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New Sports Cards Look Back To Simpler Times

It looks like the lyricist Peter Allen had it right: Everything old is new again.

Look at television. You'll find "That 70s Show" on Fox, and decades-old programs have avid viewership on Nickelodeon and the Cartoon Network.

In sports, Major League Baseball's "Turn Back the Clock" games, featuring players in vintage-style uniforms, are immensely popular with fans. The National Football League's New York Jets and Giants are sporting retro uniforms.

The nostalgia bug has bit the trading-card hobby as well. Several new card sets harken back to a simpler time a time when sports cards were for kids, and "grading" was something a teacher did to a book report.

Manufacturers can't seem to turn out old-style sets fast enough to satisfy collector demand for sports cards made the old-fashioned way.

"Upper Deck and Fleer opened the door with their Retro and Tradition flashback sets, which showcased current players on card designs from the past," said Tom Hultman, managing editor of Sports Cards magazine.

Cards in the 1999 Upper Deck Retro set were packaged inside 1970s-style metal lunch boxes. The card design was loosely based on a '70s card style.

Upper Deck now offers the '60s-style Vintage line covering baseball and hockey. Basketball and football sets are in the works.

Fleer's Tradition set was so successful with collectors that the 2000 baseball series was followed by football and basketball sets.

For 2001, the Tradition Baseball set is a horizontal format similar to a design from 1955. "Floating head" League Leader cards and a checklist with the boxes that can be checked off are other card features borrowed from yesteryear.

The Topps Co., which is celebrating its 50th year of producing baseball cards, has brought back its 1952 design for the 2001 Heritage set.

Collectors will find a true taste of nostalgia in these packs the gum is back.

"To have the gum is very special," said Clay Luraschi, Topps spokesperson. "That's what Topps baseball cards were all about in the beginning the gum."

In 1951, Topps introduced its first baseball cards as a promotional gimmick to boost sales of its chewing gum.

"As years went by, it became more and more focused on the cards, and eventually we lost the gum, for a while," said Luraschi. "If we're going to bring back the design, let's bring back the gum and everything that was a part of that set."

Each of the Heritage cards, 407 in all, is printed on gray paper stock similar to that used in 1952. Wrapper and card graphics reflect the '52 set as well.

"Card stock is the key for a card company to recreate the feel of an old-time card," said Hultman. "The card design, photo selection and feel of the wrapper are important, but there isn't that keen sense of nostalgia without the plain, gray cardboard stock."

Paper stock that resembles the pasteboards of the past are not unique to the Heritage set. Upper Deck and Fleer also use it.

"It is a nice alternative to the foil stamping and the bells and whistles," said Justin Kanoya, Upper Deck's public relations specialist. "It's fun for collectors to open packs in the year 2001 and sort of feel like they are opening packs in the 1960s. For guys who were opening packs in the 1960s, it brings back memories of their childhood."

Sports fans can look forward to more opportunities to collect old-style cards in the year to come. Between 1999 and 2000, six flashback sets were released. That number will nearly double in 2001 with 11 retro-style sets planned.

"The retro-style sets have proven very popular," said Hultman. "Collector demand is great enough that dealers can charge above suggested retail price and still sell the packs.

"These sets are a great tool for showing younger people what trading cards were all about in the past. They offer a wonderful opportunity for fathers and grandfathers to share their card-collecting experiences with youngsters."

Copyright 2001 by Krause Publications. For a free catalog of Krause Publications books or periodicals on collectibles, write Public Relations, Dept. IC, Krause Publications, 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990-0001, or visit on the worldwide web, or e-mail
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