July backlog

Continuing from June.

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Arpsmith: Topps goes crazy

How many words is that so far. 5000? 6000? Anyway, picking up from the previous post and soldiering on. This post covers not only the Giants World Series years but also shows the huge jump in products and inserts that Topps was releasing after it got a monopoly.

2010

Upper Deck’s trying to fight against the new monopoly. It’s not a great set but I like it better than many people do. Biography is also a neat-looking set in that it has a card for each day of the season. I’d like to see this tried again.

The real story though is Topps with a bunch of different sets. 19 different Topps piles here is just insane. I also don’t have much to say about any of them. The 206s continue to look goofy. So do the Turkey Reds. I do really love that 3D Sandoval card and need to search for more of the Opening Day 3D inserts. Seeing Mel Ott on the 1989 design is completely wrong. And those Topps Attax cards look more like promotional inserts that should be thrown away than an actual collectible card game.

2011

This year. 32 different Topps piles including an increased number of cards which have the same basic design and photos as Flagship. The black ones are kind of cool. The crazy sparkly ones…I don’t know these just aren’t my thing.

I like the Glossy Rookies homage. I’m completely confused at reprinting Buster Posey’s rookie card the year after it released. I love the Lincecum action card from Heritage. I’m not feeling it from Ginter this year since whatever they did for the vintage looks makes Madison Bumgarner look like he has Chicken Pox.

More 2011s. Topps Attax is a huge improvement over 2010. Bowman is getting even more confusiong than it usually is with a couple different paper and chrome designs but no obvious way for me to determine what sets are what. I also have no idea what there are four different Platinum backgrounds and what those are supposed to mean.

Yes that’s a Donruss card. The brand refuses to die. And that last Matt Cain is a sports Illustrated for Kids card. I only ever kept the baseball cards from those when I was a kid and looking at this new version I’m simultaneously happy that the magazine still came with cards 20 years later and sad that it’s not still that horrid blue/teal blotches early-90s design.

2012

Nice stack of Minis here. I should probably figure out how those were released. They’re fun though. Lots of cards featuring the same design again. Seeing everything laid out and I both understand why people want to complete rainbows and am completely discouraged at the concept of trying to get all the different colors. There’s really no reason for it.

This year does have a much-improved Ginter design. It’s amazing what switching to a spot ink for the scrollwork does in terms of cleaning up the entire card front. There are a few diecuts sprinkled in here. I find myself extremely intrigued by these since they all have to conform to the standard card size at some level so it’s an interesting design challenge to create a diecut shape that is interesting in its own right while following those constraints. The Bowman one works better for me here.

Also, we’re up to four Panini/Donruss sets now including the infamous Triple Play that everyone wants to try and avoid. None of these sets are licensed now. The Coperstown cards are adept at hiding logos through creative cropping. The other two cards start to look like food issues the longer you stare at them.

2013

Once the sea turtle got pointed out to me I can’t unsee it. Which is a shame since I actually liked this design a bit beforehand. Relatively simple. Foil isn’t unreadable. Teams all feature their own colors. I like Archives this year and that 4-sticker card is a lot of fun. Ginter continues to use the spot color well too.

Panini has two sets in this batch. Hometown Heroes is surprisingly good. Works well in the unlicensed format and has a good old-school feel without being a straight-up copy of a classic design. This is a line they could’ve released more than one year. Triple play on the other hand should’ve been sent to the cornfield in 2012 and the 2013 version is even more ghastly.

2014

Things are calming down now. Not because Topps is calming down but because I suspect that Adam hasn’t had the time to accumulate a ton of duplicates yet. Still there’s a decent chuck of flagship and minis to file. This is also my favorite Ginter design of all time The spot metallic ink is perfect and the effects that Topps did on the photos are really well done.

The Panini Classics card is perfect. I’ve pulled a few from repacks but it‘s nice to have a Giant. I’ve commented before on this Donruss design though and while I like the homage to earlier sets I’ll never be able to remember what year this one is from.

2015

Nice stacks of Flagship, minis, and Heritage wrap up the World Series years. It’s fun to accumulate cards from the years the Giants won and the years after the series since many of the photos and highlights show up in those sets.

The 2015 design is one which I had an initial bad reaction to but now, having seen what comes both before and after it, I really like. Colorful team-color borders are a lot of fun. I’m glad the Giants have a decent number of playoff ones with the red border to change things up.

2016

Two firsts for me here. One is my first sparkle snowflake card. The other is my first ToppsNOW card. I love the idea of ToppsNOW, I just hate the distribution. If it were the kind of thing you could subscribe to and get a card from every game? Color me interested (although the price would have to be much lower too). But at $10 a pop with the over-emphasis on big-market teams to the detriment of others? Hard pass.

Also that Cepeda Stadium Club is awfully pretty and I like the throwback 1982-style Donruss card. Looks a bit off with the huge logo but it’s a wonderfully quaint design that has a lot of nostalgia appeal.

2017

And a few 2017 cards round out the box. My kids will like the Bunts. I enjoy the stack of Archives. I really don’t know what to say about this shipment besides “holy crap thanks” and “looks like I need more binders.” When I get my GiantsNOW set manufactured* I’ll totally put one together for Adam as well.

*It’s mostly complete I’m just waiting on awards to be released since there’s a decent chance Crawford will win a Gold Glove.

Arpsmith: The Lean Years

Picking up where I left off yesterday. I made a break between 1996 and 1997 because the quantity of sets included in the package dropped off a ton between those years. Part of this is no doubt a reflection of Adam’s collecting interests and the nature of what kinds of cards he’s picked up. But it’s also a decent reflection of what I’ve noticed about cards from the late-90s and 2000s. They just don’t seem to be circulating.

