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We are standing at the edge of our future. A new era of collecting is upon us and now is the time to acquaint yourself with what’s coming. Change can be scary, and you don’t have to agree with any of this. Yet the more you know, the better equipped you’ll become for what’s in store.
Before we venture into the challenging topic of NFTs, please know that I am learning about this new world in real-time, too. Most of what I share in this article is generalized and designed for the uninitiated. Hopefully, writing this provides insight into a misunderstood and somewhat volatile industry. It’s always better to learn stuff with friends, so let’s go on this journey together and explore this brand new digital frontier.
First, let’s discuss and define several complex terms to place us on equal footing. It all starts with the blockchain concept.
What is a blockchain? The best description for those who aren’t technically inclined is that it’s a ledger. Think of a book that publicly records financial transactions. Except this book isn’t printed on paper. It’s a digital database. The assets sold are digital. And the currencies used to obtain these assets are digital, too. Therefore, blockchains constantly update and actively track transactions infinitely. Also, transactions recorded on a blockchain are permanent. Entries cannot be deleted or even amended, making blockchain technology less prone to fraud.
If you’re an accountant, this may seem groundbreakingly exciting as a modern approach to commerce. Yet, it isn’t easy for the rest of us to appreciate. So the upshot for collectors here is that a blockchain safely enables an everlasting way of monitoring how we buy and sell assets with no physical presence.
Wait, did I just say collecting assets with no physical presence? Yes. And we will further discuss this concept in a moment.
NFT (NON-FUNGIBLE TOKENS)
For now, let’s define an NFT. It’s an acronym that stands for Non-Fungible Token.
Fungible refers to an asset that easily substitutes or exchanges for another asset of the same value. Poker chips, for example, are exchanged for cash at a casino cage. Commodities, dollar bills, and unopened consumer products sitting on store shelves are also examples of fungible items.
In contrast, a non-fungible item is an asset that cannot easily substitute for another asset of the same value. Non-fungible assets are unique and require a more detailed valuation before a sale. For example, land, music, and playing cards are non-fungible assets. Think about it. How much are your playing cards worth? A valuation requires grading and a few other factors to arrive at a specific price.
Furthermore, while land is physical and tangible, music sold today, for instance, is digital and intangible. Do you keep music on your phone or iPad? If so, it’s an excellent example of collecting assets with no physical presence. Keep that in mind as we delve further into this explanation.
As far as the token goes, when numismatics and collectors hear that word, they think of coins. Yet, a token describes a digital certificate of authenticity in this case. It’s proof of purchase. Attaching tokenized receipts to digital assets enables anyone to sell their collectibles while keeping a permanent record of them on a blockchain.
Lastly, let’s bring it full circle by discussing cryptocurrencies. It’s the digital money used to create these proofs of purchase tracked on a blockchain. You may have heard terms like Bitcoin, Ether, Litecoin, Dogecoin, etc. These are the names of different currencies. And like in the real world, each currency has different values driven by supply and demand. For our purposes, all we need to know is that cryptocurrency gets used to buy and sell assets with no physical presence. Proof of purchase instantaneously changes hands for the property while simultaneously being publicly authenticated and tracked on a blockchain.
Now that we have an understanding of blockchain, NFTs and cryptocurrency, let’s talk about collecting within this new framework.
TOPPS TRADING CARDS GOES DIGITAL
In February 2021, Topps moved their renowned Garbage Pail Kids trading cards to the Wax blockchain platform. You can now buy different digital GPK cards in the ‘Food Fight!’ series with cryptocurrency. Interestingly enough, there are two ways to purchase these cards. The first is on the website linked above. The second way is more conventional. You can buy a pack of codes printed on paper, sans gum, at your local Walmart. These Topps codes allow you to claim digital imagery and a tokenized proof of purchase. You’re then encouraged to collect more, trade, and sell your Garbage Pail Kid NFTs to other collectors.
Seems cool. However, what you’re about to read is hard to grasp at first glance. Trust me. It took a while to digest and an even longer time figuring out how to express all this to fellow playing card collectors. So here it goes. In this new world order, we aren’t buying and selling collectibles, as we know. We are buying and selling digital receipts. Our tokens - the digital certificate of authenticity/proof of purchase discussed above - hold the value.
