ad slicks'. Usually one page, but increasingly fold-outs, distributed by the manufacturers to card distributors, in advance, to promote upcoming products. With the proliferation of the Internet, sell sheets are now typically distributed in digital form to trading card media outlets such as Beckett and The Cardboard Connection so that collectors can preview sets months before they are released.
Sketch Card Insert Card that feature near-one-of-a-kind artists sketches.
Swatch Insert Card that feature a mounted swatch of cloth, such as from a sports player's jersey or an actor's costume.
Tin Factory metal can, typically filled with cards or packs, often with inserts.
Unreleased Card Card printed by the manufacturer, but not officially distributed for a variety of reasons. Often leaked to the public, sometimes improperly. Not to be confused with promo cards.
Uncut Sheet Sheets of uncut base, insert, promo, or other cards.
Wrapper Original pack cover, often with collectible variations.

Sports cards

Sports card is a generic term for a trading card with a sports-related subject, as opposed to non-sports trading cards that deal with other topics. Sports cards were among the earliest forms of collectibles. They typically consist of a picture of a player on one side, with statistics or other information on the reverse. Cards have been produced featuring most major sports, especially those played in North America, including, but not limited to, association football (soccer), baseball, basketball, boxing, american football (gridiron), golf, hockey, racing and tennis.

The first stage in the development of sports cards, during the second half of the 19th century, is essentially the story of baseball cards, since baseball was the first sport to become widely professionalized. Hockey cards also began to appear early in the 20th century. Cards from this period are commonly known as cigarette cards or tobacco cards, because many were produced by tobacco companies and inserted into cigarette packages, to stiffen cigarette packaging and advertise cigarette brands. The most expensive card in the hobby is a cigarette card of Honus Wagner in a set called 1909 T-206. The story told is that Wagner was against his cards being inserted into something that kids would collect. So the production of his cards stopped abruptly. It is assumed that less than 100 of his cards exist in this set. The 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner card has sold for as much as $2.8 million.

Sets of cards are issued with each season for major professional sports. Since companies typically must pay players for the right to use their images, the vast majority of sports cards feature professional athletes. Amateurs appear only rarely, usually on cards produced or authorized by the institution they compete for, such as a college.

Many older sports cards (pre-1980) command a high price today; this is because they are hard to find, especially in quality condition. This happened because many children used to place their cards in bicycle spokes, where the cards were easily damaged. Rookie cards of Hall of Fame sports stars can command thousands of dollars if they have been relatively well-preserved.

In the 1980s, sports cards started to get produced in higher numbers, and collectors started to keep their cards in better condition as they became increasingly aware of their potential investment value. This trend continued well into the 1990s. This practice caused many of the cards manufactured during this era to stay low in value, due to their high numbers.

The proliferation of cards saturated the market, and by the late 1990s, card companies began to produce scarcer versions of cards to keep many collectors interested. The latest trends in the hobby have been "game used memorabilia" cards, which usually feature a piece of a player's jersey worn in a real professional game; other memorabilia cards include pieces of bats, balls, hats, helmets, and floors. Authenticated autographs are also popular, as are "serially numbered" cards, which are produced in much smaller amounts than regular "base set cards".

Autographs obtained by card manufacturers have become the most collected baseball cards in the hobby's history. This started in 1990 in baseball when Upper Deck randomly inserted autographs of Reggie Jackson into boxes. They are commonly referred to as "Certified Autographed Inserts" or "CAI's". Both the athlete's and card company's reputations are on the line if they do not personally sign these cards. This has created the most authentic autographs in existence. These cards all have some form of printed statements that the autographs are authentic, this way, no matter who owns the autograph there is no question of its authenticity. CAI's have branched out into autographs of famous actors, musicians, Presidents, and even Albert Einstein. Mostly these autographs are cut from flat items such as postcards, index cards, and plain paper. Then they are pasted onto cards. In 2001, a company called Playoff started obtaining autographs on stickers that are stuck on the cards instead of them actually signing the cards. There is strong opposition against these types of autographs because the players never even saw the cards that the stickers were affixed to.

The competition among card companies to produce quality sports cards has been fierce. In 2005, the long-standing sports card producer Fleer went bankrupt and was bought out by Upper Deck. Not long after that, Donruss lost its MLB baseball license.

