Monday, October 6, 2008

Baseball Cards- Evolution and Innovation through the Years- Part 1

A lot of time is spent on blogs and message boards lamenting and slamming the manufacturers for a host of real or perceived deficiencies. The list of accused transgressions ranges from lack of creativity, plagiarism, use of repetitive photography, poor photography, bad design, over-production, over-priced, under-value delivery to lack of innovation.

It is that last point that I’d like to comment on. I’m not here in any way, shape or form to defend or serve as an advocate for the card companies. However, sometimes I think they take a little too much unrealistic heat on the criticism for lack of innovation. Basically, how many things can you do to a trading card? A trading card is really nothing more than a piece of cardboard with pictures and text printed on it.

With that in mind let’s review some of the attempts to diversify the trading card genre through the years. For the purposes of this post, we will ignore most inserts in all their infinite varieties; stickers, tattoos, over-sized, reprints, buy-backs, etc. The majority of these still fit the basic definition of a trading card.

In researching the topic I found 7 true innovations to the genre.

“Talking” Sports Cards

3-D Cards

Hologram Cards

Autograph Cards

Multi-Media Cards

Relic Cards

DNA Cards
As early as 1964, a company called Auravision produced a product resembling a square 45 record that actually played on a turntable and depicted a full color picture of the player. Examples are available on eBay for about $8.00 and the player checklist includes such greats as Frank Robinson and Warren Spahn to name a few. About 15 years later a company by the name of CMC replicated the idea with a larger 331/3 rpm standard album sized “card” and titled the product “Great Moments in Sports History”. Collectors could re-listen to the actual game calls from such historic moments as Reggie Jackson’s 3 home runs in the World Series, Don Larsen’s perfect game and Carlton Fisk’s “nearly foul” home run in Game 6 of the ’75 Series against the Reds.

The late Seventies also saw a company called 1979 United Press International, in conjunction with Microsonics Corporation issued the unique "Living Sound" cards. Each card could be inserted into a special player that would then play actual moments in sports history. For 6.95 one could purchase a set of 10 of these sound cards which were a mix of all sports including Olympics. There were two sets of sports events one called Sports Nostalgia and the other Great Moments in Sports. These cards measure 5" x 2 3/4" with a 2" square clear plastic record on the back.


Skip ahead about 10 years when the grand-daddy of them all, Topps, replicated this idea with its own style of player. Called SportsTalk, collector’s inserted the approximately 5”x7” card into the player to hear a recorded interview. The player and cards can be found on occasion through eBay and you can expect to pay anywhere between, $10-$30, depending on if the player is boxed and how many cards are bundled into the lot and its overall condition.


The birth of the low-cost microchip in the early Nineties saw new entries into this product category by both ProTalk and Fanatics, non-traditional trading card companies attempting to put a new spin on an old product. Each “card” was also packaged with a mini cardboard cut-out standee of the player. Originally sold thru various retail channels examples from both manufacturers are easily found online for at or below their original SRP.


Next segment will focus on 3-D and Hologram cards.

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