Childhood Dentist

When you think about dentist offices and their decor, calming colors and framed prints of subjects that are pretty—and pretty forgettable—come to mind. The idea is to be relaxing while you flip through an old magazine and try not to think about what’s coming up.

My childhood dentist was different. In 1990, in the midst of the baseball card boom, every wall in his office was suddenly covered with framed cards. Nothing fancy—each frame featured a different 1990 release*—but very different than the standard dental office.

*Topps, Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, and Upper Deck. Leaf was either too expensive or hadn’t yet released when he redecorated

As a baseball-card-mad kid this was very cool. My dentist liked to talk a lot while he worked and I got to hear about baseball and try and mumble responses while he was working. I think he even gave kids a pack of cards in addition to a toothbrush.

His office stayed like this for the next three decades. Not just baseball cards on the wall, the same cards year after year. Since he was my family dentist I continued to see him until I moved out of the state in my mid-30s. By then the cards had faded and none of us were as into the hobby as we had been. There was however something comforting seeing those frames full of 1990 junk wax where even the bright red Donruss design was trying to turn that sun-bleached cyan color.

Last summer he retired. Since my mom had apparently told him all about my reintegration into the hobby and how I’ve hooked both kids on it, she found herself with a bunch of frames as well as a big box of cards.

My mom took it upon herself to take all the cards out of the frames. The cards turned out to be glued into place so in addition to the sun damage the backs are all torn up. Besides the six 1990 selections there was also a frame of 1987 Fleer.* And there were a couple other frames that I was not familiar with.

*That cyan gradient on the 1987 Fleer design makes the cards look hella trippy when they fade since the gradient stays strongly cyan and just the photo fades. My brain ends up trying to substitute in more color to the gradient.

She sent me a photo to show me what she was dealing with. One of the frames nearly broke my heart. It was full of Red Man cards that had been faded beyond all hope. I took a closer look and figured they were reprints. Thankfully they were.

No idea when this reprint set was issued but it must have been around 1990 as well. The main tell, beyond everything having tabs, is that there’s a black border around each card. This border didn’t show up really well in the photo my mom sent me but once I received the big box of cards it was clear that these weren’t the real deal.

Still, as with all the sun-faded junk wax with ruined backs, these will go into the pile of cards for the boys to play with. Yes play. While they collect, they frequently also play games with the cards, comparing stats and other bits of trivia on the backs. If I knew the rules of 1960s card flipping I’d teach them that as well.

Not all the frames were sun-damaged though. There was one frame full of Giants postcards that survived the decades in decent shape. The backs are bit dinged but the fronts are almost all good.

Eleven of the cards are from 1983. This is the first year the Giants wore the uniforms I grew up with and the players here represent a team in transition. There are young guys like Bob Brenly and Chili Davis who’d help usher in the Roger Craig years. And there are a lot of older guys like Jim Barr and Johnnie LeMaster who symbolize the team of the 70s.

The Brenly photograph is fantastic—a classic catcher pose but also much better than the usual catchers poses. I love the Minton photograph which shows so much of the Candlestick stands. Also I’m not used to seeing Kuiper look so young.

The other nineteen cards are from 1988 and I recognized all the guys here without even having to think. Despite being all action images, these cards are photographed by the same photographer, Dennis Desprois, as the 1983 set and published by the Barry Colla company.

Desprois was the Giants photographer for  a long time. He’s also credited for the photos on the 1979 and 1980 KNBR SFPD sets* and the nature of the photos on here has me wondering if he and Barry Colla worked together on the Mother’s Cookies sets.

*Mentioned on here a few years ago.

These thirty postcards are probably the highlight of the dentist collection but there’s another couple thousand cards that my mom ended up sending to me so I’ll touch on the rest of the highlights.

As expected, much of the box was 1986–1994 junk wax. Too much to document and nothing really worth highlighting individually. Highlights are a near-complete 1991 Score set* and a sealed wax box of 1992 Topps.**

*Something I’m going to try and complete with my youngest son since his older brother just completed 1991 Topps earlier this year. We’ve finished sorting and while the set was missing two dozen cards I had most of them in my dupes box. So we only need four: 397 Rickey Henderson All Star, 403 Eric Davis Master Blaster, 412 Bo Jackson Rifleman, and 417 Nolan Ryan Highlight. 

**Which will go in the pile of cards to rip on a rainy day after the boys have done their chores.

Outside of the junk wax though was a 400-count box of more-interesting cards. Much more interesting ones.

