This is the first in a series of interviews where we delve into what makes the hobby turn…The Collectors
Christopher Lawson writes at Crackin Wax. http://crackinwax.wordpress.com
The great thing about his posts is his detailed examination of card designs.
So I asked him what is his favorite set?
“I will always have a place in my cardboard heart for 1986 Topps Baseball. The first pack of cards my mom bought for me was from that set. I remember the ride home in the backseat, cracking open my first wax pack. The first card that I pulled was of my all-time favorite baseball player, Kirby Puckett. Being a trading card designer, the aesthetics of this set go against all of my training and beliefs. It’s quite possibly one of the least visually appealing professional trading card sets ever produced.”
FirstBallot: I have to agree with you. A quarter length black border highlighting bulky and awkward team lettering was a disaster. Nothing about it says baseball. Not to mention they missed out on over a dozen prospects.
“On the other hand, my creative intuition always feels justified when looking at the brilliant 1991 installation of Topps. From the simple and effective inner double-frame border to the clean readability of the text, and from the excellent use of team logos to the amazing photography, there is very little to dislike about this set.”
FirstBallot: I’ve written about this set before. For the most part I agree with your assessment and it’s most likely the best flagship set of the year but it doesn’t hold a proverbial candle next to its premium counterpart, the landmark 1991 Stadium Club set.
“As enamored as I was with the 1991 Topps flagship set, the debut of Stadium Club was pretty exciting, especially for a teenager with his own hard-earned income. The price tag it carried on its packs suggested the cards within were something special, and at first rip they were. At the time, it seemed clear that they were an answer to Upper Deck's base cards. It was a thrill to crack my first few packs. All of that gloss, the full-color backs and the crisp full-bleed photos on the front seemed so different and fresh. While the '91 flagship set was the cute girl next door, Stadium Club was the hot cheerleader from the suburbs--nice to look at, but too expensive for my tastes. Hindsight being 20/20, it seems a bit more obvious that Stadium Club was an important step in Topps' market diversification. Topps was able to open a new door to reclaim collectors that had grown beyond the old pieces of cardboard stuck in the spokes of their sons' bicycles. The 1991 Stadium Club set would eventually give relevance to the words "high-end" in the trading card hobby. Had Stadium Club failed in 1991, the hobby may never have seen the advent of on-card autographs, embedded game-worn uniform swatches, and authentic vintage bat knob cards. Without high-end products, I feel that the trading card hobby may have folded completely by the turn of the century. In that sense, I feel that Stadium Club was an effective and important catalyst to the hobby as we know it today.
Firstballot: It really did recapture people's imaginations about collecting cards again. At the time, I remember people wanting these cards ahead of Frank Thomas' & Griffey Jr's real rookie cards.
How do you feel that Topps owns a monopoly on baseball card making? Competition helps drive innovation and quality of work. Competition gives the target market more options and helps further spread their dollars. Without competition, perhaps Topps would have never felt the need to produce Stadium Club in 1991. Without Stadium Club, perhaps no trading card company would have ventured into the high-end market. Without the high-end market, perhaps the trading card industry would have completely folded. It's hard to say. What is certain, however, is, monopoly or not, Topps will likely remain the most recognized MLB trading card brand.