The most famous misprint in collecting history has to be the 1918 stamp known as the Inverted Jenny.
Back in 1918 airmail was brand new. In fact this stamp was commissioned specifically for the first publically available US airmail service. (In today's dollars that 24-cent stamp would cost about $3.75.) The reason they chose the image of a biplane for this particular stamp? It was the actual model of airplane commissioned by the USPS to carry the letters that this stamp would allow you to mail.
Stamp collecting was a big deal back then. Collectors would hit up post offices looking for errors and hoping to strike gold. One of the reasons that the Inverted Jenny is so well known is because that's exactly what happened—a collector went to the post office looking for a misprint on the first day the 24 cent Jennies were available and was handed a full sheet containing 100 upside down airplanes. After paying for the stamps (from a teller who later admitted he didn't know the airplane was upside down because he had never seen a picture of an airplane before) he asked if they had any other sheets just like that. Nope. To date all 100 known copies of the Inverted Jenny can be traced back to that initial sheet.
When news of the sheet became public officials from the USPS showed up at the house of the man who bought the stamps and demanded the sheet. Sensing things were about to get ugly he hid the stamps in his mattress and quickly sold the sheet to a dealer for $15000. The dealer flipped it to a collector for $20000 who ended up breaking up the sheet and selling much of it off in block of four and as individual copies.
Over the years many of the stamps have degraded in condition or been lost. One was sucked up into a vacuum cleaner and never recovered. One was sent through the mail by the unknowing wife of a collector. One was stolen and its perforations on the top edge cut off so that it wouldn't be traceable. Others from the top of the sheet (where there would be no natural perforations on the leading edge) have had perforations added. Many were left in a vault for years where heat and age caused them to stick together. They have since been professionally restored but they no longer have adhesive on their backs.
A mint condition Inverted Jenny stamp today has an auction value of around $850000 though that's a prerecession figure. Even still one could presumably buy a very nice house with the money gained by selling a single stamp.
Magic of course kind of has an equivalent to the Inverted Jenny: the famous Blue Hurricane. There are probably fewer of these out there than the stamp but the collector market is far more limited for Magic cards.
It's also less culturally iconic—even if you don't know a single thing about stamp collecting you've probably heard about 'the upside down biplane.' Only older or more esoteric Magic players know about the Blue Hurricane. A framed copy would probably not make a good cocktail party discussion piece among non-gamers.
In general the misprint market in Magic never really caught on the way it has for other collectables. Magic is for players first and collectors second so the rare but playable cards—Black Lotus the Moxen etc.—have always been more desirable than the cards that are rare for rarity's sake alone.
Because of this Magic has never had a solid baseline price for many common misprints and errors. I've been asked dozens of times what a miscut or weirdly printed card is worth and I've never really had a good answer. Cards like the Blue Hurricane have prices because they're well known and iconic but the more mundane misprints are valued all over the map. To date the best place to find values has been the Magic Librarities forums but even there prices can vary wildly.
There are two major problems with evaluating the prices of misprints. The first is uniqueness—no two misprints are alike. The second is rarity—there just aren't many of these out there to get pricing comps on.
But things are different now.
Last week StarCityGames.com added a misprints and rarities section to its store. For the first time a major retailer is attempting to assign prices to a bunch of these cards at once. In this article I'm going to go through their inventory and try to discern the methods they used to price out these cards. My hope is that we can use that to create a sort of loose price guide that will help bring some formality to what had previously been an impossible task of assigning values to misprinted cards.
First though let me stir a whopping great grain of salt into our smoothie.
It's important to remember that this pricing is brand new. My guess is that the SCG staff will spend a lot of time analyzing which cards sell (and which don't) in order to adjust the prices over the coming months. If very few of the misprints sell prices will go down. The ones that do will go up in price next time SCG buys a similar one.
It will also be hard for us in the public to tell what actually sells. Each card is priced individually so it'll just disappear from the system once a buyer is found. We'll only be able to see the cards that are left. That's part of why I need to write this article immediately.