The oldest card in the batch was a 1961 Topps baseball card of Wes Stock. Not much to say here except to note that I seem to attract extremely-well-loved samples of 1961 Topps. This one fits in perfectly with the rest of my collection.

While the Giants postcards are the highlight of the collection because of how they fit my interests, the most exciting part of this box was finding a stack of over sixty 1966 Philadelphia Gum football cards.

I’m not a football guy. Yes I was a 49ers fan when I was little but I never really learned about the history of the league beyond the Super Bowls. I never even collected the cards. As result I had to Google around to figure out what these were. That a few of the names in the stack jumped out at me made my Googling easier. That a couple of those cards ended up being Hall of Fame rookie cards made things exciting.

Even though it’s not something I collect there’s a giddy thrill in finding things you know carry a bit of potential value. Thumbing through the stack and finding Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus was quite the surprise. I didn’t recognize these as rookie cards but I could tell that they were super young.

I found myself appreciating the action photos in the set. 1960s baseball cards only had action photos for the World Series highlights and those were often black and white up into the 1970s. To see full-color photos from regular season games is pretty cool stuff. It made me wonder why the team photos are black and white.

1966 is historically an interesting set too. That’s the year of the AFL-NFL merger and the season of Super Bowl I. It’s also the first year of the Atlanta Falcons franchise and instead of a team photo and highlight image the set had two Falcons logo cards.

I was surprised to discover that Philadelphia Gum had the rights to the NFL teams and Topps had the rights to the AFL times. It’s weird for me to think of different leagues and different sets. That even after the merge the two different sets continued for a couple years with Philadelphia Gum continuing to print cards for the Colts, Browns, and Steelers—three teams that switched conferences—is especially interesting.

Aside from the two 49ers cards* the only card that’s definitely staying in my collection is the Alex Karras. Not something I’d seek but I can’t let a card of Mongo go.

*I don’t seek or collect them but if they cross my desk I’ll snag them out of respect for my youthful fandom.

There were a dozen 1967 Topps football cards. No cards as cool as the 1966s but a fun design which I’ve seen a few people try and convert into customs. This set is just the AFL teams and it’s nice to see those Raiders and Chargers uniforms.

There were two 1967 Topps Who Am I cards. I have mixed feelings about them being scratched off. Part of me likes the ridiculousness of the unscratched defaced images but the other part prefers being able to see the full portraits.

Non-sport cards aren’t something I seek but I also like being reminded how much larger the trading card world is beyond sports and pop culture. Historic “great man” sets are always particularly interesting since they represent a window into who we celebrate culturally. The artwork presenting Ike as President while placing him in front of D-Day is also a reminder of a different age of the Presidency.

There was a couple dozen 1968 Topps baseball cards. The Don Drysdale is the best one in the batch but there were also a couple A’s cards for my collection. 1968 is the first year the A’s were in Oakland and I’ve been putting together a page or two of those to demonstrate how Topps dealt with the Oakland move.

Sanguillen meanwhile is a fun photo and demonstrates Topps’s image handling for the card backgrounds. He’s clearly in front of a stadium but Topps has effectively turned it into sky by stripping out almost all the Magenta, Yellow, and Black from the background. This is something Topps did a lot in the late-60s and early-70s but usually only in the sky portion of the image.

By 1968 Topps was making football cards for the whole NFL. There were only a dozen of these, no big names, but I love seeing the 1960s team logos. This is such a different design from the 1967 set. I like that it has the some typography as the 1968 baseball set.

There was however a 1968 Topps poster. Nicely folded and in great shape without any tears. It’s a wonderful vibrant photo of the Chargers uniform in all its glory in front of an equally-colorful stadium. You wouldn’t design it like this today but I totally understand why people say that this is what Football should still look like.

Two 1969 Topps football cards. Not much more to say about these except that this is a solid design layout with the white stroke around the logo. I’m not a huge fan of the painted out backgrounds but I do appreciate the pop of color and the simplicity of the type.

Back to non-sport. There were a dozen or so 1969 Donruss Odd Rod stickers. Odd is the operative word here. As someone who was brought into the hobby via Garbage Pail Kids, these definitely feel like an ancestor to that kind of thing, sort of a step from Basil Wolverton to GPK.

Only three 1970 Topps Baseball but I scanned all of them. I love the backgrounds of the 1970 set and this is my first World Series card. I guess the black and white photos are intended to evoke newspaper and TV imagery but I do wish they were in color.

