Category Archives: craft

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.

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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.

Peter Koch

Since I was at the Cantor Center, I wandered across campus to the library to see whatever special exhibition they had up. Oh boy did I luck out. Turns out it was a Peter Koch show.

So beautiful printing. Bookbinding as part of the design instead of merely being a craft. And fantastic woodcuts and photogravures. As a print geek the only problem is that everything’s under glass and I can’t get as close a look at things I wish I could.

What I can see is great and I love that the library had enough specimens to be able to display both a spread from the book and the binding itself. While print is a craft which people take for granted, bookbinding is one which makes printing look like common knowledge.

Koch’s bookbinding is frequently gloriously about the binding. This isn’t just the kind of thing where you can see bumps on the spine where the cords are under the leather, in these cases the stitching isn’t hidden at all and functions as a design feature. Look at the book and you can see how it was made. I can only imagine what handling such a thing must be like.

The printing, particularly the typesetting—is also often virtuosic. Small pieces like Real Lead do things with type and typefaces which most of us shouldn’t even consider trying. Other pieces are more traditional but show how beautiful properly-selected fonts can be—especially when given enough white space to breathe.

But Koch’s books are not just about type.* They frequently include images and these, while not always printed by Koch, are as well crafted as the text. In particular I love Richard Wagener’s engravings. His work appears in a couple of books but I love the Sierra Nevada prints most of all. They look high contrast but there’s so much shadow detail in them when you look closely. Online images don’t do them justice.

*Even though he keeps returning to make books consisting of just pages of “wordswordswordswordswordswordswordswordswordswordswordswords”

Other books feature photographic prints, photogravures, and watercolors. In the small print runs which these were made, the special care taken with the images really shows.

It’s nice to see too that Koch’s work embraces digital techniques. The photogravures went through a digital intermediate. It looks like a lot of the type is also set by computer rather than being cold metal. And many of the books and prints use digital printing for the images.

His Lost Journals of Sacajewea book in particular is a great example of the mix of digital and traditional techniques. Hand-made paper with digital photographic printing as well as letterpressed type. The resulting product looks great.

And the content also looks amazing. One of the things it’s easy to miss with these artist books is how important the actual content of the book is. The craft is overwhelming but it’s important that the book itself be worth reading too. Many of the poems and texts look good. The Lost Journals of Sacajewea though looks great—both in terms of the content of the writing and the general subject matter of the work.

Koch is very interested in investigating and challenging the myths of The West while still operating in a printmaking and publishing tradition which stems from those days. So many of his projects look like Old West publications until you look closer and see how they’re challenging everything.

Two of them—Hard Words and Nature Morte aren’t even letterpress works. These are purely digital series where Koch placed wood and metal type directly on the scanner with the photograph and printed the resulting composition. And even here, despite the purely digital workflow, these manage to reference the history of The West. I couldn’t help but think of Mark Twain’s teenage portrait with “SAM” in the composing stick and the way that both printing and photography play with negatives and reversals in the image.

Creativity on the Line

Container Corporation of America. Great Ideas of Western Man. George Washington.

One of the Cantor Center’s big shows this summer is about Mid-century Corporate Design. It’s good and tracks the rise of corporate design after World War 2 when the emergent consumer culture* meant that products had to distinguish themselves in ways beyond function and value.

*Note, there was a ton of government investment in infrastructure which had to happen in order to enable this culture and while that’s all outside of this write up I viewed the entire exhibition with this in mind.

So of course we start with Bauhaus in order to get a baseline of both product design and corporate design. But it quickly gets into Walter Paepcke and the Container Corporation of America and the International Design Conference in Aspen. This is the highlight of the show and there’s lots of very interesting stuff here both in terms of the relationships between corporations and designers and the implication that exporting American products is exporting American design—and by extension, American principles.

I was reminded of the Covert Operations show—in particular Taryn Simon’s work—and how much of America’s image abroad during this time could be tied to American art and design. And by extension how corporate design, more than any other media is a reflection of both who we are and what what we value.

Container Corporation of America. Great Ideas of Western Man. Teddy Roosevelt. Container Corporation of America. Great Ideas of Western Man. Thomas Paine. Container Corporation of America. Great Ideas of Western Man. Jean Jaques Rousseau.

This is especially apparent in the Container Corporation of America’s advertisements. I can’t imagine the controversy which would occur if they were printed today. I can’t imagine a company having the guts to print these today. Yet, they represent exactly what America™ claims to be while also serving as examples of how modern design—especially in the advertising space—is now broken.

As much as the Aspen conference subject matter is concerned with “accepted” taste, it’s also aware of how design has to pick a position and can’t be left to corporate defaults. Nowadays it feels like few, if any companies care about picking any positions. Even supposed design leaders like Apple are mysteries when it comes to their politics and the way their products ship with glaringly obvious design flaws with regard to who it was designed for is dismaying.

If one of the tenets of good design is that everything has been considered, what does it mean if our best design now is so constantly distinguished by a lack of consideration?

That so much of this show focuses on things—companies and events—that Paepcke touched has me wondering if design itself has regressed or if the designs on display have always stood as exceptions to the rule. Or perhaps it’s a bit of both where not everything was as excellent as what’s been selected but corporations have also devalued design because “anyone” can be a “creative.”

This regression is especially apparent in the realm of corporate identity and logo design. There are many mid-century corporate logos and identities on display here—many of which are now sadly extinct. Of these logos, while some are indeed dated, most of them display a level of clean clear graphic design which I just don’t see much anymore.

Sure, I see new corporate identities and style guides all the time. But nothing like the way they all convened at the 1964 World’s Fair and all too often biased toward digital technology and reproduction. And for sure, the world has changed from the age where the only concern was print and spot colors were cheap and plentiful. I totally understand reworking logos so that they are more consistent across printing and display technologies* but too many modern logos contain elements which just don’t work outside of a full-color environment.

