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The Legacy of Skybox Metal Universe Trading Cards: A Tribute To Precious Metal Gems

In the vast (often overprinted?) landscape of sports trading cards, few collections hold the mystique and allure of Skybox Metal Universe.

This set changed the modern hobby as much as any through its introduction of the groundbreaking “Precious Metal Gems” (PMGs), providing something new and exciting: numbered cards. Scarcity. Value.

This revolutionary addition to the trading card scene not only injected excitement into the hobby but also played a pivotal role in reshaping the economics of collecting.

Let’s take a look at this historical and pivotal brand. 

History and origins of Precious Metal Gems

To truly appreciate the impact of Precious Metal Gems, we must first rewind to the early ’90s when the trading card industry was grappling with the fallout of the junk wax era.

In 1990, a pivotal moment occurred with the release of the first serial-numbered sports card—a holographic masterpiece featuring the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy, limited to 10,000 copies.

This marked the inception of a crucial concept that would later define the trajectory of trading cards—artificial scarcity.

Card companies, recognizing the potential allure of scarcity in boosting collectibility, began adding serial numbers to cards to limit their supply in the marketplace. This innovation laid the groundwork for a new era in collecting, one that would ultimately save the hobby from oversaturation and contribute to the modern collecting economy.

The turning point arrived in 1997 when Skybox Metal Universe took the concept of scarcity to unprecedented levels with the introduction of PMG cards.

Departing from the rather uninspiring Vince Lombardi trophy, the inaugural PMG set featured basketball legends like Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal, and others.

This release coincided with the 1997–98 NBA season, adding an extra layer of historical significance as it marked Michael Jordan’s final season with the Bulls and the ascendance of a new generation of basketball superstars.

Scarcity of PMG Cards

What sets PMG cards apart is their unparalleled scarcity. Each player was allocated only 100 PMG copies, divided into 10 green and 90 red versions. The odds of pulling a Michael Jordan PMG insert from a pack were an astonishing 1 in 17,500—an indication of just how rare and coveted these cards are.

In stark contrast to modern releases boasting a myriad of parallels, PMGs presented collectors with only two choices, amplifying their scarcity and desirability.

This scarcity factor played a pivotal role in reshaping the dynamics of the hobby, establishing a new standard for limited edition cards that would become a cornerstone of modern collecting.

Sets and how to identify PMG cards

Identifying PMG is easy if you know what to look for – a solid color background with the player in full color. The original 1997–98 Metal Universe basketball set remains the pinnacle, featuring the iconic PMG cards. These gems stand out with their vibrant green and red colors, capturing the essence of the players they showcase.

While the scarcity of PMGs is a defining characteristic, identifying them involves more than just rarity. The distinctive colors, the limited number of copies, and the iconic player roster make PMGs unmistakable. For collectors seeking the thrill of uncovering these gems, meticulous research and a keen eye for detail are essential.

Noteworthy Metal Universe Sales

The legacy of PMG cards has transcended the confines of basketball, infiltrating other sports and even pop culture. Notable sales have become synonymous with the prestige associated with these rare gems. 

Heritage Auctions, a trailblazer in the collectibles market, achieved a groundbreaking sale with a 1997 Michael Jordan Green PMG fetching an impressive $915,000.

Beyond the basketball court, the appeal of PMGs extends to golf, with a 2013 Tiger Woods Purple /125 graded BGS 9.5 selling for $11,000 in early 2022. 

The Spiderman 2013 Fleer Retro Marvel PMG Blue #5 BGS 9 witnessed a remarkable journey, initially selling for $34,440 and later commanding a staggering $132,000—a testament to the broad and enduring appeal of these cards and their reach beyond the hardwood..

In the realm of hockey, Alex Ovechkin’s 2012 Fleer Retro Green PMG commanded a notable $42,500, showcasing the cross-sport popularity of PMG cards.

Even in the world of football, Russell Wilson’s 2012 Fleer Retro Green PMG, numbered to just 10 copies and graded BGS 9.5, sold for $20,000. Let’s ride.

Metal Universe Cards today

Metal Universe trading cards are still around today, particularly in the realm of hockey cards. The brand’s commitment to staying in print underscores its status as a dynamic player in the trading card market, consistently providing collectors with new opportunities to discover rare gems.

While many would love to chase PMGs of NFL and NBA stars of the 2020s, at least Metal Universe is still around in some capacity.

Conclusion: A historical brand with lasting Appeal

The legacy of Skybox Metal Universe trading cards, particularly the Precious Metal Gems, stands as a testament to the innovative spirit that revitalized the trading card hobby. 

As collectors continue to embrace the resurgence of these gems, the allure of Skybox Metal Universe remains timeless.

Through the pursuit of rare and cherished cards, the collecting community remains united across generations, connected by the shared passion for the rich history and enduring magic encapsulated within each PMG. 

Do you have any Metal Universe cards? Have you ever seen a PMG in person? Let us know on Twitter @card_lines and be sure to subscribe to our newsletter, which brings investment advice and industry news straight to your inbox twice a week.

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes

Jesse Haynes is the co-founder of Solaro Shades, an Amazon #1 Bestselling novelist, and a lifelong sports card collector. His nonfiction work has been featured in Forbes, Inc., MarketWatch and more. At CardLines, Jesse’s specialties are basketball and football cards, not to mention making informative video and Instagram content.

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