Patent dive

When I wrote my post about Collect A Books, I stuck my nose into Google Patents because it was the easiest way for me to produce a citation for Bouton actually being the inventor. Once inside though I couldn’t help myself and started looking around at other patents related to baseball cards.

I should’ve realized the danger here. As someone with a mechanical engineering background, patents and patent drawings are always something I enjoy looking through. So without further ado, a handful of patents which correspond to cards that we’re somewhat familiar with. Since this blog doesn’t keep a patent attorney on retainer I’m merely going to note the patents and what cards the correspond to.

US Patent 5517336 is held by Upper Deck and involves mixing printing with holograms. While the patent is dated 1995, that the initial filings date to 1993 feels about right to me. 1993 is when the Denny’s Holograms switched from being all-hologram to a combination of hologram and print. It’s also when Upper Deck released the Then and Now insert set which did the exact same thing.

Patent number 5328207 dates to 1991 and describes sticker autographs. I don’t remember these existing at all in the early 1990s so it’s interesting for me to see this showing up so long ago. I do like that the patent application is clearly a baseball player rather being a more-generic person.

Patent number 7413128B2 is another one owned by Upper Deck and concerns relic cards. There are a bunch of relic card patents out there, each with different methods of enclosing the pieces. I like this one since it’s held by Upper Deck and because it’s got the best images about how the relic cards are assembled and how they can accommodate different kinds of enclosures.

That this patent dates to 2004—a decade after relics had been out in the wild—shows how companies have been trying to improve and update the relic card to be more than just a small swatch of material. This patent isn’t just relics, it’s any insert from cut autographs to manufactured non-card materials and it doesn’t even have to be flat.

The last patent from this dive is number 20080202947, held by Topps. Yup, this is the Allen and Ginter Rip Card patent. The patent text references prior art from Pinnacle but there doesn’t appear to be a patent for that in the citations.

It’s interesting to me how so much of the patent application concerns the gambling aspect of the rip card and emphasizes how the outer card is intended to be destroyed.

I plan to continue digging through the archive and seeing what else I find. I’ve found some cool-looking stuff that doesn’t look like it was ever turned into a product. There are also a few products which I’d love to find patents for (Topps Chrome I’m looking for you) since I’ve been reverse engineering their production for a while as part of future posts. And if anyone else wants to start digging (even just starting with the related patents in the citations here), the more the merrier.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

15 thoughts on “Patent dive”

  1. I searched to try to find the earliest sticker autographs. The best I could do was from 1999 SAGE football, which makes a little sense because the current assignee of the patent according to Google Patents is SAGE. I thought Score Board or some other manufacturer more focused on amateur players might have had stickers earlier, but I can’t find any with a quick search.

    I’m wondering if Topps Chrome would be related to Finest because the earliest Finest cards seem to use similar technology (the same technology?) as Chrome.

    Digging through some old files I found mention of a complaint filed by Fleer, Topps, Playoff, and Pacific against Upper Deck about the rights to being able to produce and market game-worn jersey cards.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Nice digging on the stickergraphs. I had to link to a You Tube video for the Pinnacle Rips cards since they don’t show up on Trading Card DB.

      Yeah Chrome and Finest look to be manufactured the same way. I just haven’t found the patent (if there is one, I did a quick browse through everything assigned to Topps) explaining the manufacture so I can confirm my conclusions.


      1. So in addition to cards I have a fairly extensive collection of wrappers from the 1980s-today because you never know when you’re going to need to go to the wrapper to answer a question. On the 1997 Finest Series 1 and 2 wrappers they have the following language:

        Topps Finest is a registered trademark of The Topps Company, Inc.
        SGW US Patent #4933218, #5082703, #5106126, Chromium (R), Holochrome (R), #5223357, Skin Protector TM, ClearChrome (R), Pat. Pending

        I don’t have a 1996 Finest wrapper, but I do have one from 1995 and none of that language is there. The 1998 Finest wrapper is nearly impossible to read (the wrapper is clear so the print on the back gets jumbled with the design on the front) but it also mentions US & Foreign patents for Chromium, Holochrome, Skin Protector, and ClearChrome, though there are no patent numbers. The earliest Topps Chrome wrapper I have is from 2002 and it has the same language as the 1998 Finest wrapper.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. WOW when I write that post on Finest I’m going to have to give you a ton of credit.

        Actually those three patents (5082703, 5106126, and 5223357) pretty much confirm that Finest/Chrome is manufactured exactly the way I figured it was. Thanks! I’ve already soaked a Chrome card so as to take it apart so it’s noice to see the confirmation.


  2. I love how many recent posts were inspired by Jim Bouton. Not only do we have your last two and of course Mark’s tour of his cardboard, but even my #Apollo50 post was inspired by a paragraph in Ball Four on the nicknames of Mike “Moon Man” Marshall and Steve “Orbit” Hovley!

    It may even be possible that Matthew’s return to the SABR blog after all this time was inspired by Bouton’s late 1970s comeback with Atlanta.

    The list just goes on and on!


  3. Oh neat.

    Check out US Patent 2113369. It was filed in 1936 so not sure if it is available on Google patents, but you can find it on the Patent and Trademark Office’s archives. Its a “Baseball card game and score device” which looks pretty neat (for the 30s). The box, rather than the cards, seems to be the center of attention.

    The oldest hit I could find for “baseball card” was patent 150316, filed in 1923, for a baseball card game which I guess is the root of all card based games (similar to the game on the backs of 1978 Topps cards).

    Patent 4322001, filed in 1980, is also interesting, it was an alternative take on the top loader that never caught on. Instead of sliding the cards into the top, the holder opened up and after laying the card in you closed one side of it onto it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Also searching the patent archives reveals a fascinating tidbit of baseball card history: nobody ever bothered to patent the concept of baseball cards themselves (ie the idea of putting pictures of baseball players on cards to be traded and collected). The law was available in the 19th century when the first baseball cards were being made (the first Patent Act in the US dates to 1790), but nobody seems to have thought of it!


    1. Baseball cards might be too specific. There does appear to be a carte de visite patent—presumably a French patent filed by André-Adolphe-Eugène Disdéri in 1854—and chromolithography seems to have spread regardless of what was patented. Both of those are key to the concept of baseball cards since they involve the cheap/easy production and distribution (and collecting) of images but early trading cards were anything but baseball-specific.


      1. True, I searched a bit more than for just “baseball cards” but can’t say I exhausted all the possibilities. But I was kind of surprised that it isn’t until the 1990s that baseball card (or trading card) specific things start to show up in the searches I was running (like the 3D cards) – they were definitely producing things and using processes that could have been the subject of a patent before that.

        An example might be the T201 set. Obviously the fold-down duo images might have been the subject of a patent itself (though this might have failed the novelty test as someone somewhere likely did the same). But the set also introduced the idea of putting player statistics on the back and that idea (distributing information about baseball statistics on cards) could have been the subject of a patent, but wasn’t. Sometimes too the idea of applying a method used elsewhere to a specific application can be patentable.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah it looks like the original cards all fell under the aegis of print/advertising and didn’t have any mechanical novelty until super late.

        I have found patents for baseball card games and packaging/display that are pretty old though.


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