Back on the TTM horse

It’s been busy whatwith the move and everything. I haven’t had a chance to write any letters since Spring but I finally got back on the horse and sent a few out before Thanksgiving. This is the first batch which includes some of the latest round of customs I designed and printed. It’s especially fun—in some cases even more fun than expected—to get those back.

Roy Face came back in 8 days. It’s always nice to see the generosity of some of these players. Face is not a Giant but I pretty much had to make a custom with this photo. This template is my adjustment to the 1956 Topps design so it can also work with vertical images. I like it a lot and really enjoy just making a card here or there as I come across a cool photo.

Face though is an interesting player in his own right since he’s sort of the first reliever who we can point to as starting us on the path toward the way modern baseball uses bullpens. It’s kind of wild for me to read the back of his 1968 card and see it gush about his saves and consecutive games played as being new and notable accomplishments. And yes they are but in 1968 no one knew what would happen with the game 50 years later.

Another custom so I have no one to blame but myself. How embarrassing. Oh well. Kaline still has a wonderful signature and something like this makes it pretty clear that he’s signing things. Also I can’t kick myself too hard since I double checked Getty’s records before making my card.

Heck this kicked of a decent discussion on Twitter (as well as a lot of people laughing at/with me) and a bunch of Tigers fans confirmed that they’d always thought this was Kaline too. Suggestions for who it might be instead? Don Demeter appears to be the Twitter hive-mind consensus. Right-handed. Similar build. Correct playing years.

Anyway it’s always nice to add a Hall of Famer and the fact that this came back in 10 days was very nice. Even with the wrong image it’s a fun piece to have. I only ever saw cards and photos of the older Kaline when I was a kid so I very much like having one of him in his youth. Maybe I’ll re-make this with a correct photo and try again.

Another 10-day return, this time from John Cumberland. He had a fantastic 1971 season with the Giants so I’m very happy to have his 1972 card signed. As a Giants fan I’ve most enjoyed learning about one-season wonders like Cumberland. I remember how important those were to my enjoyment as a fan and it’s players like this who symbolize a particular place and time in the team’s history.

And yet another 10-day return. John D’Acquisto won the Sporting News National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year award in 1974. I did not ask for the inscription but I like that it’s there. D’Acquisto was a fireballer but could never quite put it all together to become dominant. He was formidable enough though that I became aware of him while I was a Giants fan over a dozen years later.

I sort of wonder what would’ve happened if someone with his skill set had come up now and only had to throw for an inning at a time. That he stayed around in the Majors for a dozen years suggests he had the stuff.

Outfielder Frank Johnson came back in 11 days. I always wonder what stories  guys like Johnson could tell. He was stuck trying to break into a pretty crowded outfield but still got to play with Willie Mays. He’s a got a great signature which looks fantastic on that 1969 card too.

Kong! This is a fun one. Dave Kingman also came back in 11 days. I don’t particularly picture him as a Giant despite the team-specific rookie records and achievements he racked up. But I did grow up hearing about his prowess as a power hitter and his penchant for hitting balls into suspended elements of domed stadiums. It’s one thing to be known as a slugger. It’s quite another to be the guy who got a ball stuck in the Metrodome roof.

Dave Rader came back in 13 days. Rader started off his career with the Giants in impressive fashion as both the runner up to the Rookie of the Year and the winner of the Sporting News Rookie of the Year. This 1973 card reflects that rookie season and features one of those photos that could only come from this set.

Steve Dunning also came back in 13 days. Most of his cards have astonishingly awful photographs. Thankfully his 1972 is a nice classic pitchers’ pose at Yankee stadium. It’s the only good photo of Dunning I found s0 I had to scan this card for my custom.

I modified the 1978 manager template to reflect Amateur/Professional status and have been digging through Stanford Daily and Stanford Quad archives to pull photos of guys when they played at Stanford. I’ve been enjoying sending these out and this is the first one that returned.

Frank Linzy came back in 20 days. This was a fun request to send out at the same time as Roy Face since both are part of the first generation of dedicated relief aces. As with John D’Acquisto I can’t help wondering how these sort of players both feel about today’s game and how their careers would’ve been different if they’d played during an age of bullpen reliance.

Lots of players can kind of be compared across time but the bullpen guys are different since bullpen usage has changed so much. I’m not one of those guys who professes to say that one era was better than another. Yes I miss longer starts but I also don’t miss seeing managers leave pitchers in too long. hat does excite me is that bullpen usage is one of those things where it’s clear that managers and teams haven’t settled on a by-the-book strategy and are still trying different approaches.

Bruce Robinson is the first repeat send for me. He had an awesome return the first time and I’ve owed him a response letter ever since. Between my moving and trying to put together customs it took me a long time to write back. But I finally did and sent him a bunch of customs.

