A Glossary of Sports Trading Card Terms
Like many hobbies, the world of sports trading cards features its own way of speaking. As a newcomer, you might feel the inertia of the learning curve as you grow acclimated, but don’t worry — acclimated you will become.
The glossary below can help. If you ever get stuck on the terms, refer back here. Pretty soon, you’ll be speaking the lingo like an old hand.
Autograph (Auto or AU)
The signature of a player. Also, a card bearing a player’s signature. An auto, being rarer, is typically more valuable than an unsigned card. The abbreviation “AU” typically appears in card listings to designate autographed cards.
An ordinary trading card, one that makes up a common card set (called a base set). A base card typically bears an identifying number on the back.
A box of trading cards that usually contains four to 15 card packs. Blaster boxes are commonly available at large retailers and hobby stores, selling for relatively low prices. They can be an easy, contained way to get started in the trading card hobby.
An arrangement in which two or more cards are combined and hinged together to open like a book.
A sealed container of card packs. The number of packs in the box may vary. A single box can contain as few as one pack, and as many as 30 or more. Compare with blaster boxes, which contain a smaller number of packs (four to 15).
To open a box or several boxes of trading cards for distribution to customers. The practice of breaking involves an individual or business charging collectors for the chance to receive a portion of the box. The selection of distributed cards may be random or predetermined according to a factor such as a specific sports team.
A dedicated event in which sellers and collectors get together to trade, buy, or sell cards.
A container of boxes shipped by the manufacturer. The number of boxes in a case may vary depending on the manufacturer or the case in question.
A special card of high value or a limited print run included in a case. Typically, a case contains a single case hit, thus increasing the rarity and value of the card.
A card that’s rarer, more valuable, and more sought-after than a base card. Collectors pursue, or chase, these cards. Autographs are an example.
A published list of all the cards available in a particular card set or series. Checklists can help guide collectors. Once they obtain a card, they can check it off the list.
A type of card made of chromium paper, which effects a metallic look on the card.
The least rare, least valuable, and most affordable of cards (effectively the opposite of a chase card). An example would be a base card of a non-rookie or non-star.
A collector who strives to obtain every card available per a given category. Completists might chase all the cards in a particular set, every card featuring a particular player or team, and so on. Completion of the category, not highest value, is the prime motivation.
A card whose card stock has been manipulated by the manufacturer to take on a novel design or function. Examples include octagonal cards and cards that can stand up on their own. Die-cuts are usually rare.
Damaged in some way. The card may feature scratches, indentations, or bent corners (the most common sort of damage). Dinged cards generally are lower-value.
Error Card (ERR)
A card that features a manufacturer’s error (e.g., misspelled name, inaccurate statistics, wrong photo). If the manufacturer corrects the error, the error card may be rare and more valuable. In instances that the manufacturer corrects the error later in production, the corrected card may be rarer.
A complete set packaged and sold by the manufacturer in a single box.
(Of a piece of memorabilia) Used in a professional sporting event. Examples include jerseys, balls, and equipment.
The process of having a card’s physical condition evaluated by a company that specializes in such assessments. Grading companies are third-party entities. A higher grade indicates a card in better condition.
A chase card of higher value.
A shorthand term for card collecting as a practice. It may also refer to the card-collecting community.
A box of cards, sold exclusively through hobby stores and approved online merchants, that contains a larger number of chase cards. Compare with retail boxes.
A notation written by a player on a piece of memorabilia, along with their autograph.
A type of nonbase and nonparallel card that features its own theme, design, numbering, and name.
Junk Wax Era
A term that refers to a period in which manufacturers overproduced trading cards — late 1980s to early 1990s. Given this saturation, most cards from the junk wax era are less valuable.
Referring to a printing technology that effects a 3D-like image. As you hold a lenticular card in your hand and shift it from side to side, the player image appears to move.
Referring to a card that features the logo patch from a jersey. Such cards are often autographed as well. These characteristics render them highly valuable and sought-after.
A card that features more than one player.
A shorthand term for the National Sports Collectors Convention, which is the largest annual card show.
Referring to a card that has the print run indicated on it, either on the front or back side.
An autographed card that bears the player’s signature directly on the card instead of on a sticker placed on the card. On-card autos are often more valuable than sticker autos.
One of One (1/1)
Literally a one-of-a-kind card. One-of-one cards are usually numbered with the designation “1/1,” which indicates the card is the only one of its kind. This is the rarest type of trading card.
A group of cards sealed in a package for sale by the manufacturer. The number of cards per pack may vary by manufacturer, as well as from pack to pack.
A card that’s similar to a base card but features some modification or other distinguishing characteristic. For example, it may have a different-colored border, be made from a different material, or be the product of a different kind of technology.
A card that includes a multicolored jersey patch embedded in the card. The jersey in question may be game-used.
Personal Collection (PC)
A term used for cards that a collector does not intend to sell or trade. Rather, they plan to keep it for themself. The abbreviation “PC” can also function as a verb (e.g., “I’m PCing this one”).
A collector who strives to collect cards of a specific player or players. Compare with a set collector or team collector.
Population Report (Pop Report)
A published report concerning the number of cards graded by a particular grading company. A population report exists for any card with a given grade. This allows collectors to determine how many graded versions of said card are available. Cards with lower populations tend to be more valuable.
The practice of collecting cards of players who haven’t yet entered the pro or major league. The idea is to obtain the earliest cards of athletes you hope will become all-stars.
Ungraded. All cards that you get from a fresh pack are raw. Once graded, they are no longer raw.
A card that the owner redeems with the manufacturer in exchange for the rights to a hit card at a later time. Card manufacturers established redemption programs to provide consumers with cards that should have been in the product but weren’t. For example, if players haven’t returned the autographs they’d been contacted to provide, the manufacturer inserts a redemption card into the relevant pack instead. Once the autograph becomes available, the manufacturer can provide it to the customer.
A card produced by way of a printing technology that creates a rainbow-like effect on the surface.
A card that includes a piece of memorabilia embedded in the card, such as a swatch of a jersey or a piece of a game ball.
A typically lower-priced box of cards distributed through large retailers, such as Walmart and Target. Retail boxes tend to have fewer hits than hobby boxes.
Rookie Card (RC)
The card of a player in their debut professional season. The designation “RC” may appear on the card to indicate its status as a rookie card.
A designation given to a Topps card for a player selected for the company’s All-Star Rookie Team. The Rookie Cup logo appears on the next season’s card of each player selected.
A collector who strives to collect every card in a particular set.
Short-Print (SP) or Super-Short-Print (SSP) Card
A card printed in smaller quantities compared to other cards in its set. An SP or SSP card is rarer and thus more valuable.
Slabbing or Slabbed
Another term for grading or graded.
A card that bears a sticker that the player has autographed. Compare with on-card autos, which the player signs directly.
A type of short-print, one-of-one refractor card.
A collector who strives to collect cards of a specific team (or specific teams).
A card that differs in some way from the common cards in its set. Examples include cards with a different-colored background, different lettering, a different photo, or an error. Aside from cards with errors, variations are typically intentional on the part of the manufacturer.
An unopened box or case of trading cards. Often used with the term “break” (i.e., “break wax”).