I read the post about Stouffer’s pop-up cards with a lot of interest because it’s always fun to find out about new sets and I love gimmicky things like pop-ups. However the assertion that those were the “best engineered baseball cards that have been issued to date” made me pause.
I have no argument with the best-engineered part since the pop-up mechanism is super nifty. It was the to-date that got me thinking. Why? Because there were a lot of similar pop-up cards in the mid-1990s.
Quickly referencing my collection and googling for images that show some of the different mechanisms in action turned up at least four other sets. There’s the 1994 Oscar Mayer Superstar Discs,* and each year from 1993to1995 Kraft issued a set of pop-up cards as well.
Unlike the 5-card Stouffers checklist, all four sets here involve 30-card checklists. Oscar Mayer is cool in that it includes one player per team. Kraft on the other hand is a more generic top-30 players approach. I much prefer the one-per-team checklists. Yes some big names end up missing but there’s so much more to a season than just the names. Plus as a team collector it’s always a downer when a cool-looking set doesn’t offer a logical entry point for my collection.
Anyway, the most-interesting thing for me to find out is that these sets all appear to use slightly different mechanisms for either the pop-up effect or the card manufacturing. Some are folded and glued from one sheet of cardboard. Others look like multiple sheets. The Discs are obviously more complicated than that. The 1995 Kraft set pops up from the end of the card rather than the middle.
Something was obviously going on so I wandered over to the patent library and did a quick search. There are a lot of patents for pop-up cards in the late 80s and early 90s. So many that I can’t figure out which ones correspond to what cards.
A quick sample. US patents 5259133, 5450680, and 5746689 all look superficially the same as the Stouffers, Oscar Mayer, and 1993 Kraft cards (I’ve been unable to find one that looks like the 1995 Kraft cards). They’re mainly just assembled differently. I wish the cards or packaging had a patent number listed.
What’s amazing to me is that many of the patents are explicitly for baseball cards. In two of the images I’ve chosen here the illustration clearly features a baseball player.
Patents are usually written somewhat broadly so that they can apply to multiple applications beyond the original intent of the application. But in the artwork here the inventor’s inspiration comes through. The mid-90s explosion of card-related technologies* resulted in multiple patents about baseball cards and in this case multiple patents to achieve the same effect.
My vote for the best baseball cards that came with a food product are the Stouffer’s cards from the overlooked Legends of Baseball set from 1995.
When my kids were in grade school in the 1990’s we tried every frozen pizza product available before settling on the Stouffer’s offering as the best of the bunch.
In 1995 we increased our consumption Stouffer’s pizza due to the inclusion of one of 5 different baseball cards in each package. It is worth noting that every card is a hall of famer. The checklist is as follows:
These cleverly designed and well manufactured cards were just about the same size as a standard card, but with much thicker cardboard. Just about every surface of these cards contains either a photo and / or information about the ball player.
The front of the card has an action photo of the player. The caps and the uniforms have been airbrushed so the team logos and names are not visible.
The back contains a head shot with biographical information and airbrushed caps.
By slightly bending the card to loosen up the die cut of the player and then pulling the tab the front image of the player pops up and also revels the players career major league stats and a Legendary Moments write up.
There have been other cards with unique designs such as the 1955 Topps Double Headers and the 1964 Topps Stand-Ups, but the 1995 Stouffer’s cards with multiple moving parts are the best engineered baseball cards that have been issued to date.
The most amazing thing about this set was that by sending in a number of proof-of-purchase seals (can’t remember how many) from the box packaging you could get an autographed card of one of the hall of famers in the set.
When I sent in my proof-of-purchase seals, Stouffer’s sent me back an autographed Yogi Berra card along with a Certificate of Authenticity.
By doing a little searching on eBay you can put together an entire set of these cards for under $20.
I’m a sucker for 3-D cards. Not all (except when it comes to Kellogg’s), but most. I have, in addition to Kellogg’s, a smattering of Sportflics, Topps inserts and other oddballs. Sometimes the effect works, usually through some weird angle – under an armpit, between a bat and a head. You’ve got to pick your spots.