Because of that the retail prices you see on this site are likely to be higher than even the average trade price of any similar cards you might own. SCG also has a luxury that you and I don't have: a massive and successful online retail shop with a wide international readership. Even though only a tiny handful of people in the world collect these cards SCG can afford to wait for them to stumble upon the right page. If you only trade in your local shop chances are you'll only run across someone with real interest in these cards once or twice a year. In those cases it's generally better to try and flip the cards at some reasonable percentage of their value for something that will sell or trade more easily.
But that doesn't mean these prices aren't useful. People will start using SCG as a guide to price their misprints now bringing light to a part of the financial game that was ignored far too long. Even if you may have difficulty obtaining these values for your cards in the real world having something to go on is very useful. After all the very reason that makes misprints hard to evaluate also makes them alluring: true uniqueness.
If you find someone interested in one of your misprints you can pretty much guarantee getting a fair deal. After all where are they ever going to find another one? In those cases bringing up the SCG values will allow you access to a fair baseline value around which to shape the trade. If neither of you know whether to value a miscut Brainstorm at $5 $20 or $50 working out a trade at all is nearly impossible. If you know that one sells for $35 on SCG it's a great place to start.
Speaking of miscuts let's begin there.
Miscuts are the most common type of error found in card printing. In short a miscut is when the card is incorrectly cut by the printer so that the bevel on the front or back of the card is misaligned. In a particularly egregious miscut part of a neighboring card might be shown.
The same prices apply to this Underground Sea which is also getting a $100 markup:
The most expensive miscuts for 'lesser' cards? Check out these two both of which are retailing for $150:
Both of these cards are about as egregiously miscut as I've ever seen.
Cards like Underground Sea command a premium even due to a moderate miscut because they can be shown off in high-end decks. Legacy and Vintage players love to fill their decks with unique flair. The other two miscuts are valuable due to how great they look—the instant someone sees those cards it's clear how rare they are. Even though you probably can't show them off in decks they are still great display pieces.
Coming in next is a series of miscut M10 lands. They all look something like this:
Having part of another card on your miscut is very desirable. These lands are also special because according to the rules (though this may have changed in recent times) the 'legal' half of a miscut is the lower half. This means that if you have an amenable enough head judge the above card would count as an Island and would tap for blue mana. An unscrupulous player might take advantage of this by using a miscut to misrepresent his mana to his opponent.
Most of these are selling for $60 though there are some less significant miscut lands going for $40-$50.
This is the same sort of miscut but it's only selling for $30 because it goes in fewer decks and the lower card name is obscured.
This is another $30 miscut. The card is unplayable even though the miscut is nice. If this same miscut were present on a Force of Will it would probably lead to a $100-$150 increase in price over the standard version. Slightly less egregious miscuts on chaff cards are also available in the $20 range.
As we start getting to lower value cards we find that the 'miscut premium' drops significantly. For example here's a miscut Serra's Sanctum selling for $25:
Considering a regular MP Sanctum books for $18 you're only paying $7 extra for the miscut nature of the card.
In general miscuts that contain a decent chunk of an additional card (but not the name) command a $15 price tag if the card is unplayable or a $15 premium on the price of the card.
Miscuts that contain a smaller chunk of an additional card go for $10.
Miscuts that go right to the edge of a card but don't contain anything from another card are worth $5.
One final note on miscuts: I don't see any on StarCityGames.com at the moment but having both 'halves' of a miscut—two miscut cards that fit together—is supremely desirable and increases the value of each card by a significant amount. I hope SCG lists a few of these sets in the coming weeks so that we can get a sense of the prices soon enough.
Crimps happen when the machine that seals booster packs accidentally gets ahold of one of the cards. Crimps can occur on both the top and bottom edge of a card.
Much like with miscuts crimps are far more desirable on higher end cards. Here's SCG's cheapest crimp a Visara the Dreadful selling for $13.99 as opposed to $3.99:
On the top end we get a $100 price increase (from $400 to $500) when dealing with a crimped Mishra's Workshop.