He was apparently away for a bit and took 20 days to get back to me. Another nice letter and it’s especially gratifying to be thanked for the customs. It’s cool when guys keep some but getting a thank you letter back is even better.

As much as sending out these requests and doing the research to write nice letters is fun, putting together customs and pulling the stats and everything is even more enjoyable. I love adding them to the binder (yes even that Kaline).

Jim Lonborg is another repeat request. I sent him versions of both my 1956ish design and 1978ish design. He kept one of each and sent the rest back in 6 days. I really like how both of these came out and it’s fantastic to start off with so many of these customs getting signed out the gate.

Time for a break until next year. I know I’ve got at least one return waiting for me at my parents’ house still and there are a decent number just out there in general. But it’s too close to holiday season to send anything.

I’ve got more customs to try though but until then I’m just going to put all the signed one at the bottom of this post since I’m so happy about how they turned out.

Dead Nuts

Like my Pier 24 post, this is another summer visit that got caught in the backlog of move-related business.

I was sort of obligated to check out the Museum of Craft and Design’s show, Dead Nuts. Buiding a show around the concept of “The ultimate machined object”? Super up my alley and a great intellectual exercise. Do you go with something basic or complex? Beautiful or functional? I was looking forward to seeing how the museum presented the possibilities.

It was a good show with a lot of good choices I recognized such as the Curta calculator, original Bridgeport mill, Harrison‘s Marine Chronometer, and even a simple quarter-20 machine screw. And there were a lot of of cool new products I had never heard of such as a planimeter or Newbould indexer.

At it’s best this was a celebration of machining and the ability to produce highly exacting and complicated mechanisms using relatively simple machines.

Just the flourish of being able to mill a hole in a human hair and the minuscule tolerances some of the mechanisms require is a reminder to celebrate the craft of machining parts in the same we we appreciate the craft of painting or sculpting.

At the same time the exhibition also betrayed its origins in an internet forum. So many of the nominated devices were military, weapons, cars, etc. Yes I appreciate how these items are frequently the driving force of technical innovation but it’s a depressing thing to see a significant number of men insist that the pinnacle of machining is enabling us to kill people more efficiently.

Still, that the curation involved putting the forum discussions on the wall was good. For every post that ran down the path of war there were others pulling things back and focusing on small technical innovations rather than the entire mechanism. And there were other posts that intentionally went in other directions to call out more-common items like the sewing machine or typewriter that existed in everyone’s home.

It’s not just that those devices are technically fascinating from a machinist’s point of view, they also impacted everyone in a much more personal way. Are they the “ultimate” object? Who’s to say. But the reminder to appreciate the craft of things you have at your fingertips rather than gushing over technical marvels you’ll never see in person is a good one.

As a parent and a bit of a gearhead I’d much rather get my hands dirty with my kids and look into mechanical things that are more familiar. Take some old toys apart. Look at an old typewriter. Find a geared clock and see how an escapement actually works. That the show never lost this aspect is what saved it from getting fully derailed by the internet.

A Lonnie Mailday

A surprise envelope from Mark Hoyle arrived late last week. When I opened it up I found a couple non-card items that, on the heels of the Jay Publishing mailday, suggest that my collection is crossing from being just cards and is instead getting into card-adjacent areas.

The first item is a 4×6 print of Jim Lonborg being interviewed after the Red Sox won the 1967 American League Pennant. I always like these kind of post-celebration photos* where athletes are still happy but the reality is setting in too.

*There’s a reason I sent the Trevor Wilson card I did.

This one is also a great look at how interviews worked before today’s much-more organized media room press conference table. One interviewer with a microphone plus another mic on a stand and two more being held by disembodied hands belies the relative calmness of the photo.

Mark’s a Lonborg supercollector. While I have a much more casual Lonborg collection due to him being just a part of my Stanford Alumni project, because I’m making customs and things* for my own usage I’m able to send Mark some Lonborg items he doesn’t have.

*This will be a post of its own someday.

This Gypsy Oak custom is an example of other Lonborg customs that Mark has acquired over the years. It’s also a 4×6 print even though it looks like it should be a linocut.* If I remember correctly there are versions of these that are more like postcards and evoke vintage Exhibit/Arcade cards instead.

*While I haven’t jumped into the world of 3D printing yet I’m keeping an eye on it for both linocut/letterpress related printing and investment casting.

I’ve kept my eye on Gypsy Oak’s work for a while* but never pulled the trigger since I’ve been a bit scared to jump down the rabbit hole of modern card-related art. As nice as the artwork looks it’s something that I can see getting out of hand. It’s hard enough to limit my scope with just cards. Including other stuff like this? Where do I draw the line?

*Well until I got blocked on Twitter and he closed his BigCartel shop.

It’s some pretty cool stuff though—especially his Helmar Stamp cards. They just don’t quite feel right for my Giants collection but they very much feel more appropriate for the Stanford one. I’m glad my first is a Lonborg since he’s sort of the first noteworthy Stanford baseball star. Thanks Mark!

