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Date posted: Oct 23, 2011
By Matt Cassidy
Contibutor: Further comments from Jun Kim
Before we get started - if you haven’t read my previous posts in the parallel cards series, I recommend you read:
Back in July I wrote about the 1997-98 Michael Jordan Refractor cards on offer from that season’s Topps Finest edition. It is a somewhat confusing set of cards with its varying parallels and parallels of parallels. Without a good understanding of the differences between the insert cards it can be very hard to tell what is what as you have to just ‘know what to look for’.
That post proved to be quite popular so I thought it would be a good idea to also look at the 1995-96 Michael Jordan Refractors and accompanying cards of that season’s Topps and Topps Finest sets. There are a lot of cards that we’ll look at (eleven to be exact!) so I hope you’re comfortable and enjoy!
As with the post on the 1997-98 Refractors, it will be easier for me to show you the differences between these cards by actually looking at every card (including base cards) from the set. This season’s Topps and Topps Finest cards can be very confusing - so confusing that I’m not even 100% certain that everything I’m about to write is correct! Please let me know if you spot any errors - this is my understanding of the 1995-96 cards.
For the 1995-96 season Topps Finest released a set similar to those of the previous 2 years that the brand had been in operation: the cards featured high gloss, high color printing with the plastic coating designed to protect the surface of the card. In addition, the famous refractor parallel set was continued.
For this season, however, Topps didn’t stop there. There were also several new additions to the set: Finest included three standard inserts (the brand’s only inserts in the past had been the parallel refractors) and an insert (with parallels) called the Mystery.
The Michael Jordan base card of the 1995-96 Topps Finest set is below. The card is numbered 229 in the set and sells for around $3 ungraded online.
The inserts of the 1995-96 Finest set are below. These are standard Finest designed cards featuring the protective coating. There are no parallels to these inserts. The insert cards are below in order of rarity:
Michael Jordan Hot Stuff #HS1
The Michael Jordan Hot Stuff card was inserted at a rate of one in nine packs and sells for around $10 ungraded online.
Michael Jordan Dish and Swish #DS4
The Michael Jordan Dish and Swish card features Scottie Pippen on the front, was inserted at a rate of one in 24 packs and sells for around $20 ungraded online.
Michael Jordan Veteran / Rookie #RV20
The Michael Jordan Veteran / Rookie card features Jason Caffey on the back, was inserted at a rate of one in 24 packs and sells for around $20 ungraded online.
I am calling this card the ‘Standard Refractor’ for the purposes of this article due to the fact that there are actually three refractors available from this season’s Topps Finest set.
As with previous years sets, the Topps Finest 1995-96 Michael Jordan Refractor is a parallel of the base card featuring Finest’s spectacular light ‘refracting’ coating. It features the protective coating and was inserted at a rate of one in twelve packs. This card sells for around $150 ungraded online.
Topps had a fantastic idea for a series of insert cards to introduce this season: the Mystery set! These cards were inserted at a rate of one Mystery card per pack and had an opaque black coating.
The idea was that you would know what player you had pulled by looking at the back of the card. However, as there were several parallels which we will look at below, you didn’t know what type of card you had until you peeled the coating - adding to the excitement!
Note: The coating was notoriously hard to remove so be sure to carefully check the condition around the corners, edges and surface of any Mystery card you are looking to buy.
In addition remember that these cards came with a coating that had to be removed. So, unlike other Topps Finest cards from this set, you don’t need to look for coated cards for sale.
The base Mystery insert card featured the usual high gloss, high color surface synonymous with the Topps Finest offerings. It features a large basketball styled background, an orange border and sells for around $5 ungraded online.
The first parallel of the standard Mystery card was the borderless silver Michael Jordan Mystery card. This parallel was inserted at a rate of one in 24 packs. It features the same design as the base insert however has no border and a slight silver appearance (this card is not a refractor). When sold online this card sells for around $20 ungraded.
This spectacular card was intended as the flagship insert of the 1995-96 Topps Finest set.
As with the Borderless Silver Mystery card it features no border although parallels the base Mystery insert. However this card features both a gold appearance and the Finest refractor coating. The Gold Refractor was inserted at a rate of one in 96 packs making it by far the rarest of the intended Finest cards from this season. When sold online this card sells for around $200 ungraded.
