Friday, November 14, 2014

Design Timeline: Topps Gallery

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

Gallery is a Topps brand that’s easy for me to get excited about. High-end, quality-crafted cards all thick, glossy, and textured whose design is artistically-inclined and aesthetically beautiful every single year? Yeah, I want that.

The brand uses the tagline “The Art of Collecting,” and the art is there in spades. From photography to paintings in varying style, Gallery delivered attractive, adult-oriented cards with an authentic artistic bent not seen in any other timeline of this scale. Sure, the inserts and subsets were both excellent throughout the brand’s run, but when you can get excited about the base cards you know you have something special.

Here is every Topps Gallery base design from the brand’s 9-year run in order. Have I mentioned that they’re all Griffeys?


One of the best designs in the timeline is this first one. The partial frame decked out in gold filigree, the stately gold nameplate, the tasteful logo built specifically to be corner-mounted, the simulated canvas texture in the background – this thing is a knockout. We also get a nice candid portrait of the Kid leaning against a thing. Whatever that thing is, I bet it’s classy.


The direction changed a little in ’97. They ramped up the “frame” which is now massive, embossed, and wrapped around the whole card. The cards are thicker and glossier than last year, and they changed up the nameplate so it looks like one you might see adorning an art exhibit. It’s obvious what they were going for here – the whole framed-museum-art theme comes up a lot in this timeline - but it could have been done more gracefully than this.

I have a practical issue with this Griffey as well: why on Earth did they put the card numeration on the nameplate? Is that not an obvious place for the player position? This element gives weight to the larger set, but it’s also a huge pain and I hate it. Oh, and of all the different frame designs that appear in this base set, Griffey got the ugliest one.

All that said, I still like this set as a whole, but a few tweaks would have made it a showstopper.

Fun fact: the back blurb is titled “Frame This.” Get it? Because there’s frames?


The simulated frame here is beautiful, but the spotty background is bizarre. I’m not sure what the desired effect is, but if it was to make the photo look like a painting it makes no sense not to apply it to the player in the foreground. I would also have flip-flopped the player name and the “Exhibitions” title because common sense. The subject of the painting would be on the frame, right? Again, I do like the set but a few tweaks would have put it over the top.


Yes. This here is what Gallery should be. “Hey, look how awesome this photograph is, you guys. Let’s frame it in a way that would be appropriate for a baseball card.” BAM.

The nameplate is classy and beautiful, the logo looks amazing in the corner, and the split fade keeps the framing interesting while not detracting from the elegant simplicity of the card. You really nailed this one, Topps. Seriously – well done.

There is some excellent photography in this set, too, and Griffey got one of the absolute best photos of all. If ’94 Upper Deck is his Superman card, this is his Neo card. Shoot, I’m close to pulling the trigger on building this whole set.

Fun Fact: the new emphasis on photography here is echoed by the title of the back blurb: “Snapshots.”


This card’s got a lot of balls (rimshot). Actually, this card is just as classy and awesome design-wise as the ’99 set. We get another excellent nameplate up top, and the textured canvas border with the team-colored corner accents make for another solid layout. Plus Junior’s card got a fun candid shot of him goofing around in his new Red uni. Gotta love it.


This is where Gallery really started to hit its artistic stride. Every remaining set features paintings in lieu of photographs. The paintings in some of the coming sets seem digitally-simulated, but this one is definitely the real deal. Highlights here include the unfinished paint-deckled border around the image and an excellent gold-foil nameplate. This image of the Kid in his trademark backwards cap rounds out yet another amazing Topps Gallery Griffey card.


Junior rounds third cool as a cucumber in this painting, most likely a depiction of a homerun trot. The detail in the pin striping and glare off the helmet are great touches to what is obviously another honest-to-goodness original work of art. They really expounded on the unfinished painted border, which I like, but there’s an awful lot of negative space in and around the nameplate which features a rarely-seen-on-cardboard “handwritten” style font. A beautiful set to be sure, but I can’t help feeling this one seems a little unfinished.


Believe it or not this image is taken from an original painting done in that new-fangled “hyper-realism” style. I can’t imagine Topps commissioning 150+ hyper-realistic paintings for a set of baseball cards, but apparently they did, and the result is gorgeous and dynamic. The light and shade explode off of the image of Junior at the plate, and against that black background this is the best the Gallery logo ever looked on a Griffey card.

I’ve been known to take issue with cards that have two nameplates, but these are different enough that I’m giving them a pass. The simple foil letters at the top are strictly for reference compared with the wildly-stylized lettering along the left edge. The straight, parallel borders along the top and bottom mixed with the full-bleed left border and unfinished right one make it appear as though the artist was trying to capture Junior in paint as he ran right off the side of the card. The whole layout seems in motion. This one is definitely a favorite.

There is no 2004 set, and I wasn’t able to find a reason for its absence. I have to wonder if there was a deal struck with an artist that fell through in the final stages. Lucky for us there would be one more set of Topps Gallery:


This one is true impressionist art - that means “messy” to the rest of us.  I'm a big fan of the full-bleed layout with the shaded, off-center border to accommodate the side-mounted vertical nameplate.  A simple design that lends focus to the painting.  This was an excellent end to one of the best Topps timelines.

And that's it for Gallery - it just disappeared.  I'd love a glimpse into the inner-workings of how Topps chooses which sets make it to the market, and why this one got the ol' heave-ho when it's so damn pretty.  Oh well.


The possibilities seem endless for a set like this. The idea of what constitutes art is so open to interpretation, and I am amazed Topps hasn’t brought this set back from the dead. Street art, collage, digital rendering and CAD – why hasn’t there been a Topps Gallery set every year? Gallery seems like a no-brainer.  No worries about a bunch of autos and relics - just baddass cards.

I called the return of Stadium Club when I did that timeline.  Let’s go for two. Come on, Topps! How 'bout some 2015 Gallery?  A check for the idea might also be nice.

Here's every design from the Topps Gallery timeline:


  1. 1999 Gallery is awesome! Really like this brand as a whole.

  2. I was kind of late to the party on it, but I think 1999 Gallery is one of the most beautiful sets of the '90s. I found the Griffey in a dime box last year and it's one of his best cards.