Coordinates: Maps and Art

After I went to the Cantor Center I wandered over to the Stanford Library to check out the current David Rumsey show. It’s a wonderful little show which pairs maps with artwork and explores how maps and the choices mapmakers make parallel the artistic choices that artists make.

Rather than going through my notes and highlighting everything that jumped out at me like I did with my previous visit, I’m going to go through the two or three groupings I enjoyed the most both in terms of the parallels they offered as well as the maps they showed. The Rumsey webpage includes links to the excellent catalog and I totally suggest downloading the high-definition PDF.

We’ll start with two pieces that best demonstrate the spirit of the exhibition in Baron F.W. von Egloffstein’s map of Mexican mining districts and Tauba Auerbach’s Fold series. Von Egloffstein’s shaded relief maps are a great example of how maps make a two-dimensional surface look three-dimensional. This is not the first such map but it’s both an early example and von Egloffstein is apparently somewhat of an inventor in this category.

Tauba Auerbach meanwhile paints a folded canvas with spray paint that mimics raking light so hat the resulting stretched canvas maintains the image of the earlier folds and still looks wrinkled.

Both pieces look three-dimensional and just ask to be touched even though they’re actually flat. And in both cases the intent of the craft is to actually use this shading to take advantage how our eyes can mislead us in how they interpret a two-dimensional image.

My favorite grouping were a selection of maps and artworks that removed maps’ attachment to geography and replaced it with other spatial and temporal relations. Maps aren’t just about seeing where things are in relation to each other, they frequently correspond to travel time and reflect our understanding of when we’ll get someplace.

At one level, these aren’t maps anymore because they no longer feature any geography. At another level, they absolutely are since geography isn’t the point. By removing the geography we’re forced to think about the world in a different way where the specific pathway no longer matters.

I also particularly liked pairing a couple maps that worked as small multiples. Sometimes one map isn’t enough and instead you need to see a series of maps. Pairing a series of weather maps with On Kawara is brilliant. One map is boring. Even two is pretty weak. Four though? We’re starting to see how things can be interesting.

What happened this day? What happened that one? Our brains start to fill in stories and connect dots even with this small of a sample set. The map information itself ceases to be the point and instead becomes the context for the actual data that changes day-to-day. It’s a neat trick.

There are so many other great groups. A Trevor Paglen star timelapse that reveals satellite movements paired with a map of the Apollo 11 mission is fantastic. Photographs of Christo and Jeanne Claude’s Running Fence paired with maps of the US-Mexico border are similarly great. I love that they found a way to work in Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip. For such a small little show there’s so much awesome stuff.

Cantor Center

Last week I took my annual visit to the Cantor Center. No specific exhibits I was looking forward to but I always enjoy walking through and seeing what’s there.

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The special exhibition this time is an installation of Josiah McElheny’s sculptures. These were pretty cool in a mid-century way. All the multiverse drawings are neat to see and the sculptures themselves are a lot of fun to take a good slow look at.

The main interest to me in this gallery though turned out to be seeing the latest evolution of how museums have to deal with photography. I’ve seen “no flash” turn into “no photo” turn into “please photo and hashtag.” This show is the first I’ve been to with designated photo spots.

This isn’t a complaint (even though my favorite view of the room was not from one of the two designated photo sites), just an observation about how something that’s clearly selfie-bait (complete with signs around the museum encouraging posting to social media) is also too dangerous to let people photograph freely. Too easy to blunder into a sculpture either by getting too close or backing up and not being aware of what’s behind you and despite their size these are clearly pretty fragile.

There’s an awesome point where you can see both one sculpture and the entire room reflected in that sculpture. I spent a while there taking everything in and getting the full multiverse experience.

The other big exhibition is a hang of modern art under the theme The Medium Is the Message. I love the idea. Much of the art itself didn’t move me* but it’s a great concept for an academic museum to have since it digs right into the concepts of how the medium itself informs abstract art and how much of modern art is explicitly provoking how the medium itself behaves. This was one of Matt Kahn’s design prompts and it’s great to see that legacy still at Stanford.

*It is however always nice to see Ruth Asawa.

Two of the sections cover abstraction and the idea of artwork being more than the sum of its parts—often literally when considering assemblage. I viewed these two sections as being very similar since the artwork was always about what it was made of and the disconnect between our expectations of that medium and the way it actually behaves in the piece.

I especially liked the third section though which focused on portraits. While the portraits are all paintings, recognizing portraiture as a medium of its own and then interrogating the concept of what a portrait actually is is great to see. In this specific case the museum calls out who is traditionally depicted in portraiture and the disconnect that results when non-traditional subjects enter the frame.

I found myself thinking of how audience comfort works in to this equation as well since very often what people count as a “good” portrait is one which looks comfortably like a traditional rich white person’s portrait. I also found myself thinking about the way photography’s extension of portraiture to almost anyone is as similarly disruptive to our concept of what a formal portrait should look like.