Even though there aren't any chaff commons or bulk rare crimps listed I would imagine they would follow the same line as miscuts. I would value all common crimped cards at $5 retail.
This is another cutting issue similar to the earlier miscuts. This time the die missed cutting either one or multiple corners on a card.
The most expensive one listed on SCG right now is this square cornered Steam Vents currently selling for $50 even though the corner in question is badly damaged.
More indicative of price is this $30 Hymn to Tourach:
Even low value square cornered cards seem to be selling for quite a bit—$10 each as opposed to the baseline $5 that you get for a bulk miscut card. Check out this Lumengrid Sentinel for example:
Again though I can't imagine anyone actually giving me $10 for that card if I owned it. It doesn't display well and square cut cards aren't tournament legal. Even still the current retail value of these cards (according to SCG) is about a $10 baseline with a similar high-end premium to the other misprints we're looked at so far.
Upside Down Backs
Now we're in Inverted Jenny territory!
Cards with upside down backs are far rarer than crimps and miscuts—I've seen dozens of those before but I've yet to see one of these in person. SCG only has four in stock right now and three of them appear to be from the same Shards of Alara print sheet. Because of this we know there are a bunch more of these scattered around out there—at least a full sheet of them.
The Wild Nacatl below being a playable card is selling for $100.
The other misbacked cards are less playable and they're selling for a baseline price of $50:
Unlike some of the other errors this is a real world price I'd hold firm on. These cards are wickedly cool and colossally rare. If they had one of my 'pet' cards available even in the $50-$100 range I'd probably snap it up.
Filler cards I believe are left over artifacts on print sheets that are supposed to be discarded before being sorted into booster packs. Instead sometimes quality control messes up and a card or two slips through.
This error is extra rare because both the front and back are missing. Instead the card is blank white on the front (with just a black border) and blank black on the back. It books for $100.
The more common version is identical on the front but has a normal Magic card back. It sells for $20.
More common still this version has no border on the front—just blank white. It sells for just $15.
This is the Unhinged version and it contains a silver border on the front instead of a black border. It's near to my heart because I actually pulled one out of an Unhinged pack myself back when the set had just came out.
Want a foil layer filter card? They book for $50.
Even rarer is this one which is half black and half foil layer. That'll set you back a full $100.
This weird error sells for $65 and has a full white back. The front has a black border and two weird stripes—presumably some kind of color density test.
I don't know what the heck is going on with this one—it's got a weird 'M' on the front and a normal back. This is clearly one of the more bizarre Magic card errors out there which is why SCG is charging a whopping $600 for the right to own it.
I've also seen a filler card with a big black 'X' on it before but it's not available right now so I can't estimate a current retail value for it.
SCG currently has two cards in stock where the color is missing entirely from one side of the printing—one on the front the other on the back. This one is selling for $150:
Even cooler is this one. For $200 you can own a really unique version of the Magic card back:
We'll get to other color errors later but these are especially unique because they missed that stage of the printing process entirely.
Sometimes a card will be printed with art that doesn't match its text. This generally only seems to happen with foreign cards and I'd imagine it has to do with some sort of breakdown of the language barrier in quality control.
For example this Spanish Tunnel contains the Strip Mine art. It sells for $50.
Here's the famous Wald available for $20.
It's another German error! This time it's a Manabarbs with the Sedge Troll art. Also $20.
Let's finish with my personal favorite: the Time Elemental Serra Angel. This is a Spanish error worth a whopping $125 mostly thanks to Angel collectors.
Charlie Brown Medallions
Three of the five Tempest medallions—Ruby Sapphire and Emerald—have a rare variant where a frame from a Peanuts comic strip is barely visible in the print layer.
Obviously Sapphire is the most valuable one topping the charts at $50.
Ruby and Emerald tie for second place. Each of them is available for $20.
This is another error that was pretty famous back when the cards were legal. I still check for these errors in other peoples' binders—force of habit—but have yet to find any in the wild.
One of the Visions print runs was misprinted in such a way as to give the cards a dark muddled look. The shadows are much deeper and even the whites have a darker grayish tone to them.
