Precious Metal Gems, “PMGs” for short, was released in 1997 as part of the larger Skybox Metal Universe basketball and football card sets. Since then, PMGs from the 1997–98 basketball set have become some of the most iconic and collectible inserts in the hobby.
PMGs are significant because they represent the earliest implementation of what saved the hobby from the junk wax era and helped create the engine for the modern collecting economy we enjoy today: artificial scarcity.
Throughout hobby history, we’ve seen vintage cards sell for record prices largely due to natural scarcity instead of artificial scarcity.
Famous cards that have sold for millions of dollars like the Honus Wagner T206, Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps, and Babe Ruth 1933 Goudey benefitted from natural scarcity. Fewer cards were produced, and even fewer survived in good condition over the years.
However, as the hobby grew, collectors got smarter about preserving the condition of their cards, and companies like Ultra Pro released protective sleeves in the mid-nineties.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the hobby almost died out because card companies produced millions of cards. This caused hobby shops to go out of business, and sports card companies to nearly go bankrupt.
Card companies had to do something to create scarcity to increase collectibility, so they started adding serial numbers to cards that limited their supply in the marketplace.
In 1990, the first serial numbered sports card was released. It was a holographic card numbered to 10,000 (meaning only 10,000 copies were printed), featuring the Vince Lombardi Super Bowl trophy: