Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Old School Hits: Hank Aaron

2001 Topps was a big deal because Topps was celebrating its 50th Anniversary producing baseball cards. By this time I was no longer actively collecting. My passion for cards slowly dissipated by my junior year of high school, replaced by other teenage interests. Though I had stopped collecting, I did pick up a pack or two of Topps each year to see the new design and what content made up the new releases.

Early in 2001 I randomly bought a Beckett price guide at a book store because the cover and cover story caught my eye. The cover image featured a layout of vintage Topps cards and the story featured the history of Topps and their Anniversary celebration. The article was well done (a lot more content than is provided in today's version). The feature chronicled the card company from their first efforts with the red back and blue backs and landmark 1952 issue to later issues and the man behind the card sets, Sy Berger. After reading through the magazine I turned it over and noticed the advertisement for 2001 Topps series one and saw some images of the cards. I saw enough to spike my curiosity and I temporally felt the urge to rip some packs.

So that May, home from college for summer vacation and with some spending money in my pocket I bought ten hobby packs of series one from a small sports memorabilia store that was in the mall. My first impressions of the set were positive. I liked the design of the base cards. The dark green gave the cards a very sharp look. They featured a little too much gold foil, but that didn't really bother me. New to this release were the gold parallel cards, serially numbered to 2001. Yes, the same ones that have been in every flagship release since. Topps also included a three card insert set titled, King of Kings, featuring jersey swatches of Hank Aaron (homerun king), Nolan Ryan (strike out king) and Ricky Henderson (stolen base king). A fourth card featuring all three legends was also issued and limited to 50 copies. I remember my Hank Aaron card came in the second to last pack and at first I was so surprised I wasn't sure what I had. Relic cards were still a rare occurrence in 2001. I knew of their existence, since I was still collecting in 1997 when Upper Deck introduced the first relic cards in their flagship baseball release, but the UD cards were rare and out a my reach as a teenage collector.

So this pull came as an incredible surprise to me. I got home and flipped over my Beckett price guide to the Topps advertisement and saw an example of my card. Lucky pull indeed. Also a surprise was how to store my new treasure and I unwisely placed this card in a screw down case. Fast forward through college and graduate school and my first job, I finally brought my old collection out of storage and went through my cards. Unfortunately, when I tried to free Mr. Aaron from his plastic prison, moisture had done its work and the plastic pulled off some of the card front on the lower right corner.
Even though I was disappointed with the damage, I have never entertained the idea of selling this card, so any loss of value didn't bother me. This card is a permanent part of my collection and the best card I have ever pulled from a pack. I don't have many relic cards in my collection, but even if I did, this card will always be my favorite and reminds me of the days when relic cards were still hard to find and not guaranteed in a box.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another look at 1988 Topps

1988 Topps Traded Tiffany (#40T Kirk Gibson)
I haven't bought many new cards recently. I am interested in a few of the current sets available right now, mostly Allen and Ginter and I do have a small curiosity in Topps Lineage, but I have been focusing on older cards and completing some of my sets on my want list, starting with the easiest ones from the junk wax era. The late 1980's is when I got started collecting as a kid. The 1987, 1988 and 1989 sets were the first cards I bought a lot of wax and rack packs, you know the ones with the glossy Allstar card. I was always partial to Topps cards and had more of these cards in my burgeoning collection than Fleer or Donruss. I have always liked the history and nostalgia of Topps cards and this is a big reason that now as an adult, I am trying to build these sets.

While organizing my want lists and sorting through boxes of these cards I was reminded again of how much I like the 1988 Topps set. The 1987 Topps issue is far and away my favorite Topps design of the eighties and currently I am four cards away from completing this set. But 1988 Topps is a close second. The main reason I gravitate to this set is simply, 1988 Topps features a clean, minimalist design, that places the focus on the photography. This minimalist design is even more striking when compared to the previous 1986 and 1987 designs. Topps would continue a simple design in 1989, reworking the 1974 and 1980 pennant design for this issue, before a giant and misguided design departure was green lighted for the 1990 issue. But if you like photography, this is where the 1988 set excels.

My favorite design element on the front of the cards is the team name written in bold letters at the top of the card, reminiscent of the classic1967 Topps issue, which in also very popular among collectors for its photography. This gave the already uncluttered design a classy look. The subsets were also just as good as the regular cards. The "Record Breakers" really stood out on a red background and helped to set the tone at the beginning of the set and the "Allstars" featured head shots, centered by a diamond on a yellow background. All the subsets had a clean white border which helped to weave these cards into the main set. "Turn back the clock, '' one of my all time favorite Topps subsets, began in the 1985 issue and is featured again in 1988, along with future stars and draft picks. "Future Stars" and "Draft Picks" cards were creme de la creme in the 1980s, as this decade saw a focus on rookie cards. I can still remember my excitement pulling a future star card from a pack. the 1987 Topps Bo Jackson "Future Star'' rookie card was the star of my collection for many years. Today, even though it now has a large crease horizontally through the center, it is still a card I hold in high regard in my collection.

Yes, these sets were overproduced, but this fact alone does not describe what these sets really are. Overproduction might have killed any value today, but 1988 Topps is a well executed set, both in design and checklist. And the emphasis Topps put on the photography is evident throughout the set as there are many great action and posed shots. It would take Topps another three years to match the 1988 issue in terms of great photography as Topps responded to more competition for their 1991 and 1992 issues.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Topps Stickers

I was in the card isle at Target picking up some packs of Topps for my nephews birthday when I saw the new Topps stickers had been released. Baseball sticker albums, just like 1987 Topps, take me back to my childhood. I can remember going to K-Mart or the grocery store and buying the sticker album and packets of stickers in the late 1980's. I think 1990 was the last year Topps produced sticker albums and this probably coincided with my waning interest in stickers as I focused more on baseball cards and the insert craze that would take hold of the hobby in a few short years.

Although now, I no longer have my old sticker books, they were probably thrown away during spring cleaning chores, I wish I had held on to them. So today I picked up a album and some packs for my nephew to start his own album and I did the same for myself. I have not had a chance yet to open the packs or go through the album, but I plan on starting my album this weekend.

The sticker set consists of 294 stickers of MLB players including nine legends, printed on foil and 15 dual team logo stickers. The stickers have a nice, simplistic design and the Album has full page color photos of one player for each team. Brian Matusz is pictured for the Orioles. Eight stickers are included in the album to get collectors started. The album retails for $1.99 and the eight stickers packs sell for $0.99, making this small collection very affordable for kids. I am excited to see this type of product back on retail shelves as this is a great product for kids and even adult collectors who also may not have kept their childhood sticker albums.

Shown above are a Babe Ruth Legends subset and a regular base sticker of Albert Pujols.

My posting has been very non existent the last month, and will probably be very sporadic in the coming weeks due to work. That said, my want lists and trade lists are still being updated regularly and I' am still completing trades, I just don't have a lot of time to write.