The 1995 Topps DIII set, 59 cards featuring “infinite depth perception,” held great promise, but, like Everlasting Gobstoppers and The Neverending Story, only delivered the falsest of false advertising. The 59 cards, uber thick with heavy laminate, are a blurry mess with no discernible movement.
I was going to post a video of the cards in motion, but there’s really no point. Unlike even the worst Sportflics cards, the DIIIs don’t budge.
Still, I like them. They’re heavy to hold, and, though ineffective, kind of nice.
The backs are a cube design, though Star Wars scrolls come to mind,
and the checklist is firmly mid-1990’s, when Orlando Merced and Mike Piazza could make the same set of name players.
DIIIs are not as terrible as the pit of man’s fears, and they may not represent the summit of his knowledge, but you can get a set for around $15, which is a pretty nice zone.
In January 1998, the Cubs hosted their 13th annual fan convention. The 1997 season ended with the Cubs in NL Central basement—16 games back of the Houston Astros—resulting in an appreciably thin retrospective “highlight” reel. As of 1998, Cubs fans canonized the 1969 team (a talented and personable team that had suffered a heinous September collapse), along with the 1984 and 1989 NL East championships. That was as much success as the franchise had enjoyed in over half a century. Outfielder Andy Pafko represented the 1945 squad at the 1998 convention, the last Cubs team to have appeared in a World Series at the time.
Each fan who attended the 1998 Cubs Convention was given a set of baseball cards packaged in a boxy envelope, sealed with a plain white sticker. Unlike the beautiful cards produced for the 11th Cubs Convention, this set incorporated a much less appealing design. At 30 cards, the set was three more than its 1996 counterpart; however, the card size shrunk to 3” x 4” and only 14 individuals were given a card of their own. The remaining 16 cards featured two players/broadcasters, with frustratingly tiny photos. Each card also incorporated a wholly unnecessary tan border on either vertical side.
Primarily designed for gathering autographs at the convention, the card backs included biographical information, lifetime statistics, career highlights, and the uniform number for active players. Nearly every Cubs celebrity appearing at the 1998 convention was represented in the set, save pitcher Scott Sanderson and general manager Ed Lynch, who had also pitched for the Cubs from 1986-87.
The fact checkers for this set were less then stellar. Glenn Beckert and Geremi Gonzalez had their names spelled incorrectly, and Jody Davis apparently enjoyed a Methuselah-like big league career spanning from 1081-1990. The designer also lazily used the same photo from 1996 for both Beckert and Randy Hundley. The Gary Matthews card features a slightly different photo from the same at-bat depicted in the 1996 set.
New acquisitions Jeff Blauser and Mickey Morandini shared a card sporting the caps of their former teams, conjuring the legitimate longing for a Topps airbrush artist of yore.
A perfectly wonderful card set for Cubs and individual player collectors, the set includes Hall of Famers Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Billy Williams and Andre Dawson. Ford Frick award winners Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse were given cards of their own—Caray would pass away less a month after the convention and Brickhouse in August. Almost fittingly, this was the final Cubs Convention card set produced by the Cubs.
The 1998 Cubs would capture their first wildcard berth in 1998, only to fall unceremoniously to the Braves in the NLDS. A certain Cubs slugger featured in the set would go on to have an historic 1998 season at the plate, and a rookie pitcher would fan 20 Astros in a single contest on May 6. Cubs fans would celebrate the 1998 team at the 1999 convention and enjoy a much more robust highlight reel, despite the familiar disappointing end of the season.
