Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Baseball Card Evolution in the 1990s - Topps

Topps started the decade with basically the same design they'd had for the past 49 years. By the end of the decade they would go through more design changes than any other set produced in the 1990s. Check here for my theory of baseball card evolution.

1990 Topps #150 Kirk Gibson
Topps was still a Stage 1 set in 1990, as it had been since 1951. The color borders were kind of startling at the time, but Topps had used colored or patterned borders before, most recently in 1987. The color highlights had nothing to do with the players team. The cards borders rotated randomly among red, blue, green, and purple. This is a set I always used to hate but maybe I'm getting soft in my old age but it's starting to grow on me.

1991 Topps #155 Dwight Evans
1991 found Topps still at Stage 1, but I think this is an exceptional set. The photos are well framed and the 40th anniversary logo is great. The highlight colors match the team colors. I like how on some cards, the player figure extends beyond the inner border, and on some cards, like this one, all the way into the white border. This is also the first set, I believe, where Topps mixed horizontal and vertical cards. It may be Stage 1 but it's a beautiful set.

1992 Topps #78 Ivan Rodriguez
In 1992 Topps goes all the way to Stage 3 with white card stock and a color photo on the back. Instead of using a player photo on the back they went with what almost looks like a 360 degree view of the player's home stadium. It was different but I always thought it a waste of back of the card space.  The front features another nice border busting design with highlight colors matching the team colors.

1993 Topps #14 Greg Briley
Topps solidified it's Stage 3 design with a player photo on the back. They also used a better card stock. The big news is the complete redesign of the back. It's like nothing Topps had ever done before. It's also a rare vertical back for Topps.

1994 Topps #100 Kirby Puckett
With a glossy front and back, Topps reaches Stage 4. Topps redesigned the backs again, with a larger player photo.

1995 Topps #454 Tony Eusebio
Stage 5 is reached by adding gold foil for the players name and the Topps logo. This is the height of Topps evolution to the present day. Topps went with a deckle edges border with a shadow. The back features a player head shot in Diamond Vision style along with a full view insert shot. I always liked the Diamond Vision use here.

1996 Topps #40 Orel Hershiser
Not my favorite Topps set of the 1990s. I never liked the weird little distorted photo inset on the front and I think the stat box on the back is a bit crowded. This is the first year since 1987 that Topps put a team logo on the front of the card. As has been the case since 1991, the set consisted of a mix of horizontal and vertical cards.

1997 Topps #37 Mark Grace
Topps did something different this year that I've seen since but this is, I think, the first time. The card front is only partially glossy. The area within the thin green inner border is glossy. Outside that the card is not glossy. The backs feature another big design change. The other interesting thing this year is that Topps only used two border colors. National League teams had green borders, while American League teams had red borders.

1997 Topps #40 Jay Buhner

1998 Topps #5 Vladimir Guerrero
This is the first of several years in a row that Topps will go with solid color borders. The set features several humorous photos like this Guerrero. Team logos were dropped from the front but are ghosted all over the back.

1999 Topps #125 Scott Rolen
 This is another 1990s Topps set I really like. The front has a classic minimal design, even if the borders are gold. The backs are bright and easy to read. Note that there are no team logos anywhere. Logos will reappear in 2000 and be the norm until the present.

Just a quick note for Topps going on to the present. They will continue with colored borders until the 2004 set, and with the exception of the black bordered 2008 set, will employ white borders from now on. They also started to de-emphasize photos on the back of the cards.

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