1997

I’ve been thinking of these years as being somewhat lean but they may also represent how the market was fragmenting a bit. The selection of 1997 cards here is very different than the selection of cards I got in exchange for my Garbage Pail Kids. Lots of Topps and Upper Deck. Very little Donruss or Pinnacle. I suspect that collectors had started narrowing their focus at this point and were no longer purchasing everything.

In terms of this batch, there’s not much to say. We’ve got another photo of a baby. No idea what Upper Deck is thinking with its highlight taglines. I’m increasingly liking Score. Collector’s Choice is still good despite being indistinguishable from previous years. Zenith’s lack of player name (or really any other design) is kind of admirable. And that Matt Williams Fleer is a cool promotional item.

1998

This year is the last year in which the trading card landscape looks like how I remembered things from my youth. Topps, Bowman, Donruss, Fleer, Score, and Upper Deck. Some premium sets like Pinnacle (also Stadium Club and Ultra but none of those are in this batch).

I gather that there were all kinds of crazy inserts and things during this time. I’ve not seen those yet. What I do know is that this is the last year Pinnacle (who by this time also owned Donruss) went out of business so a bunch of the card lines suddenly vanished after this year.

In terms of card design, the less said the better. Some of the expensive sets this year (e.g. Gold Label and SP Authentic) are very nice but the basic ones pictured here? I’m not a fan. Donruss at least has some character and Collector’s Choice finally looks a bit different but overall I’m not feeling it with this year.

1999 & 2000

Putting these two together because without Pinnacle there’s not a lot to write about. 1999 is super thin since Upper Deck, sadly, discontinued Collector’s Choice. Instead we have Upper Deck MVP—a set which manages to look like an insert each year—and Upper Deck Victory which hits some of the Collector’s choice feeling but has none of the charm.

This also begins an age of Topps sets all looking the same to me although I do like the baseball three-player card. At least Upper Deck’s designs are more interesting though. I may not like the foil salad tongs look of 1999 but it’s an identity. 2000 Upper Deck meanwhile appeals to me in a period-appropriate way and the Gold Reserve variants are kind of nice.

Fleer meanwhile decided to scrap all the fancy-shmancy card designs in 2000 and released a strong vintage-looking design. When I first encountered these I had a bad reaction to them since they felt like part of the whole Heritage ecosystem of modern reproductions of old designs. Looking at them in context though and I can see that they’re an intentional reaction to the overabundance of high-tech cards. Rather than competing on snazzy-jazzy, Fleer decided to get back to the roots of the hobby. I appreciate how much of it is zigging while everyone else zags.

The most interesting cards in this batch though are the MLB Showdown playing cards. The idea of a collectible card game appeals to me with regard to sports. I just wish that, instead of being something where every year a new deck gets released, that the deck was conceived as something to build over many seasons. This would result in a card set which behaves like nothing else on the market and comes closer to the concept of what I wish Topps Living was.

Heck, I don’t need the game, I just like the idea of cards being designed to last many years and encouragement to frankenstein my own set together out of the every-expanding checklist.

2001

Donruss comes back in 2001 just in time for its 20th anniversary. It’s an odd, awkward design though. 2001 Topps is one I actually like. Something about the grey-green borders really works for me although the blue-grey Opening Day color is also very nice. There’s a subtle richness to both colors that I don’t find on most cards and I really appreciate the way it frames and accentuates the photography.

Fleer is continuing its retro kick with a set which evokes 1956 Topps. I want to love this set but there’s an absolutely appallingly awful Photoshop filter applied to the action image. I think it’s supposed to look like a painting but instead it looks like an image went missing during printing so the printer just interpolated things from the preview image.

There’s also a true Fleer retro design in how Fleer Platinum is remaking the 1981 design. Unfortunately, that 1981 design is so loving hands that any improvement just looks wrong.

Upper Deck is nice enough this year. I’m finding myself partial to the full-bleed designs even though they’re difficult to distinguish from each other.

2002

I’m collecting 2002 cards a bit more earnestly than other years due to World Series reasons so it’s nice to get a big stack of Topps here. Is a shame that it’s kind of an awful design with a horrid background color and some bizarre scroll detailing. If you’re going to change the colors of some of the elements to match the team colors, picking a background color that clashes with those colors is not a good idea.

One of the things I can see happening this year is the number of sets from each manufacturer is going up again. Topps 206 is kind of a hideous retro-ish set but Topps Total is very cool. I love the idea of a set which tries to get everyone on the roster a card. I’ve been looking at the current state of things and unless you’re a young rookie or starter your chances of a card are pretty slim. Which sucks since there are a lot of lifetime minor league guys who deserve at least one card for their cup of coffee in the bigs.

Fleer continues to do the retro thing. It’s getting a bit too specific/blatant for my taste now in referencing specific designs though. It’s interesting to me how Upper Deck, Ultra, and Stadium Club all ended up at around the same place in their design philosophy. Big full-bleed photos with small name plates. As much as it would be nice to have multiple manufactures still making cards, I’m not sure we’d need three different sets like this.

Also it’s weird to see Flair still kicking along except without looking anything like the super-premium set it used to be. I’ll have to take another look but one decade after its debut and my impression of it is that it’s now indistinguishable from the other cards.

2003

Like 2002, Topps has a design with a distracting border color. Not a fan of the blue. Now do I like the bright red Topps logo. Which is a shame since the picture-in-picture callback to 1983 (and 1963) is otherwise wonderful. I’ll have to get more of the World Series and Playoff cards from this set too.

Opening Day’s border is a slight improvement on the Flagship. I really like this year’s Heritage design. 1954 is one of my favorites and it‘s nice that Topps just played things straight without trying any stunts to make the photography look old. The stack of Topps Shoebox will be great as stand-ins for vintage cards I’ll never be able to afford. I have mixed feelings about the Topps Archives and 205s in their fakiness but I do enjoy that triple folder.

2003 Donruss is nice and plain and boring. 2003 Fleer though is a fantastic version of the 1963 design. I like that they updated the position to have white highlights but this design is so simple and so good that it’s just nice to have a full-size set of cards in it. The Fleer discs are also a ton of fun and I dig the doubleheader as well. Odd cards are good cards.

Not as much a fan of this year’s Upper Deck but it’s fine. MVP still looks like an insert. 40 man is very cool as a competitor to Topps Total. It’s also a slick design that I very much like. and Victory this year is interesting in that it has rounded corners and appears to be trying to be a collectible card game. I like the format and the feel. I’m not a fan of the actual design of the card though where it looks lie I’m looking though a toilet paper tube.

2004

This is an underrated Topps design. I didn’t like it much at first but it’s grown on me a ton with the easy-to-read team names and a position indicator which copies the player position in the photo. I also had very few of these cards so it’s great to have enough for a page now.

I’m not as taken with the grey Opening Day design and the Topps Archives, Cracker Jack, and Bowman Heritage designs are all interesting takes on the retro esthetic. I really really wish that Topps didn’t use photos with those modern polyester black spring training uniforms in the retro designs though. It spoils the whole look.

Some nice things going on in the Donruss Team Heroes set with the split-color bars I also like how many of the companies have followed Fleers lead and gone with more throwback-feeling designs. Fleers this time reminds me of their 1984 design and Upper Deck Vintage has a bit of 1954 Red Heart Dog Food going on. It’s just nice to see companies remember what solid colors, white borders, and no fancy computer design can do.

Side comment here. I apparently still suffer some fan-PTSD with regard to Sidney Ponson and his stint as a colossal waste of space as a giant.

Also I’m kind of into what this Upper Deck design is trying to do. It’s a little hard to read but I love the idea of including a detail from the player’s ballpark on the front of the card.

2005

Kind of a thin year represented here. Topps’s design looks a bit too similar to the previous year but doesn’t hold together as well. Same with the Cracker Jacks. Archives remains interesting in the way it’s producing variants of the real cards which Topps released that year. I like this when they use an improved photo but Cepeda’s 1962 Topps card is a beaut and this new version is a major downgrade.

Donruss, kinda boring. I can just tell that it’s petering out and about to go out of business again. Fleer is continuing its retro kick but feels like it’s also running out of ideas.  And Upper Deck is still Upper Deck. I totally don’t understand the point of the First Pitch set however. But then I also don’t understand Opening Day either. The idea of a cheaper-made, smaller-checklist set that offers nothing new besides the price point just feels like a craven marketing ploy to make sure that all segments are targeted.

2006

So those Barry Bonds cards cover 2005–2007 but I’m keeping them together. This set is so obnoxious. I’m amazed however that there are Chrome versions. I hope that the Chromes do not also exist as paper versions (and vice versa). Also I have to point out that 661—when Bonds passes Mays—is stamped silver.  I’m assuming this is standard and nothing special.

The Topps Flagship design this year is one I can”t stand. Too many things going on. Borders and banners and ribbons and foil stamping and like 3 different fonts. It’s bad. Allen & Ginter and Turkey Red are also super awkward this year. they sort of look retro but they‘re also obviously modern and uncanny.

I will never understand chrome or foil Heritage cards. If you’re going to go for the old look, go for the old look don’t get cold feet and start adding foil where it’s not needed.

Fleer though this year is kind of nice. This is the first year Upper Deck owned the brand and it kind of shows. The base Fleer set kind of looks like Collector’s Choice and Victory. The Fleer Tradition set has the same basic layout that almost every Upper Deck set this decade has had only it has a border and flat solid inks. I actually like this set a lot since it’s not scared to use color and I have a soft spot for letting the solid process colors just print solid.

Ultra meanwhile looks awfully close to the Upper Deck base. It‘s got the usual Ultra font wackiness but there’s no reason for Uppper Deck to produce both of these. Plus Upper Deck’s design this year is pretty nice.

2007

A nice huge stack of Topps. Sadly I much prefer the white Opening Day design to the black Flagship one. The number of Topps releases is steadily increasing but hasn’t gotten bad yet. It weirds me out to see Dick Perez doing his Diamond Kings thing on a Topps card. It also is weird as hell to have the 1/1 editioning on the painting included in the reproduction.

Speaking of weird, Bowman Heritage using the 1954 Red Heart Dog Food design instead of a vintage Bowman design (and only a couple years after Upper Deck referenced that same design) makes no sense to me. That this design is so close to the Topps Heritage design with the player set against a solid painted-out background means the two sets look way too similar for my taste.

This is the last year of Fleer and the design looks like an Upper Deck reject. Sad to see that brand peter out as I’ll miss its willingness to print silly photographs in the 80s. Fleer Ultra is using almost the exact same font as the previous year but still manages to look better than whatever Upper Deck is doing with the elevator doors effect. That numbered Barry Zito is kind of nice however.

2008

So I like this Flagship design. I just wish the Topps logo was handled differently. Heritage though. Wow. I’ve never seen so many low-resolution photos before. Ginter is still in its growing pains. And since Bowman confuses me every year it’s nice to see one season when the paper and chrome versions are so different.

Donruss is back again. Very much a fringe product of non-current players but it’s clearly the brand that won’t stay dead.