For example, anyone can easily right-click and save a digital copy of the Garbage Pail Kid card you bought with your hard-earned cryptocurrency. Yet, they don’t receive the receipt on the blockchain that publicly points to YOU as the owner. That’s what holds the value, affords you all the intended perks, and may also get resold for profit.
Purportedly, collectibles which were previously key objects of desire, are now merely vessels for receipts. For some collectors, all this might feel meaningless, contrary, and heartbreaking. For others, the possibilities seem endless.
USPCC (CARTAMUNDI) GOES DIGITAL
Fellow 52 Plus Joker club members like Jason McKinstry, Paul Carpenter, and even Jackson Robinson are early adopters in this space and have playing card-related NFTs. I’m sure there are more.
Those hoping for other notable institutions’ involvement should know that the United States Playing Card Company entered the NFT collectible arena on December 9th, 2021 with their Genesis Collection. You can find their 3D-graphic NFTs on KolectivGG - curated NFT marketplace. USPCC’s official Twitter account announced, “Join us as we bridge the gap between traditional cards and true innovation!”
Another Tweet read, “Our NFT collection featuring our iconic cards transformed 1000 years into the future by artist Adrian Valenzuela.”
That’s right. United States Playing Card Company is now promoting collectible playing card NFTs. They are trying to merge our physical world with the digital one.
Twitter user @A_Zv3r replied to USPCC’s tweet, “The art very cool - as I understand the idea is to bring us via time capsule how the deck has developed into the year 8008,” reacting to this announcement.
He continues, “what’s more important this #NFT collection is introducing OG [original] collectors into NFT space providing an art piece to be used as a membership and at the same time building community, merging worlds, and organizing a direct channel of communication between collectors and the company.”
Ultimately, A_Zv3r extolls a beautiful sentiment by explaining, “it is not ‘just a cool NFT’ to put a checkmark in company’s portfolio and become a part of a trend, it has utility, and hopefully the company would stick to its promises and delivers, thus - bringing new audience and normalizing NFTs.”
I appreciate A_Zv3r’s insights. Name a collector who doesn’t want to build and grow the playing card collecting community? Who among collectors is opposed to having a direct line of communication with the United States Playing Card Company? Not a single one of us! So we all appear more alike than not.
Coincidentally, you’re probably asking yourself what these USPCC NFTs are valued at? And what perks are attached to the tokens? Initially, USPCC auctioned 56 premium one-of-a-kind NFTs. Each one’s opening bid was 0.5 Ether. That’s equivalent to $1,948.07 US dollars. The first joker sold on 12/15/2021 for a whopping 3.22 Ether! That’s $12,677.04 in USD. The Main Collection 8008 NFTs could be purchased with a credit card or Paypal (through a Shopify plug-in). No crypto required.
Bicycle plans to donate 10% of the NFT sales from their initial launch to a group called Mobile School. They are a nonprofit organization with the shared purpose of reinventing what the future and institutions may look and operate like in this new digital universe. Their shared goal is to provide children across the world with access to education.
A selection of images of the physical deck that comes with USPCC’s NFTs. Images © U.S. Playing Card Company / The Cartamundi Group.
56 UNIQUE NFT WINNING BIDDERS RECEIVE:
- The unique one-of-a-kind digital art piece.
- Proof of authenticity found on lMX (layer 2 Ethereum blockchain).
- An acrylic LCD screen plays your NFT on a loop that also houses your single printed card and your deck.
- A physical deck made of premium materials (56 decks printed explicitly for this event - No reprints).
- Early access to new Bicycle physical collections.
- Early access to new Bicycle NFT collections.
- Personal invitation to physical meetings and any - Cartamundi/USPCC live events.
- Membership into USPCC’s NFT club.
On December 22nd, 2021, USPCC released the central part of its inaugural NFT collection. They sold 8,008 non-unique NFT pieces for 0.08ETH. That’s the equivalent of $299 US dollars each. What do you get?