Much of the other galleries were the same and I’ve covered them in previous posts.* However there are a few standouts. The corner of Yinka Shonibare prints was a lot of fun. I like combining his prints with the paintings of St. Michael. I always like seeing Vlisco turn up although I wish there was more of an explanation given for the fabric since it features prominently in each of the prints.

*Specifically the non-white galleries.

I also liked the small gallery dedicated to providing context to their new Jeffrey Gibson acquisition in that it included samples of items from Sol LeWitt to artisan beading to explain the myriad influences and references that the piece was making.

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And I was happy to get a chance to walk through Sequence again. I much much prefer it outside with strong shadows and the clear blue skies which photograph so white in black and white. It’s great to walk through and let my camera’s restrictions guide what I see. This time I let my iphone direct my eye.

Yo dawg I heard you like printing

Being sort of the resident print expert over at SABR Baseball Cards has resulted in me getting tagged into other print-related discussions online. It also meant that people like Jason have started to alert me about non-baseball-related sets that I should be interested in from a printing point of view.

The most-interesting of those sets was manufactured in 1906 by Liebig’s Extract of Meat Company. Liebig was a massive producer of trade cards around the turn of the 19th century. Most of these appear to have been printed through chromolithography. There were enough sets produced by Liebig and its ilk that in some parts of the world it appears that trading cards are still known as chromos.*

*Where trading cards are known as “barajitas” in Latin America, they’re known as “cromos” in Spain.

Liebig sets are wonderfully printed and fantastically varied in subject much in the same way that American and British Tobacco cards depict subject matter that runs the gamut from sports to geography to history to anthropology to science and nature. The key difference is that the Liebig cards are huge—much larger than the traditional baseball card size and close to four times the size of a tobacco card. As a result the artwork can be much more detailed and informative.

Jason had specifically informed me about a set which details the production of the cards themselves both through illustration and print progressives which demonstrate how the image looks as each ink is added. This set immediately became something I’d occasionally search for on ebay. It’s there but not cheap. While some pre-war cards are affordable, this did not look to be such a case. Jason however suggested he had a source where it was way cheaper and offered a trade where I’d help out with some fast graphic design expertise in exchange for him sending me the set. So I did. And he did.

The cards arrived last weekend and they’re wonderful. I received the French issue* which, while I can’t read French, I have enough experience doing tech support and QA on non-English computers that I can sort of muddle my way through a lot of romance and germanic languages now.

*There are Italian and German versions as well.

They’re in remarkably good shape for being the oldest cards in my collection* and the depth of the printing is indeed fantastic. Chromolithography looks so much different than modern offset printing. No halftone line screens although there are dot patterns in the different inks. Also there are 14 different inks used on these cards and the resulting images have much different tones than anything you’ll get with modern four-color offset printing.

*Though not the oldest cards in the household. That honor is held by a 1901 T-175 Heroes of the Spanish American War card of Albert Beveridge which is in my wife’s collection.

Anyway, because these cards themselves describe how they’re made I’ll take each card one by one.

Card number one is titled, “The artist composes the subject.” The back, rather than going into the detail of this step chooses to offer a brief description of lithography itself. It was invented in 1796 by Alois Senefelder. It’s useful in reproducing signs, designs, colors, etc. from an original artwork. Liebig works with many artists to create all kinds of chromos.

The front shows an artist whose work gives a hint at the diverse nature of Liebig’s subjects. The progressive though is what’s most interesting to me since it shows the first three inks (two colors and gold) that get printed.

I’m intrigued that the gold goes down first. Metallic inks are opaque so the order they get printed can make a big difference in how things look. In modern printing they usually go down first because they’re denser but sometimes they get thrown on last because they cover up everything else.*

*I always had to check with the pressman on how he wanted things to be trapped.

With this century-old printing, the ink order appears to generally be reversed. Where on modern multi-ink printing presses the dark colors go down first for density reasons, back when colors were printed one at a time you printed the lightest colors first so you could register them while you could still see them on the press sheet. Starting with the yellows and light tans produces a faint image but one where you can still distinguish the inks from each other.

Card two, “Extraction of the lithographic stones.” Lithography requires a specific kind of fine-grained limestone.* As this card specifies, the stones are from a Jurassic deposit found in Solnhofen, Bavaria** but can also be found in France in Le Vigan, Gard. They can also be found in America and England albeit of a lesser quality than the Solnhofen stone. The stones are cut to be 5 to 10 centimeters thick and ground flat. They’re colored yellow-grey and on occasion blue-grey—which indicates a stone that’s especially suited for printing fine details.

*Hence the “lith” portion of the name of the medium. This is literally writing with stones.

