The Card Collectors Beginners Guide Part 2

Base Card Short Prints/Variations And Parallels, written by Matt Gilman

Greetings Fellow Collectors!

Welcome back to my series of Collecting Basics where I break down the hobby of card collecting piece by piece.

In Part 1, I discussed and broke down what Base/Common Cards are. Today’s Part 2 was supposed to be about Parallels and Inserts up until I remembered another key piece to collecting before we move on, Base Card Short Prints and Variations which are not always easy to explain. So I will save the parallels for Part 3 and Inserts for Part 4.

Base Card Sp’s or Short Prints, are usually a part of a base set. I discussed what a base set was in my first post. Base Card Sp’s usually are higher numbered cards in a base set. Some products will choose, for example, cards number 350-400 as their short prints. This just means, even though these cards appear as base cards, they aren’t as common to find as other base cards in the same set.

A perfect example is this 2016 Topps Heritage card of David Price that is card number 477 in the set.  There are a lot of cards in this base set and card numbers 426-500 are the short prints in the set.

As you can see, it looks just like a base card and is still technically one, just that the card is TAD harder to find than the others.  Instead of finding one or more of these per pack, you may just find one every three packs or so

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Topps Heritage, Topps Allen & Ginter are just a couple of brands that include short prints like these. Short Prints, in my opinion, are added to sets just to put added value into a product and make the chase for a complete set a bit more challenging which is what some collectors like including myself.

Before I move onto talking about variations in my next paragraph, I should mention that Sp’s are found in multiple sports and non-sports and not just baseball. Most are defined the same way as above.

Up next, we will discuss something more confusing and in-depth, Variations.  Which still uses the word Sp, but is a different form.

Variations are taking a base card and tweaking it some. It may be something as simple as a photo change or color of a hat or color of an armband, etc. These are gimmicks that some collectors find fun and that the card companies have been overdoing as of late.

As you can tell, I am not a fan of variations.  They are hard to spot and it’s getting ridiculous the amount of these being put into products now. The way I like collecting is keeping things simple and I know a lot of other collectors would tend to agree with me.

So let’s take a look at what a Variation is and what I am talking about. Let me know in the comments if you agree if variations are being overdone or not.

This is a Bryce Harper base card from 2018 Topps flagship product. This is card #351 in the Series 2 base set.

Now comes all of the different variations that tag along with this one card.  Some of these variations are much tougher to find than other ones. They are called Sp and SSP variations. Sp still means short print and SSP means Super Short Print.

This first one is still card #351 but is the short print version of it. As you can see, Bryce isn’t in uniform like the card above. This is a photo of him during batting practice.

The next card is also card #351 and has Bryce celebrating on base. This is the SSP version of the base Bryce Harper card. Meaning, this version of card #351 is much tougher to find than the others.

Find this crazy yet? But wait, there are still two more variations to go. Yes, two more!

This one here is still card #351 but instead is a Ty Cobb Legends Variation.

And finally, once again we find Card #351, this time another Legends Variation  of NY Yankee great Reggie Jackson

I believe the Legends Variations are a tad easier to pull than the Sp and SSP versions.

All five cards in total are card #351. If you were collecting the base set, however, the only card that matters is the first Bryce Harper card I posted above. Like I said already, I think these types of variations are getting out of hand. We don’t need five copies of Card #351 and these types of variations also confuse many new and incoming former collectors. They even confuse us seasoned veterans of the hobby world.

I will say for Topps company anyways, that these variations have become a bit easier to define for those of you who may not have visual guides such as a Beckett.

On the back of every Topps card, no matter the product line is a CMP code that you can locate in the bottom corner of the card. It’s bolded in white here on the back of this 2017 Ryon Healy Topps Update Rookie Card.

These codes are normally used just for Topps, I am not sure about what they are for, but now they have an extra special use. The last two to four digits will help you define if you have a variation or not. The base card for the 2017 Topps Update set ends in 5517 which is what this Ryon Healy card is. So if this was a variation, the code may change to the Sp variation of #5557 or to the tougher SSP Variation of #5904.


The key here is finding a reliable website such as Cardboard Connection or Beckett to find the codes to help you define if you have a variation or not. It’s much easier than ten years ago when you had to spot the difference or try to pull both cards and compare. Unless you are a pro at that go ahead. But, I suggest strongly you use the code definitions.

I should also mention that the variations are not just in baseball and just in Topps products either. These were examples. Baseball cards made by Panini has them as well along with football and other sports.

Here are a few football examples of variations.

Check out this 2013 Panini Prestige rookie card of former Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel.  Here is the base card.

And here is the variation or as it was called, Draft Day variation. A bit silly I would say.

Here is another one that at the time I didn’t know how to spot til I found a gallery. This is what makes the Topps CMP codes so important now. This is a 2009 Panini Prestige rookie card of former Broncos runner Knowshon Moreno,

Here is the variation. Spot the difference? Yes, the jersey color. There was a white and a red variation.

As I have said all along, variations are gimmicks added to products to help bring some added value attraction to collecting, some collectors like them, some don’t. Even though I am not a big fan of variations, I still wouldn’t mind a few added to sets that are a bit easier to spot and not 50 of them that are tough to eyeball.

Stay tuned for the next installment of The Card Collectors Beginners Guide when we will be talking about Parallels!

‘Til Next Time, Keep Collecting!


Part 1

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