I am taking a brief break from the card back countdown to address a question brought up by Andy of the baseball-reference.com blog. Andy has invited me to provide a few "Card of the Week" posts for the B-R blog. I hope to eventually get to creating one soon. I even have an idea and everything. But life really hates that I write about cards on a computer. I mean it really REALLY hates it.
When I did the card back countdown post for 1963 Fleer, Andy wondered if there had been any other examples of the card number being featured so far from the corners of the card.
The center-positioned card number is what makes the 1963 Fleer set unique (the card back displayed here is from 2003 Fleer Tradition, which is a homage to '63 Fleer). I decided to do some research and see whether there was another example like this. I didn't expect to find another one. And I didn't.
This isn't the definitive report on card number positioning. Although, I'm sure no one else is crazy enough to do a more thorough examination of this topic. But I mention it because I didn't look at the card backs for every set ever created. There are a ton of old cards that I don't have or have never seen. Also there are way too many insert sets to examine. I glanced briefly at some tobacco-era samples, but mostly I stuck with the cards in my collection to get an idea of where card companies positioned their card number.
What I found was that card companies may be more conservative in where they place the card number than in any other aspect of manufacturing the card. It's almost if they fear there would be an uprising if they tried something too funky.
That means, for the vast majority of card sets, the card number is featured in the upper left corner:
From practically the beginning of the modern card era, the card number was positioned up and to the left.
The number remained in the upper left hand corner even for upstart card companies (virtually all of Upper Deck's flagship offerings place the card number in the left hand corner).
You find the number in the left corner on mom-and-pop minor league cards.
And in the left corner for obnoxiously large sets of obnoxiously rich sports teams.
Even when a card also features the player's uniform number on the back of the card, the card number is displayed in the left-hand corner so as to avoid confusion. Although I still get confused.
Here is another example. Card number on the left, uniform number on the right.
By the 1990s, photos on the backs of cards started to get in the way of the card number. But card companies still attempted to put the number as far to the left corner as it could.
The second-most popular spot for the card number is the right-hand corner. I don't know what the ratio of right-hand corner to left-hand corner is, but I know the left side far outnumbers the right.
The majority of "right-corner" numbers are on modern sets of the last 20 years.
That includes the last five Topps flagship sets. The right corner is a little more inconvenient for collectors who store their cards back-to-back in pages (like me), but it takes only a slight adjustment.
Here is an example of the photo taking the place of the customary number spot. But like with the left-corner, Fleer just moved the card number to as close to the right corner as possible, without overlapping the photo.
Those are some examples of the number being on the right side, but not necessarily in the corner. The designer did try to get the card number as close to the edge of the card as possible, so collectors could find it.
And just to be fair, there are a couple examples of the number being on the left side, but not in the corner. Still the number is at the edge of the card so it stands out.
Some card sets position the card number at the top center of the card. This is used most often for insert sets, or card sets that convey a "retro" or "premium" feel. You see the number at the top center a lot for special-issue sets, like this National Trading Card Day set.
There's an example of a retro card set displaying the number at the top center. The best example of this is Allen & Ginter.
And that's an insert set with the top-center positioning. I wouldn't be surprised if the majority of insert sets have the card number in that spot.
Periodically, card sets travel to the bottom right corner for the card number. This happens a lot with card sets issued by gas stations, cereal companies, groceries, etc. I don't know why, but a lot of them seem to have the number in the bottom right corner.
This is the first example of bottom-right-corner card number positioning that I ever saw, on the Kellogg's 3-D cards. You can barely see the number because it's so tiny and the light blue print makes it impossible to read. But it's there in the right corner.
Here's a mass-produced set, Stadium Club, getting all espn2 on us, with its number in the bottom right corner, sort of.
I guess you could consider this card number in the bottom right corner. The copyright logos get in the way.
Out of all the corners on a card, the one that is used the least is the bottom left-hand corner. I don't know why that is. I have gone to newspaper editor workshops in which they show you studies that illustrate where a reader's eye looks first (answer: top right). I don't know if card companies use these studies for card numbers. Somehow I doubt it.
Here is another position that is not used too often. The bottom center. You see it most often on special cards like this one from 1991 Score.
Here is a card number that avoids categorization. Top center? Top right? It's set off away from the rest of the design so you can find it easily.
That brings me to the four strangest positions for a card number that I found. None of them are as out there as the 1963 Fleer set, but I don't think such an example exists.
Here they are:
2008 Upper Deck Spectrum: The card number is traveling toward the center of the card, but not quite there. It's in the top half of the card so you can find it easily.
1998 Pacific: Pacific liked to put its card number in the bottom right corner. But it took a couple of glances to find this card number. There it is next to Glavine's glove. It's part of the jumble of copyright logos in the bottom right-ish section of the card.
2007 Bowman Heritage insert set: The card number for this set is in the black box. In terms of card number centering, it's the closet I've found so far. ...
... if I didn't find this card, which is a 1999 Skybox E-X Century something-or-other. It's partly transparent. Only a card set this funky would dare to position the card number that close to the center of the card.
So there you are. 1963 Fleer remains a trend-setter after all these years.
Still with me?
I didn't think so.
But for the few that are, I think you can see that collectors like their card numbers where they can find them. And card companies think about that. Or maybe they don't think about it at all. I don't know.