**Non-printing nerds may know of this deposit and quarry as the location where Archaeopteryx was discovered and as the single source of all Archaeopteryx fossils. And yes this is why one Archaeopteryx species’s scientific name is Archaeopteryx lithographica.

The image on the front presumably shows a picture of the Solnhofen quarry and shows how the limestone in the quarry guides the thickness of the slabs that get cut. To print these cards you’d need fourteen different slabs.

The progressive has added light cyan and a darker tan. Already Mr Liebig’s face is starting to look real with the blue providing a decent amount of shadow detail. The gold is no longer showing up on the list but we’re at five inks used now.

Card three, “Lithographic reproduction,” contains a bunch of details about how lithography actually works. A reversed image has to be drawn using special oils on a polished stone. With colored subjects, the design has to be drawn on multiple stones, one stone for each color although when inks overlap even more colors can be produced. Nothing I can make sense of as for how the different color components are determined though.

This description finally starts to get into the actual process of how lithography actually works. At it’s heart it’s just the oil and water principle. The design gets drawn on the stone in oil or grease. The stone is wetted. Water doesn’t stick to the design. The stone is then inked. Ink is oil based, sticks to the design, but doesn’t stick to the water. Then the paper is pressed against the stone and takes the ink.

The image shows a room with multiple artisans each drawing on a lithographic stone. Note that everyone’s working on a large-scale lithograph rather than something card sized.

The progressive meanwhile has added a brown and a light magenta ink, taking our total to 7 inks used and giving Mr. Liebig a little flush in his cheeks.

Card 4, “Printing proofs.” After the stones have the grease drawing on them they’re cleaned with Nitric Acid.* This cleaning allows the non-oily parts of the stone to accept and hold water so only the oily parts attract the ink. Before the final printing, progressive color proofs (which will look very much like the progressive portraits of Mr. Liebig) are run beginning witt the lightest colors and ending with the darkest.

*Diluted since limestone aka Calcium Carbonate and concentrated acid will react.

It’s nice to see my observation about the progressive proofs being explicitly mentioned. We’ve now got a pair of darker cyan and magenta inks added to the mix as well.

And the image shows a number of printers all working single sheet hand presses that squeeze the paper against the stone in order to produce the print. This is a pretty labor-intensive process where the wetting, inking and paper pressing is all done by hand.

Card 5, “Final printing.” When the proofs are sufficiently close to the original artwork, the rotary pressman can follow them. The original artwork is transferred multiple times to a new, larger stone which undergoes the same polishing, drawing, and acid wash as before only this time it’s wetted, inked, and printed via automated cylinders.

I wish this described how the images are transferred from the small stones to be printed multiple times on the large ones. It’s very interesting however to see a depiction of the automatic press. I’ve only seen lithography done as art prints now so hand-presses are the only surviving production method.

The automatic press shows why offset printing is a commercially more viable process. Instead of a stone which has to be inked by rollers moving across the entire surface, modern offset lithography uses metal plates that have the same oil/water surface but can also be wrapped around a cylinder. The water can get applied via rollers. Same with the ink. A rubber blanket cylinder transfers* the ink from the plate to the paper (also on a cylinder) and, since it’s softer than stone allows for a more-even print while also protecting the stone image from being degraded by paper.

*Hence the term “offset” being used since there’s no longer a direct contact between the plate and the paper.

The printing industry just needed photography to catch up to its needs. We used photography to convert images to halftone screens. We used it to expose plates. And we used to create multiples of a single piece of artwork.

Also I can’t help but point out that a woman makes her first appearance on the cards as the press operator.

Meanwhile Mr Liebig now features dark brown and dark cyan inks and is looking nearly human in his 10 inks plus gold frame.

Card 6, “Cutting and packing.” The sheets are cut mechanically. They’re then counted and packaged for shipping. The rest of the text describes the progressive proofs in twelve colors plus gold and calls out the new colors that result in the completed image.

The bindery is a basic hand bindery with a mechanical paper cutter and lots of desk space for people to count and sort and package everything. This is still a pretty common thing. While super-advanced automated systems do exist, for small jobs doing it all by hand is the way to go. Cutters are safer and counting is usually done by weighing the finished product but otherwise yeah, lots of hand work at this point.

Also, while the progressives specific 12 colors plus gold, the last two inks added on the list are dark magenta and medium grey. Black never gets mentioned despite being clearly in the image not only as his name plate but also the final detail work in Mr. Liebig’s irises.

This isn’t an oversight but instead reflects how Black doesn’t show up much in the images. Black objects usually get there because of mixing the other inks. You only need to generate the black component to save ink or prevent too much getting put on the paper. Black typically only shows up on it’s own Key* plate and is used for text and border colors and so.

*Why it’s assigned K in the CMYK model.

So yeah. Where modern printing would print this in five inks (CMYK plus metallic gold) in 1906 this used fourteen. Lots more work. Lots more effort. All for something that was being given away. Still, super duper cool and I love having these in my collection both as a explanation of how chromolithography works and as a demonstration of what they actually look like. Thanks Jason!

