1993 Topps Finest Refractors Top Whatever...

When 1993 Topps Finest first hit the Hobby Shops, I missed the whole 5 minute window where it was still affordable.

Topps debut the product as the first baseball card release at the $5/pack level. 1993 was deep into the Junk Wax Era, and it was questionable weather the hobby would support such a product. As The Becketts were showing even at that time, card prices were falling for the once hot sets of recent years. 1989 Upper Deck, 1990 Leaf, 1991 Stadium Club, 1992 Bowman... All releases that were red hot in the market had cooled significantly. Product was still over saturating the market. There was simply still too much of everything, if you were looking for stuff to hold a decent resale value.

In a bold move for the day, Topps severely cut the production on 1993 Topps Finest Baseball to an unheard of 4000 cases.

12 boxes in each case. 18 packs in each box. 6 cards in each pack. 

Topps did create scarcity. 


1993 Topps Finest was THE topic of conversation at a local card show, the weekend following it's release. I guess a few dealers had packs on sale when the show first opened, but all were sold between $20 and $30 per pack, within minutes. A few singles were around the tables, but not for very long. Commons and semi-stars were selling for around $5 a card. The frenzy on a new card release was like nothing I ever saw.

At that point, I'd never even seen the cards, and knew nothing about the story behind the craze. 

Area Shinders stores were only given the opportunity to buy a very small number of cases. Out of the already small 4000 made available. Many smaller stores were only allowed to buy one case, while even more were shut out of buying cases completely.

By the time I finally saw packs of 1993 Topps Finest on sale with my own eyes, it would be about two weeks later. Shinders in Blaine had a total of 4 available at $25.99 a pack. This pack was an X-Mess gift in 2003. It stayed sealed for a couple of years before I gave in.

I only bought 2 Finest cards at that first card show. Kent Hrbek was my first card from the set. Mine for the low price of $5. (Which isn't the most I've paid for a Hrbek card...) Second in my collection would be the Expos' Larry Walker, which set me back $8.

I decided then, those two cards would be the first towards my complete set. 

This would be my collecting goal for 1993. I would collect all 199 cards without opening any packs. Because there just wasn't any around. And if they were, they cost nearly 5 hours of working at 99 Spillihp a piece... This would have to be done on a card by card basis. Whenever I could find them.

Building a 199 card set in this fashion wouldn't be easy, and I'd need help...

I put in a call to Coach's Corner at Apache Plaza. My go to card store in the greater Twin Cities Metro Area. Co-owner Ron, and I synchronized a checklist. I'd call in and update any cards I picked up from outside his shop, and he'd take in whatever singles came into the store from his network of dealers.

Whenever I went to the shop, there'd be anywhere between 5 and 30 1993 Finest single cards, set aside for me. Usually between $1-2 each for commons, with the stars accordingly priced.

By Spring of 1994, the market was cooling a bit on 1993 Finest. Cards were still very hard to find in stores and at shows, and they still commanded high prices.

I completed my 1993 Topps Finest set late in 1994. I had not opened one single pack of the cards to finish it.

Unknown to me at the time, as Coach's Corner was selling me the single cards for the set, they sold my mom a sealed box of 1993 Finest that I would receive as an X-Mess gift in 1994. A companion to my complete set, and treasured piece of my collection.

Enough back story...

Which brings me to to the point of this Whatever

The 1993 Topps Finest Refractors parallel set. 

Inserted at a rate of 1 in 18 packs (basically 1 per box), these cards were even more limited in comparison to the base cards I rarely found for sale. It would be many months after the set debut before I even saw a Refractor in person. Doing the math from Topps released numbers, it's been widely accepted that only 241 Refractors for each card in the set were printed.

And they are even more expensive today than these April 1994 Becketts priced reflect...

Owning a complete set of 1993 Finest Refractors would be my ultimate card collecting dream. And if money was no object, I would have that complete set.

Not a Refractor, but it should be...

Topps Finest cards are very nice to look at in person. Scans do not do these cards justice. While the base cards are very impressive, the Refractors are beautiful art. Of course today that technology is old hat, but in 1993, Refractors were revolutionary to baseball cards.

This "Top Whatever" will be likely the shortest list I'll probably ever do. Today, I only own 4 1993 Finest Refractors. So my rankings are pretty simple. My criteria remains the same. It's all based on how much I like the card.

The Top 4 1993 Topps Finest Refractors in my Collection!

#4 David Cone - Kansas City Royals

Cone arrived via ebay purchase in June 2005, after I moved back to Littleton, Colorado, into a house with 4 of my friends. The low cost of shared living, plus the return to decent wages provided a much larger card budget for impulse buying such as this. The card set me back about $35 with shipping.

