Saturday, August 22, 2009

For the Love of Art- Topps Gallery Through the Years

It is no secret that I love art themed products. Over the years, two brands standout to me as trend-setters of the art themed genre, most notably, the early days of the Donruss Diamond Kings inserts, and secondly Topps Gallery that updated this category considerably in the late '90's. Since then many additional non-photograph products and brands have been created and released including Turkey Red, Sportkings, and Masterpieces to name a few.

The history of sports card art, obviously, goes well beyond the two aforementioned products with the most notable of those being the original 1933 Goudey. I think, in some way, shape, or form, all art cards produced since then, right up to the present day, pay some degree of homage to that legendary sets' groundbreaking acceptance in the market.

Art and sport have always been a successful combination, not only for collectors but the casual fan as well. One of the most famous artists of this epic pairing is Leroy Neiman, whose
paintings are recognized the world over. When it comes to baseball cards, there have been many brilliant artists including Peter Max, the legendary Dick Perez and my personal favorite, James Fiorentino whose gallery of work you can see here.

Back in June, Mario, of Wax Heaven fame, touched on the topic of art and sports cards, which was really ironic, because on the day of his post, I also had recently begun formulating in my head the idea of writing a piece on the subject of art and sports cards. Obviously, proving once again, that 1) great minds think alike and as he does most people, 2) beat me to the punch.

A topic of this nature could be written as a 2-3 page, 2,500 word feature article and I know that the blogsphere is not a conducive medium for that level of expose. So instead, I decided to write about the subject in parts with this first one being an in depth look at one of my favorites, Topps Gallery.
1996 saw the introduction of the brand name, but interestingly enough wasn't focused on painted player images. Instead the cards featured more of an art motif that incorporated design elements of framing and art backgrounds.
In 1997 the brand returned and based on the previous year's success was also rolled out to football. The set still relied on, a now, fully framed player image in the insert set, Private Issue and Photo Gallery inserts, to tie the design to the brand name. At this time collectors also also saw the first incorporation of true painted player images into the product with the commissioning of Peter Max.

1998 saw a strategic shift in the product configuration and insert design. Most notably in the Player's Private Issue insert which was printed on textured card stock and featured a framed picture of the player on the card. This year also saw the debut of the Gallery of Heroes insert featuring a cropped player image on a die cut card featuring a stained glass background. Wildly popular at the time, collectors most recently saw this insert return last year in Stadium Club.

1999 saw the inclusion of additional inserts into the product including a Heritage type tribute showcasing the classic 1953 design. In addition, the brand returned again with the Gallery of Heroes insert which incorporated the team logo into the stained glass background while maintaining its die-cut flair. As if that wasn't enough, Heritage also came with a chrome parallel version. The short-printed rookies were featured in a more traditional design with the front of the card showcasing both a portrait and action image. By this point, Topps also rolled out Gallery to basketball as well. The 1999 release also saw the brands' first autograph insert and ushered in a new era for the product that followed in the footsteps of the rest of The Hobby. Stated odds were 1 per 209 packs, so while your chances weren't great, it still put the emphasis on the design and array of inserts.

In 2000, Topps replicated the '99 formula in its entirety with a couple of minor changes. Heritage Gallery used a 1954 design and the autograph odds improved to 1 per 153 packs.
2001 saw a drastic change to the product in a couple of major ways. The first, being the art utilized in the base set. Using an all hand painted portrait, beautifully replicated player likenesses graced the card that moved the brand away from photo likeness to true art. Topps Gallery 2001 was co-branded as "Museum Edition" .This year's version also included game used relic inserts into the product configuration for the first time. Heritage returned as well with a tip of the cap to the 1965 design. 2001 also incorporated short-prints into the checklist in the form of retired players which was a HUGE hit at the time.

2002 replicated the previous year's formula but expanded the base set from 150 to 200 cards upon the success and popularity of the short-print chase. A design change to the relic cards incorporated the relic material into a picture of an artists palette.

2003 treated collector's to not one but TWO releases of Gallery. The inclusion of retired players in the previous 2 years was so widely successful that Topps released a main version of Gallery and a special Hall of Fame Edition featuring, as the name implies, a 74 card base set of Hall of Famers. In addition, a new insert was added to both versions, titled, Currency Collection and housed an actual coin from the player's era including a 1916 dime for Babe Ruth and a 1909 penny for Ty Cobb. Foreign players featured in the regular issue had authentic currency from their country of origin included in the insert set as well.

2004 say the brand take a hiatus and it should have stayed there instead of returning as the abomination it was in 2005.While the base set was still nice, the inserts, well I'll let the pictures speak for themselves . . .

Topps Gallery changed the way art was utilized in trading cards. No longer was it necessary to be relegated as strictly an insert. It's success helped bring back Diamond Kings but this time as a stand alone brand which I'll focus on in the next part of For the Love of Art.


the Max Collector said...

The TOPPS 1997 Peter max collection is a keeper, I got the whole set and they are great!

Unknown said...

I have been browsing the photos, and I'm amazed at the creativity and the quality of the items - such great value!
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