Tolkien

On our big New York day trip, the stop I was most looking forward to was visiting the Morgan Library to see the Tolkien exhibition. As a long-time Tolkien fan* being able to see the actual artwork that I grew up with on the covers** was super exciting.

*Lord of the Rings is on the short list of books my wife had to read when when we got together and I’m in the process of reading them now with my eldest.

**Specifically the Ballantine editions that published in the 1970s.

I don’t have much to say about the book illustrations aside from how great it is to see them in person. It’s always nice to see how he envisioned Middle Earth and being able to see the actual brush strokes is especially wonderful.

The best part of the exhibition though is all the ephemera related to how he developed the books. His working maps with multiple layers of revised geography. His lettering sketches where he’s working out how the fire writing or other illustrations will look. Notes about units and how Hobbits will measure distance or volume. Timelines so he can keep the multiple storylines synchronized.

Much of this information didn’t make it into the Lord of the Rings Appendices. Instead I’ve seen people reassemble and compile it after the fact. It’s fantastic to see that he considered it all during development.

Related to this, I love the production notes and how his desires for the artwork printing was more than the printer was able to do at the time. From the red sun and dragon on the classic Hobbit cover to the silver on black desire for printing the Doors of Durin* it’s nice to imagine what things could have looked like. I can’t help but wonder why no one’s printed a copy of Lord of the Rings which follows Tolkien’s desired artwork reproduction.

*So as to mimic the look of Mithril on rock.

Finally, there were a lot of items that didn’t relate to Middle Earth but which demonstrated Tolkien’s development as a graphic artist. I kind of loved these too. His sketches and doodles are wonderful. You get a sense of his esthetics and his love of lettering and it was great of to see these with my kids so they could see how doodling is a way of practicing skills.

There’s also an amazing letter from his mom—who has the same hand lettering that he uses throughout his books. I’d always thought that his lettering was something he practiced and created himself. It turns out that he owes much of it to his mom. And that’s pretty cool.

Anna Atkins

After I went to MoMA I wandered downtown making my way overland to Penn Station. My route took me past the New York Public Library so I decided to duck inside and see Winnie the Pooh (and send a photo to my kids). I had no idea what the special exhibition was and was pleased to see it was photography-related.

Also, it was awesome.

I had not heard of Anna Atkins before so I was just interested in seeing a bunch of old cyanotypes. There’s something wonderful about the old photographic processes and the way the images emerge from the exposed, colored paper. So unlike anything we’re used to seeing today while also being simple and tactile.

My son made a cyanotype photogram in school this year and I love it. Just seeing the flowers and the shadows they leave on the paper captures so much of the wonder of photography and the way that real things are transformed by how they interact with light.

Anna Atkins is a master. The exhibition was a small gallery filled with prints and bound books of cyanotypes. All kinds of plants delicately arranged on the paper and printed so you can see both their shadows and translucency. They evoke pressed flowers but also have an elegance in how they abstract things to the simple single-color tonal range.

They’re wonderful to look at and see as scientific observations and recording where you can compare the plants and their structures. They’re also flat-out beautiful prints* which are perfect for something like seaweed which floats in water and plays with filtered light.

*Lots of good examples over at Hyperallergic.

One of my favorite exhibits in the Monterey Bay Aquarium is the one which shows the kelp forest and places the kelp between me and the sunlight so I can get a sense of how magical the light in the forests must be. It’s a difficult thing to capture well with a camera and many of these cyanotypes put my attempts to shame.

It’s not just the plant prints that are great though. Atkins used the cyanotype process as a way to print entire books. Text and title pages are all printed as blue prints. It’s a wonderful way to home-brew your own printing just in general and creates a book where everything feels incredibly consistent.

Yes, book. Many of these prints are bound into large volumes of prints. There’s a book of British seaweed. Another of British flowers. I found myself inspecting the bindings to try and figure out how the heck they were assembled since they can’t be bound signatures.

Some of the books are clearly assembled sheets with the edges sewn together. No edge or face trim has left them looking pretty ragged since the pages aren’t exactly the same size or aligned perfectly. Others though look like proper books with gilt edges and I really can’t see how the pages were assembled. It’s an impressive binding job that the exhibit doesn’t even call attention to.

The other exhibition space in the library is dedicated to contemporary works which are riffing on what Atkins did. So more photograms and cyanotypes and experiments in how the photo paper itself reacts to light. They’re fun to see but none of them match the originals.*

*Collector Daily has a decent write up.

I did however especially enjoy Alison Rossier’s exposed expired photo paper both in the simplicity of the work and how it shows the numerous different responses that paper can have to light.

