Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The forgotten set

Like many set collectors, I have almost perfect recollection of sets of the past. I know what they look like down to the tiniest detail.

Even before the advent of the internet and the ability to call up any card from any year, I could lie in bed and drift off to sleep by picturing the images of each set from every year, in order.

1979? The colored ribbon stripped across the bottom.

1980? Pennant flags. Small one for the position and big one for the team name.

1981? Well, there were three card sets that year, but no problem. Topps had the ballcaps in the bottom left corner and the wild colored borders that didn't seem to correspond with any team colors. Fleer had the giant baseball in the bottom left and loads and loads of yellow. And Donruss had the yellow block lettering for the team name, and the tiny '81 in the top corner.

It was almost like reciting the alphabet. Name a year and I knew the corresponding design. And I knew the year after that and the year after that.

I could do this from 1968 Topps all the way to 1991 Topps, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck and Score.

Before '68, things got a little hazy for me because the cards were so old. After 1991? Well, I still have problems. Just too many damn sets. A year like 1997 will take me 30 minutes to sort out. Way too much going on in the late '90s.

But as I became more of a veteran collector, I could even recall the older years instantly. I even have straightened myself out on some of the newer years, although I think I'll forever mix up sets between '97-99.

But there is one set that I will always forget.

It's my blind spot. My weakness. My missing link.

It's 1986 Fleer.

I always, always forget about '86 Fleer.

Partly it is because it was a set I never collected. 1986 was a year of collecting indifference for me. I bought some '86 Topps, but that was it.

To this day, you could throw me a 1986 Fleer card and ask me to name the year and chances are 50-50, that I will say:

"Ummmmmmmm ... 1985?"

I have a huge mental block about this set.

I know of only one cure for ridding myself of that mental block forever.

If I try to collect the whole set, then this will not be a problem for me anymore.

But before you get ready to unload your '86 Fleer dupes on me, let me say that I doubt I will ever do that.

I'll probably just continue through life with '86 Fleer as the gap in my collecting knowledge. Someday, I'll go on Jeopardy and be cruising to an astronomical lead. I'll draw the Daily Double. Under the potpourri category, of course. Alex Trebek will show a picture of Barry Bonds' rookie card and ask what year it was issued. It'll be the Fleer card, not the Topps card, which will cause me to mentally freak. I will answer, not so confidently, "What is 1985?" Trebek will give me a piteous, Canadian-accented, "Oh, no. Sorry." And my money total will plunge into negative numbers. Shame will follow me home and I will never be able to write on this blog again.

But I'm sure I'm not the only one. Right? Please tell me you don't have instant recall of every set when someone mentions the year? Is there one set that you always forget?

For me, '86 Fleer will always be this set collector's Achilles Heel. Plus, all those gold-embossed sets from '97. Or is it '96? No, no, it's '98. Yup. '98. ... I think.


  1. I never learned most of the sets before 1985, because I wasn't collecting until '89. The more I work with them, though, the better I get. But I can't be relied upon for the stuff released in the pre-collecting years. But it's around 1997, and especially 1998 on, where I can't identify sets. Partly because I stopped collecting in early 1998 for over five years, and partly because there were up to 80 sets released in a year. Hm. I think that would be an interesting test. Each question would have an image of a card, and you'd have to pick the year. I gotta say one thing about that: good luck ID'ing Bowman and Ultra sets.

  2. The only sets I DO remember are '83 Topps & '84 Donruss. Every other year is up for grabs.

  3. I can identify most, like you, and 1986 Fleer was never a problem for me because that was my first year of collecting.

    My biggest problem is the last 5 or so years of Bowman. They all look too similar and I always have to look to the back which gets even more confusing because some 2010s have 2010 stats.

    Everyone has an Achilles Heel.

  4. My collecting faded during '86 also. I think I only collected about half the set. In '87, I only got a pack to see what the card design was. I never went back to collecting... I started playing guitar & buying music instead of baseball cards.

  5. Topps 1993 and earlier, back to 1962 Topps, I can recite in my sleep. I would wager that during my prime childhood collecting years, from 1974 topps to 1979 topps, you could show me the just the picture on the card, not the colors or framing, and I could tell you the guys name, what year the card was, his position, maybe even recite the little comic/cartoon on the back.
    in High school from 79 to 83, then college after that - I still bought them, but didn't cherish them in quite the same way as when I was pre-teen.
    In 1993, I moved out of the United States and never really had time to collect cards anymore up until this year.
    I have 7,000,000 1992 Leaf, so I can identify that one too!
    Fleer and Donruss are easy - they tell you the year right on front, well most do, anyhow.

    I never collected any Bowman and frankly, all Upper Deck looks the same to me, so no idea what years those were, never collected them.

  6. Great post!

    1952 to 1991 for all major companies is instant recall for me. yes, i am a true card geek.

    1991 was the end of wax packs and gum, the staples of why cards existed in the first place, so thats where my interest fades

  7. I can't say that there's a set that I forget... but there are two I often get confused.

    1982 & 1983 Donruss. One has the bat and ball... the other has the bat and glove. But I often get the two confused. I'm not sure why though... since I collected both.

  8. RE: 82 and 83 Donruss

    Just to add to the confusion the Diamond Kings look almost identical. And the copyright date on the back of the 83 Donruss is 1982.

  9. Don - Yeah... the DK's definitely are hard to tell apart by their fronts... and never realized the copyright dates on the 83 Donruss. Interesting stuff though. Makes me want to dig up some of my singles from those sets.

  10. '51 to '90 Topps I can do, even though I stopped in '84. The next few - 91 thru 93 - I tend to switch around. And the late 90's are really tough since even my local shop doesn't really have any stock. And I have to go by the year printed on the front for any Donruss & Fleet after '84.
    And don't get me started on Bowman after the mid 90's. Each year has three or four segments which are about the same except for the card number and confusing as hell.
    I think the other reason you forget that Fleer set is that the Donruss set for that year is also dark blue and they blend together. At least my little groups of doubles do in their monster box.

  11. Believe it or not, I also have a bit of a block with 1986 Fleer. I had no 1984-1986 Fleer cards until people starting sending me Orioles cards a few years ago for my blog. Like you, I look at these cards and think "1985" at least half the time.