My Leaf Collection (Updated December 22nd, 2021)
In the mid-'90s Leaf joined in on the massive explosion that the hobby was experiencing. But this was a good thing for the hobby, because Leaf / Donruss had been around for years producing baseball cards, so these guys had ample experience creating trading cards. Their first release, the 1996 Leaf football set was an excellent initial offering, (See the 1996 Leaf: "Simeon Rice" Rookie #175 top left). The only bad ting about the initial release from Leaf was the set size, the 1996 Leaf set was a measly 190 cards.
The '96 set may have been disappointing 190-card set, but it did offer up 8 very unique insert sets. One of those being the felt-covered release called "Grass Roots", (See the 1996 Leaf: "Marshall Faulk" Grass Roots #9 right). Of course, Leaf may not have been first with this felt covering, Playoff had a release with the similar covering, as well as, Topps. Regardless of who came first, the felt look
The '97 release was another stellar set. This time Leaf upped the set size to 200; a whopping 10-card increase from '96. Leaf needed to work on that. What they didn't need to work on was increasing their card quality. They already had that, (See the 1997 Leaf: "Eric Swann" #111 below left). One of the reasons for the small increase in the base set may have been the parallel sets that Leaf built into their '97 release. They added 2 this time around; a Fractal Matrix and a Fractal Matrix Die-Cut.
1996 Leaf: “Simeon Rice” RC #175
1996 Leaf: “Marshall Faulk” Grass Roots #9
1996 Leaf: “Dan Marino” Statistical Standouts #10
Leaf had another insert set in its '96 release called "Statistical Standouts", (See the 1996 Leaf: “Dan Marino” Statistical Standouts #10 left). This set had an elevated feel to the football that
and feel was very innovative and added a new chapter in the history of trading cards. Another thing that Leaf included in its initial release was a 14-card autograph set. Although, I have only been able to locate 9 of the 14 cards.
was really cool. It was very obvious at this point, that Leaf put a lot of thought and money toward their product. And that is something that does not go unnoticed to collectors.
1997 Leaf: “Eric Swann” #111
Another item that suffered due to the 2 additional parallel sets was the insert sets. The number of insert sets decreased from 8 in '96 to 5 in '97. The insert set quality remained the same, however; unique, high-quality cards that the hobby really liked, (See the 1997 Leaf: "Mark Brunell" Lettermen #5 right). The "Lettermen" insert cards continued the 2-year run of the felt type feel cards that Leaf brought onto the scene.
Leaf was another manufacturer that gave the collector "Helmets", I wrote about this on the "Fleer: E-X" page. It seems like whenever one manufacturer comes out with a certain type of card, everybody else jumps on-board with a year or two.
It's kind of comical, in my opinion. So, in this case, Leaf was no different; they came out with their own "Helmet" cards, (See the 1997 Leaf: "Terry Glenn" Hardwear #18 below right). Another set that Leaf included in its '97 release was called Leaf Reproduction Autographs. A 12-card autograph set with some of the NFL's most legendary players. The true gem in this release.
1997 Leaf: “Mark Brunell” Lettermen #5
In the years 1996 and 1997, Leaf created and released 2 stunning sets. And then they stopped. Both of these sets were very nice releases, in my opinion. Although I thought the set size was too small, the card quality was there. It wasn't as if the cards were thrown together overnight. But that is the funny thing about sports cards collecting, if you don't blow away the competition, you could perish. Leaf wasn't going away though. As a matter of fact, they returned in '98 with another stunning release, name aside, it was one of the better sets of 1998.
I have complete sets:
1) 1996 Leaf Set
A) Grass Roots Insert
B) Gold Leaf Stars Insert
C) Shirt off My Back Insert
D) Gold Leaf Rookies Insert
E) American All-Stars Insert
F) Statistical Standouts Insert
G) American All-Stars Gold Insert
H) Collector's Edition Autographs Insert - Incomplete ( 9 / 14 )*
2) 1997 Leaf Set
A) Run And Gun Insert
B) Hardwear Insert
C) Lettermen Insert
*Note: I posed the question to Dan Hitt at Beckett that I believed the 1996 Leaf Collector’s Edition Autographs set only had 9 autographs in it. I’ve never seen Tony Banks, Tim Biakabatuka, Eddie George, Lawrence Phillips or Rashaan Salaam. Dan agreed. The 27th Annual price guide now shows the set as 9 autographs.
1997 Leaf: “Terry Glenn” Hardwear #18