Here is the checklist for the set (numbers included are for reference only):
1. Ernie Banks
2. Ron Santo
3. Billy Williams
4. Mark Grace
5. Sammy Sosa
6. Terry Adams
7. Harry Caray
8. Scott Servais
9. Andre Dawson
10. Steve Trachsel
11. Jack Brickhouse
12. Kevin Orie
13. Jim Riggleman
14. Rick Sutcliffe
15. 89er’s – Mike Bielecki/Vance Law
16. Flame-Throwers – Kevin Foster/Mark Pisciotta
17. 1969 Infield – Glen (sic) Beckert/Don Kessinger
18. Booth Banter – Pat Hughes/Josh Lewis
19. Behind the Plate – Randy Hundley/Jody Davis
20. Mound Mates – Mark Clark/Jeremi (sic) Gonzalez
21. Outfield Greats – Andy Pafko/Gary Matthews
22. 1969 CUBS – Dick Selma/Willie Smith
23. Catching Corps – Mike Hubbard/Tyler Houston
24. Future Stars – Kerry Wood/Pat Cline
25. Hot Prospects – Robin Jennings/Rodney Myers
26. NEW CUBS – Jeff Blauser/Mickey Morandini
27. Alumni Club – Oscar Gamble/Larry Bowa
28. Alumni Club – Carmen Fanzone/Paul Reuschel
29. No-hit Hurlers – Milt Pappas/Don Cardwell
30. VETERAN HURLERS – Bob Patterson/Kevin Tapani
Self-proclaimed as the greatest off-season event in all of sports, the Cubs Convention was the brainchild of Cubs’ marketing director John McDonough (now president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks). The 2020 Cubs Convention will be the 35th such event to offer fans up-close panel discussions, autograph and photo opportunities, and just about any Cubs-related merch a Die-Hard Cubs Fan could ever desire.
The Cubs hosted their first-of-its-kind fan convention in 1986 and quickly established a tradition of creating special gifts for attendees such as hats, thermal mugs and team calendars. For their 11th annual convention in 1996, the Cubs introduced a set of baseball cards featuring the players, coaches and broadcasters who appeared at the weekend-long event.
The eclectic set of 28 cards was packaged in a boxy envelope, sealed impenetrably with a circular white sticker on the back. (If you are purchasing a sealed box, know that the cards can be removed from the box without disturbing the seal.) One set was given to each convention goer at registration.
The image on the front of the box depicts Brian McRae jumping atop an apparent walk-off celebration. Shawon Dunston and Mark Grace are easily identifiable, as well. (Dunston does not appear in the set, as he was granted free agency by the Cubs following the 1995 season.)
Measuring a robust 4” x 5½”, the sexy black-bordered cards are printed on a relatively thin stock. The top border is an homage to the famous Wrigley Field marquee and features the distinctive mid-1990s Cubs logo. Cards of active players included career statistics on the back. Retired players’ cards had highlights and career statistics on the rear. The cards are not numbered.
Most of the cards feature a single individual, like these Hall of Famers, including a bespectacled Ferguson Jenkins, the Cubs then pitching coach:
Six of cards combine multiple individuals:
The final card is an advertisement for the now-defunct Vineline magazine with Ernie Banks on the cover. A closer look at the card reveals a posthumous (but presumably misprinted) enticement for 1995 postseason tickets. (By the time of the 1996 Cubs Convention, the 1995 Cubs had already finished 3rd in the NL Central.)
The Cubs Convention is a bonanza for autograph collectors and these cards are perfect for that purpose, like this Andy Pafko signed for the author:
The Cubs have never disclosed convention attendance figures, so it is unclear how many of these sets were produced, although it is likely in the 10,000-25,000 range. If you are a Cubs fan or individual player collector, these are great oddball cards to add to your collection.