Another highlight from the box was a near-perfect 1970 Kellogg’s Don Sutton. Color is good. There’s like no cracking. I love stuff like this.

A dozen 1977 Topps baseball cards included a wonderfully mis-trimmed Grant Jackson first year Mariners card. I don”t like this design but I’m finding myself enjoying the photo selection. The portraits are frequently interesting and I love how Topps doesn’t care about the horizons being level as long as the player himself is framed well.

1981 Topps is another design I’m not too keen on but which I like a lot of the individual cards and photos. Only a dozen of these and Don Sutton is the only real star. The Rick Dempsey is an example of what the set does best. Multicolor caps which looks like the game caps. A bright contrast-colored border. And an interesting casual candid photograph.

Three Hall of Famers in the dozen 1985 Topps Baseball cards. These cards were the border between “old” and “my” cards and as a result I still don’t know how I feel about them. It’s not a set I collected as a kid. Nor is it a set that felt special to find in repacks. Which is a shame since the set itself is really interesting with a lot subsets that would become a bigger deal as the decade progressed.

Topps Glossy Send-Ins though are something I’ve always liked. These two from 1986 doubled the number of Hall of Famers I have from that year. For the decade when non-glossy cards were the standard glossy stuff like this was special and the checklists were always a who’s-who of the important guys that season.

The only junk wax I’m scanning is the near-complete* set of 1991 Pacific Senior League cards. A decent number of recognizable names but not a lot of star power. In some ways the recognizable players who aren’t big stars are the most fun but yeah it’s nice to see some Hall of Famers continuing to play.

*For whatever reason I’m missing cards 1–18.

This set has a lot of double-player cards with a special emphasis on siblings and father-son combinations. It’s a peak-Pacific design but it’s bright and colorful and we didn’t have a lot of cards like this in other sets at this time.

Not sure if these count as cards but there were a half-dozen Bradex Plate slips. I guess these came with the plates? To be honest I like them better than the plates since the idea of storing and displaying those never made sense to me. But slipping these into a 4-pocket sheet is totally something that appeals to me.

There were also a couple more-modern cards in the mix. This 2000 Pedro Martinez is a jumbo oversize card. Not much else to say about it except that as an oddball of sorts, a Hall of Famer, and as one of the best pitchers of all time I’m happy to slip it into my album.

This 2002 Topps Nestle is another oddball. It’s one of the few Topps-issued card sets that isn’t licensed to use Major League team logos. It’s comforting to see these existed into the 2000s actually since design-aside this is a very 1980s thing to do.

And in addition to all this there’s a half-opened box of 2013 Series 2 to go through. No idea if the autograph or relic has been pulled but it wouldn’t surprise me if it has been and the remaining packs are what’s left after discovering the hit. Those packs though will go with the 1992 box as a stash of stuff to rip with the boys.

Whew. That was a lot of cards. I’m impressed my mom managed to get through them all.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

13 thoughts on “Childhood Dentist”

  1. Great haul, a nice variety of cards. The 1981 Topps set was the first set I went all in to collect so I am partial to it, my thoughts align with yours on most of the other sets.

    I picked up either a box or the set of the Pacific Senior League cards, I thought they were fun. I will have to check and see if I have dups of 1-18 if you are interested in finishing the set up.

  2. Although I haven’t read the entire post yet, and I’m sure I’ll have more to say after I read the whole thing, I want to mention something now so I don’t risk forgetting…

    The NFL-AFL merger was announced in the summer of 1966, but the leagues would continue to play separate schedules through the 1969 season… indeed, the official name of the first Super Bowl (in January 1967) was the NFL-AFL World Championship Game. It’s not inconceivable that the existing licensing agreements would remain in place for another season or two after the merger announcement.

    1. I got corrected about this on Twitter and rechecked my sources to discover that I’d totally missed that the merger and team movement actually happened in 1970. So the licensing agreements makes complete sense and the teams don’t confuse me as much.

  3. Too many things to properly comment on, so I’ll break it down into categories:
    Phew, what a relief: The faded, fake Red Man cards
    Beautiful: The Brenly & Minton postcards, and that Brad Hubbert poster
    Fascinating: The “remove magenta, yellow, black from Sanguillen” production info.
    Envious: 1970 Kellogg’s Don Sutton
    Don’t get enough love: 1977, 1985 Topps
    Previously unknown to me: 2002 Topps Nestle cards

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