GiantsNOW

They’re here! They’re here! I’ve not only finished my GiantsNOW cards set, I’ve gotten everything printed. I’m not going to go card-by-card through the set of 162 cards but I will start with selections from the various card types. These are converted from the PDFs rather than scans because good lord who has time to scan all these.

Roster Cards

Coach cards

Stats

Highlights

All Star, awards, and leaders

In Memoriam

While I finished the designs all in October, I had to wait until November and all post-season awards had been distributed before ordering them. If I’d pulled the trigger early Brandon Crawford would’ve won a Gold Glove and I’d’ve felt silly not including it. Instead I found myself having to include a memorial to Willie McCovey. Not the way I wanted to end the season but it had to be done.

Doing a set of cards for the season was a lot of work but really forced me to change how I followed the team. I’ve never been more in tune with the day-to-day roster status of all 50+ guys who spent time on the 40-man roster. Given the increased bullpen use and reliance on taxi squads, I learned a lot about how difficult the life of a replacement-level player can be and found myself increasingly sympathizing with them as I tried to find a good photo of yet another middle reliever.

I also had to develop a routine of not only checking the game results but recording the line score each day as well as composing a short summary of each game. This is a level of “what happened” that I haven’t been in tune with since I was 10 years old and baseball was the only thing that mattered.

The need to source a photo added an additional challenge. Zimbio became my friend. Local newspapers were also okay. And for the roster photos the SF Giants photo blog was wonderful. Yes I just copied these photos. But copying a photo and printing it out for my own personal use is something I’m okay with. I’m not selling these and none of the photo agencies have anything set up for the “I just want to make a print for my own personal use” market.*

*Yes I’ve looked. I’m trying to find a Scott Garrelts 8×10 photo for my personal use and the only option I’ve been able to find is paying Getty $500 for the rights to publish it.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, my set came out to exactly 162 cards. Breaking those down a bit more, I had 99 highlights (one for every win or series plus other highlights where appropriate as well as two All Star cards), 54 roster cards (48 players who appeared in a game plus 6 coaches), seven team leader cards, one Willie Mac Award winner, and one Wille McCovey memorial (RIP Stretch).

Cards are numbered beginning with the highlights in chronological order, followed by the nine post-season awards/leaders/memorial cards, then players in order of first appearance (so the first page is the opening day lineup), and finally coaches at the end.

I redesiged the backs a bit from my initial post. I’m very pleased with them now (also card back design is surprisingly hard). Fronts were a very good choice as they were very very easy to generate, I never had to touch them after the initial small tweaks (I had to bump a drop shadow over by a half point), and they kept me from ever falling behind.

The hardest thing to figure out was how to print them. I eventually settled on Magcloud—which meant that I had to submit things 9up on a letter-sized sheet. So I bled off cutting marks and made sure that everything was backed-up correctly. This was a bit more work but also allowed me to have some fun with puzzle backs.

I got everything back before Thanksgiving but it took a long time to trim.* The stock is a bit thin but not horrid—at worst Sports Illustrated for Kids quality, at best 1989 Donruss quality. They’re done now and I couldn’t be happier.

*Trimming isn’t hard it’s just time-consuming. But once you get into a rhythm it’s not too bad and the pile of trimmed cards even ends up in the correct order.

Paging everything up looks great. As exciting as the uncut sheets were to hold there’s something about handling these as cards and seeing them in pages which is completely transformative. I made these. This is my memory of the season. I’m glad my kids will each have their own set of these too.

Will I do this again next year? I’m not sure. If I do it definitely won’t be to the degree I did this year. I’ll probably do a complete roster since that will include a lot of guys who don’t get regular cards that season. Select highlights could also be fun. But 99 cards was a lot and ended up featuring a lot of the same players over and over while also featuring the same kind of highlights over and over.

I don’t need ten Brandon Crawford cards to know he was a key player this year. Nor do I need a card of every Game-Winning RBI or Quality Start. Yes I realize that this could also just be a reflection of the dearth of highlights from the Giants this season.

Anyway as the season went on I found myself increasingly selecting silly photos from events that did not go the Giants way. I’d been doing a silly card here or there all season but the way the season went off the rails in September meant that highlighting the derp was the only way to still enjoy making the cards. Yes it was fun. But it’s not a lasting fun and I’d rather be more selective about highlights moving forward.

I’m already playing with doing a tobacco-style card this time—specifically inspired by the T210 Old Mills with their black and white photos and red borders. I don’t feel like doing a lot of work to accomplish the painted look but black and white conversions are right in my wheelhouse and changing the border color to orange is a quality look.*

*Yes I am aware that orange T210s also exist.

The smaller format means I could use smaller photos as well as fewer binder pages and spend less money ordering prints. Plus I’m increasingly taken by the way that tobacco cards look all paged up in 20-pockets. So maybe a roster plus 20 highlights? That would result in a 4-page set and cost a fourth as much to produce.