Association football

The first Association football (soccer) cards were produced in 1898 by Marcus's Tobacco in England. The set consisted of over 100 cards and was issued under the title of "Club Colours". They featured illustrated images of players on the front of the card, and a tobacco advertisement on the back of the card. The next series of cards were produced in 1934 by Ardath, which was a 50-card set called Famous Footballers featuring images of players on the front of the card, and a tobacco advertisement and short biography of the player on the back of the card.

Modern Association football trading cards were sold with bubble gum in the United Kingdom from 1958 to 1975 by A&BC, and later by Topps, UK from 1975 to 1981. Similar smaller sized cards were issued in Spain and Italy beginning in the late 1940s. Cards have been produced from 1981 to present, save 1985 and 1986. Other variations of football products exist, such as marbles, cut-outs, coins, stamps and stickers, some made of light cardboard and attached with glue or stickers, into albums specifically issued for the products.


Baseball cards will usually feature one or more baseball players or other baseball-related sports figures. The front of the card typically displays an image of the player with identifying information, including, but not limited to, the player's name and team affiliation. The reverse of most modern cards displays statistics and/or biographical information. Cards are most often found in the United States but are also common in countries such as Canada, Cuba, and Japan, where baseball is a popular sport and there are professional leagues.

The earliest baseball cards were in the form of trade cards produced in 1868. They evolved into tobacco cards by 1886. In the early 20th century other industries began printing their own version of baseball cards to promote their products, such as bakery/bread cards, caramel cards, dairy cards, game cards and publication cards. Between the 1930s and 1960s the cards developed into trading cards, becoming their own product. In 1957, Topps changed the dimensions of its cards slightly, to 2-1/2 inches by 3-1/2 inches, setting a standard that remains the basic format for most sports cards produced in the United States.


Basketball cards will feature one or more players of the National Basketball Association, National Collegiate Athletic Association, Olympic basketball, Women's National Basketball Association, Women's Professional Basketball League, or some other basketball related theme. The first basketball cards were produced in 1910, in a series cataloged as College Athlete Felts B-33. The complete series included ten different sports, with only 30-cards being associated with basketball. The cards were issued as a cigarette redemption premium by Egyptiene Cigarettes. The number of cigarette packages needed to redeem for the tobacco cards is not known.

The next series of basketball cards were issued in 1911, in two separate series; T6 College Series, measuring approximately 6" by 8", and T51 College Series, measuring approximately 2" by 3". These series included a variety of sports, with only 6-cards being associated with basketball. One card from the T6 series, and five cards from the T51 series. Both series were produced in two variations; one variation reading "College Series", the other, "2nd Series". The cards were acquired in trade for fifteen Murad cigarette coupons. The offer expired June 30, 1911.

Basketball cards were not seen again until 1932, when C.A. Briggs Chocolate issued a 31-card set containing multiple sports. In exchange for a completed set of cards, Briggs offered baseball equipment. The number of basketball cards in the set is not known.


According to Tallent, one of the first boxing cards on record in "America's Greatest Boxing Cards", and encyclopedia and check-list of boxing cards, was of John C. Heenan issued by Charles D. Fredericks in the 1860s.

Gridiron football

A gridiron football card is a type of collectible trading card typically printed on paper stock or card stock that features one or more American football, Canadian football or World League of American Football players or other related sports figures. These cards are most often found in the United States and Canada where the sport is popular.

Most football cards features National Football League players. There are also Canadian Football League and college football cards. Player cards normally list the player's statistics.


Golf cards were first introduced in 1901 by Ogden.

Ice hockey

The first hockey cards were included in cigarette packages from 1910 to 1913. After World War I, only one more cigarette set was issued, during the 1924-25 season by Champ's Cigarettes. NHL player Billy Coutu's biography includes an example of one of the 40 cards issued at that time.

During the 1920s, some hockey cards were printed by food and candy companies, such as Paulin's Candy, Maple Crispette, Crescent, Holland Creameries and La Patrie.

Through 1941, O-Pee-Chee printed hockey cards, stopping production for World War II. Presumably, the 1941 involvement of the US in the war affected the hockey card market, since Canada had been in the war since 1939.

Hockey cards next appeared during 1951-52, issued by Shirriff Desserts, York Peanut Butter and Post Cereal. Toronto's Parkhurst Products Company began printing cards in 1951, followed by Brooklyn's Topps Chewing Gum in 1954-1955. O-Pee-Chee and Topps did not produce cards in 1955 or 1956, but returned for 1957-58.