And holy crap how many different Upper Deck sets are going on this year. I love the base design as a retread/homage of 1995’s design. Simple text and lots of photo is a great look. I also like the Vintage artwork. It’s not just a Photoshop filter and there’s some nice stuff going on with the keylines and coloring in this set. Masterpieces is one of the rare sets printed on uncoated stock. I appreciate the linen texture as a way of working with both the painting effect and well as increasing the pleasure of just handling the card.

The big stack of Documentary though almost deserves a post of its own. What a fantastic idea for a set. What a disastrously lazy execution. The idea of producing a card for each game a team plays is wonderful. It’s what I wish ToppsNOW was doing. It’s almost what I’m doing with my GiantsNOW project.*

*I have exactly 162 cards but only 108 of them are game highlights and the rest are roster cards.

I love the backs which include a writeup of the game. I hate the fronts which reuse the same photos over and over again and can’t even be bothered to use a photo of a payer who even played in the game. Hate, hate, hate the fronts. I will be displaying these with the backs showing.

2009

And I’m finishing off this post with 2009s because Topps starts to really go crazy in 2010. Not too many different things here yet. I kind of like the retro-stock variants. Ginter’s growing into itself a bit.

Upper Deck though. Wow. Over a dozen different piles here. Base design is fine. Main point of interest is Randy Johnson as a Giant though. The Starquest pair are I guess base and variant. There’s a helpful graphic on the back stating the color and how “common” it is. That we need such a graphic is one of those things that I hate about the current state of the hobby. Not to go all old man but needing to use space on the backs of cards to describe the print run of the front of the card is not why I look at the backs of cards.

I continue to like the way Upper Deck is doing the Goudy design. I also really like the Goodwin Champions cards. Something about the way Upper Deck’s artists have approached the vintage designs works way better for me than the way Topps did. Topps seems to frequently rely too heavily on Photoshop actions and doesn’t seem to consider the appropriateness of the photo for the look of the piece.

And the big stack of O Pee Chee is a lot of fun. I’m still not used to it not being a Topps affiliate but this design is a fantastic throwback to how cards used to feel. It’s not retro or heritage, it’s just a well-done basic cardset.

Holy crap

At the beginning of this year I started following Adam Smith’s blog. He’s also a Giants fan/collector and it’s fun to see what he turns up, but the main reason I started following was because I was morbidly curious how he was going to deal with a massive purchase of cards that he’d made.

I can’t imagine requiring multiple trips in a pickup to move a collection of cards but to be frank, digging through such a collection that does really appealing. It’s all the other stuff about storing and sorting and cataloging and everything that’s discouraging. Far better to live vicariously through someone else (or their collection) than figure out how to do it myself.

Anyway, it took Adam exactly a week to put out a call for help in the form of disposing of cards by sending them to other people and then, a week and a half later, an offer to send out a big box of cards of your favorite team.

I didn’t respond to either of those posts at first since my needs didn’t quite match up with his first post* and since Adam was a Giants collector he didn’t list the Giants as a team option. I also totally missed the fine print where he said he had a ton of Giants duplicates. Then people started posting about the boxes they’d been getting and for some reason I reread the post and realized I should send him an email.

*Also, as a relatively new follower I didn’t want to look like one of those guys who’s in it just for the free stuff.

Anyway I sent the email months ago but between the added complexity in putting together a Giants box together, him moving, and me vacationing in California, my box ended up arriving at the end of September.

Holy crap.

I knew to expect a medium-size flat-rate box but hadn’t quite put together how many cards that is. I’d guess maybe a couple thousand? I didn’t make a count beyond noting that there were 53 team bags in the box filled with cards from 1992–2017.

The best thing about this range is that it covers the years I wasn’t collecting in a way that catches me up on the lay of the land over those decades—to the point where I’ve had to drastically update my searchlists. I’ve gotten a hint of this time period with my Stanford project but since that project focused primarily on Topps flagship sets, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg of what was going on from 1995–2016.

There’s no way to do justice to the contents of this box in a single post so I’m going to spread things out over a couple days. I’m also not going to show all the cards I got and will instead break things down by year and show stacks of cards for each set that year.

This first post will cover 1992–1996, a time when I was still collecting cards until  the strike came and sent the hobby into a bit of a tailspin.

1992

As I mentioned in the introduction to my What Was I Thinking post, when I started collecting cards I was only buying packs from four different brands. By 1992 things had gotten out of hand and I was buying packs from over a dozen different brands and trying to chase god know how many inserts from each brand.

There are 27 different releases from 1992 here. Many of the samples—such as Stadium Club, Donruss, Leaf, Pinnacle, and Upper Deck—are near team sets. This is very cool. While I was good about keeping up with team sets in the previous years, the sheer number of releases by this point had overwhelmed me.

I especially like Stadium Club, Leaf, and Pinnacle this year. Stadium Club took a huge step forward from its 1991 release with better photography and production values. Leaf is a set which just clean and simple with that metallic silver border that makes autographs pop.* And Pinnacle is a design I just like. The top card on the pile doesn’t showoff the design well but I had to put that Burkett bowling card on top since it’s awesome.

*There’s a reason I reached for the Leaf Jay Bell last spring.

I always like getting Topps Gold cards form this time. I’m down on colored parallels now but I still like these. The Leaf Black Gold and Gold Rookies cards are also a lot of fun. And there’s a decent amount of oddball stuff in here including Fleer Citgo, Post, and McDonalds cards as well as a fun Monte Irvin set, an Action Packed Willie Mays, and a pair of playing cards.

Also, the 1992 Topps and 1992 Score stacks both have the Mike Felder cards with photos of the same play on them. I just need the Upper Deck to complete the set of them.

And the two stacks of O Pee Chee are especially cool since I never saw those when I was a kid. While not the same level of coolness as all the Spanish-language cards I’ve been blogging about over on SABR, the bilingual French/English backs are still fun and O Pee Chee Premier has some interesting photography stuff going on including that wonderful Darren Lewis photo where he’s using the pine tar rag. Between that card and my card of Hisao Niura tying his shoes I’m tempted to start writing a post about baseball cards depicting the concept of ma(間).

1993

There are eighteen different non-oddball sets from this year. Five of them I never saw (or in the case of Flair, could not afford) when I was a kid so it’s nice to get a good sampling of Stadium Club Team, O Pee Chee, O Pee Chee Premier, Flair, and Upper Deck Fun.

I was also only buying a pack or two of everything else so in many ways this is my first more in-depth experience with things like Bowman where I had no idea that some of the cards were foiled just as part of the base design. I do really like that father/son Bonds card.

Two Fleer oddballs are worth mentioning. The Fruit of the Loom Bill Swift is hilarious as a representation of how baseball cards were literally packaged in everything at that time. And the Atlantic Will Clark is a nice small set of stars where Fleer took the extra effort to change the photos and not just slap a logo on the base design.

I especially love the stack of 1993 Upper Deck. That’s such a great looking set that I basically copied the design for my own set of cards this season.* 1993 Upper Deck Fun meanwhile is a set I don’t remember but kind of love in its garish 90sness. And I also never got one of those Willie Mays Baseball Heroes inserts despite always wanting one as a kid so it’s greta to have one now.

*Note: using a design that’s heavily text-based is a pro move in terms of just having to drop a photo into the template and being able to churn cards out ridiculously fast.

It’s nice to have a page worth of 1993 Triple Play. For a “for kids” set that set has always been an example of how to do it 100% correct. Cheap and fun for kids but not patronizing. There’s a reason it’s kind of a cult favorite among collectors today.

1993 though is also the peak of the first generation of computer-generated card designs. Donruss, Leaf, and Fleer Ultra are all playing with bevelled edges and ray-traced fake stone effects. These were super cool at the time but really show their age now.

1994

Holy moly were there a ton of sets in 1994. I had to make 37 piles for this year. That strike could not have been timed worse for card manufacturing, just look at how many different things the manufacturers were churning out.

Eight different Topps sets (six sets plus two parallel sets). I don’t love the 1994 design but it has its charms. I do however love the Stadium Club design with its peak-grunge Dymo labeler aesthetic which manages to date itself in a way that’s wonderfully of its time without being awful. I have to admit that I don’t understand the Stadium Club Team release unless it was intended as something to get a complete 40-man roster represented.

Six different Donruss releases here. 1994 Donruss is an underrated design as well. I never saw 1994 Triple Play in the wild. I appreciate the design even though the drop shadows on the knocked-out lettering kind of hurts my brain. Leaf still has the ray-traced marble thing going on though.

And five different Fleer samples. 1994 Fleer is a wonderfully simple and elegant design. Ultra is an early adopter of the foil stamping mania that would sweep cards later in the decade. It’s so restrained here that I kind of like it even though it’s hard to read.

Which takes us to the second batch of stacks from 1994. I couldn’t fit Flair in the previous image but this takes us to a sixth Fleer release. I really like 1994 Score but good lord are those cards frequently stuck together and chipped. Pinnacle, while eventually taking a place as an innovator in card design, has some damn nice photography. And that Will Clark Sportflics is designed to break my heart as the magic motion toggles between his Giants cap and his Rangers cap. Yeah. This is technically a Rangers card even though I’m putting it in my Giants binder.

1994 Upper Deck? I’m not a fan. What a weird set with that phantom zone picture in picture and the upside-down text on the horizontal cards. Which is a shame since otherwise this set’s pretty nice. Collector’s Choice though? NICE. Lots of wonderful photography and a good clean simple design that’s just nice to look at. The Silver Signature parallels are wonderful too. Upper Deck Fun this year has a cool gimmick with its pop-up cards too. I have a duplicate so maybe I’ll actually pop one up once I clear off my desk.

And a handful of oddballs and miscellaneous releases. 1994 Pacific I’ve covered before. Classic 5 sport is a set I encounter in repacks but should probably take a proper look at at some point. Love the Post cards. Love the Church’s Chicken even more. And I have to admit that the Ted Williams set just confuses me.

1995

I’m surprised at how many of the 1994 releases I was familiar with. Many of them still serve to remind me of why it was so easy to completely drop the hobby during the strike though. Just way too many things to stay on top of. I’m smarter now and completely willing to just ignore anything I’m not interested in.

Starting with 1995, the rest of the box is a wonderful opportunity to really get to know a lot of the sets I missed. Will I be actively collecting most of these? No way. But as a design and photography junkie as well as a Giants fan I enjoy having a page of samples of everything. And every once in a while a set will grab my interest.

1995 shows the same glut of releases and inserts. Print runs appear to be down though since the size of the stacks is smaller. Only Fleer and Score were huge stacks and the fact that those were two of the worst designs this year makes me wonder if those cards are just being passed around since no one wants them in their house.

The Topps Cyberstats parallels are interesting in the way they indicate the future direction of the hobby. Lots of other foilstamping and foil card stock on display here too. It’s kind of amazing that 20 year later and the fancy cards still follow this formula.

The Topps DIII three-dimensional card is probably may favorite in this batch since three-dimensional cards are something I’m interested in. I understand that the set itself is pretty dire but having a sample is great.

Upper Deck is back with another beautiful design. Collector’s Choice is also great. As much as I’m liking the set though I can’t help but wonder how anyone can tell the years apart. Kudos for finding a solid design language but I kind of like the idea of having each year look nothing like the previous year.

