To the left is the back of a 2001 Donruss game-used bat card of Mike Schmidt. This card, limited to just 250 copies, included a photo of the actual bat used to make it. It also includes the guarantee that the bat was used by Schmidt in an MLB game. This practice was widely abandoned by the industry around 2005, but I think it's time to bring it back.
Below that, you'll find the back of a 2013 Topps jersey card of Jered Weaver. There's no picture of the jersey on the back. Not even a statement that it was worn by Weaver in an MLB game. In fact, it doesn't even explicitly state that it's a Jered Weaver jersey at all.
"The relic contained on this card is not from any specific game, event, or season." The optimist in me says that all that means is that Topps is saying it's not the same jersey Weaver is wearing in the picture on the front of this card. The pessimist in me says that Topps could legally get away with using the bat boy's jersey with a statement like that.
Relic cards; be they jerseys, bats, balls, stadium seats, pucks, sticks, gloves, cleats, turf pieces, or whatever else a manufacturer has embedded on a piece of cardboard; have been around since the mid-90s. That's nearly two decades at this point -- and wow, does that make me feel old! In the past two decades we've seen "high-end" packs go from about $10-15 a pack to $500 (or more) per pack.
You would think that as the price of a product grows exponentially, the demand for authentication would as well. But it appears that it's not so. Now I don't want to just pick on Topps, as most of the major companies use a blanket statement about authenticity. But what was wrong with the Donruss model? Maybe it was more doable when relic cards had short print runs? Maybe its an issue because some of these cards use multiple jerseys/bats/etc. for their run? But why can't they at least state who used it and in what kind of game?
As a collector, I know I'd want to pay less for a Spring Training jersey, but be willing to pay more for a World Series jersey. I know that secondary market prices would improve for cards with more provenance. Hell, the companies could make special game-dated cards with a photo that shows the actual jersey being worn. It's been done before, but it could become a standard.
The whole thing makes me think of the movie Tommy Boy, when Tommy (Chris Farley) says "If you want me to take a dump in a box and mark it guaranteed, I will. I've got spare time."
It really shouldn't be that hard to mention who wore the jersey and in what kind of game. At a minimum, "This jersey was worn by Jered Weaver in a MLB game" would suffice. Otherwise, what is it they're actually guaranteeing?