David Cone was always one of my favorite pitchers in the 1990's, and I liked his brief return to Kansas City. Almost as if the Royals tried to right the wrong committed when they traded him to the Mets in 1987. I figured this would jump start me into collecting 1993 Refractors.

It didn't, but should have...

And on a related note...

2001 Finest 1993 Tribute - Neifi Perez

2001 Finest included an insert set of cards made to look like 1993 Finest. This set actually showed a little foresight and smart planning by Topps. Instead of just using the set as an excuse to cram in the same top 20 players of the current season, Topps only featured players who were signed by Major League teams in 1993, and didn't have a card in the 1993 Finest set. That way, they could still feature top young stars like Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and others (though it didn't include Torii Hunter, which always annoyed me).

Even the Rockies were represented by their young shortstop...

I always considered it a small update set to the classic 1993 Finest release.

Topps did make the obvious Refractor parallel to these inserts, but missed a great opportunity to serial number the Refractors out of 241.

Back to the Whatever...

#3 Chuck Knoblauch - Minnesota Twins*

*Knoblauch should rank as #2, but doing so would affect the story I'm trying to tell here...

I'll chalk this up as a demotion due to the lime green plague affecting many Finest cards in their first few years. Maybe all that technology wasn't quite ready?

The Chuckster -or Knobby- was my favorite Twin of the 1990's. Until he became all whiney and demanded a trade out of Minnesota in early 1998. But I was living in Colorado then, so it didn't bother me as much...

Back to real life...

On June 6, 2000, I returned home in the morning from working from working the graveyard shift, and found my apartment had been broken into. The place was ransacked. My stuff thrown off shelves and onto the floor, and many of my valuables were gone. It's a horrible feeling if you've ever walked into your home and found someone has dug through your life and taken what they wanted.

Amongst the things I lost that day were most of my best baseball cards.

I'd mistakenly left my fire safe unlocked, and found it had been cleaned out completely. Inside that safe had been the highlights of my collection, including baseballs signed by Mickey Mantle and Cal Ripken Jr., a 1952 Topps Warren Spahn. The sealed wax box of 1993 Topps Finest from X-Mess 1994, plus an assortment of 1993 Finest Refractors.

Including a partial Montreal Expos team set. At that point, I had 1993 Finest refractors of Moises Alou, Delino DeShields, Mike Lansing, Wil Cordero and Ken Hill, all representing the Expos. A team set I really wanted to complete. I'd diversified my Refractor collection to also include Dwight Gooden, Ben McDonald and the above mentioned Chuck Knoblauch. His card was replaced in 2005 via ebay, a week before I bought the David Cone.

The biggest single card lost was of one other notable player I will get to later on in the Whatever...

But they were all gone.

Also taken from my safe was a near complete set of 1994 SP Holoview Red Die-Cuts. I had acquired 43 of the 48 card set, at great personal expense over the years. While Upper Deck never released any production numbers on 1994 SP Baseball, I've heard many estimates that the Holoview Red Die-Cuts are more rare than 1993 Finest Refractors.

Those were all gone too. 

Besides the six cards I've re-bought...


#2 Dave Winfield - Minnesota Twins

Today I have zero Expos from the Refractor set, where I used to have five. But I have two cards from the Twins. Dave Winfield is the only 1993 Finest Refractor card that I got from a opening a pack.

But you said you never bought any packs in putting the base set together!

I didn't. 

But I had that unopened box I got for X-Mess 1994. 

Which was stolen in June, 2000. 

Which was replaced via ebay in August 2000, and set aside for safe keeping in the fire safe. Which was now ALWAYS kept locked.

All was fine until my October 2003 move back to Minnesota. Everything made it back to Minnesota safely, with the exception of one small box which fell off the trailer as it was being backed into the driveway. That box was accidentally run over. Unfortunately for me, that box contained some of my better cards from inside the fire safe.

Such as...

2001 Upper Deck Sweet Spot - Albert Pujols

It's very hard to see in this scan, but this serial numbered Pujols rookie has a full crease going vertically down the center.


2001 Upper Deck Prospect Premiers - Mark Prior Autograph

This one is easier to swallow given how their careers turned out. The giant crease going through the top of the card is very clear in this scan... Destroying a really nice card of a once significant prospect.

Both cards pulled from packs sold from the also awesome, Mike's Sports Cards in Englewood, Colorado. Who closed in 2013.

The replacement box of 1993 Topps Finest was also damaged. The box was no longer in any sort of mint condition, and the shrink wrap was in shreds. I could no longer claim the box was sealed. The rumor was that packs containing the Refractor card, had a different method of sealing the wrapper. So picking out the prize pack from a box was easy to do. I also didn't know how damaged the cards inside the box were after the runover.