That 1996 Cubs Convention also included a special Donruss exhibit, where you could get custom card produced. This baby-faced slugger 1/1 is the rarest card in my collection:
Set checklist (numbers just for reference):
1. Terry Adams/Turk Wendell (Young Guns)
2. Ernie Banks
3. Ernie Banks (Vineline Ad)
4. Glenn Beckert
5. Larry Bowa
6. Jack Brickhouse/Vince Lloyd (Golden Voices)
7. Scott Bullett/Ozzie Timmons (Dynamic Duo)
8. Harry Caray
9. Jose Cardenal/Rick Monday (Sensational 70’s)
10. Frank Castillo
11. Jody Davis
12. Mark Grace
13. Richie Hebner/Keith Moreland (Wrigleyville Sluggers)
14. Randy Hundley
15. Fergie Jenkins
16. Don Kessinger
17. Gary Matthews
18. Brian McRae
19. Andy Pafko
20. Milt Pappas/Tim Stoddard (Flashback Favorites)
21. Jim Riggleman
22. Ryne Sandberg
23. Ron Santo
24. Scott Servais
25. Steve Stone
26. Rick Sutcliffe
27. Steve Trachsel
28. Billy Williams
Let’s just say that I was Topps Heritage collection-curious. Oh, I’ve seen the sets depicting contemporary players in designs from 1969, 1968, and others, looking all sleek and alluring, like a siren’s song calling to me and my debit card. Shaking my head quickly, I tell myself, no, no — that’s is all a marketing trick, don’t fall for it. Don’t give in. I knew that once I bought a pack, I wouldn’t be able to stop!
Well, there I was, at the Greenwood Fred Meyers waiting in line to make my purchases, and there they were, off to the right in the racks calling out their familiar song. Sigh. Okay, maybe just one. I can do it. Just one, and that’s it. It’ll be fun. I know other guys are doing it, right? And hey – look – there are 20 cards. More value, the package read! Okay … just one. Here I go…
The high number plastic pack I opened included 19 cards and a candy lid. Curiously I flipped through the pack, looking at the design, both front and back, checking out the team names, and making notes of the words and drawings on reverse side in blue, white and yellow. Going through the names and faces now, I was pleased to discover Vladimir Guerrero, Jr (#504); Yasiel Puig (#541); Michael Pineda (#662); and David Freese (#691), among others. The candy lid (available only at Target, but purchased at Fred Meyer) was Rhys Hoskins (#29 of 30).
Being reasonably satisfied with the purchase and the design of the cards, I turned to my binder of 1970 cards, my handy-dandy copy of “Topps Baseball Cards: The Complete Picture Collection, a 35 Year History: 1951-1985,” and the “Official Baseball Card Price Guide: 1990, Collector’s Edition” to compare designs.
From this point, I stepped a toe onto memory lane and wandered through the 1970 collection. The Topps book’s 1970 introduction made much to do about the saga of the Seattle Pilots and their heart-breaking move to Milwaukee before the season began. The complete set itself totaled 720 cards, the first time that the card set exceeded 700, measuring 2 ½ x 3 ½ inches.
The cards themselves are unremarkable. They feature a blue and yellow printing on white card board with yearly stats, brief bio, and a cartoon on the backside with the front side showing crisp color photos with team name in upper corner, and the player name in script in the lower gray border.
I mean unremarkable in that the photos include players in pitching or batting poses, close-ups with caps, without caps, and some with very, very bad airbrushed caps. I’m looking at you Sparky Anderson (#181); Curt Blefory (#297); Tom Shopay (#363); and Bob Heise (#478), among others. Poor Fred Norman (#427). He looks like his LA Dodgers insignia was ironed on his ballcap, with a somewhat noticeable Spokane Indians pictured.
Some of the more interesting cards included the NL and AL Championships (#195 – 202), another first for Topps. One fun-filled card, was Lowell Palmer (#252) of the Philadelphia Phillies, who was the only one to sporting sunglasses. In keeping with the true essence of the Topps Heritage collection, Philadelphia Phillies Pat Neshek paid homage to Palmer’s card by wearing sunglasses and sporting the card number 252, as well.
Topps has done an outstanding job with these Heritage sets. I don’t know if I will make another purchase. Maybe next year, I guess. Perhaps those 2020 cards will incorporate the 1971 card design. Those would be interesting to see! But, then again, I’m hoping to keep my impulse control in check. These things can be addictive!
A recent post by Jenny Miller about the Topps Bunt app got me thinking about digital cards. I’ve long wanted to see such a post on this blog but I suspect that our membership base is skeptical at best* when it comes to cards that only live in an app.
*And dismissive at worst.
