Old hobby formats die hard
If you look at the biggest failures of the last few years for Topps, two factors are recurring themes: mini cards and novelty factory sets. Topps Mini was a no-show at this year’s national convention after last year’s version hit 75% off at the Topps web site. Bowman Chrome Mini has been a tough sell even at 50% off the wholesale price (and shows no signs of coming back for 2015). Topps Heritage High Number ditched the factory set format after two years of dismal sales and turned into one of the best products of the year. 2015 was the year of Topps learning its lessons, apparently.
But old habits die hard. Unable to resist temptation, Topps dipped back into the well of failure twice in late 2015. Topps Mini returned in factory set form, embodying the worst of both worlds and trying to make work what even Bowman Chrome couldn’t succeed at. And Topps Heritage ’51 Collection came seemingly out of nowhere, adding a fourth 2015 Topps baseball product to the Heritage lineup. The only one in factory set form. And with lots of minis! This is not the product the hobby needed or wanted, though it isn’t without redeeming value. Not entirely.
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The firsts keep coming
2015 Bowman brought consistency to the convoluted Topps parallel system. After several months of smooth sailing, 2015 Bowman Chrome kept the same formula (a first, at least among recent years) and brought us the first Kevin Plawecki base Rookie Cards and the first MLB-licensed autographs from Akeel Morris, Jhoan Urena, Milton Ramos, and Michael Conforto? Um, what’s his 2014 Bowman Draft autograph doing here?
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In which I praise Topps for getting (some) things right
The evolution of the Bowman brand has been interesting lately. Since the last major redesign in 2012, Bowman has added ice parallels, wave refractors, and mini shimmer refractors, removed the First Bowman Card designation, added a new 1st Bowman designation, introduced Bowman Black autographs, confused collectors with 2013 Kris Bryant Bowman Chrome autographs in 2014 products, added wrapper redemptions, ended wrapper redemptions, dropped the pretense of a “base set” in Bowman Draft, and much, much more. After three years of incremental improvements, Topps reshuffled the deck in 2015 and brought order to an increasingly chaotic product.
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Changing up the base Topps formula
When it comes to base Topps, there hasn’t been much of a difference from year to year in a long time. Most of the elements of the flagship Topps products date back to at least 2012, some all the way back to 2001. It was time for a change.
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Contains more Mike Piazza than the Hall of Fame
When we last checked in with Topps revivals of decades past, we saw the unenthusiastic return of Stadium Club. With a generic format, terrible photography, and no standout cards, it looked like Topps had pushed the modern-retro thing just a bit too far. After all, the Major League cards in Archives were a huge hit, Gold Label returned in a classy, though limited, form, and Finest had one of its best designs in more than 20 years. Stadium Club seemed to show that Topps was out of ideas, but they didn’t stop there. Topps dug back into the turn of the century well for one of its shortest-lived but fondest-remembered experiments: Tek.
Topps Tek ran from just 1998 to 2000. In a departure from cardboard, Tek is an all-acetate product. Plastic cards? It’s an interesting novelty, but it wouldn’t last. The product’s unique hook was that each player is featured on a variety of different patterned backgrounds. The 1998 version, which featured John Olerud and Mike Piazza as Mets, had 90 different patterns for each player. The 1999 version (with Piazza), cut that to 30 but had two photograph variants for each player. 2000 (again Piazza) narrowed the checklist even more with just 20 different patterns, five each with four different photographs, the last five being colored pattern short prints. Tek was tailor-made for player collectors and made base cards relevant again. And then it was gone. The rise of autographs and memorabilia and the eventual emergence of parallels pushed quirky concepts like Tek aside. Those player sets were fun to chase but almost impossible to finish. Tek was a journey. 14 years later, the journey begins anew. Read more »
Something old, something new, something orange, and something, um, black?
Part of the Donruss legacy from the Playoff years was innovation and diversity in memorabilia. To date though, Panini has been a bit inconsistent in its memorabilia releases. This fall, Panini brought the Immaculate Collection brand to baseball and brought with it some of what made Playoff/Donruss great. It also brought some of what has become controversial in the hobby and, until now, has been largely unseen in baseball products.
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