Racing cards consist of a card stock with stats and pictures on it. Sometimes it shows the car, sometimes it shows the driver's face, and sometimes both. It also shows the endorsing companies for the car.


Sports Card Manufacturers
This list contains companies that produce, or have produced, sports trading cards. This list does not contain all the brand names associated with their respected manufacturers.
Manufacturer football Baseball Basketball Boxing Gridiron
Golf Ice hockey Racing Tennis
Ace Authentic No No No No No No No No Yes
Action Packed No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No
Allworld No No No Yes Yes No No No No
Best No Yes No No No No No No No
Bowman Gum No Yes Yes No Yes No No No No
Classic Games, Inc. No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes
Collect-A-Card No No Yes No No No No No No
Collector's Edge No No Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes
Courtside No No Yes No Yes No No No No
Donruss No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Extreme Sports No No No No Yes No No No No
Fleer No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No
Futera Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No
Front Row No Yes Yes No Yes No No No No
Genuine Article No No Yes No No No No No No
Goodwin & Company No Yes No No No No No No No
Goudey No Yes No No No No No No No
Grand Slam Ventures No No No No No Yes No No No
Grandstand No Yes No No No No No No No
Hi-Tech No No No No No No No Yes No
JOGO Inc. No No No No Yes No No No No
Just Minors No Yes No No No No No No No
Kayo No No No Yes No No No No No
Leaf, Inc. No Yes No Yes Yes No No No No
Maxx No No No No No No No Yes No
Miller Press No No No No No Yes No No No
Multi-Ad No Yes No No No No No No No
National Chicle No Yes No No No No No No No
NetPro No No No No No No No No Yes
O-Pee-Chee No Yes No No Yes No Yes No No
Pacific Trading Cards Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Panini Group Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Parkhurst Products No No No No Yes No Yes No No
Pinnacle Brands No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No
Press Pass, Inc. No Yes Yes No Yes No No Yes No
Pro Set Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
ProCards No Yes No No No No Yes No No
Razor Entertainment No Yes No No Yes No No No No
Rittenhouse No No Yes No No No No Yes No
Royal Rookies No Yes No No Yes No No No No
SA-GE Collectibles, Inc. No No Yes No Yes No No No No
Signature Rookies No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
SkyBox International No Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Stampii Yes No Yes No Yes No No Yes No
Star Co. No Yes Yes No No No No No No
Star Pics No No Yes No Yes No Yes No No
Superior Pix No No Yes No Yes No No No No
Superior Rookies No No No No Yes No No No No
Topps Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Traks No No No No No No No Yes No
TRISTAR No Yes No No No No No No No
Upper Deck Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
USA Baseball No Yes No No No No No No No
Wild Card No No Yes No Yes No No No No
Wizards Of The Coast Yes Yes Yes No No No No No No
Wonder Bread No No No No Yes No Yes No No

Non-sports cards

Non-sports trading cards feature subject material relating to anything other than sports, such as comics, movies, music and television. Supersisters was a set of 72 trading cards produced and distributed in the United States in 1979 by Supersisters, Inc, featuring famous women from politics, media and entertainment, culture, and other areas of achievement. The cards were designed in response to the trading cards popular among children in the US at the time which mostly featured men.


Non-Sports Card Manufacturers
This list contains companies that produce, or have produced, non-sports trading cards. This list does not contain all the brand names associated with their respected manufacturers.
5Finity Yes No Yes No No No
Cartamundi No Yes No No No No
Cryptozoic Entertainment No Yes Yes No No Yes
Cult Stuff Yes No Yes Yes No No
Dart Flipcards No No No No Yes Yes
Digimon No Yes No No No No
Donruss No No No No Yes Yes
Fantom - digital trading cards Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Futera No Yes No Yes No Yes
Hidden City Games No Yes No No No No
Konami Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Monsterwax No No No No No Yes
Nintendo No Yes No No No No
Panini Group Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Press Pass No No No No Yes No
Quality Playing Cards Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Score Entertainment No Yes No No No Yes
Stampii No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Topps Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Upper Deck Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wax Eye Yes Yes No No No No
Webkinz No Yes No No No No
Wizards of the Coast No Yes Yes No No No

Read more: