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.

GiantsNOW

A couple weeks ago Matt Prigge had the excellent idea to roll his own ToppsNOW/Upper Deck Documentary set for this season. Such a wonderful idea. The promise of those sets is in their potential for creating a summary of the season—the kind of thing fans of each team will want to look back on once the season completes.* The reality of these sets? Unfortunately not so much. Topps hypes the same teams and players it hypes in its regular releases and ignores large portions of the country. And Upper Deck reused photos ad nauseum so cards became indistinguishable from each other.

*Note, as a Giants fan, I’m fully aware of how you might not want to look back on a season.

Realizing how we don’t need to be reliant on Topps to create our cards for us is fantastic. Things like the Rookies App are great for people who can’t make their own customs. And for those of us who have a bit of design/production prowess, all we have to do is take that plunge into creating a bunch of 2.5″×3.5″ documents.

Battlin’ Bucs has already jumped on board this idea and I figured it was worth taking a stab as well. A full-on Documentary-style 162-card set is a bit ambitious but I can totally do highlights. Since I didn’t feel like creating my own design from scratch I decided to rip off 1993 Upper Deck.

I’ve always loved this design because of how much it showed could be accomplished with just text. The masking of the words at the top is achieved by just deleting a character. The drop shadows are just the same text shifted a point down and to the right. It’s a sharp look which emphasizes the photo.

Of course I tweaked it a bit. Since this is a Giants-only set I put the team name on the top of the card instead. And I swapped out the gradient to be the Giants’ colors. And the script font is Mistral instead of what Upper Deck used since I don’t keep to many script fonts handy. Does Mistral date this horribly? Kind of. But I’ve also come to like it for what it is as well.

I liked the first card so much that I decided to do a few more highlights. Once the template is set up it’s easy to just keep making them. The hardest part is finding the photos from various news sites on the web.

One of the wonderful things about baseball cards is that because they’re so small, sourcing photos from the web is actually possible. 900×600 pixels is plenty big enough here. It’s just a shame that so many websites have switched to video-only content and no longer have photos now.

The only problem with letting the web be my photo editor is that I risk having a highlights set of all home run photos. This is so far an accurate reflection of the season so far but I really hope things get more diverse moving forward.

With the fronts coming along it was time to think about the backs. These are much harder since typesetting statistics is a pain and besides, the point of these cards was to emphasize highlights from the season.

A short paragraph writeup of the game is enough. Having the line score is fun. And since Wikipedia’s logos are all SVG you can tweak them in Illustrator for whatever you need them to be. I’m not as taken with these as with the card fronts but they serve my purpose.

I’m not sure how many highlights there are going to be this season. As a fan more highlights would be preferable but that will also drag this project from being something fun to being a complete slog. At this rate though a 99-card set would be my goal. Now that I have the template set up, this shouldn’t be too hard to bang out.

The other portion of this project is the idea of a living roster set. Not every player will make it onto a highlight card but it’s nice to have a record of everyone who appeared in the uniform over the season.

I didn’t have the ganas to create a new design for this. Besides, the interesting thing about sourcing photos from the web is how so many of them are horizontal shots. This template works really well with horizontal images and I’m enjoying seeing the possibilities that come from just dropping photos in.

I’ve also been trying to get photos of players as close to their first game of the season as possible. I may update later if an especially great photo comes out but part of what I’m liking about the idea of a living roster set is that it grows as more players put on the uniform.

Not all photos are horizontal however so I had to tweak things again for the vertical design. I didn’t like how cramped “San Francisco” was at the top so I switched it out for something shorter. Yes it’s in Spanish. Yes we call the team this locally. Yes it’s my design anyway.

The nature of the vertical design is more awkward for the action photography but lends itself to other interesting compositions. Like I’ll probably change Austin Jackson’s photo at some point but I like it for now.

At this point though, since the Giants have already used their entire 25-man active roster I’ve been able to get in-game photos of all but two of the guys. This means that the project now only entails upgrading images and noticing when someone like Bumgarner comes off the disabled list or when there’s a minor league transaction such as today’s activation of Tyler Beede and deactivation of Roberto Gómez. So I can take things easy for a bit until September gets here and hopefully by then a lot of those guys will already have made appearances.

The backs of the roster cards are even more of a challenge though. For my purposes they need to both summarize the season and also mark when he first appeared with the team this year. I thought a little bit about going with full stats but decided to just go with one line for the season.* I’ll probably add an additional line of text for anyone who gets traded to show when they joined or left the team.