8008 MAIN COLLECTION BUYERS RECEIVE:
- The digital art piece (non-unique).
- Proof of authenticity found on lMX (layer 2 Ethereum blockchain)
- A physical deck (8008 decks with a silver foiled outer case printed explicitly for this event - No reprints).
- Early access to new Bicycle physical collections.
- Early access to new Bicycle NFT collections.
- A chance to be randomly selected to receive the invite for physical meetings and any Cartamundi/ USPCC live events
- Membership into USPCC’s NFT club.
By random, 32 of the 8008 main collection buyers were automatically granted a one-of-a-kind digital art piece NFT (remaining cards from 2 to the 9 of all suits) with all the extras in lieu of the non-unique artwork. It sounds like a lovely surprise!
Collectors might wonder if any physical items get tracked on the blockchain? Ironically, no. When someone resells one of these NFTs, new buyers are not eligible to receive the deck or any other physical asset. Owners may keep the physical deck or resell it with the NFT - it’s their property. For instance, you might sell the digital NFT yet keep your physical deck. Or vice versa. But you get all the other perks attached to your token.
Undoubtedly, these collectible playing card NFTs command a hefty sum and might cause us to rethink how we collect, trade, and sell our playing cards in the future.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST NFTS
There are a growing number of people who are vociferously against NFTs. Not for collectible reasons or for those who think it’s a sham, rather more for environmental ones. Typically, the amount of electricity all this consumes and the CO2 gasses released to create, trade, sell and maintain NFTs seems staggering.
The oppositions’ objections don’t go unnoticed. No one wants to perpetuate a world where innovation contributes to ecological destruction. We can only hope that this excess consumption decreases when more advanced technologies emerge. At least, that’s the current sentiment of both the playing card and crypto industries. And perhaps improvement is likely?
For what it’s worth, USPCC specifically sells their NFT collection on a newer technology that claims a 100% carbon-neutral footprint. That certainly sounds like progress.
Another argument against NFTs is that some believe cryptocurrency is so risky that this digital bubble will burst. It might all come crashing down without notice leaving latecomers to shoulder the immense burden. The volatility is undeniable.
Even some of the popular currencies have lost large percentages of their value as quickly as overnight. That said, they have also gained those percentages back and then some. In a few cases, these cryptocurrencies are surpassing anyone’s wildest expectations. So your guess about all this is as good as mine.
OUR PLAYING CARD FUTURE
What does this entail for collectors who desire hard goods? Evidently, little will change for the time being. USPCC still prints playing cards. Websites like eBay and 52 Plus Joker continue to auction antique, vintage, and modern playing cards. We currently have a healthy playing card community. There’s no need to worry because none of this will go away for a long time.
Should you buy NFTs now? Good question. If supporting this digital movement makes sense and sounds good to you, then follow your bliss. Have as much fun as possible! Just keep in mind as a buyer, beware. Like any investment or collectible, it could lose value unexpectedly.
Conversely, I’d suggest spending your funds elsewhere if it sounds too dystopian after reading all this. Collecting is a personal journey. Take the time and discover something new about yourself. Collect only what you believe is worthy, and don’t accept anything less. Physical? Digital? Both? It’s your money; spend it wisely!
As we move toward a cashless society, maybe buying NFTs will become more commonplace? Regardless, make no mistake; the playing card collectible market will continue to slowly morph and transform with time.
A healthy way to view all this is akin to sitting at the dinner table with everyone. Like how the antique and vintage collectors made room for modern ones, it’s time we all move over and invite NFT playing card collectors to sit with us. And with some luck, perhaps these card connoisseurs will show interest in what we like to collect? I, for one, remain curious and intend to make friends.
*I’d like to thank @A_ZV3r and Masha Ievseieva for their gracious help in explaining this new frontier in a way that makes sense. It seems I’m already making new friends.
**FULL DISCLOSURE - I have a digital wallet yet own no cryptocurrency to buy and trade NFTs. None of this should be mistaken for financial advice and you should do your own research before buying NFTs, crypto, or any other digital asset.