This post will run on Beckett.com this afternoon.
Cents and Sensibility
Everybody makes mistakes. It's part of human nature. But with Michael Vick cards popping up in Topps Chrome Football, are we to believe the company when they say including him was unintentional? It almost seems that low- and mid-level product lines can't compete today without a well-publicized error card or cards. Alex Gordon and 2006 Topps Baseball. Derek Jeter and 2007 Topps Baseball. Blank-backed Lucky 13 rookies and 2007-08 Fleer Ultra Basketball. And now Michael Vick and 2007 Topps Chrome Football.
You know that news of the "unintentional" inclusion of Vick will spur sales. It almost feels like Topps is banking on that happening. So it begs the question: Is this what we have to look forward to? Deceivingly small checklists for base sets, potentially full of endless parallels, regional variations and the requisite error card? I wonder, does a set with 400 cards and 1,600 parallel versions test higher with audiences than an 800 card checklist with one or two parallels each?
To Have and Have Not
The topic of pack searching is one of the most controversial in the hobby today. There seems to be something ethically wrong with the practice, though it is not illegal. In a letter published in this week's Sports Collectors Digest, the reader writes that he no longer purchases packs for the chance at game-used memorabilia cards. Instead, he says he simply buys those individual cards, thus avoiding the topic of pack searching and cuts down on the overall bulk of his collection. I'm paraphrasing here, but the gist of the letter is that he now simply owns what he wants.
It's this idea – owning what you want – that gets to me. How does this particular collector know that he doesn't want the other cards he'd get from a presumably pre-searched pack? Also, why doesn't he just buy those product lines that offer greater odds on pulling memorabilia cards? There are plenty: Topps Co-Signers, Topps Sterling, UD Sweet Spot...
Baseball Card Art
To me, baseball cards are tiny works of modern art, especially those from classic sets like 1949 Leaf (newswire photos and woodblock prints) and 1959 Topps (like little covers of jazz records). They capture perfectly the prevailing design sensibility of the year they were made. Alternatively, when a design falters, one of the reasons usually has to do with it not "fitting" with its surroundings in contemporary design. Today's retro issues work, not just because the current collector values a sense of nostalgia, but because retro themes are common in today's design landscape. Look at any catalogue from stores as varied as Anthropologie to Restoration Hardware to even big box stores like Target and IKEA; you'll see what I mean.
Also, because cards figure into today's design landscape, artists have accepted them as subject and medium. Closing this weekend is the fantastic exhibition at The Pennsylvania College of Art & Design: The Artist and the Baseball Card, featuring over 100 works. Click here for more info.