Looking through these cards also shows some of the photography tropes of the decade. Players signing autographs. Players wielding cameras. Players with their children. The 90s technology is wonderfully dated as a snapshot of a period when things were amazingly small and portable but not yet pocketable like they are today.

1996

By 1996, while there were still a lot of releases, the decline is evident because the checklists are getting smaller. Where just a few years earlier all the sets were 800 to 1000 cards* things were under 500 now. That stack of Topps cards is a good percentage of the checklist for that year despite being maybe a dozen cards. Same with Upper Deck.

*In this day and age of Topps releasing god knows how many 200–400 card sets, seeing multiple companies release multiple 800+ card sets kind of blew my mind. In addition to just having tons of releases, there were tons of cards required to complete all the sets too.

Collector’s Choice though is still doing the large checklist thing and the photos are often in that semi-candid informal manner where the player is aware of the camera but not in a serious photoshoot.

The Score Mark Leiter is in some ways the most-1990s photo ever with a child AND a video camera. Yes I smiled at the Russ Ortiz 1st Bowman card. Good lord that Matt Williams Pacific Prism all-foil background is wonderfully over the top.

My favorite discovery in this batch are the E-Motion XL cards that have the colored uncoated paper layered on the coated background stock as a frame for the image. Those are extremely fun objects to look at. The feel and handle differently and are a good-looking set which looks like nothing else I’ve seen.

Between those and the uncoated base set, I think I enjoy the way that Fleer was pushing the envelope on what a card could be at this time. I wonder how much of this is a result of feeling the pressure of the industry contracting and how much contributed to Fleer’s eventual demise as a chief competitor to Topps.

One thing to call out here though is how the 1993–1996 years show the increased existence of premium brands. Upper Deck’s existence in 1989 kind of forced everyone else to create premium competition in the following years. By 1992 Topps, Donruss, Fleer, and Score had released, respectively, Stadium Club, Leaf, Ultra, and Pinnacle as more upscale products while also improving the quality of their base products. The cost of base cards went up a ton in the years from 1989 to 1995.

And it didn’t stop there. Super-premium cards like Topps Finest, Leaf Preferred, Fleer Flair, Pinnacle Zenith, Upper Deck SP, etc started to compete at a price point even higher than the already-high premium prices. In many ways the hobby hasn’t looked back from this and we have sets defined primarily on what market segment they’re targeted as and using the trappings of expense—thick card stock, fancy paper surfaces, foiling, stamping, die-cutting, etc.—as a way of signaling that things warrant that price.

I enjoy seeing these premium cards and looking into how they’re made. It’s fun to loupe things and see if they were foiled after printing or printed with an opaque white ink over the foil surface. It’s interesting to check the layers of card stock and try and guess how something was manufactured. But that’s me speaking as an engineer who’s interested in the craft itself. I don’t think collectors collect cards because they‘re made using expensive techniques, the card itself has to be interesting on its own terms.

SFMOMA

Of course it wasn’t just Susan Meiselas that I saw at SFMOMA. As always I took a spin through the buildings and took not of what caught my eye.

There was a small gallery full of Stephen Frykholm’s Herman Miller Summer Picnic posters. These were a lot of fun in the way the abstracted food into graphic shapes and designs. Very colorful and appealing to me as a photographer. At the same time. Holy moly. This was a picnic with some peak whitey food to the point where I started imagining what posters for other demographics could look like.

Dora Maar. Double Portrait, 1930s.

Dora Maar.
Double Portrait, 1930s.

There was also a decent-sized exhibition looking at portrait photography. It’s one of those donor-centered shows which so I wasn’t inclined to spend a ton of time looking through it. But it’s doing some nice things in taking a dive through the collection and grouping things into themes—in this case various types of photographic portraits.

One of the big problems here is that there’s a bit of the mile-wide, inch-thick thing going on where a lot of the photos are a bit out of context and function as needle drops.* I know enough context to see an appreciate a lot of what’s going on but it’s not something that makes for the most enjoyable show.

*In which I realize that using “needle drop” as an analogy is something that will lose my kids completely.

Still, the self portraits were particularly fun. They sort of always are though. The Masquerade section though was less fun because projects like Cindy Sherman’s work really need enough context so they don’t look like one-off costumes.

The most interesting thing for me though was the comparison of Diane Arbus with Rineke Djikstra. Both of them work in portraiture but the portraits say as much, if not more, about the photographer than the sitter. It’s a good insight although I’d argue that it does a disservice to Arbus and the degree to which she finds sympathy with the subjects of her photographs.

Richard Artschwager. Triptych III, 1967.

Richard Artschwager.
Triptych III, 1967.

The gallery of Richard Artschwager art is a lot of fun as he just plays with our expectations for how objects should be finished. It verges on gimmickry but it doesn’t take itself too seriously. My favorite piece was Triptych III which treats Formica as a finished painting. And not just any Formica but a dark 1970s-textured one which looks either like imitation wood burl or leather which has gotten wet.

It’s the kind of thing that evokes immediate feelings of nostalgia for my friends’ parents homes before they updated their kitchens or various greasy spoon restaurants I’ve eaten a burger in while travelling someplace in California. Something super-familiar but which I never really paid attention to and looked at. Just putting it up on the wall and inviting me to really look is both hilarious and wonderful.

Pirkle Jones. Monticello Cemetery, from the series Death of a Valley, 1956, printed 1960.

Pirkle Jones.
Monticello Cemetery, from the series Death of a Valley, 1956, printed 1960.

It was wonderful to see Pirkle Jones and Dorothea Lange’s Death of a Valley photos. I don’t look enough at Pirkle Jones’s work but it’s fantastic. Very evocative of my sense of home as well as being beautifully sympathetic to the people and place he depicts. Lange of course is always excellent too.

Having just taken a trip to the Central Valley earlier this summer,* I had noticed that all the “Congress Created Dust Bowl” signs that lined I5 the previous half-dozen years had been replaced with complaints about how we didn’t have proper reservoirs to save all the water that fell on the state in 2017. It’s pretty clear that the corporate farms in the valley think that any water which reaches the ocean is wasted so now they want to build reservoirs all over.

*Featured in a few of the photos on this post.  

As I looked at the Jones and Lange photos I found myself ruefully laughing at the concept. The idea of displacing a community like this is something I can’t see anyone in the state feeling comfortable with and to see the evidence of what such a move entails reminds me of how demands for what we “should” do almost never come with any thought about how we should do it.

It’s also not lost on me how, despite the sacrifice made to build Lake Berryessa, the state still needs more water than nature can supply. Nor can I avoid thinking about how with the way things are going, we’re more likely to see scenes like this play out again as we retreat from the coasts and move uphill as sea levels rise.

Charles Wong. Year of the Dragon [page 20], 1952.

Charles Wong.
Year of the Dragon [page 20], 1952.

I thoroughly enjoyed the rooms of Charles Wong photos and Hung Liu prints. It’s always nice to see asian artists being treated as locals even though all the Liu prints weren’t of the Bay Area. Wong’s photos in particular are great since they show the life of San Francisco’s Chinatown and the uniqueness of Chinese-American culture.

It’s always great to see an insider view showing how people lived and how the culture is such a mix of influences. Having just watched Chan is Missing I loved seeing a similar slice through the culture form the generation before.

Donald Judd. Armchair, Designed 1984.

Donald Judd.
Armchair, Designed 1984.

The design gallery this time had an exhibition of Donald Judd’s furniture. I appreciate how it (and Judd) draws a direct line from the Arts and Crafts movement to Judd’s designs. The connection is not one that’s obvious to anyone whose familiarity with Judd is mostly limited to his sculptures of multiple boxes attached to the wall; it’s very tempting to see his furniture as working in that esthetic.

The arts and crafts framing is much much better. Taking clean lines to an extreme. Taking simple forms to an extreme. These aren’t arts and crafts any more but the rots are there and they work harmoniously with both older more decorative furniture as well as more-modern semi-industrial furniture.

This exhibition was also the rare design exhibition which provides samples for people to use. You can’t just look at design, you have to use it in order to fully appreciate it. So I got to sit in a few different chairs and see how they felt. The verdict? Kind of disappointing as chairs but they work fine as benches or stools.

Trevor Paglen. Autonomy Cube, 2014.

Trevor Paglen.
Autonomy Cube, 2014.

And on the to floor in the contemporary galleries was an exhibition looking at current events. Many of the pieces on display are artists and work—e.g. Tiffany Chung, An Te Liu, Taryn Simon, and Trevor Paglen—I’ve seen before in other exhibitions and museums in the Bay Area. It’s always nice to see them again and see how well their work has aged and how it interacts with a different set of artworks.

The works on display all touch on the pressing issues of today: security, our trust of government, racism, the imminent environmental collapse… It’s good to see all these things presented together since it’s increasingly obvious that they’re different faces of the same problem. It’s interesting to me to see how certain aspects such as the environment or technological issues are very comfortable for museum goers to deal with and others are much more difficult.

It’s no surprise which ones a lot of visitors are uncomfortable with. Something like Arthur Jafa’s work for example is much more foreign in San Francisco than anything involving data or technology. But it’s absolutely necessary to have it in the same space as work critiquing the news media or the government. Artists can point out the problems all they want but until there’s political will and coverage of that in the media ain’t nothing is going to get done and things will only get worse.

Rio del Mar

It’s not a proper summer vacation without a trip to the beach. And being NorCal people, it’s not a proper trip to the beach unless it’s cold and overcast. Last year I took the boys to Pomponio. This year we hit Rio del Mar.

I used to go to this beach with summer camp. Instead of paying admission at Seacliff the camp bus always dropped us off in Aptos and we’d spend the day at Rio del Mar where we could still see the concrete ship while playing in the water.

The last time I was here, decades ago, I was lucky to see dolphins go bounding across the water. It was a wonderful surprise to see them on this trip too.

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Susan Meiselas

Finally getting to this post after a long break of blogging about museums. The same day I went to Pier 24 I also walked over to SFMOMA. I chose not to see the fancy Magritte show* but did walk through the large Susan Meiselas exhibition.

*I’m opposed to paying surcharges to see traveling shows of big-name artists since they frequently emphasize “here are his most-famous works” and “here’s merchandise featuring his most famous works” and rarely offer good insights about the artist himself. Yes I’m using “him” on purpose. Yes this felt like a total FAMSF show.

One of the reason’s I’ve not blogged about this yet is that I’ve been struggling with what angle to take. The Meiselas show is good and interesting but not necessarily in a way that I always like. And I’m not saying I have to like it, just that in figuring out my critiques I have to figure out what exactly rubs me the wrong way and that was kind of hard.

 

First off, her early work is very good and demonstrates a lot of the things that we don’t get with the typical documentary photography. The photos of Little Italy are wonderful in that kids growing up way. Meiselas is at home and photographing people who trust her and it’s just a great unguarded—or as unguarded as possible— view of adolescence.

The especially great thing seeing these is recognizing the difference in comfort around the camera and photographer that the subjects show. I’ve seen way too many photographs by men where it’s clear that things are a little creepy. None of that is going on here.

