Thursday, July 26, 2018

Cards that never were that actually are

Do you ever wonder where the phrase "cards that never were" began?

The internet and the blogs love the phrase. There are dozens of blogs devoted to "cards that never were" and probably hundreds of separate instances that have been showcased on sports- and collectable-related sites, underlining what the internet does: make something viewable that doesn't exist.

The only problem is, I like my cards to exist. A digital picture is nice to look at for a moment. But if I can't touch it, then that digital image is not going to last. I will forget about it.

That's why I like "cards that never were" to be printed out as a "real" card. That way, the "never was" becomes an "actually is." My favorite "what-if" "cards" (and in my mind they aren't actually cards until I can hold them in my hands) are the ones that exist outside of my digital screen.

So, sorry about that mini-rant, back to my original question: when did the phrase "cards that never were" begin?

When I first became aware of updated versions of Topps designs with current athletes pictured, it was the mid-to-late 1980s and Baseball Cards Magazine was doing the imagining. At the time, I remember calling them "replic-cards," which seemed like a bizarre term even then. Sounds like a card from the Mesozoic era.

I don't remember noticing the phrase "cards that never were," although it's entirely possible it was around then. My attention was divided in the late '80s.

The earliest documentation that I know of right now is on the 1995 Topps Archives Brooklyn Dodgers set, which used Topps and Bowman designs from the 1950s to pay tribute to the 40th anniversary of Brooklyn's first MLB championship.

That set is a 165-card checklist that includes reproductions of 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955 and 1956 Topps Dodgers cards and 1955 Bowman Dodgers cards. It also features players that didn't appear in some or all of those designs on cards it called "cards that never were."

See, right there on the back of the checklist, on the bottom, it notes: "N=Card That Never Was" (My guess is "N" means "new").

It's not the first time Topps created "cards that never were." They appeared in the 1991 Archives "Ultimate 1953 Set." But I don't know if the phrase was used in '91. (And, of course, "cards that never were" showed in the first set I ever collected, in the 1975 Topps MVP subset).

I've had a lot of trouble keeping the '91 and '95 Archives sets straight in my want list, and after years of confusion (and flat-out ignoring the set because I can't be bothered with this, I have a full-time job and a teenaged daughter), I figured it out and updated the list.

Then, not long after updating it, Greg A., from The Collective Mind came along and chopped it down. What was once 15 lines of wants is now six lines of wants.

The set seems a little ridiculous when you already own some of the actual cards being reproduced.

I have an actual 1952 Topps Andy Pafko card. So the satisfaction of owning a reproduction is a little lost on me. But I definitely understand having a reproduction of a '53 Topps Jackie Robinson.

The most fun is in the "cards that never were."

Some of the 1955 Topps tributes get a little freaky. Chuck Templeton seems a bit lonely without his black-and-white friend.

The most unique cards in this set, however, are the World Series cards.

Some of these you probably recognize from later Topps cards (especially that Podres image at the bottom). But these had to be very cool at the time because there were no cards paying tribute to the 1955 World Series.

Using the 1955 design is understandable even though Topps could never do that in 1955 as the set came out before the '55 World Series came out.

I was a bit fascinated with these cards even though they appeared more than 20 years ago.

"Cards that never were" have been around a long time, certainly before the internet came to be. I think card sets put out by TCMA helped spur that idea long.

But as for when the phrase first began? I'll leave that to you to figure out.


  1. Those are some cool cards that never were, and I swear I am going to print you out some ‘cards that never were’ of the ‘88 World Series and get them to you.

    1. 1989 O-Pee-Chee has cards of the 1988 World Series.

  2. The 1991 Archives did use "The cards that never were"--it was at the bottom of the back of the newly created cards. See for an example.

    Boy, those Archives cards were half-assed, weren't they? The non-painted '53s were bad enough, but that Chuck Templeton with only one photo is ridiculous. Even the ones without such a difference from the originals, I feel that there are plenty of bloggers who do a better job.

    1. The set that immediately popped into my head was 1991 Archives. I didn't know much about the 1953 set, but I remember that the card shop I worked at couldn't keep Ted Williams and Hank Aaron 1991 Archives cards in stock. Well... that product in general was pretty popular if I remember correctly.

  3. I expected to see Shirley Manson in this post!

    1. Is it done and mailed already? :) ... It WILL get its own post.

  4. Dang that's a big set. I figured I might have whittled it down to just a few cards, but glad to do the damage that I did.