*the absence of any print/display notes on how the old logos were intended to be reproduced is something the exhibition was missing.

Seeing logos which can work in 2-color instead of 4-color printing is great. Maybe spot inks aren’t needed anymore for print but they’re still useful for silkscreening tshirts or embroidering bags or even neon signs. Seeing logos which work as just black a and white—let alone logos which can be truly reversed to knock out a background color—is turning into an increasingly rare occurrence. All the mid-century logos do this and it’s what makes their designs so strong.

Also of note

On the topic of logos, There’s a great sequence of Bauhaus designs of the AEG logo which were made with paper cutouts. I enjoy seeing the cut-out paper since it’s both a more tactile way to create a design and it results in a much stronger color presentation and reproduction.

The Olivetti designs in their red dot school purity are always fantastic to see in person. Similarly, a lot of the Henry Dreyfuss designs are great to see in person. Although in all these cases, as with the Dieter Rams show, I couldn’t help but wonder whether the younger generations had any idea what these products did now.

I do love seeming any drafting and industrial design sketches. Especially the ones on medium grey paper which use white pencil for highlights along with various darker colors.

My First Box Break; My First Relic

Continuing from yesterday. I was expecting a package from Peter at Baseball Every Night. I’d sorta-hesitantly joined his box break—I’m new in baseball card twitter and don’t want to be that guy who just takes without having contributed anything. But he convinced me to join and I’m glad I did.

Getting a batch of over a dozen Giants cards in the mail is always fun. And I’m still a bit in awe of the print quality of modern cards. Yes I agree with the complaints about the TV-style graphics and the over-cropped ACTIONACTIONACTION photographs. But at a pure technical level these even blow the original Stadium Clubs out of the water.

It’s nice to get a bunch of long-time franchise favorites. Cain’s been scuffling for a while but when I see his cards I’m still reminded of the first half of this decade. Pence is basically the team mascot now. And I don’t need to say anything about Posey. When I grew up I loved Will Clark. Posey has been the same kind of a guy since his rookie year.

A few other key names, some of whom I’m only just getting used to. It’s been a weird season so far and I’ve had a hard time keeping track of how far off the rails we’ve gotten. I can’t catch a lot of the late games on the East Coast so it’s nice to get photos to match the names.

Also, the Nunez card is a great example of both how the horizontal format works well and how it fails in this particular design template. Sometimes the action just has to be displayed horizontally and a sliding picture is one such play. At the same time, the weird fade-out Topps is doing at the bottom of the cards gets super distracting and noticeable here. Rather than being a fade it looks like the entire photo’s been deleted—only badly.

And some people who I’ve just not heard of. This is both exciting and also a reflection of how this year has been going. We’re doing so badly that it seems like we should just be churning through the complete 40-man roster looking for players who might stick.

Anyway, very nice variety in the break and the kind of team set which, as a team set collector, leaves me feeling super satisfied. It’s important to have some stars but it’s also great to have a good cross-section of the entire team. This break does that perfectly.

Peter also threw in a couple Series 1s thrown in as a bonus. I didn’t get any Giants in my first packs so it was nice to get them this way instead. Thanks Peter, this was a lot of fun and I need to put together a thank you package to send your way in return.

My First Relic


The good news is that I “won” the break. That’s also the bad news. I’m kind of sheepish about this since I’m not big on chase cards and feel like the prize is wasted on me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy to have gotten a relic card. It’s just that my reasons aren’t what Topps is going for.

When I was drifting out of the hobby in the early 90s, relic cards were only beginning to appear. I was intrigued by them then but the idea of chase cards also directly contributed to my disillusionment.* At this point I can’t see myself ever actively acquiring one so getting one from a lucky pack or box break is the only way I’d ever own one.**

*I just found all my 1994 cards. I never bothered to put them in albums at all and, once the strike occurred, they just ended up in a shoebox.

**This is true with most chase cards. The only ones I can see myself acquiring are the printing plate ones which I’m interested in from a purely craft point of view.

It’s certainly an interesting object. I knew they were thicker than the average card but I never realized exactly how thick.* But aside from the cleverness in how it’s made there’s little in this that I find appealing. The patch is a small square of cream CoolBase and there’s literally nothing else of interest on the card. The photo is nice enough—especially if you’re into the cut-out player look—and I enjoy the spot UV coating. But that’s about it. There’s not even anything interesting on the back.

*What the hell do you do with these, just keep them in the toploader and find a box to store the toploader in?

And without the card itself having any interesting information, I’m left holding a small square of fabric and thinking whether I’d be excited about such a thing if it didn’t have the cardboard frame around it.

I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be.

I understand the point of these relics but they’re not for me. At a certain point the small square of cut fabric becomes too abstracted from any emotional meaning. It’s explicitly not from any specific game. And there’s no context to suggest that it’s even from an actual jersey—for all I can tell it’s from a bolt of fabric.* I have to take Topps’s word for it.

*The relic cards which include cuts of patches or numbering are better in this regard.

Holding this card in my hand left me feeling underwhelmed and disappointed about what the hobby has turned into. That pack searching for this kind of card is a thing makes me sad. That hobby packs cost more per-card than retail packs because of this kind of thing makes me sad.

Still, I’m happy to have gotten a relic card because I had no idea how I would react to actually owning one. I did enjoy looking it over and really examining it and thinking about how it’s constructed as a product. I also enjoyed thinking through my reactions to it and trying to figure out why . I even plan to keep it so I can remember why it’s not for me. It’s a rare thing for card to evoke that many different thoughts and emotions.