What Were They Thinking: The Upside Down Edition
January 24th, 2012 by slangon

This series of posts is dedicated to examining the numerous design details from the Topps art department that leave me scratching my head. They’re the types of things that could just be one time instances that are the result of someone overlooking them, or they could have been a conscious decision on the part of Topps designers. It’s always kind of hard to tell. They always make me wish that I could sit down with someone who was involved with the creative process and ask them “What were you thinking?” In the mean time, I’ll just sit here pointing out weird little things that I notice and coming up with my own theories, or more likely just pointing them out and not coming up with any answers at all. Who knows? Maybe someone out there who is smarter and better versed in the ways of the hobby will know the answer to some of these queries. Or maybe they’ll just go down in history as some weird thing that Topps did way back when.

Today’s What Were They Thinking post was pretty goddamn exhausting. It started off with me thinking that I had totally figured out why the Topps designers had done something weird, only to have that confidence completely stripped away thanks to one piece of contrary evidence. Then as I was wrapping up the post, consigned to failure (as most of these What Were They Thinks posts do), I was hit with an epiphany and thought I had figured it out again. Then doubt began to creep back in my mind although there really didn’t seem to be any basis for that doubt. Exhausting.

Let’s just dive in.

I’m not sure why, but recently a post that The Cardboard Junkie wrote many moons ago about 1954 Topps cards popped back into my head. Specifically, he was writing about the backs of 1954 Topps cards. Even specifically-er, he was writing about why the backs of 1954 Topps cards can drive you mad.

To illustrate, Here is a full page of 1954 Topps cards (click to embiggen).

As you can see, everyone is nice and regimented and all facing the same way like good little baseball cards should. And now, here’s the back.

Although all the cards are oriented the same way when viewed from the front, when you’re checking out their backside, Ken Raffensberger and Fred Haney are standing on their heads.

As dayf pointed out, when you’re flipping through a binder, that can be quite jarring to the eyes.

I’m sure most people who read this blog are at least semi-familiar with The Topps Archives blog. If not, you should be. As someone who not only loves baseball cards but also works as a graphic designer, I find many of the articles he writes pretty fascinating because they often touch on the actual design and production aspect of  Topps cards. Recently I happened to have been strolling around through the archives of The Topps Archives and came across a post about the Topps non-sport set World on Wheels, which was released in 1953 and 1954.

In the post, he points out that the World on Wheels cards utilize a full bleed color block as part of the design. He further points out that within the set there are 8 cards that share the same block of color. When you’re looking at the full sheet, it looks like one big block of color, but once the cards are cut down to their final size, that one block of color becomes 8 smaller blocks that bleed all the way to the edge of the card.

Topps also utilized full-bleed color blocks on their 1953 and 1954 baseball cards. The ’53 design has a full-bleed color block on the bottom that houses the players info. Sometimes it is on the right side of the card.

Sometimes it’s on the left.

In order to achieve that full bleed, the cards would need to be oriented bottom to bottom on the full sheet. I’ve taken the liberty to cobble together what it might’ve looked like.

Pretty crappy cobbling, I know, but I think it gets the point across. Similarly, the 1954 set has a bleed, albeit only on the top. That in itself is a weird little design quirk that probably warrants it’s own “What Were They Thinking” post, except for that fact that I can’t even begin to come up with any theories to explain that one. This is how the ’54 cards would’ve looked on a full sheet, brought to you once again by my amazing cobbling skills.

If that doesn’t do it for you, just go look at the full 1953 and 1954 sheets on Topps Archives. As you can see, in order to achieve that partial full bleed, half of the cards were printed upside down. Initially, I figured that when they were putting together the printing plates, they flipped the fronts accordingly to get the full bleed, but just oriented all of the backs in the same direction. Once the cards were cut, half of them had backs that went one way and half of them had backs that went the other way.

At this point I was 100% positive that I had the explanation for the upside-down backs on 1954 Topps baseball cards. So positive that I wrote almost this entire post thinking that I wrapped things up quite nicely. When I was nearing the end of writing it, though, I though, let me just take a quick spin around the interwebs and see if I can find an image of the back of an uncut 1954 sheet, just to prove once and for all what an awesome investigative blogger I am. The I came across this old auction listing on the Legendary Auctions site. (I am lifting the images from that page. I hope they don’t mind. Please don’t SOPA me.)

The auction was for a 1954 Topps salesman sample, which according to the item description was a strip of 3 cards that were isolated from an uncut sheet to be used as a handout to distributors.

As you can see, the strip consists of Granny Hamner, Richie Ashburn and Johnny Schmitz. We already know that on the uncut sheet, there would’ve been 3 “upside down” cards that also had white backgrounds above these 3 sharing the top border. Things completely fall apart once you flip this guy over, though.

According to my theory, although Topps flipped the fronts according to which cards needed to share a border, they put all the backs in the same direction. As you can plainly see here, the back of the Ashburn card is upside down compared to the Granny Hamner card. You can even see through the salesman sticker that the Schmitz card is also upside down compared to the Ashburn, giving us alternating back orientations. I’d say this is pretty conclusive evidence that Topps didn’t orient all the backs in the same direction, but what the frig is going on then?

Then it hit me. In addition to sporting a full bleed on the top of the front of the 1954 cards, the backs of the cards also have a full bleed along the sides and bottom of the back, which you can see in this cut down card.

In order to achieve that full bleed, they had to place the cards bottom to bottom on the back, while still keeping them top to top on the front. Add to that the fact that the fronts are all portrait (meaning they’re taller than they are wide) and all the backs are landscape (meaning they’re wider than they are tall) and you have one big old mess of backs and fronts and this way and that.

This also solved another thing that was kind of bothering me about my initial theory, namely that if they put all the backs in the same direction regardless of how the fronts were oriented, then the 1953 card backs should’ve had some weird upside down action going on too, but they don’t, even though they do have full bleed on the back.

So why don’t the 1953 cards have weird upside down backs? It all comes down to the fact that both the fronts and backs of the cards are portrait so they could just flip the backs according to how the front was facing.

I hope that clears things up. If not too bad. I need to stop writing this before I confuse myself any further.

2 Responses to “What Were They Thinking: The Upside Down Edition”

  1. Wait!!! How could I have NOT known that Luke Easter’s given name was Luscious?!?

    His parents might have pronounced it Loo-Shuss, but it is Lush-iss (as in Juicy) to me!

    Awesome! Thirty three years after he passed away, you got Luscious Luke a new fan!

  2. When I come across articles like this I bookmark that blog and read it every time it updates.
    Great writing!

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