Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Design Timeline: Topps Flagship

This post is part of an ongoing feature The Great Griffey Base Card Project.

I have been wanting to compile every Griffey from each major base set into their own respective posts and analyze the designs.  What better place to start than with Topps, the flagship flagship set? 

With all the lots and trade packages I get you'd think assembling the complete Topps timeline would be effortless; but the truth is that until recently there was one Topps base Griffey I had been missing: his 2005 Topps fistbump card.  I had a whole bunch of them from the Opening Day set, but the base set version eluded me.  Thankfully, the last card needed for this project arrived in a package from Night Owl just a few weeks ago.  That day Project Timeline became a go.

So, here's every Topps design by year that Topps made during Griffey's career:


OK, so this is not a flagship card - it's from the Traded set; but the design is identical, and I would be remiss not to include it.  Ride the wave!


This set stands alone in the realm of card design.  Frankly, it's got more in common with '88 Donruss than with any Topps design.  I call this the Buttafuoco Pants set.


These were the glory days of the overproduction era.  Some of the most universally appreciated sets Topps ever made came in the early 90's, and this one usually takes the top prize.  A great checklist, excellent photography, and an attractive layout make this 40th Anniversary set a big hit among collectors.


Comparable in photo quality and design to the '91 set, this year Topps started using white card stock instead of brown cardboard.  This allowed for cleaner, brighter colors on the front and especially the back.


Just a slightly more modern design than the previous year, but comparable in quality.  Also the first modern design wherein Topps did not include a border within the white border. 


The first all-glossy base set from Topps, this set is a lot more modernized with a fancy new cursive font.  This is a set that doesn't get much attention, but it has it's share of great cards.


The first flagship set with player names in foil, a design tradition that continues to this day, 1995 featured the more abstract "torn" border with a kind of "handwritten" font.  A little messy and casual, it's the baseball card equivalent to the "just got out of bed" look.


A clean, modern design, this set was the first since 1984 to feature a mini picture in addition to the main one.  Unlike the '84 design the picture is just a close-up of the main picture.


Minimalist to its own detriment, I don't believe this was a super-popular set.  The color selection was a little strange, and the design as a whole comes across a little generic.  This is also the precursor to six years of border color zaniness.


This set is the first of two gold border years.  This set is also known for the psychedelic, colorfully-patterned backdrops they used in the name plate.  There's a lot of eye-grabbing here.  I call it the ADHD set.


This is the other end of the spectrum.  They toned the design down and moved the name from the bottom of the card for the first time since 1980.  You can't really tell here, though, as the horizontally-oriented cards maintained the same layout putting the name at the bottom.  Other than that, it's just a thin gold line and a single rounded corner.  Very dry, but good photography.


For the border this year, Topps invented a new color called shmudge.  There is no way to make anything look good next to the color shmudge.  They also returned to the use of the nameplate which in this case is a random juxtaposition of lines and boxes that for some reason says "modern."  The method to this design's madness is lost on me.  On the other hand the photography is OK, this being one of only two Topps base cards to show Griffey's exciting fielding (in someone's backyard?).


They got it right this year.  Huzzah!  I suppose the teal border isn't for everyone, but the gold 50th anniversary logo looks great as do the font, the logo placement, and the unobtrusive border.  Nice work, boys.


Ah, jeez.  Banners and baby food.  The banners aren't even that bad - they remind me of the '89 swoosh design.  But that background color - what is that, goldenrod?  Camel butt?  Cat pee?  Whatever it's called, it looks terrible.  A white border here would have looked better and offset the banner colors nicely.  Or am I being boring?


Like the '83 and '84 designs, this set has a portait on every card.  The bright primary colors of the border and nameplate dominate this card like a fat guy on a park bench.  The overall design has a nostalgic feel, but it still doesn't look like a Topps card to me.


The reign of ugly borders is finally over!  The 2004 set is certainly one of the better Topps base designs of the '00's.  Not just modern but futuristic, this set is known for the little silhouette on the bottom-left corner mimicking the action of the player on the card.  It's a unique design element I've only ever seen in this one set.  Daddy like.


While there is a whole lot going on in the 2005 set, all the elements come together in a relatively harmonious way.  From the color-appropriate twisting borders to the large central team logo to the player surname in huge gold letters across the top, this is not a bad look.


This is also from the "more is more" school of design.  While it's not a bad-looking set, I don't feel like they pulled it off as much as they did in '05.  Maybe it's the yellow.


This year Topps switched to black borders.  The '71 set is another one known for its black borders.  It's also known for it's cards being in terrible condition because those black edges show every nick and bump and soft edge no matter how small.  They also brought printed signatures back which we have not seen since on a Topps base card since 1982.


I think Topps tooka  big leap here with that giant colored circles announcing the team name, but I think it comes across as fun and baseball-y.  The same can be said also of the font used for the team and the player name.  And I like the facsimile signature though some complain about them.  The only real issue I have with this card is the accomodation of the Topps logo by the border - seems like a waste of photo space.


I really like this design.  Team-appropriate colors, the tasteful borders, ALL CAPS Times New Roman font.  The design does not dominate the card as much as in some previous years.  The angular look is cool, and the little corner finials on the top that match the bottom balance the design nicely.  And who doesn't love the team logo on the slightly-askew home plate?  This is a good-lookin' card. 


The last of Griffey's Topps base cards and the only one to show him as a DH, the 2010 card is dominated by a great big team logo and a big wave along the left side of the card colored according to the team.  I think the prolific use of the team logo here is a thumbing of the nose to the other brands that didn't have license to use said logos.  That's right, Topps - kick 'em when they're down!  The overall design is unremarkable, but it's not particularly bad, either.  I would like to have seen a better sunset card from Topps for the Kid, but nobody knew at the time this card was made that Junior would have a very sudden retirement mid-season.  I'll let it slide.


In all Griffey got 22 regular Topps cards.  Of all the brands out there during Griffey's career, Topps, Bowman, and Upper Deck are the only onesto have made a card for Griffey every single year he played.  All the rest either folded, declared bankruptcy, or just left the business entirely.  Kudos to Topps for keeping it going longer than anybody and never missing a year.

Here's 22 straight years of baseball history on cardboard:


  1. Purely photography-wise, I think the '99 Topps Griffey is my favorite of that bunch. But, if we're just talking design, I'd have to go with '91 in a heartbeat.

  2. Nice timeline! Can't wait to get the last few Gwynn cards to do mine as well. Man, some of those late 90/early 00 Topps designs were ug-lee. You're right, though, the 2001 colored border is only highlight of the colored border run. I mean, it's no '71 Topps, '88 Score, or '91 Fleer, but it's not really fair to compare, I guess.

    That Sox card seems like a good "sunset" card, but I suppose it's fitting that the timeline end back in Seattle.

  3. Hey you commented on one of my posts a little bit ago about the 2013 Topps Chasing History Griffey card. If you would still like that card, please email me. Thanks.

  4. For years, I didn't like the 89T's design... but the one card that turned it around was the Griffey Topps Traded rookie. It's spectacular!

  5. What about Fleer? I see Fleer Ultra, but Fleer has it's own run from his Rookie on up. I'd like to see a list of all his base Fleer cards as well.

  6. As I complete each timeline, they will all be viewable here: