Monday, August 17, 2015
Black and white in a full color world
Baseball cards might be the most hostile environment for black-and-white images. We will fawn over black-and-white paintings, marvel at black-and-white photography framed on a wall, present awards to black-and-white movies, but don't you dare give us a baseball card set full of black-and-white players.
Black-and-white photos do appear in sets these days, but it's always confined to a limited number of cards. Take this year's Stadium Club as an example. There are select black-and-white photos that collectors have oohed and aahed over, but the majority of the set is in color.
That's the way it's been, for decades and decades. If you're going to do black-and-white, keep it to a limited number of cards, and for the love of cardboard, don't make the entire set black-and-white.
One of those Stadium Club cards got me curious. How many black-and-white sets could I find since the days when full color photography made its entrance? I went through my Dodgers binders, since it has a wide variety of sets, and I couldn't even find a dozen, since the 1950s.
I'm sure there are more than that. Minor league issues and what have you. But it's safe to say that nobody wants to touch a full-fledged black-and-white set. Even recent sets that featured mostly black-and-white photos -- Obak, 2012 Topps Gold Rush -- couldn't resist adding color to the set.
So here are the few holdouts that I found. Here are sets with black-and-white ballplayers and not much else.
Let's start with the first black-and-white set I ever saw, 1969 Topps Deckle Edge. This insert set in '69 flagship tried to grab kids' attention with its glossy fronts and strange scalloped edging. I thought it was odd, but all the blacked-out caps didn't help.
In 1990, Target celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Dodgers by issuing a whopping 1,144-card set to represent every player who had worn a Dodger uniform. The most unfortunate aspect of this set is not the flimsy card stock or the fact I may never complete it, but the fact that there was no Target anywhere near me in 1990 when I could have grabbed the whole thing.
Along the same lines was a Smokey the Bear Dodger set that also honored a century of the best team ever made. This set isn't nearly as large, but it's still fun to see Dodgers who never got a card in mainstream sets.
In 2003, Upper Deck issued a black-and-white set through its SP brand. The Legendary Cuts set offered base cards of retired greats, many of whom never had a color photo. Upper Deck took care of the disparity by making every image black-and-white. With the colored, stylized borders, it's really a snazzy set and one of my favorite B&W titles.
One thing about black and white sets that you cannot deny: they are informative. The Sporting News Conlon Collection cards of the early '90s, not only featured players often ignored by present-day fans, but provided painstaking detail on the back.
Conlon's all black-and-white set was in 1991. After that, they fell victim to color's siren song. Oh, sure, there were black-and-white images still, but there were also "colorized" parallels. Nice going, Turner Network.
During the Topps monopoly days (I guess this is the "second monopoly"?), Leaf issued an all black-and-white set in 1960. It's been dismissed as "simple" and "vanilla" and for being packaged with a marble instead of gum, but it's one of the few black-and-white sets that made it.
The set is basically 144 cards of mug shots (with a halo effect on each one). But I like it for the set it spawned:
The 1977-84 TCMA Renata Galasso set featured the same design as 1960 Leaf, but it is so much better because the photos feature many full-body poses and great shots just as this. I adore this set, and I must collect it someday.
But be careful storing these cards: they tend to yellow on the edges, and that's color you don't want.
There is so much about the period when I wasn't collecting that confused -- and continues to confuse -- me. One of them was why on earth did 2001 Bowman Heritage pay tribute to the 1953 Bowman Black and White set when the '53 Bowman Color set is praised as one of the most beautiful of all-time?
Because, idiot night owl who didn't collect between 1995-2005, Bowman Heritage is actually paying tribute to the 1948 Bowman set, which is black and white.
Heh, I was thrown off by the larger size. I guess if I turned the card to the back, I would've figured it out.
Anyway, these cards are a little weird with black-and-white close-ups of modern players. Marquis Grissom doesn't like it at all.
Here is 1953 Bowman. It's treated as the ugly kid brother of '53 Bowman Color. It's a small, 64-card set and it's often considered an extension of the Bowman Color set as historians speculate it was intended to be part of the color set but they couldn't deal with the added expense of coloring the photos. Because why would anyone want to make a set that was JUST black and white?
Nu Scoops!!! This set has everything I want. Baseball history, newspaper layout and headlines. This was the second year of Nu-Card Scoops. This set, the 1961 version, is standard size (the 1960 set is postcard size). And it's all black-and-white, as newspapers were back then.
And now we come to the most in-yo-face black-and-white set of all.
The 1991 Studio set -- despite the part of me that wants to blame it for the fact that high school kids are now posing with tigers for their yearbook photos -- is everything that was right about 1990s cards. It's different, it's daring, and it doesn't care what you think.
Baseball cards may have never been more NOW than in the early '90s, with everyone in the family collecting cards. And companies continued to issue sets in striking color -- Stadium Club and Leaf, Upper Deck with its full color fronts and backs.
And then there was Studio. Black-and-white portrait head shots and some of the corniest images ever thought up by a baby photographer.
On the back, preserved for all eternity, the ballplayer's bad taste in music, TV shows or heroes.
But this might be the most memorable black-and-white set of all-time.
It's definitely the most colorful black-and-white set.