Upper Deck, a leading sports-trading-card company, wants to bring sports-card-style engagement to the collector-coin format. The Grandeur Hockey Coin Collection, unveiled April 4 at the National Hockey League Hall of Fame in Toronto, is the first series of limited-edition, precious-metal coins to be distributed in “blind packaging.” For those who aren’t familiar with the trading-card hobby, buying a blind pack means you don’t know what coin(s) you get until you open the actual packaging.
The Grandeur Hockey coins are minted in North America and are legal tender in the Cook Islands. The series consists of 20 sets, with each set featuring a different professional hockey superstar, either active or retired—players like Wayne Gretzky, Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and Henrik Lundqvist. The players have partnered with Upper Deck through the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA); the National Hockey League (NHL) is not involved, and the team names and logos do not appear on the coins.
Each player-set consists of four coins (one gold, three silver) in differing degrees of rarity. The 24-karat gold 1/4-ounce coin, with a face value of $20 (NZ), is limited to a mintage of 100 per set. The three 1-ounce, .9999 fine silver coins, each with a face value of $5 (NZ), are as follows: 5,000 “base set” coins with applied color; 1,000 “parallel” coins in a high-relief strike; and 500 “parallel coins” in a frosted finish. (Scroll down to “The Origin of the Series” for a note about the denominations.)
The reverse design consists of the player’s portrait to the right of the field against a central background depicting a landmark from the city of the team with which the player is most associated. (This background is the section with applied color for the base-set coins.) The player’s name appears at upper left. The Upper Deck logo, with an applied hologram to guarantee authenticity, appears near the bottom, above an oval that displays the coin’s number. Each number includes the total mintage; for example, if a coin is the 97th gold strike in the Wayne Gretzky set, the number reads “097-100.”
The obverse of each coin depicts the Ian Rank-Broadley portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II, which was introduced on New Zealand’s coinage in 1999. The portrait is surrounded by the legend ELIZABETH II / COOK ISLANDS / 5 DOLLARS, which reads clockwise from lower left. The date of issue, 2017, reads counterclockwise and is placed below the effigy.
Each Grandeur Hockey Coin may be purchased separately in a sealed blind-pack for $99, or as part of a collector box with four randomly chosen coins for $399. The box contains slots for 20 coins; the four coins that come with the box are guaranteed to contain one of three rarer coins—high-relief silver, frosted silver, or gold.
Assembling a complete set means either trading with other collectors or else buying blind packs until you have one of each coin. For example, you might trade five colorized coins representing five different players for one high-relief Wayne Gretzky. In addition, Upper Deck’s e-Pack website allows players to trade coins for cards and vice versa.
|$5 (x 20)||.9999 silver||31.1 g||38.1 mm||Specimen with applied color||5,000|
|$5 (x 20)||.9999 silver||31.1 g||38.1 mm||Specimen, high relief||1,000|
|$5 (x 20)||.9999 silver||31.1 g||38.1 mm||Specimen, frosted||500|
|$20 (x20)||.9999 gold||7.797 g||21.9 mm||Specimen||100|
The complete series consists of the following players:
- Patrice Bergeron, Boston
- Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg
- Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh
- Jack Eichel, Buffalo
- Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton
- Jaromir Jagr, Florida
- Patrick Kane, Chicago
- Dylan Larkin, Detroit
- Henrik Lundqvist, New York
- Erik Karlsson, Ottawa
- Connor McDavid, Edmonton
- Sean Monahan, Calgary
- William Nylander, Toronto
- Alex Ovechkin, Washington
- Carey Price, Montreal
- Patrick Roy, Montreal
- Daniel Sedin, Vancouver
- Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis
- John Tavares, Brooklyn
- Jonathan Toews, Chicago
The Origin of the Series
Upper Deck has been producing collectible sports cards since 1989. The company president, Jason Masherah, seems well aware that taking the trading-card model into a new field is a risk, but it also appears that the project was undertaken with careful consideration. Bringing coins to the familiar market of sports-card collectors was relatively easy; in an interview with Yahoo! Sports writer Greg Wyshynski, Masherah says that sport-card collectors are already willing to spend hundreds of dollars on a mystery pack of high-end trading cards. As for bringing the blind-pack model to coin collectors, Masherah notes that the public in general has grown used to spending money on expensive “surprise” packages, like wine-of-the-month clubs. In theory, enough coin collectors will share qualities with sports-card collectors or other buyers of high-end blind-packs to make the new program attractive to them.
Upper Deck faced a learning curve with respect to what coin collectors will buy. One lesson was what constitutes a “coin.” To be sure, the definition is a bit looser for collector coins than for traditional circulating coinage, but certain criteria still apply. The main criterion is that a coin must be legal tender issued by a national government. Since the United States doesn’t enter licensing deals with its coinage, Upper Deck partnered with the Cook Islands, New Zealand, for its project.
Of course, Upper Deck still has a bit to learn about the numismatic market. A few random observations:
- The press releases and website (even the FAQs) lack information that is vital to coin collectors—for example, the face value of the coins. The silver coins’ denomination was located in Twitter photos taken at the unveiling ceremony; the gold coin’s denomination was gleaned from Masherah’s in the Yahoo! Sports interview.
- The promotional materials also neglect the traditional terms used for coin finishes. Those with applied color, for example, are described as “base set” coins rather than “Proof (or Uncirculated) with applied color.” Not only do collectors like to know the particulars of a coin’s strike, the word “base” suggests “base metal,” potentially leading a careless reader to get the wrong idea. Another omission is the name of the minting company, which is described simply as being “North American.”
- The promotional images of the coins are inconsistent; some depict the fineness and weight below the player’s name, while others, likely used during a preliminary design phase, do not. (Live photographs from the unveiling show the weight and fineness.) Only some of the images indicate the hologram effect on the logo. For a modest sum, Upper Deck could have invested in high-quality photographs of at least one of the 20 sets before launching the series, to give an idea of the coins’ true quality.
This is meant as constructive criticism rather than as a knock on Upper Deck, which is taking a bold risk with a very intriguing item. There’s still time for the company to make a few edits to its promotional materials and add a few good photos. With silver trading around $18 an ounce, a hundred bucks is stretching the limit for a 1-ounce coin, so traditional numismatists will likely take a pass unless they have faith in the coins’ value as collectibles. It’s a bit different for buyers of collector coins, who are willing to pay a premium for something they like without fretting over whether they can profit from it. If the series takes off with the latter market, Upper Deck could have quite a winner on its hands. ❑