I get it. This is a cardboard hobby and the idea of something existing only digitally doesn’t feel “real.” At the same time, the experience Jenny describes is closer to the pure ideal of the hobby than much of what’s going on with card releases. She doesn’t have to spend any money. She’s able to look at her collection and acquire new cards anywhere and anytime she has battery life on her phone. There’s no concern about finding a card shop or hoping that the card aisle hasn’t been raided by pack seekers. It sounds like a lot more fun than most of the bellyaching I see about the current state of the hobby on Twitter.
What really got me thinking though were the images Jenny used in her blog post. I’m online-averse in all my media. I prefer CDs/DVDs/BluRay to streaming. I prefer books to Kindle. As interesting as the Topps Bunt app seems it’s just not something that appeals to me…unless I can get the cards out of the app. As much as I’m a luddite, my concerns are actually more about being locked in to a corporate ecosystem and the fact that companies have a bad track record with regard to maintaining these things.
I just don’t trust these apps to last and while I don’t need ALL my cards to last another 20, 30, 40 years it would be nice to know that there’s a possibility of it. Jenny didn’t get her images out of the app (she confirmed with me that she pulled them from Topps’s Twitter feed) but she could have.
My phone (an iPhone8) produces screenshots that are 750×1334 pixels. This translates into 2.5″×4.45″ at 300 DPI. Even if you have to crop off a little of the image to get just the card this is enough data for good-quality printing. Yeah. There’s no reason why you couldn’t roll your own Bunt cards.
As much as it’s weird to me how the Bunt app cards show evidence of wanting to pretend to be physical items with their wrinkles, halftone rosettes, “autographs,” and peeling effects, they are actually something that can be taken into the real world if you wanted to.
Costco wallet-sized prints are 59¢ for four. Even if you didn’t print these, just being able to save them outside of the app gives you a level of flexibility and future-protection that alleviates a lot of my concerns. It also reminds me of a number of other card-related things we’ve covered on this blog where the original objects contain information that is no longer accessible for most collectors.
One of the best things about this hobby is how it’s a near perfect usage of technology—in this case print technology. Cards are the right size to hold and store. They’re durable enough to handle without falling apart immediately. And they don’t require any supplementary technology.
I very much love cards that push the into other technological realms though. They just require some help to be fully enjoyed if the other technology does not age as well as ink on cardboard.
For example, Auravision and Baseball Talk are both wonderful objects but the audio portions of them are tough to access. Record players may be making a comeback but they’ve not been standard in most homes for a long time. Plus you have to punch a hole in the middle of that nice Auravision photo to listen to anything. Similarly, Baseball Talk requires a special player which, even if you have one, is not guaranteed to work anymore since it’s a cheap child’s toy.
But the internet is a wonderful place. The Auravision recordings are up on YouTube. As are the Baseball Talk ones. This means I can have my Baseball Talk cards in my album and pull up the corresponding recordings on the web. Yes there’s always that fear that the recordings will disappear from YouTube but they’re out there, but there are tools out there that will download the audio from a YouTube video and convert it to MP3.
Another thing that YouTube has preserved is things like 2000 Upper Deck Power Deck. Sure you can just shove a baseball card sized mini CD-ROM into a binder page but reading the data is near impossible now. Most computers don’t have optical media trays and the ones that do are usually slot-loading ones that can’t accept non-standard sized or shaped media. So your only option to see what’s on the disc is to go to YouTube and hope it’s been uploaded.
I’ve actually been engaged in my own form of converting a somewhat-inaccesable product into one with digital footprints. I don’t have the toy to view my Viewmaster discs so I’m only able to see them by holding a disc up to light. This isn’t ideal. Scanning them into wiggle gifs produces a better way of seeing them.
I’m also going a step further and scanning the booklet so I can convert each image into a 2.5″ square card with a still image in the front and the booklet on the back. No it’s not the Viewmaster experience but it take the photos into a form that’s more accessible.