In December of 2003, I decided to break the box.

My oversized Finest jumbo box topper was of Expos outfielder Larry Walker. 

That's pretty cool.

The damaged box, opened and displaying 18 empty finest wrappers. When I took this picture several years ago, I'm not sure why I didn't arrange the wrappers as they looked in a full box. Guess I was lazy.

And while I don't remember exactly how different the Refractor holding pack in this box was, I identified it immediately and set it aside to be the last pack I opened. Sure enough, it housed the Dave Winfield.

At least I pulled a Hall of Famer, and a Twin!

A Top Whatever Honorable Mention before we hit #1...

2001 Finest 1993 Tribute Refractor - Vladimir Guerrero

I'll forgive the off-centeredness because this card rooooools so much...

Now it's time for the number one 1993 Finest Refractor in my collection...

#1 Ken Griffey Jr. - Seattle Mariners

I wish I could feel as happy about owning this card as I used to... But it's a replacement for another of the cards that were stolen in June 2000.

During a Summer 1994 visit to Coach's Corner at Apache Plaza, Ron showed me a 1993 Topps Finest Ken Griffey Jr. Refractor in his case for $400. Ron was a Griffey collector, and knew I was too. He thought I'd be interested in buying it, although it was way outside my gas station budget. We came up with a plan. I would pay $50 every 2 weeks towards it, until the card was paid off. In the meantime, it would stay at the store, on display with a "sold" price tag on it.

Easily the best Minneapolis area card store of the 1990's... Suck it Shinders!

When I brought the Griffey Refractor home after making my last payment, I took a really terrible photo of it! With the backdrop of the day's stock market numbers from the Star Tribune, underneath. This was my investment, so that background seemed appropriate. Too bad the picture was blurry as hell. I don't miss trying to take decent picture off 35mm film, with no indication that this is the photo you just took, until you pay to have it developed. Technology was good here...

The Griffey was the centerpiece of my collection. I watched it's value in The Becketts shoot all the way up to $2000, as the 1990's progressed.

And then it was gone.

Of everything that was taken from my safe, the Griffey card was the one I missed the most. It represented not only my favorite player, but the story of collecting the set, from that store in that mall, and all the hours at 99 Spillihp I worked to pay for it.

It was irreplaceable.

Although I did look to replace it every once in a while!

A full decade later, in June 2010, I found an ebay auction for a 1993 Finest Ken Griffey Jr. Refractor. The current high bid was still fairly low in my mind, but ended about a week away. Unfortunately, the card was graded and sealed in a Becketts grading slab. I hate graded cards... But the price was right, so I began following the auction closely.

I put in a decent bid on the auction's final day, and my chances looked pretty good to me. 

About an hour before the auction ended, my ex told me that her friend needed a ride to the hospital for some reason, and volunteered me to do it.

But the auction! You don't understand! Damat!

I quickly upped my bid and left to bring her friend to the hospital. We were very much on the outs at the time, and I was irritated with her more than anything. But it was the right thing to do. Done while muttering under my breath the whole time.

When I got home about 2 hours later, the auction had ended. Figured I'd lost, but I checked my email and I was shockingly the high bidder. I wouldn't have been if I didn't increase my maximum before we left, but I still scored the Griffey at less than I expected to pay. And less than I did pay in 1994.

The card was displayed on my fireplace mantle for a few months, before finding it's home in the fire safe. I've long wanted to break it out of it's graded Becketts slab, but am afraid of damaging it. So I guess it can stay in it's mylar sarcophagus.

At least I own it again.

I still think I need to look at buying more 1993 Finest Refractors. I love these cards. Commons still sell today in the $30-$50 range, and stars are hard to come by at any reasonable rate. Find it hard to believe that anything that came out of the Junk Wax Era could have lasting and appreciating value.

1993 Finest Refractors are the exception.

No matter how many tragedies the set seems to encapsulate with me..

Coach's Corner permanently closed the store in February 2004, when the mall closed around them. After years in limbo, Apache Plaza formally evicted all remaining tenants that month and was demolished less than 2 months later.

Ron went fishing.

An abandoned (as of 2014) WalMarts sits on the former Apache Plaza property today.

And I want more 1993 Topps Finest Refractors!

1994 SP Red Holovie Die Cuts as well...


  1. Loved your story. I have a entire factory sealed case and a few sealed boxes if you are interested. My father and I collected these when I was a kid and has been properly stored since mid 90’s. Email me at dlee1041@gmail.com.


    1. Can I buy a box , I need one for my collection.?

    2. I’ll search to see if I have some lose boxes when I visit where they are stored. I grabbed the complete case but didn’t find the loose boxes.


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