The Carnival Strippers series take this a step further. It’s great to see a series like this without the male gaze. There’s no leering going on and the images concentrate on the lives of the women. Yes there’s a lot of skin on display but it’s more nakedness and exhausted vulnerability instead of nudity.

Susan Meiselas. Sandinistas at the walls of the Estelí National Guard headquarters, “Molotov Man,” Estelí, Nicaragua, July 16, 1979.

Susan Meiselas.
Sandinistas at the walls of the Estelí National Guard headquarters, “Molotov Man,” Estelí, Nicaragua, July 16, 1979.

Where her early work is pretty much straight documentary photography, her subsequent work, starting with El Salvador and Nicaragua, gets more interesting the more you divorce it from photojournalism.  Not that it’s not photojournalism—it very much is—just that what seems to interest Meiselas is the life of the image itself.

There’s a reason her work was featured in Princeton’s Itinerant Language of Photography show. Where most exhibitions show just prints and have a small case showing how they were originally published in magazines, Meiselas is putting her prints on the wall with the magazines and other publications so we can compare how they’ve been used.

It’s conceptual art about how photography exists in the world and the ways we use the images. I enjoy seeing it—both in a how the sausage is made way and in the way that it shows Meiselas thinking about the life of her images while she works. She’s appearing on campus this week and I’m looking forward to seeing the conversations.

Susan Meiselas. Widow at mass grave found in Koreme, Northern Iraq, 1992.

Susan Meiselas.
Widow at mass grave found in Koreme, Northern Iraq, 1992.

Her work in Iraq documenting the Kurds moves even further away from straight photography and is as much about the history of the entire region rather than just what was happening while she was there. In addition to her photos there are archival images and maps which document western involvement in the area as well as the refugee diaspora.

How much of this is western responsibility? The archive photos show England getting involved in Kurdish politics in 1914. All too often photojourmalism feeds a narrative of awful things happening right now without considering the background of why people are suffering. Why they’re fighting. Why they’re fleeing. Why it’s impossible for the West to disassociate itself from the consequences of what’s going on.

All too often looking back into the history of the region—even just the photographic history—reveals our (“our” meaning “The West’s”) involvement in the area decades ago followed by decades of neglect after we destabilized the area. This lack of awareness makes it easy to claim that we have no responsibility for the current state of things and lay the blame at the people who we left holding the bag after we messed things up.

It’s a shame this kind of photojournalism seems more at home in museums than any current media. But it’s exciting to see photoland grappling with these issues.

The exhibition ends with a couple works where Meiselas is working collaboratively with her subjects. These two pieces are the primary cause for the delay in posting since I couldn’t wrap my head around my feelings about them.

The first one documents abuse in the UK. This is an important piece which is perfectly timed to hit at a moment when society has had a much-needed shift in its perception and framing of abuse and whose stories matter. Taking “portraits” of survivors’ rooms and letting their words hold equal weight to the image is a powerful way of centering their stories and making the point at both how important it is to listen to what victims say and how long-lasting the emotional and mental trauma from abuse can last.

At the same time, I got some weird vibes from this room in that I couldn’t escape the impression that this issue was an immigrant, refugee, non-white problem rather than a universal one. It’s hard. Small sample sizes like this are tough to handle and can produce inadvertent framing issues. I don’t know if by balancing for racial diversity meant we ended up with a mostly-immigrant one. Or maybe this is just the demographics of the refuge that Meiselas was working with. I just know that something felt off to me.

Twenty Dirhams or One Photo is another one that just doesn’t sit right with me. I do like some of the concept—especially the idea of trying to acknowledge the power issues which are at the core of most photography but especially haunt photojournalism and the way it’s frequently intertwined with colonialism. I like the idea of compensating sitters. I like the idea of considering whether or not people want you to take their photo. I like the idea of giving the sitters agency over whether or not to publish the photos. But something about the nature of this transaction still felt off to me.

One big thing is that the price feels like it’s something which is substantial enough to be tempting to the sitters but isn’t a big deal at all for Meiselas. Rather than a fair transaction, it’s more of a game where power is always with the photographer. This game aspect also gets triggered by the whole “decide before I take your photo” thing in the setup and how, while there’s agency in whether or not the photo gets published, I’m still wondering what brought the women into the studio to begin with. I’ve been a parent long enough to recognize how someone with power can offer the appearance of choice by controlling the options available to choose from.

Aside from the weirdness I felt about the experimental aspect of the piece,it is worth commenting on how the portraits themselves are quite nice. They show a wonderful variety of attire and age and really give a sense of the vitality of the market population.

So yeah. It’s been a couple months since I saw this show and the fact that I’m still grappling with conflicted feelings is ultimately a good thing. Even if I end up deciding I don’t like some parts, the fact that I had to think about it is great and even a failed experiment has value in what we can learn from it.

Other comments

One of the most frustrating things about this show is how aggressively SFMOMA enforced the “no photography” rule. I’m not complaining about not being allowed to take photos but if you’re going to have your guards shout at people whenever they take out their iPhone and point it at the wall, you’d better not have wall text that tells you to open the SFMOMA app and scan the code. I even pointed out the mixed messages to a guard and he just shrugged.

Anyway if my phone was new enough to run the app I’d’ve considered squeaky wheeling it and seeing how often I could get yelled at for following the directions that the curator had written. As it is I just took it as another example of the new SFMOMA no longer knowing what it wants to be.

Along with this sense of SFMOMA incompetence, nothing was translated even though Meiselas is very good about including what the locals call places in her captions. My notes show that I was particularly indignant about how a location Meiselas called “cuesta de plomo” (hill of lead) is merely listed as an assacicination location.