Do I expect Bunt to be around in a decade? No way. But I do expect JPGs of the cards to be available someplace. Maybe not all of them, but someone next decade will have an archive of a bunch of them. And I have my fingers crossed that a few cards will even be printed out the way I’m printing out my Viewmaster photos.
Innovative, interesting, often beautiful, Donruss Studio was a welcome new entry in 1991, a card set that relied on the personalities of the players.
Though I enjoyed Studio, I only have two complete sets. I had no idea how long lived the Studio concept was. It was a true survivor of the junk era, issued from 1991-98, then again from 2001-05, and once again from 2014-16.
I’m not going to go too deeply into this, only enough to show all the designs. When they’re great, they’re great. When they’re not, they’re interesting. That can’t be said for many other base sets that ran for so long.
1991 – 264 cards
1992 – 264 cards
The first set I completed.
1993 – 220 cards
1994 – 220 cards
1995 – 200 cards
Flashback to the 1980’s credit card sets.
1996 – 150 cards
Indicative of the card boom and bust, in five years the set was halved.
1997 – 165 cards
1998 – 220 cards
Last year of the first run, and a sizeable increase in the base set. Once of the offshoots was a 36 card set of 8 X 10s. I bought a box of those.
2001 – 200 cards
Back from hiatus, more border, less picture.
2002 – 275 cards
2003 – 211 cards
This set is absolutely beautiful.
2004 – 270 cards
2005 – 300 cards
Back to the original set length, and a farewell to the Donruss’ MLB license.
By 2014, Donruss was a throwback name, not even a real issue, and the Studio sets were small subset, 10-20 cards per year. In some ways the lack of license doesn’t hurt the core mission of Studio, to capture the faces of the game. Still, these look like hell.
There are many inserts over the years, some quite good, like the Heritage subset than ran from 1991-94. (Here’s Straw from 1992)
Writing this is making me want more of these sets. You too? See you at eBay.
When my first book, The Kansas City A’s and the Wrong Half of the Yankees, came out in 2007, I wasn’t as focused on getting book-related cards as I would be for Split Season 1981. In all fairness, it was easy pickings to find sets from 1981 that I didn’t have – Topps Foldouts, Scratch-offs, Coca-Cola, Stickers, Giant Photo Cards, Drake’s, Squirt, Kellogg’s. (Here’s the post). Not as easy for the A’s book.
As I often do, I found myself at Baseball Nostalgia in Cooperstown and came across a 1955 Rodeo Meats reprint set, a 1976 issue. Affordable ($4) and filled with guys I had been researching and writing about. The back of the header card explains the originals better than I can:
It’s not that exciting a set, but fun to have:
The backs are plain and informative:
But, hold on:
The originals are in glorious ’50’s color!
The 1955 set, coinciding with the A’s arrival from Philadelphia, has 38 different players with one error – Bobby Shantz’, one spelled “Schantz,” the other “Shantz.” There are players with two backgrounds – Cloyd Boyer (blue and pink), Joe DeMaestri (pea and light greens), Arnie Portocarrero (pink and yellow), Bill Renna (dark and light pinks), Wilmer Shantz (orange and purple. Why couldn’t they get those Shantz brothers done correctly?), Elmer Valo (yellow and purple) and Bill Wilson (yellow and purple). All in all there are 47 cards.
The 1956 set was reduced to 13 cards. The backs are different too. Here’s a 1955 back, featuring a scrapbook offer):
If you’re thinking that these are real beauties and that you’d like to pick a few up, beware! They are super pricey. As a result, I’ll settle for my black and whites.
Disappointing, sure, but not as disappointing as being a KC A’s fan and watching them trade all your favorite players to the Yankees, or, worse, parking them until New York called them back.
I reached a collecting milestone last week by completing one of my all-time favorite sets. It’s a set that’s off the radar of most collectors (until now!) and has few cards, if any, worth more than a dollar. Its value to me is purely sentimental but still sky high in that it’s the set that started my lifelong love affair with baseball’s all-time greats.
Before getting into the set itself, I’ll start with a card not in it.
You may recognize this as the 1960 Leaf card of Brooks Robinson. The first time I saw it 10-year-old-me took the glow around Robinson’s head for a halo and suspected only I could see it. (UPDATE: Rob Neyer also saw the halo!)
To other collectors (but not our own Jeff Katz) the set is perhaps a bit more boring, despite the fact that it has to be the most exciting set ever to come with marbles instead of gum! (And did I mention the packs had cards of “Your Favorite Major League Star?”)
Marbles aside, we are looking at a black and white set produced long past the era of black and white sets, whether to you the Grayscale Age of Baseball Cards was the 1920s or the 1880s. “Your Favorite Major League Player” notwithstanding, the Leaf checklist strikes many collectors as lackluster, with the Human Vacuum Cleaner and Duke Snider perhaps the only top shelf Hall of Famers.
Various articles note design similarities between the 1960 Leaf set and its predecessor 11 years prior. My own opinion is that the two sets aren’t that close, but I’ll let you judge for yourself.
I chose Elmer Valo to compare these sets because his placement in the 1960 set comes with a little bit of a story. As reported in the May 4, 1949, Boston Globe, Valo was one of six ballplayers to sue Leaf for using their likeness in the 1949 set. The fact that he found himself back on the checklist in 1960 says something about the ability to forgive or forget, whether on the part of Leaf, Valo, or both.
Now fast forward to 1977 and one of the nation’s best known mail order dealers is planning a set of 45 cards as her very first entrée into the card making business. The next 10+ years would see her company produce dozens more sets including…
And six single-player sets from 1984-86 of several big name ballplayers and cult leaders! (Wait, that’s Pete Rose? Are you sure?)
While these later sets drew on new designs, the last few of which just scream 1980s, her very first set, much like Topps Heritage does today, mimicked a set from the past. T206? Nope! 1933 Goudey? Nope! 1952 Topps? Nope again. As you’ve no doubt guessed already, that set was 1960 Leaf!
Here is card #5, Roy Campanella, from Renata Galasso’s debut set, “Decade Greats,” featuring top stars from the 1950s.
Perhaps Ms. Galasso had a sentimental attachment to 1960 Leaf or maybe she just held a special admiration for her fellow challengers of the Topps monopoly. More than likely, her reasons for copying the Leaf set were more pedestrian. Black and white was cheaper than color, and it would have been tough to get too close to Topps without getting even closer to their lawyers. Finally, a collection of 1950s players made more sense in a decade-capping 1960 set than, for example, 1922 American Caramel.
Particularly for her rookie offering, Renata Galasso did a fantastic job capturing the look and feel of the 1960 set. Put the cards side-by-side and you’ll spot some differences, most notably the missing halo, but to paraphrase Maya Angelou the cards are much more alike than unalike.
As the small print on the back of the Campanella card shows, Renata Galasso received an assist from Mike Aronstein’s company, TCMA, which had already been making its own cards since 1972.
The 45-card set was evidently popular enough to engender a sequel two years later, this time numbered 46-90. While you might have expected this continuation set to focus on the 1960s, TCMA had already beat Galasso to the punch the year before with a stunning color issue (left) reminiscent of 1953 Bowman (right) in yet another case of Heritage before Heritage.
TCMA had similarly put out a 1930s set five years earlier, but the half decade gap left enough breathing room for Galasso to put her own “1960 Leaf” touch on the decade.
Where I had previously seen sharp photos of Aaron, Mays, Mantle, and other 1950s stars in my reading books, this 1930s set was the first time I had ever seen such vivid images of earlier stars. To a certain extent, Galasso’s set transformed these 1930s heroes from cartoon characters into men, which somehow made their records and feats all the more impressive. As the card footer shows, TCMA was again a partner in the effort.
Renata Galasso extended her set once again the following year, issuing Series Three in 1980. This time her decade of choice was the 1920s. This was around the time I started taking the bus to card shows, and the Galasso cards were a frequent purchase for me out of bargain bins. While I regret turning down a T206 Cobb for $14, I have no regrets about scooping this one up for a dime.
