In looking at early photographic baseball cards I found myself wondering whether stereographs should also count as trading cards. I never see them mentioned in baseball card discussions but they fit the bill in terms of being photographs which were intended for mass consumption and trading.
The only difference is that stereograms tend to be about locations or events rather than people. Doing a quick search of large online repositories doesn’t turn up a lot of baseball, just some team photos—such as the one above from 1909—or special events such as the 1929 World Series. And while these are both subjects which come up time and again on baseball cards, they’re always supplements to the set of individual player photos.
Still, this got me thinking both about 3D photography and 3D baseball cards. If stereograms don’t feel like cards, what about Viewmaster? I didn’t remember any Viewmaster baseball sets but I figured they had to exist. They do. As with the stereograms, this doesn’t feel like a baseball card to me. But it’s closer in how it’s about individual players and, if these were sold cheaply in packs and were a collectible set, could very well have become part of the baseball card collecting world.
Viewmaster rubs a lot of the same nostalgia feels that baseball cards do. It’s a simple concept we all loved as kids—my kids still love it. The only problem is that you need the gadget to see the photos. At least with stereograms you could view the photos in 2D without needing a device. But requiring the 3D viewer and having that viewer limit the experience to a single person viewing a single image at a time means that it’s hard to share and display your collection.
I did some searching for anaglyph baseball cards but found nothing. This surprised me since, even if the cards would look awful, anaglyph 3D and its red/blue glasses is the iconic 3D look even today.
Instead what we have is lenticular 3D cards. It seems like the first versions were the super-limited-release Topps 3D set in 1968. I’ve not seen these but I have seen the more-common Kellogg’s 3-D Super Stars from the 1970s and 80s. These were always cool even with the cracking and bending issues.
The lenticular effect is less 3D and more more of just a layer of depth in the card. But it’s still a fun technology* which was much more accessible than stereograms or Viewmasters. A whole batch of these cards could be viewed at once by many people and, if in a binder sheet, the entire sheet would have depth rather than each one needing to be looked at individually.**
*As a 1980s kid I grew up with Sportsflics which used lenticular printing as a way to show motion. These were also super cool but belong in their own discussion.
**I also need to flag 1985’s Topps 3-D which are actual textured card surfaces rather than an optical effect and so in my view belong with the various die-cut cards as something distinct from 3D photography.
By the 1990s hologram technology was no longer the parlor trick it was when that first National Geographic came out with the eagle on the cover.* Where it was initially part of how Upper Deck branded its logo, their Denny’s sets in the early 1990s were entirely holographic cards.
*March 1984. I still remember it blowing my mind and expecting to find something, anything, hidden in the magazine because it couldn’t just be on the cover.
I haven’t looked at mine in two and a half decades but I remember them as being similar to the lenticular cards—not true 3D but rather multiple flat layers which still gave the card depth. I suspect that this is because they couldn’t take a proper holographic image of the player and instead had to use an existing photograph and layer it with other images.
They weren’t as easy to look at as the lenticular cards. There was no real color and your viewing angles were kind of limited. But I still remember them fondly and kind of want to acquire more of these. They’re cheaper on eBay than buying a Grand Slam was 25 years ago.