*Current stats on these backs are placeholder text so I can see how much fits and everything. I’m not touching stats until the season ends.

Cards will be numbered in the order players appeared with the team as well. This is partially for my sanity as I can just add a card to the end of my document whenever someone makes their debut but also intends to give me a summary of how the season progresses. This will also allow the first page of this set to be the Opening Day lineup* which is a little detail I’m especially happy with.

*I’m putting Bochy as card number 10. And no these existing back images do not have the final numbers at all.

How do I intend to print these? No idea. My best guess is to put a bunch on a large sheet of digital printing, glue fronts and backs together, and trim everything myself. Not sure how many sheets this will take. The other logical solution is to get cheapo 4″×6″ prints and glue those together before trimming. This will be more work but at less than 20¢ a print it means I could do this whole project for $30.

Of course all this assumes I’ll even finish this project this year (watch this space in November). But it’s been fun so far and I’m hoping the peer pressure of other guys in Card Twitter doing their projects and showing their progress keeps me on task.

The Mütter

I learned about the Mütter Museum from Penn and Teller’s How to Play in Traffic. Penn made it sound cool in the same way that magic feeds off of the carnie, Victorian, old-school throwback tradition of entertainment that is both incredibly physical yet also oddly spiritual. I mentally filed it away as a place to check out. It only took me twenty years to cross that item off my list. I should’ve gone sooner.

The Mütter is a museum in which the chief feature is the museum itself. There’s no way to make a museum like this today. That it exists at all is kind of a miracle. It feels like it’s stepped out of one of those Steven Millhauser stories which takes place in the same 19th-century world of magic and carnival where the perspective switches halfway through and the viewer goes from observing to being part of the spectacle. While being in the galleries doesn’t go quite that far, I did find myself constantly reconciling my opposing feelings and reactions.

It’s compelling yet repulsive. I want to gawk and point while at the same time really look and learn. Most of the items on display are literally human and have the gravity of that mana* still. I know that everything used to be human and alive. That it came from a person who had a name and existed on this planet just like I do. And yet they’re now specimens in jars or displayed in wonderful Victorian cabinets with warped glass that constantly reminds you about the display. I’m invited to look even while I don’t want to out of respect. I’m compelled to look even though the grotesque nature of what’s on display makes me want to turn away.

*I briefly touch on this concept in my Totality post.

That so many of the displays feature fetuses or fetal tissue makes things sit right in that grey area too. The regular fetal displays—especially the displays of skeletons all disassembled with just the teeth arrayed in a recognizable formation—are uncanny in that I’m forced to think about what happened in order to get the sample.* But it’s all of the jars and skeletons of non-standard fetal development which really does the trick. I can’t help but see these as confirmation that it’s not a baby until it’s a baby. Yet at the same time I look at them and marvel that they were at some level alive.

*While beautiful in their own right these don’t have the beauty of Lennart Nilsson’s photos nor do they allow you to pretend that the subjects are still alive.

The surprising, and disturbing, thing was finding myself feeling secure in the fact that the non-standard fetuses didn’t survive. As different as they are, they’re still human and I didn’t expect myself to be so relieved by realizing how incapable of living they were.

It’s a rare thing to be really forced to think about what makes someone human but that’s the territory the Mütter lives in. So many of the exhibits operate right there on that level. Whether it’s forcing you to think about monstrous births or the abstraction of when tissue samples become too personal. Or maybe it’s just the shelves and shelves of small multiples—skulls and other bones—which at first glance appear to be an impersonal collection but quickly becomes a set of items to compare and notice differences. Each sample has its own personality.

Carnivals and reliquaries

There are also a number of displays which are about specific people. Many of these tend toward the carnie side of things whether it’s pairing the huge and tiny skeletons* or just putting the gigantic colon** on display. We even have the death cast and conjoined livers of Chang and Eng to make that carnival aspect as obvious as possible.

*I appreciate that we get life stories about the two people whose skeletons are displayed.

**It’s also nice that we have his story. I deeply appreciate using “bucket” as the official unit of volume for feces.

We have a long history of calling these outliers “freaks,” specifically “carnival freaks,” and while that sense is still present in the museum—it’s impossible not to gawk—there’s a lot more going on. The Mütter shows a wider range of human possibilities and so rather than being something abnormal or freaky my takeaway is that I should give the entire spectrum of humanity more credit.