Once again, TCMA was in the mix, and once again the cards looked fantastic. In my view, all they needed was stats on the back instead of that humongous logo and they would have been perfect.
Series Four, numbered 136-180, came the very next year and featured stars of the 1910s. You don’t even have to look at the rest of the checklist to know the key card in this series is the Cobb, with its iconic Conlon photo.
In a move that foreshadowed the later work of SABR, you’ll notice that Cobb’s hit total was reduced between his 1980 and 1981 card backs. I’ll also credit Galasso (or TCMA) with splurging for a brand new bio where other card makers might have simply recycled the back from the previous series.
The Decade Greats set, now up to 225 cards, would continue in 1983 with a 45-card series, sometimes numbered 181-223 (plus two unnumbered cards), commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1933 All-Star Game.
I say “sometimes numbered” because the same 45 cards are also numbered 1-43 (plus two unnumbered), reflecting either a clever marketing move to co-brand this series as a standalone or just an oops by someone who forgot numbers 1-180 were already spoken for.
On top of that, the sequencing of the 43 numbered cards comes in the exact opposite order of their 181-223 counterparts. For example, here is my version of the Hubbell card, numbered 16 instead of 208, which of course is the 16th number counting backward from 223.
Card footers no longer mention TCMA, which I take to mean Renata Galasso was either producing these cards solo or experimenting with new vendors. Perhaps connected to the absence of TCMA, the quality of the cards drops off some with centering/miscut issues and minor typos being the main culprits.
The sixth and final series was released in 1984 and commemorated highlights and records. One of my favorite cards in the set provides a much sharper image of Jackie Robinson than his 1948 Sport Thrills card, even as both cards drew from the same George Burke photo.
As with the fifth series, quality falls short of the first four series. Look closely at the Robinson card, and you’ll see the name and caption are poorly centered relative to his portrait. This proves to be the case for the majority of the cards. This final series also includes a “BILL MAZEROWSKI” UER and the awkward Koufax caption “PITCHES 4TH NO HITTERS.”
There are also some really bad looking photos, especially compared to the earlier cards. For example, compare the elegant Mays from Series One to the practically reptilian Mantle of Series Six.
Finally, there is notable drift from the original 1960 Leaf design that inspired the set. Photos now are more squared off, the big letters have gotten smaller, and the small letters have gotten bigger. The resemblance is still there though perhaps more amateur.
The final two series are the hardest to find, a sign of declining production and sales. That no Series Seven or Eight was ever produced affirms the reduced interest in sets of this kind. We had reached the mid-1980s after all. Collectors now preferred future Hall of Famers to actual Hall of Famers, but why not! What could King Carl do to make his cards go up in value? Certainly not win 400 games like Dwight Gooden would!
Even where some collectors still wanted old-time stars for pocket change, there was no shortage of color offerings to choose from, including a gorgeous Dick Perez collaboration from Donruss in 1983 and various other Perez-Steele offerings that had gained popularity with autograph hounds.
Regardless of its flaws, its waning popularity, and its uselessness in funding my retirement (I just picked up the “tough” Series Five for $0.99 plus shipping), the 270-card “Decade Greats” set, also called “Glossy Greats,” will always be a favorite of mine.
It is a set that might have seemed lazy at the time, an unimaginative reboot of a set from two decades earlier. What we didn’t know then is just how ahead of its time that was…Heritage before Heritage if you ask me!
Extra for experts
The 1977-84 Renata Galasso Decade Greats set is a relatively early example of “Heritage before Heritage,” but it’s certainly not the only example or even the first. Go back six years and Allstate Insurance (of course!) put together a small set evoking the 1933 Goudey design. Here is the Ted Williams card from the set.
There is also enough similarity across many tobacco issues that perhaps one could regard just about any of the sets Heritage-style remake of some other from a couple years earlier, though I would argue here that this is less about paying homage and more about paying less!
I’m curious what your examples are of early Heritage before Heritage. Ideally the visual match would be strong and the difference between the sets would be a good decade or more. Let me know in the Comments, either here or on Twitter.