Sunday, November 6, 2016

Guide to the International Editions of Upper Deck & Collector's Choice issues

One thing I cannot grasp is other languages. I've tried...I've tried very hard. It just won't stick. I have health-based memory problems to begin with, I don't really retain a whole lot. It's almost comical (especially when I go nuts looking for something and it's been in my shirt pocket the while time, which has happened more than once) but it's actually really frustrating for me as well. REALLY frustrating, something that I cannot truly get across with a blog post. Moving on...

I have managed to retain a couple of words in various languages. Not enough to carry on a conversation, by any means, but I can recognize one or two words in several languages. The one I've spent the most time on is Latin, and I retain less than 10 words.

That leads me to this post. From 1991-92 through 1996-97, Upper Deck released several sets in multiple languages. From 1991-92 to 1993-94, it was the flagship Upper Deck brand, and then in 1994-95 through 1996-97 it was Collector's Choice. Over those years, the sets were issued in Italian, Spanish, German, French, Portuguese and Japanese. Not every set was issued in each language, for instance Portuguese was only issued in 1995-96.

Here is the breakdown of languages issued by year:
1991-92: French and Spanish
1992-93: French, Spanish, Italian
1993-94: French, Spanish, Italian, German
1994-95: French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, English*
1995-96: French, Spanish, Italian, German, Japanese, Portuguese, English*
1996-97: French, Spanish, Italian, German

In 1997-98, there was a Collector's Choice set issued for Europe, but the only difference between European cards and American cards are that the Europe set said "Printed in the E.U." in the copyright.

There would not be a set specifically made for Europe again until 2012-13, when there was a Hoops set for Europe. I detailed the differences in the sets in my April 2016 Trade Recap. There have been sets issued for Europe and China since then as well, but I don't have all the details on them.

Now, about the English set in 1995-96. This one is a bit odd, because, well, the "normal" cards are also in English. The English set, which should probably be referred to as British, to make it clearer which set is being talked about, looks exactly like the American Collector's Choice release of that year...except the numbers are different. If you come across a Collector's Choice card from 1995-96 that looks like an American release but does not match the American have a British version in your hands.
The 1994-95 English versions are exactly the same for the base cards, but they have the gold signature parallel that all the other European sets have. That appears to be the only way to tell them apart, but I don't have any in my collection to be totally sure on. 

These European language releases were meant solely for the European market, but some- quite a few, actually, from everything I've heard- made their way to the USA, and I remember buying packs of them at retail when the sets were new, specifically the 1995-96 sets. You will still find a sealed pack in repacks occasionally, although I have not gotten one there in several years now, you do find the cards in loose card repacks often. Since 2015 I have gotten quite a few of the 1994-95 Jordan Rare Air inserts, unlike the American Rare Air set, which was a standalone 90 card set, the European versions were 10 card insert sets.

Ever since these cards were new, I've been putting them in a box and not really keeping too much track of them. How could I, when I didn't know which cards went to which set? I even misplaced the box for a while, but found it again. I set about sorting the cards, which proved challenging. German was easy to separate because their language is visually significantly different from Italian, Spanish or French. I was typing some of the caption on the back into but it was not really getting me too far- workable, but time consuming and frustrating when you realize you are typing the same words in repeatedly. (not trusting my judgement, I was typing each card instead of making an educated guess.) But then, a eureka moment, I realized the copyright line in each language was different- I had to only check that to determine which language my card is in! That made it MUCH easier and I blew through the rest of the 550 count box in under 5 minutes. As it turned out, the majority of my cards are the Spanish issue, with Italian holding a slim lead over German. I have only 2 packs' worth of French, 25 cards from British, and zero Portuguese or Japanese. In truth, I didn't even know the Japanese versions existed until a year or two ago- it appears they were never imported to the USA the way that the Spanish, Italian and German versions were.

So, here is what to look for in the copyright line on the back of the card to tell you which language you have:
English: Upper Deck and the card/hologram combination are trademarks of The Upper Deck Company
Spanish: Upper Deck y las tarjetas/hologramas son marcas registrates de The Upper Deck Company
Italian: Upper Deck e la combinazione card/ologramma sono marchi di fabbricia di The Upper Deck Company
German: Upper Deck und die Kombination Karte/Hologramm sind Warenzeichen von The Upper Deck Company
French: Upper Deck et la combinaison carte/hologramme sont des marques de fabrique de The Upper Deck Company
Portuguese: Upper Deck e os cards/hologramas são marcas registradas da The Upper Deck Company
Japanese: アッパーデッキとカード/ホログラムの組み合わせは、アッパーデッキの会社の商標です。
(I typed in the words in English into Google Translate and this is what it gave me. I don't know if it's exactly what the cards have as I've never seen any)
Update: After doing the work I thought to look up the set on COMC, and they have the copyright in English. The text on the cards is in Japanese, and I decided to leave it because I think it's cool to see the Japanese text in my post...something I've never done before. I decided to buy one too. Here's the back:

The 1995-96 Collector's Choice sets can be especially frustrating because they did not issue them in the standard series 1/series 2 format. Instead, they issued two series, using the same card designs, but restarting the numbers at #1. There is nothing on the cards to tell you which series you have, you have to go through the checklist of each set to determine which one you have. The Japanese language release is one continuous numerical series, but I don't know if they were issued as one large series or as Series 1 and Series 2.