The museum itself is wrestling with a certain amount of this as well. The Soap Lady is one of their prize attractions (Specimens? Displays? Again it seems odd to talk about people this way) yet only recently has the museum started tackling and dismantling the myths which surround her. Much of what the museum thought it knew has turned out to be false—in very much the same way that a carnival story is usually a false history—and it’s now trying to learn the real stories behind her history

The weirdest part about learning the details about the people whose bodies are on display though is how fine the line is between the carnival shows and reliquaries. When what makes the people distinct is something physical then it’s hard not to look at the samples with the carnival show mindset. However when the person (or people) involved is legitimately famous, the reliquary side comes into play as well.

Chang and Eng straddle this line. Einstein on the other hand is solidly into reliquary territory even though it’s only his most-important, distinguishing organ which is on display. Yes his brain is there so we can possibly learn from it. But it’s also there because of who he was and how much mystery there is still in intelligence.

The non-natural

While most of the museum is about things that occur naturally, there are also some exhibits about what humans do to each other or themselves. These make a very interesting comparison with the diverse nature of how people can take forms which are beyond our dreams/nightmares.

The room of Civil War injuries is particularly gruesome and relevant today in how it details the artificial nature of death through violence—specifically gunshots and how destructive they were. Still are. We don’t see these kinds of things today. The photos get cropped or blurred if they’re even published at all. There’s just something gut wrenching in seeing the physical evidence of how bones are just shattered by bullets.

With the way that mechanized death led to embalming and a different understanding of death itself I can’t help but wonder if we need a similar shock today. We’ve gone too long just accepting that guns are an unescapable part of this society.

On a lighter note, there’s also the Chevalier Jackson Collection. Note, this is only lighter in a place like The Mütter. Good lord. I don’t have too much to say about it except that looking through the drawers and drawers of things that people have swallowed or inhaled gave me the willies.

Lisa Nilsson

Lisa Nilsson, Angelico.

There was also one special exhibition of items not in The Mütter’s collection.  It was very cool. Lisa Nilsson’s paper sculptures are amazing both in their craft and in what they show. One of my basic art assignments was to cut a piece of fruit or vegetable in half and then draw a detailed rendering of what I found. The point was to truly examine the inside of the item, see it, learn about it, and finally communicate that understanding through art.

Nilsson is doing that but using rolled strips of paper to communicate what the human body looks like in cross section. It’s a masterclass of craft but it also is a fabulous experiment in showing the beauty that comes from abstracting these things slightly. I know and recognize the body parts. But I’m invited to look closely and can appreciate what I’m seeing in a way that I couldn’t let myself do in the rest of the museum.

I also love the sense of humor in a lot of these where some aspects are rendered in cross section while others—like collars or hair or, my favorite, a halo—are not. There’s a willingness to push these into their own fantasy which both speaks to the renaissance origins of quilling and directly contradicts it in how it puts all objects on the same two-dimensional plane.

 

Great Googly Moogly

Trading over the internet has been a ton of fun so far. Instead of being concerned about “value” or card-for-card sort of trades, we’ve all been able to fill holes in each other’s collections and be surprised by what we receive in return. Still, the exchanges have so far been limited to bubble mailers and exchanges of maybe a dozen cards or so. Which means that when I received Shane Katz’s package I was a bit blown away.

A surprise bubble mailer is fun. A surprise box? Above and beyond any of my expectations especially as an exchange for a bunch of regional food issued cards.

Anyway, digging in. The coolest part was knocking off ten spots on my Giants wantlist. This would have been plenty generous an exchange as it is. Getting a few additional items—specifically the McCormick Game card and the Halicki mini—which I wasn’t actively seeking is a cool bonus.

That the 1968 Lindy McDaniel is a high number and the 1969 Bobby Bolin is a white name variant deserves special mention here.

The rest of the box is all Giants cards. At first glance I thought these were all dupes. Turns out it’s a set where there’s one card for each home run Barry hit. I can’t imagine how insufferable this must’ve been to non-Giants fans. Bondsmania was annoying enough in the Bay Area as it was and we actually liked him. When I see things like this I’m reminded of the way Topps has been behaving about Aaron Judge right now. Very glad we didn’t have Topps Now during the Bonds year.

Also, Shane packaged these with the 666 on top. As well he should’ve.

Oh-Pee-Chee! Always fun. I was very surprised to learn that Upper Deck purchased the brand. In some ways this is the most disturbing change to me in the entire hobby. Oh-Pee-Chee has always been Canadian Topps. Not anymore though.

