Guest Blog: The Parallels of Collecting

(Editor’s Note:) Please welcome Johnny Martyr back to the COMC Blog for another guest blog! Johnny owns the world’s largest collection of Night of the Living Dead trading cards, and has been a photojournalist for over 20 years

Collecting parallels can be fun or infuriating, depending on how many you have and how many you need to complete a set!

For the uninitiated, a parallel is an exact copy of a common or base card but it contains some sort of slight but sometimes significant, difference and is much fewer in number.  Some parallels are numbered, whereas their common card copy will not be.

Frankly, I didn’t originally see the appeal in collecting parallels.  I figured I’d just pick up the best of the set and move on.  My interest is in Night of the Living Dead trading cards.  I have the biggest, most complete Night of the Living Dead trading card collection this side of Pittsburgh and I’ve written a few articles about them.  Building this collection is what started me down the rabbit hole of parallel collecting.

Night of the Living Dead director, George A. Romero was featured in 2008 Donruss Americana II, 2009 Panini Americana and 2011 Panini Americana.    

While waiting to find the most desired/expensive, autographed relic Romero cards, I picked up a few of the cheapies just because.  But when I eventually found the nicer autographed parallels that I was searching for, I continued to come across other parallels that were cheaper.  So, I figured I’d fill out my sets as a best as possible now that the expensive cards were out of the way. 

So, you could say that I sort of stumbled into a parallel universe!  And honestly, while the differences from card to card are minor, I think they look quite handsome in a sleeve all together.  In terms of resale, despite some of these cards selling for just a few bucks, when placed with the $50 to $150 cards, the total value of the set can spiral.  How often do you see a complete set of parallels, much less, for sale?  

There are some typical features you can expect to see on parallels that distinguish them from common cards.  And you have to look carefully because the differences aren’t always obvious or show up well in photographs.

Use of foil is popular.  It can be as dramatic as printing the whole front of the card, the background of the image, or border on foil.

Or it can be as simple as stamping a special identifier on the card in foil.  In the Donruss and Panini Americana card sets, the parallels feature the celebrity’s name in foil or words like “Proof” or “Private Signings.”  Notice too, that in three Americana sets, the foil is slightly different colors, there were gold, silver and platinum foils.  Each color means a whole other parallel card with different numbers in the print run.  

Speaking of which, some parallels are also numbered.  In the Americana sets, one can find print runs as short as five or as many as 250.  Both, very small compared to the number of common cards that were available.  Oddly, the autographed relic cards in all three of these sets are numbered 99 or 100 whereas some of the parallel proof cards are numbered much lower; five, ten, or 25.  This is kind of cool because it levels the playing field of value that might be assigned to cards with more and cooler features, to cards that are simply short run.  Or maybe it’s irritating that a card that’s one of five could sell for as much as a signed card simply because of that foil stamped number on it!  In either case, you’ll be happy when you find that one of five!    

Finally, and this is the real thrill with parallels, as I’ve already touched on, you can find autograph and relic cards.

Usually autographs are on a holographic label that is neatly adhered to the card.  Not as cool as hard-signed auto but nice presentation.  These cards tend to be printed on slightly thicker than normal stock and are often numbered as well as have some comment on the back about the guarantee of authenticity of the signature.  

Relic cards contain a swatch of clothing worn by the celebrity.  I’ve read there’s been some controversy over the practice of doing this, that it destroys the value of the original garment or that the garment came from questionable sources etc.  Sometimes the card will contain an image of the celebrity actually wearing the garment, such as screen-worn items.  So that can be some consolation for anyone concerned with authenticity/value.  I’ll leave those debates up to others though.  On the surface at least, relic cards are a fun way to celebrate your favorite famous folks.  Something I like about relic cards too, is that they are very thick compared to a normal trading card.  This is to accommodate the swatch of fabric of course.  But it makes the card much sturdier.  In theory, you should never have to worry about soft corners on these.  Just be sure to keep the additional thickness in mind for storage products.  

If you’re at all interested in collecting parallels, if even only picking up the best of the set, be sure to have a look at checklists posted online to so that you’re aware of how many parallels any given card has and what they are.  That knowledge might sway you one way or the other on some critical collecting decision.  Also, I’d encourage you to inspect cards that are for sale or swap very carefully.  Front side.  Back side.  And ask the seller/trader questions even if you THINK that you recognize the card.  There have been several instances when I had been staring at a card that I needed for months without realizing it.  Things like silver and gold foil are sometimes difficult to differentiate.  

After about three years of searching, I am still missing two of seven George Romero 2008 Donruss Americanas, three of twelve 2009 Panini Americanas and three of ten 2011 Americanas.  I have most of the signatures and relics though so my appetite to press forward is starting to wane… until I find another one! 😉

What parallel universe are you consumed by?  Have any complete sets?  How many do you have left?  

Thanks for reading and happy collecting!