21 November 2014

What's in the Box 3: A Mix-Up and a Fix-Up with Collector Crate

Collector Crate is a relatively new subscription service that sends out a mystery box of trading cards and related items on a monthly basis. They offer three levels of subscription which increase in price but also increase the value of the packs they send in the box. Currently they are offering baseball, football, and basketball boxes, and if there is enough demand they will probably roll out a hockey subscription at some point.

October was their first subscription month, and I ordered a box of the lowest (Bronze) level to see what it was all about. My conclusion was that at that price point it would be hard to compete logistically with the 20 packs + a hit repack boxes you find at Target. The higher levels offer better stuff like packs with guaranteed hits, so if you've got the cash that might be the way to go. I couldn't really justify the expense as a monthly thing, so I sent a message to Collector Crate using the 'Contact Us' form on the website asking them to discontinue my subscription.

A few days ago I was going over our finances and noticed that there was a charge on the card from Collector Crate for the monthly subscription amount. Because I had other transactions going through on that card I realized that I might have an issue on my hands. So I sent out messages and e-mails to express my displeasure at being charged when I had sent a message to cancel my subscription. After a while I got a reply from Collector Crate through Facebook offering to refund the money, and because November's shipping had already occurred, to keep the box that was shipped to me free of charge. A little later they came back and said that the box had been flagged and had not yet left the warehouse, so if I told them a couple of my favorite teams they would put together a box for me and still make the shipment. I replied that I wasn't looking to get something for free or put them out, and that refunding my payment would be good enough for me. They insisted, so I told them I liked the Astros, Blue Jays, and Athletics and said I would give them a mention on my blog. Here is what was inside the box that arrived in the mail:

This was the baseball-related swag that was in the box along with the packs. I got decals for the A's and Astros, and a little baseball with the Blue Jays logo on it. I got a little bag of sunflower seeds. When I was a combat arms soldier I chewed a lot of sunflower seeds and grew to really like some of the different flavors that have popped up, like Dill Pickle and Nacho Cheese. If I eat too many of the regular salted ones my mouth gets a little burnt. Now that I work in an admin role I don't chew seeds much. The pack of TeenyMates contained a Padre and a Pirate along with puzzle pieces for the Astros and Braves. The pack of 100 card sleeves will go to good use, as you can always use more card supplies.

There were 10 packs in the main part of the box, and I will follow the example of other bloggers by showing the 'best' card from each pack. There is no guarantee that my definition of best will match up with anyone else's definition. I'm showing them in the order I opened them in.

And we kick things off with what would turn out to be the hit of the break, with a Max Scherzer Blue Refractor from 2010 Topps Chrome. It is numbered # 113 / 199, and the fact that it was the hit of the break tells you pretty much all you need to know about how the pack-breaking went. The Chipper Jones was the Special Engraved Foil Card advertised on the front of the 1993 Bowman pack. 2009 Uper Deck Series 2 proved so boring that a team checklist made the cut as the top card of the pack, featuring Huston Street, who I picked mostly because of all the angst and press he has generated in the fantasy baseball world during his career. A Jim Thome Authentic Achievements insert card gets the nod from the 2008 Upper Deck Authentic SP pack. It's a decent-looking card, even if the foiled lettering is difficult to read.

Up next are 1996 Leaf Preferred, 2014 Topps Update, 2008 Upper Deck Masterpieces, and 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen. The two Topps products are both Hobby packs, so that means better odds on inserts and stuff than you'd get in Retail packs.

It was a tough choice between the metal card (Fred McGriff) in the Preferred pack or the Piazza checklist. In the end the mullet and mustache combo won out. I've discussed why Mark Reynolds is a PC guy for me before, but I don't follow him closely enough to know if he's still on a roster. The one image of Vladimir Guerrero that sticks in my mind is the gif of him hitting a ball after it's bounced in the dirt. This isn't it, but this is another good one that takes a swing at 50 Cent's horrible first pitch during the 2014 season. I've heard the yips can sneak up on anyone:

I don't have a lot of love for the Spahn card, but there wasn't a lot to choose from in the Gypsy Queen pack. The insert won by default.

The 2014 Stadium Club and the 2013 Topps Mini packs were included in the 10 Bronze-level packs that went into the box. The 2013 Topps Chipz and the 5-pack of 2013 Topps Series 1 were loose in the box as extras.

There wasn't much of note in those packs, so I turned this scan into a Wilin Rosario supermix. That Gypsy Queen Rosario didn't come from the Topps Series 1 5-pack. I just thought it would be more interesting this way. One of the Chipz appears to be a Glow-in-the-Dark parallel, but it was a Yankee and I left it out. The Stadium Club pack had a Rainbow Foil card of Jose Reyes, which was cool, but I skipped it because it is a horizontal card and between the mini and the Chipz this scan was convoluted enough already.

The final thing in the box was the relic/auto pack, a little yellow envelope with some cards inside. At the Bronze level you are guaranteed two cards that may be relics or autos. The exclusive this month was the Derek Jeter sketch print card, featuring art drawn especially for Collector Crate to use in their boxes. The hits in the packs were a Lance Berkman relic from 2003 Leaf Certified and a Shawn Green autograph from 1997 Donruss Signature Series. They are pretty nice cards, although the Berkman relic card is pretty beat up along the edges. The Donruss Rated Rookie Mark McGwire card was a bonus addition to the hit pack.

I scanned the backs to show that the Berkman relic was numbered # 186 / 250.

As far as the packs go, this break was a whole lot weaker than the one I did last month, when I pulled a couple of autographs and a numbered Mike Trout card. Collector Crate doesn't have any control over that, though, and I think the packs were probably of a slightly higher quality here. All of the Topps products included in the 10 packs for the Bronze level were Hobby packs, and there are some decent cards that can come out of most of them. I am sort of disappointed that Collector Crate caught hte box before it shipped, because I can't know for sure which components are from a normal Bronze-level packout and which ones were added later because of the issue I had with the payment.Going by what I've seen from other breaks this month, I am guessing that the car sleeves, the two loose packs (2013 Topps Chipz, 2013 Topps Series 1 5-pack), and maybe the Mark McGwire were added to the box, and it could be that the 10 Bronze-level packs were upgraded at least partially toward the Silver level.

I am not sure if I will start a subscription back up at any point in the future, but Collector Crate went out of their way to fix the problem I had and make sure I was happy. They didn't have to send me a box, but they did and I appreciate that. If you are looking to contact them about something in regard to your account, I would suggest using Facebook or direct e-mail, as the 'Contact Us' feature on their website does not appear to be a solid way to actually contact them.

I have noticed that after the first month's shipments started being opened and reviewed, Collector Crate went out and read the reviews and tried to respond by taking customer suggestions into consideration. They added the feature to allow you to choose some teams that will be emphasized in your swag and hit pack, and it looks like they have tweaked the pack distribution in response to complaints about things like the 5-card Topps packs and a high Retail : Hobby ratio in the pack mix. I still think it will be hard for their Bronze-level subscription to compete value-wise with other products available to collectors at retail outlets, but their higher-level boxes seem to deliver a pretty good value that isn't replicated by any products you can get from Target or Shopko. They're off to a pretty good start, and I hope they are able to keep a good foothold and grow their business. I was pretty irritated about the mix-up with my subscription cancellation, but Collector Crate went above my expectation to make sure the issue was resolved.