It’s been pointed out on Twitter to me that because Upper Deck purchased Oh Pee Chee, Upper Deck felt like they could print cards using old Topps designs. Topps obviously felt otherwise but this would certainly explain the 1963 Topps designed Upper Deck which I found in a repack.

Topps Magazine and Wacky Packages. not much to say about these except that they’re fun. The Topps Magazine cards in particular presaged a lot of the archives/heritage product in how they use the old designs with current players. Aside from the card stock issues by being magazine inserts, I found their interpretations of the old designs to be better homages than the current product in stores.

First true WTF is this moment of the box goes to Toppstown. I gather that these are redemptions for digital cards—a product which is now covered by Topps Bunt. I’m just going to show my age and admit that I still don’t understand digital cards.

Minis! Specificaly, Fleer minis. The Topps minis I have. Not these ones but I have some of the set. Fleer? I’d not even heard of. I even had some 1975 minis when I was a kid—no idea where I got them—but I never saw the Fleer. So that’s a fun discovery.


1985 Fleer is a set which I have a pack of plus some random commons. So I don’t have many, if any, Giants. I do now. This is cool.

The other oddballs are a lot of fun too. I’ve started collecting these—especially Giants samples— and they’re a wonderful combination of regional issues and samples of what players and highlights from the year are considered nationally noteworthy. The regional stuff is always fun to discover. The national stuff meanwhile is fun for a team collector because it signifies that someone on your team did something noteworthy.

Woolworths meanwhile, while it existed on the West Coast, seems to have disappeared by the time I was collecting cards. Not a store I was ever familiar with. And these cards are not something I ever saw until I started collecting again this year.

And there was a decent amount of junk wax which I know I collected. I suspect that I have half of these. But I’m not sure which half and the ones which I “need” are especially welcome since they fill in holes in the Giants teams I cared about the most.


Allen&Ginter, Gypsy Queen, and more Minis. I’m glad to have some representative samples of these sets since none of them interest me. Gypsy Queen’s managed to find a way to make HDR look even worse and the faux-retro plus over-processed digital photograph combination gives me hives.

Ginter on the other hand is much more interesting. I still don’t know quite know what I think about it. I know I don’t like it as a baseball card set. It’s also super expensive for what’s basically a gimmick. But I do like the tobacco card size and I’ve found myself enjoying the non-sports cards on the checklist.

Actually looking closely at them though is disappointing. The printing is screened process inks rather than a solid spot color and as a result looks like someone’s tried to counterfeit a vintage card.

Cards from that time period were printed as multiple-color lithographs. So not halftones or screens—especially on the text. For the price that the Ginter brand costs cost I’m disappointed to see that, not only weren’t they printed with solid inks, that no one bothered to confirm that the tiny type wouldn’t be destroyed by the halftone screen.

I was also amused by the all-text stats on Ginter’s backs. I know this is a vintage touch but it also feels a bit twee. That the T-206 style card includes a real cigarette ad on the back also surprised me. I didn’t expect this even though both Allen&Ginter and Gypsy Queen are also tobacco/cigarette brands. That none of those brands are in production and are instead associated with baseball cards is presumably why Topps can use the names.

Still, I learned that Topps changed the advertisement from “The Cigarette of Quality” to “The Brand of Quality” so it appears that you can’t actually say cigarette still on what’s ostensibly a kid’s product.

Lots of Topps Fan Favorites. This is indeed a fun set. As a Giants fan all of these strike me in the exact right way. Yes it’s weird to see these glossy but the better quality printing and trimming is very nice. It’s especially nice to see them using the correct vintage Giants logo.

I am curious why Monte Irvin’s signature is missing—it’s there on his actual 1953 Topps card. And with Bobby Thomson being in the 1952 high numbers this is likely to be as close as I’ll ever come to that card. Ditto with the Willie Mays cards too but that’s a much more obvious situation.

And finally a ton of stuff which is still very new to me. It’s going to take me a while to figure out what these all are. I recognize Topps Heritage and some of the Topps flagship cards. But the rest? Way over my head. I’ve got two decades of card collecting to figure out and sets to investigate. Though I do know that it’s Bowman Chrome which throws my autofocus all out of whack.

So yes. Giant box of cool stuff from Shane. If I ever come into an unexpected cache of 1956 Topps cards I’ll have to return the favor. Until then I’m just overwhelmed and grateful.