And, unfortunately, the copyright line on the 1996-97 sets is solely in English, making it useless to check that area for easy identification.

Here are the copyright areas cropped down off of a card from the 1995-96 sets. Even though not all the sets have the exact same wording year to year this should get you covered.
Of course, in my opinion, the biggest reason to chase these cards- other than being cards that exist, which is reason enough- is the exclusive cards that were available ONLY in the International editions.

In the 1991-92 set, there were subsets for the Spanish and Italian national teams. I do have a couple but I have not scanned them yet. They are easy to identify because they depict non-NBA players. These are the only sets with exclusive cards in the base set. One other characteristic of the International versions for 1991-92 Upper Deck is that the card number is black, instead of the green of the American release.

In 1992-93 and 1993-94, there were no exclusive cards that I am aware of.

In 1994-95, they had an exclusive parallel. While the US sets had a Silver Signature parallel, and a Gold Signature that was quite rare, but featured an entire mirror foil front. The International editions had a sort of combination of the two, which was the regular card with a gold foil signature, but NOT mirror foil.
They also had a hologram insert that used the same basic design as the 1994-95 Upper Deck Special Edition insert. The cards are the same in all international editions, I believe.
While most of the 1995-96 card fronts mirror the design of the American versions, the checklists are different, with a large dull foil strip on the front.

The 1995-96 Series II sets have a nine-card NBA Extremes insert, which had identical fronts between each language. They are all mirror-foil and don't scan well.
The 1996-97 Collector's Choice set included an exclusive Jordan's Journal insert that was all hologram.
Thanks to the wonders of the computer age, I was able to easily figure out cards that had been perplexing me for nearly 20 years. Now I just need to decide if I want to keep counting them as a separate collection, or integrate them into my NBA collection count. I also face the same dilemma with the Panini stickers. At one point I counted the USA basketball sets and the Michael Jordan tribute sets as separate collections but they have since been added to my main NBA collection- and added to the "official" count.

Hopefully this post/rundown can help any readers who have these "other" cards laying around and have been having the same trouble I have been having for about 20 years now. 


  1. It is so cool that you came up with the idea to check the copyright information to make it easier on yourself! That was a great idea....streamlining work is always a good thing.

  2. It's too bad there are no 96-97 Japanese edition cards because I would love to collect those. I studied Japanese in high school and I found the language fascinating. Maybe I'll look to add a couple in my collection.

    1. There might be. I just learned of the Japanese version shown here about two years ago so it's possible there is a set from 1996-97 waiting to be discovered.

  3. I have been a huge fan of foreign products since picked up a couple of packs of 91-92 Upper Deck Czech Hockey. Most of my foreign cards now are almost exclusively baseball.

    1. I like mine a lot more now that I can identify them!

  4. I think I bought a box of one of the Spanish Collector's Choice sets when I was young, because I couldn't afford a whole box of American Collector's Choice. I wonder if I still have those cards kicking around somewhere?

  5. I never knew this stuff even existed

    1. I'm still finding out new stuff about them too, and I spend most of my life doing card stuff! There's always something new to learn and I love to find it.

  6. I have the 1991 Front Row set, but no UD unfortunately. ざんねん!

    1. I don't have any of those, I don't think, but I really don't do college cards. I might have one of the Italian ones from Front Row but I can't remember off the top of my head. I totally zoned out on including any of them in this post!

  7. No idea why but hes right the international versions both book less and sell less with the exception of japanese.

    1. Well, the Japanese ones are pretty darn rare. I think they were only available in Japan, unlike the rest of them which I remember buying off the shelf here in New York and Connecticut when they were new. I didn't even know they existed until a couple of years ago.

  8. Wouldn't you consider the white border Shaq rookie unique to the 92-93 euro set?

    1. Yes, good call. I don't think I knew about that one when I wrote the post.

  9. Are the international cards as valuable as the American?

  10. there was a japanese version of the collector's choice 96-97 card available

    1. I definitely didn't know about them at the time I wrote the post. I need to hunt down an example for my collection.