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Sports card refractors: the origin story

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If you started to collect sports cards recently, you’re probably quite familiar with the one insert or parallel set that pretty much comes with the base set – the refractors.
They come in all colors of the rainbow and are serial numbered depending on the color itself. It’s not enough just to complete the base set anymore. That makes the task of completing a set daunting at best and virtually impossible at worst (unless you have deep pockets).


1993 Topps Finest Refractor #107 Nolan Ryan

For a fuller definition of what a refractor card is, read this article here, which does a fairly good job. But really, it’s just an extra shiny card.
The beginning of refractor inserts is largely attributed to the 1993 Topps Finest baseball set. According to this article from the PSA website, the reported print run is 241 for each card in the 199-card issue, making it one of the toughest sets to complete in the modern era.
But the limited edition factor that contributed to the initial great appeal of refractors by hobbyists seems to be going by the wayside.
The newer sets include the usual blue, green, purple, gold, and regular light refractor cards. But some now have different variations of those colors like shimmer, bubbles and wave refractors.
They’re limited alright with each serial numbered. The question is, how many limited sets are too many before the limited tag no longer applies? That’s still up to debate.
In the meantime, the gold refractors (usually numbered to 50) still seem to be the gold standard. And there’s always the ‘superfractor’ – that 1/1 sports card most can only dream of owning.

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