It can be hard to tell the difference between the Silver Mystery and the Gold Refractor Mystery so be sure to buy from a dealer you trust and ask to see angled photos along with scans if you are not sure in order to check that is clearly a refractor.
Luckily for us collectors, the fun doesn’t end at the Gold Refractor as Topps intended!
It is said that Topps originally intended to also include an orange bordered refractor card. However during testing these cards found getting the centering just right a real problem and so decided to leave the card out of the set altogether.
Topps printed a bunch of Test Refractor cards with the orange border and once they decided not to use them intended them to be destroyed. Somehow, however, some of these cards ended up in packs to give us what is know as the Michael Jordan Mystery Bordered Test Refractor.
It is commonly accepted that around 50 of these cards exist. They do show up for sale from time to time however! There are very few sales to go on however an ungraded sale price of around $2000 is not out of the question for this card.
Thank you to Jun Kim for supplying these great shots. At the time of writing Jun has this exact card up for sale on eBay.
This section discusses the Topps cards on offer - aside from the Topps Finest set. This is often a point of confusion for collectors new to these sets as the Topps set also featured Mystery cards.
I won’t go into details about the standard Topps cards from the 1995-96 set as I did above for Topps Finest - we will just look at the Topps Mystery cards available. As with Topps Finest in 1995-96, Topps also included the Mystery insert card with the opaque black coating and - making things very confusing! - called the set Topps Mystery Finest.
So above we have the Topps Finest Mystery set (brand: Topps Finest). Below we are going to look at the Topps Mystery Finest set (brand: Topps). Confusing stuff!
Yes - they also have the same number as the Topps Finest cards!
This base Topps Mystery Finest insert features Topps Finest styled printing and a silver bordered design. It was inserted at a rate of one in 36 packs of 1995-96 Topps cards and sells for around $15 ungraded online.
As a parallel to the base insert Topps produced the Topps Mystery Finest Refractor - a refractor in a standard Topps set for the first time! This card was inserted at a rate of one in 216 packs and sells for around $150 ungraded online.
So there you have the Michael Jordan refractor cards available from the 1995-96 season - a season right when the Bulls were dominating! Hopefully you also have a good understanding of the Mystery cards and how to differentiate between them. They are fantastic cards and really stand out in any great Jordan cards collection.
Jun and I have discussed these cards and he is happy for me to include some of his experience with Michael Jordan refractors. Thank you Jun.
You might also be interested in my interview with Jun.
Finest Refractor cards, in general, have always been one of my favorite types of MJ inserts of all time. I've been a follower ever since the first 93-94 Finest Series. I can distinguish which series has which Refractors without a problem.
1995-96 Finest had originally planned to have 4 sets of Mystery cards. The Bordered, Bordered Refractor, Borderless, Borderless Refractor. One of the reasons why they dropped the Bordered Refractor was due to condition sensitivity. The borders emphasized the off-centering too much as these cards had black coatings on them during the cutting process. That's why the few that snuck out are all with terrible centering and have gobs of Refractor Lines. So dropping the entire Bordered Refractors, they released only the 3 card types. Bordered, Borderless, and Borderless Refractors.
I remember in 1995 there were articles in Beckett and Tuff Stuff, the 2 biggest Sports Card Price Guides in the 90's, about the Finest Bordered Test Refractors that snuck out into packs. Beckett wrote that although the specific number is unknown, it is perceived to be very, very low as they were scarce Test Refractors that accidentally passed onto pack production.
Due to scarcity, there was no price listed. Tuff Stuff also had an article about the same card. It did in fact have these cards listed in their price guides. The Jordan refractor was booked at $2,500.00 dollars. Higher than any Michael Jordan refractor even till this day. No other MJ refractor came close to its value. Even throughout the entire 90's with later serial #'d Refractors included.
People went nuts looking for these ultra rare Refractors. I remember going to conventions and local card shops, ripping these $19 dollar Finest Premium Packs hoping to land one.
It was a very condition sensitive set to begin with, but having the black coatings to peel off made it that much more to damage the corners, surfaces and edges. Finding a top notch Jordan Test Refractor has always been a very difficult and expensive feat to achieve. I was fortunate enough to run into a high end MJ collector who had it in his collection for over 10 years that eventually got graded to a BGS 9.5 Gem Mint.
1995-96 Topps had Mystery cards like the 1995-96 Finest series. Except there were only 2 versions. The normal Mystery card and the Mystery Refractor card which were both bordered.
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