Because this is a known printing error it's more collectable than other random color errors. Also unlike more obvious color errors these can probably be snagged in collections without paying a premium if you get lucky.
That said I've never met a Dark Visions collector so you will likely have a hard time getting a fair value for any that you find. The cards obviously scale in value considerably based on playability—SCG is asking $225 for their Dark Visions Vampiric Tutor (pictured below next to a normal version of the card) and $145 for their Dark Visions Natural Order.
Most of the other Dark Visions cards sit in the $10-$15 range. For example here's a Dark Visions Archangel for $10:
The cheaper cards tend to be the ones where the color error is harder to see because the card itself is darker. This Magma Mine—the cheapest available Dark Visions card—is $5 because it is in MP condition and also because it's hard to tell apart as a misprint. All of the other Dark Visions cards are $7 and up.
This is probably the largest category of misprints and it covers almost all the other miscellaneous printing errors. Unlike crimps and miscuts there's no one way to evaluate which color error is better than another—a lot of it comes down to individual aesthetics. As always the more extreme errors tend to be worth more and finding an error—even a slight one—on a playable card is far better than finding a bigger error on an unplayable one.
Other than the Dark Visions cards the most expensive color error available is this Force of Will pictured here next to a normal copy of the card:
It's quite hard to tell what the color error actually is from the picture considering much of what looks to be erroneous could be from the photograph's lightning and wear on the card. Even though I probably couldn't tell the color error Force of Will from a normal one during a game of Magic it still has a $200 asking price.
This copy of warning is miscut and has a major color error—though really it looks more like the card slipped somehow during the printing process. It's worth $50 and I can only imagine what it would sell for if it were a Force of Will. $500? $800?
Basic lands tend to hold more value as errors than even Legacy staples simply because they can be put in almost any deck. Here is a dark Odyssey Swamp ($40) next to its normal counterpart:
This Crucible of Worlds was caught in a roller or something. The error is interesting but it only brings a $10 premium on a card whose normal printing is already $40.
Sometimes the color ends up too dark and other times it's too light. Both of the below cards sell for $20 despite having opposing problems.
Sometimes color errors can be really unique. Take a look at the three cards below all of which are booking for $20 as well.
The smaller the error the lower the price. Here are some less obvious ones in the $15 range:
And as always card quality matters a lot. This Fusion Elemental is just $15 even though the error is absolutely awesome.
The $10 range of cards is mostly reserved for cool errors on bad cards and small errors on decent cards. Here are a few examples:
The five dollar lowest priced color errors are generally hard to tell unless you have a normal card to compare them to.
Some of them are obvious but smaller or aesthetically unpleasing errors on unplayable cards.
There are two misprints that don't fit in to any other category so I put them here. The first is a Meloku that's somehow even better than the regular Meloku:
Spot the difference yet? That's right—he (she?) makes 2/2 flying Illusion tokens instead of the standard 1/1 variety. It's selling for $28 mostly to people who think that their friends won't know any better.
Here's another interesting one. Check out this foil Thunderheads:
Weirdly enough this one is missing some letters in the replicate cost. Because of that it's worth a whole ten dollars!
I wish that I had been able to write this article much faster. I started last Monday and saw the number of interesting misprints dwindle as the week went on. I'm pretty sure one or two people bought nearly all of the crimped cards before I had a chance to write that section for example. People are actually buying some of these cards at these prices so if you have an interesting misprint don't feel that you absolutely must give someone a massive discount just because finding a buyer is hard.
That said there is a steep demand curve between say a miscut Counterspell and a miscut Brushwagg. Even though the former is worth three times as much I would likely hold out for retail on that one while I'd let the Brushwagg go to anyone who made me a reasonable offer. Real world demand is more important than a price on a website.
It's also important to remember especially with miscuts and color errors that only the interesting and extreme ones hold value. As a general rule if you have to squint to make something out it isn't going to be worth all that much as an oddity. If you have an Urban Burgeoning with a border that's offset by 10% do us all a favor and throw it in with your other bulk commons.
Until next time–