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Sports Card Lingo: The Basics

Many folks have visited a foreign country on their bucket list. A good rule of thumb when entering a foreign land is to learn the lingo. In collecting too, it’s a good rule of thumb to learn sports card lingo, at least the basics.

For Your Reading Pleasure

I arranged these in alphabetical order in chunks. Better formatting and easier to digest as a reader. Just in case you’re feeling like you’ve entered a foreign land, let’s go over some of the basics:

The Basics Lingo A-C

  • Base Card – a card that is sequentially numbered and is the foundation of a certain product print run. Most of the time (but not all the time) base cards make up the majority of cards in any given pack.
  • Beckett – established in 1979 Beckett is a well-known publisher of monthly sports card price guides. You can pick up a copy at your Local Card Shop or check out their website at
  • Box of Cards – a box of cards sealed by the manufacturer and may contain 1 to 36 packs of cards per box. Types of boxes are but not limited to:
    • Hobby Box – a box of cards sealed by the manufacturer and are specifically sold to Local Card Shops or Hobby Dealers.
    • Jumbo Box – a box of cards sealed by the manufacturer typically sold to Local Card Shops but contain 2X-3X more cards per pack than their standard counterparts.
    • Retail Box – a box of cards sealed by the manufacturer and are specifically sold to Retail Stores.
    • Vending Box – originally made for use in vending machines but transitioned into boxes that were sold to dealers who would collate the boxes into sets for sale to the public.
  • Commons – a term used to describe a card of a lesser-known or desired player. These are usually the least expensive cards in any given base card set.

The Basics Lingo D-G

  • Error Card – a card that misrepresents its original intent and can be found on either side of the card. It could be a wrong photo, a misspelled name, ethical issues or incorrect player stats. When they are recalled for correction by the manufacturer it may cause higher demand while the uncorrected counterparts do not.
  • Facsimile Signature – cards that are stamped or have a printed reproduction of an autograph, usually on the card front. Authentic Autograph cards from the manufacturers will brand the cards either on the front or back with “Certified” this lets you know the manufacturer stands behind its authenticity.
  • Factory Set – a set of cards that was packaged by the manufacturer for sale to the public. These sets usually include a distinct box with a security seal. Sets from the factory generally carry a premium over hand-made sets.
  • Game Used Cards – a card that has a piece of game-used memorabilia embedded into the card. These are often thicker than regular issued cards. It can be but not limited to bats, balls, hats, gloves, or jerseys.

The Basics Lingo H-M

  • Hologram – the silvery, laser-etched trademark printed as an anti-counterfeiting device by sports card manufacturers and authenticators.
  • Insert Card – a card that is randomly inserted into packs. They are not part of the base set and they tend to have a unique design or theme. Also known as “chase card.”
  • Mini – a card of identical design but smaller dimensions than the standard 3 1/2″ X 2 1/2″ card.
  • Minor League Cards> – as the name indicates these are cards that feature players in the Minor Leagues, mainly baseball. They play a small role in the hobby but are still sought after due to their low print runs and difficulty in finding.

The Basics Lingo P

  • Pack – a package of cards that are sealed by the manufacturer for hobby or retail sale. Packs can contain 1-8+ cards in them. Like their counterparts, “Box of Cards” they also come in various forms:
    • Cello Pack – a form of card packaging. These packs usually contain more sports cards than the standard packs. They are wrapped in transparent packaging, much like cellophane. Cello packs that are unopened and have a star visible on the front are highly collectible and carry a premium.
    • Foil Pack – a package of cards that are sealed by the manufacturer for retail sale. However, these packs are so named for their metallic packaging.
    • Rack Pack – packs designed for retail sale. These clear packs usually contain three panels of cards, which are designed to hang from store displays. Rack packs with stars showing are collectible, much like they are with cello packs.
    • Wax Pack – an unopened pack of cards, named for its traditional form of packaging. It’s a wax-coated paper that is sealed shut at the factory by simply applying heat.
  • Post War – cards that are from a time after World War II.
  • Pre-War – cards that are from a time before the start of World War II.
  • Promotional Card – also known as Promo Cards are cards produced by a manufacturer to promote upcoming issues. Generally, these cards are more limited than the regular issues because not as many are printed.

The Basics Lingo Q-R

  • Redemption Card – a program established by multiple card manufacturers that allow collectors to mail in a special card, usually a random insert, in return for special cards not available through conventional channels.
  • Refractor Cards – a card that has chrome reflective devices.
  • Reprint Card – a card that is a reproduction of an original.
  • Rookie Card (RC) – often times these cards are the most desirable and valuable. It is a player’s first appearance on a base card of a major card manufacturer, once he/she makes it to a pro roster. However, rookie cards do need some clarification:
    • Extended Rookie Card (XRC) – this is a card that was released in an extended or limited set. Most often cards that were released between the time a player was drafted and prior to a player’s first major league appearance.
    • 1st Year Cards – extended rookie cards caused a lot of confusion in the hobby. So to clear the confusion starting in 2006 new releases had new rules set in place by manufacturers. The cards deemed true rookie cards are the cards issued during the first year the player was placed on a pro roster and must be branded on the front of the card, in some way, indicating it is an RC. If that player is not on a pro roster those cards are considered “1st Year Card” and also should be branded as such. This indicates that the player has been drafted but is currently in the minor leagues and has not been placed on a pro roster. So these cards are not true rookie cards, although some card dealers and collectors would debate this fact.
    • Prospect Cards – since a player isn’t considered a “rookie” until he plays his first season as a pro any new releases after his “1st Year Card” is considered a “Prospect Card.” Many players have prospect cards over several years depending on how big a name they are and how long they stay in the minors.

The Basics Lingo S-Z

  • Serial Numbered Cards – cards are marked, either by a machine or by hand, with a unique number, usually followed by the maximum number in the run. Example: 45/99.
  • Set – an entire run of cards from a given issue, including all card numbers that were produced. For example, the 1982 Topps Baseball set is numbered 1 – 792. So there are 792 cards in the set. Subsets are a smaller set within a set that details a special interest. For example cards, #547-557 in the 1982 Topps Baseball set depicts a subset of American League Leaders.
  • Variant Card – a card that is different, usually subtly, from its more common counterpart. Variations might be as simple as a color change in the background of the card, a different colored border, etc. Many variants are extremely rare and may have a refractor type design along with a low numbered serial number.
  • Vintage Card – a term usually intended to indicate an item was issued or produced some time ago. Today, although opinions may vary, cards manufactured between 1877-1970 are considered vintage cards.

Although this is not an exhaustive list of definitions it’s a good start. I believe knowing the sports card lingo of at least the basics is an extremely important first step. It can serve, if anything else, as a reference for those coming into the hobby.

For more content like this one check out this article Sports Card Lingo: Condition.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.