Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The 1997 Calbee Set

 I made a pretty great score on Yahoo Auctions the other day, a 300 card lot of cards from the 1997 Calbee set.

The 1997 Calbee set is an important one.  It is the grandfather of all Calbee sets that have been issued in the 23 years since it came out.  For the 1997 set they went with a simple design - full bleed photo with the player name, number and team name and logo being the only design elements on the front.  Pretty much every Calbee set since 1997 has followed that look with only minor variations.

Likewise, the 1997 set was the first to have a full color back with a player photo,  another design element that every set since has emulated. 

Its got a lot of big stars of the 90s like Ichiro and Hideki Matsui.  It also has one of the first Japanese cards of Tuffy Rhodes, a young Kenji Johjima and a very old Hiormitsu Ochiai.

This 300 card lot was a major score for me because the 1997s are pretty hard to find.  I only had a couple dozen cards from this set before getting these.

In terms of scarcity there is a huge difference between 1997 and 1998 onwards.  You can see this in Yahoo Auctions listings, the below table shows how many cards from each Calbee set from 1990 to 1999 are currently available.  As you can see, from 1990 to 1997 its pretty consistently in the 100 to 300 listings range.  Then in 1998 it jumps to 873 and in 1999 it absolutely explodes to 1916.  Though not in the table, its pretty much remained high like that ever since (with 2002 being one exception, it has only 358 listings which is more in line with pre 1997 numbers)..



This is of course also reflected in the price.  Pre 1997 cards sell for significantly more than what post 1998, and especially post 1999, cards go for.

I've often kind of wondered about that - why did Calbee card production take off in 1998?  Maybe baseball got more popular that year?  Or they just decided to market and distribute their chips more aggressively?  I've never seen anyone answer this question.

Anyway, this scarcity explains why I pounced all over this lot.  Its not uncommon to see post 1998 Calbee cards in big lots like that, but you almost never find 1997 Calbees or anything earlier than that in lots that size.  In fact, I've never seen a 1997 Calbee lot with more than a few dozen cards before.  And since I didn't have many cards in it, this presented the perfect opportunity to get to work on that set.

The set, I should mention, contains 237 cards.  It was issued in four series and the last one (cards 217 to 237) just has 20 cards but was a short printed series in a set that was already fairly scarce so they are almost impossible to find.  I couldn't tell from the listing how many I would get, obviously there would be doubles, but I decided to take a chance.

The cards when they arrived were all pack fresh in the near mint to mint range, which was a nice surprise since a lot of Calbee cards even from the 90s often come with a lot of wear (its usually more like buying a lot of 60s or 70s cards in the US, from a time before people seriously collected).

I was kind of shocked  though that the seller had just thrown them into an envelope with no bubble wrap or anything to protect them, with the cards divided into stacks held together with rubber bands.

So I was a bit like:

But then I was able to take the rubber bands off and found that the cards were all OK, so then I was like:
Its all good.

On the plus side, I was able to put together about 80% of the first three series (1 to 216) including the Ichiro and other star cards (update September 28, 2020: picked some more up, am now over 90% of the way there).  On the downside, the lot didn't contain any of the short prints from 217 to 237, so I'll probably have to shell out serious money for those at some point.

I'm pretty happy with these though and can now add 1997 Calbee to the list of sets I'm getting close to finishing!  The cards I still need are:

12, 13, 51, 54, 60, 64, 69, 89, 92, 96, 111,  140,  217-221, 223-237.

17 comments:

  1. Rubber bands and baseball cards? I'm guessing this seller isn't a collector.

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    1. Most likely not! It happens a lot here though, even collectors themselves aren't as fussy about condition as they are in North America. In some ways its refreshing!

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  2. The pre/post 1997 divide is also apparent in the US. I've got a bunch of post-97 Calbee cards, and while looking for a specific player is an iffy proposition, there are always some for sale. But 1997 and before is a different story. In fact it seems that early 90s Calbees are harder to find than are cards from the 70s or 80s.

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    1. Yes, but when you find early 90's Calbees, they're almost always from 1991...

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    2. I'm not surprised that its the case on ebay too since I think a lot of the sellers on there get their cards from Yahoo Auctions in the first place!

      The pre-1997 cards from the 1990s are about as available on Yahoo auctions as some cards from the 1970s. Like most (not all, but most) of the series of the 1975-76-77 Calbee set are about as scarce as the average early-mid 1990s Calbee card. But condition wise its a lot harder to find 1970s Calbees in nice condition.

      And yes, 1991 is definitely the most common 1991 set to find singles for. I guess Nomo mania and the entrance of BBM might have boosted interest in Calbee sales that year. It didn't last though, the 1992, 1993 and 1994 sets that followed are among the hardest to find singles for.

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  3. There was a Japanese card boom that started in 1997. All sorts of random cards were being made: Formula 1, Horse Jockey, pachinko, Bass Fishing. It was like the early 1990s in the US. Sounds like Calbee was riding the boom as well in 1997 and beyond.

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    1. That makes sense, wasn't 1997 the year BBM got into Sumo cards too? Calbee wasn't quite there yet in 1997 but seems to have jacked up the printing presses in 1998.

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    2. BBM started publishing Sports Card Magazine in its actual magazine format at the end of 1996. Coincidence or was it in response to the boom or did it help create the boom?

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    3. You bring up a great point...was SCM the cause or the result of the boom??!! Hmmm

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    4. That was probably part of it too. I was just looking on Yahoo Auctions and there seems to be a big jump in BBM cards available, only it happened a year earlier than Calbee (1997 instead of 1998). 1997 BBM cards are more than twice as available compared to the average sets between 1991 and 1996.

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  4. Probably the reason is the insert cards (star card).
    Calbee started to insert the star cards from 1998.

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    1. Oh wow, that is a really good point. I hadn't thought about it!

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  5. Sean, I got 60, 12, 44, 26 in mint condition..bought from a Japanese auction

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    1. Email me kendrick.mendiola@gmail.com if you want to add to your collection

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    2. Hi Sean, sorry just saw this and I can't find your email :(
      Send me an email again pls --> kendrick.mendiola@gmail.com
      Thanks!

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    3. I collect Pokemon and it was included in the vintage card lot I bought. I think I have the '97-'99.

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