Or maybe I’ll go with something business-card sized and use the late-50s, early-60s Bazooka look with its nice simple block colors and fonts as my inspiration. Business cards are a fun aspect ratio and there are plenty of print-on-demand places that specialize in business cards. Heck BCW even makes 10-pocket sheets that will fit things perfectly.

Thanks Matt for suggesting this project and thanks to Marc and Ross for also pushing me to go through with it (we’ve been a bit of a codependent group encouraging each other to stick it out)

Diamond Kings from Dub

One of the most important lessons of the modern card-collecting landscape is to learn that you cannot collect everything and, by extension, which specific sets are your thing and which ones are not. Panini’s current crop of unlicensed logoless sets? Very much not my thing. Diamond Kings’ with their photos that have been altered to look like paintings and crazy colored backgrounds? Also not my thing. And that’s not even getting into the way that these checklists are like 100 cards.

Still, I’ve been seeing lots of people opening packs and boxes and posting their hits and despite not feeling any compulsion to buy this product, I’ve noticed some extremely interesting things going on with the way it’s been produced. The paper looks to have a texture and the finish is not the usual gloss UV coating. While I don’t need a pack, I recognized that I’d probably end up acquiring a common or two so as to investigate how they were made.

Enter Joey/@DubMentality who, in addition to being one of the most generous guys on card twitter with regard to sending cards to people, has a personal blog dedicated to the junk wax glory days and also pops up on other sites writing about newer sets. I especially like his series on Beckett where he interviews card shop proprietors. Anyway I’d responded to his review of Diamond Kings with a few comments/questions about the production and he popped a plain white envelope full of Giants in the mail for me so I could answer them myself.

Said PWE arrived yesterday so in addition to now feeling like part of the club to have received a mailday from Joey, I’m happy to add some Giants cards I never intended to buy to the binders and geek out on some printing and production.

First impressions? Interesting. I’m still not a fan of the general design with the photoshopped painting effect that couldn’t even fix McCutchen’s jersey to have orange highlights and not be obviously the Pirates, but these work a lot better in person than they do in photos. The whole effect—paper finish, Photoshop filter, color palette—shows a lot more consideration than the autopilot design process that many of Topps’s sets seem to display. That said, it’s pretty clear that the smoke/unpainted portion of the cards is exactly the same card-to-card so there’s still a lot of templating going on in ways that undermine the intended effect.

Printproductionwise though these are super interesting. The cardboard itself is indeed textured. Looking at all the photos everyone else was posting I thought it was like a linen uncoated stock.* In person I can see it’s actually coated stock which feels closer to the cambric texture on casino-quality playing cards.** The coating allows for much more vibrant colors*** and Panini has wisely decided to varnish the cards rather than UV coat them so as to not bury the texture beneath a layer of plastic.

*The framed “hit” cards appear to use an uncoated laid stock for the frame and the pair of textures works surprisingly well for me. Also getting images of paper textures online is surprisingly hard to find. However Wikipedia’s Laid article isn’t bad. The Linenizing one on the otherhand…

**Typically the Bee brand. Cambric is a more fabric-looking texture as opposed to the more-familar air-cushion texture on Bicycle cards.

***I was half-expecting something less contrasty like 1996 or 1997 Fleer.

The result is cards that don’t have that distinctive UV coated smell that bursts out of most packs and which, because of the paper texture, actually sort of look like paintings. I was surprised to see that I didn’t mind the logolessness with these. Something about the painting effect means that small details don’t have to be there.

Where the base cards don’t grab me, the Orlando Cepeda Gallery of Stars card is wonderful and captures some of the old-school Diamond Kings appeal. Yes it’s not actually a painting but something about this—whether it’s the pose or the cropping—feels more like what this style is supposed to look like.

While not something I’d want a huge set of, as an insert or insert set it’s massively successful. It’s not supposed to look like a regular baseball card, it’s supposed to look like a Diamond King. And it does. The cambric texture isn’t necessary but it’s a fantastic level of detail which seals the deal.

On feEling and handling

When I was scanning these cards for the post, because of the texture and the way it made me think of playing cards, instead of immediately returning these to the penny sleeves that Joey sent them in I gathered up the four cards into a stack and quickly thumbed them from one hand to the other in the way I’d look at my hand in Hearts or Bridge. They feel great. No sticking like a lot of the UV coated sets. No constant awareness of the surface of the card the way a lot of junk wax (but even Heritage) feels. These just glide from hand-to-hand in a way that makes me want to continue to handle them.

It’s massively appealing in a tactile way that I’ve never encountered before with baseball cards. There’s a certain joy in ripping open a pack and shuffling through your brand new stack; the way the cards feel against each other is such a key component of that sensation. A fresh pack of Diamond Kings must feel amazing.

So now I kind of want a set of cards which is designed to be held and sorted and resorted rather than hermetically sealed aside from the brief moment between opening the packs and paging the pile.