Collecting History – How Trading Cards Capture The Eras They Were Printed

By Anonymous COMC User

The best sets don’t just look cool, they completely capture their era. When you look at a 1985 Donruss baseball card, it’s like watching the original Ghostbusters– you feel like you’re back in the 1980s. You see cutting-edge 80s graphics that look dated today, 80s fashion and style, and best of all, the sublime 80s mixture of coolness and cheesiness.
Don’t take my word for it, check out the glorious masterpiece that is 1985 Donruss #651 Two for the Title.

Is this a baseball card or an 80s movie poster? It looks like the cover of the greatest VHS tape of all time. That’s how you capture an era; two iconic 80s stars, two phenomenal 80s mustaches, and total 80s graphics. The cheesy action movie title only makes it better! Plus, Winfield even has a giant lip of tobacco in his mouth. Sadly, like so many great things from the 80s, I bet you can’t get away with that today.

That’s the magic of these old cards, they capture history. Older trading cards show you the style of the time, the attitudes of the time, the humor of the time, the technology of the time, and our heroes of the time.

If you look at any basketball cards from the 1970s you’ll see long hair and afros. For a real treat though, check out the 1971-72 Topps Basketball cards. The colors and graffiti text beautifully capture the style of the time. It all ties together perfectly with 1971-72 Topps Basketball #130 Earl Monroe

First off, Earl looks resplendent. Perfectly cropped goatee and mini afro. He’s ready to hit the disco, and so is this card. Flip it over and what do you see? Another excellent relic of yesteryear that is the old sports card trivia question:
What is the nickname of Earl Monroe? Answer: Earl the Pearl

Sadly, NBA players don’t have awesome nicknames like that anymore. The times keep changing. The Baltimore Bullets moved to Washington DC, eventually changed their name, and replaced their awesome 70s jerseys with a cheesy Space Jam-looking jersey.

Such is life.
The only constant is change.

At least we can take a break from our sprint towards the future by stopping for a moment and appreciating vintage trading cards that remind us of how it used to be. If you really want to go back to the good old days, check out the 1958 Topps baseball cards. I love most every set of Topps baseball cards from the 1950s, except for the 1957 set (boring!), but for the purpose of this exercise, I’m going with the 1958 set.
This set introduces Sport Magazine ’58 All-Star Selection, which is a classic case of showing off graphics that were cutting-edge at the time but now seem dated. For what it’s worth, I still think that the 58 all-stars look awesome! I defy you to look at 1958 Topps #487 Mickey Mantle All-Star and tell me otherwise.

This has such a classic 1950s Americana vibe. I even enjoy the name, Sport Magazine, which was apparently the Sports Illustrated of the mid-40s and 50s before actual Sports Illustrated took over the market. Best of all the actual cards look even nicer than the all-star cards. Want to see a real beauty? Check out 1958 Topps #30 Hank Aaron:

First off, the colors are gorgeous, and I love the old Milwaukee Braves logo. By the way, why did they ever change that? Regardless, my favorite part of this set is that when you flip them over, they’re exploding with 1950s nostalgia.

You can’t find any better, punchier 1950s copy than, “Hank was the bat star of the ’57 series.” And, you can’t beat these graphics. Do you think baseball cards today can show a pot-bellied slob fan raising a beer and saying “Mein Hank?” Of course not!

Future sets may duplicate the delightful card-number-inside-of-a-smiley-face baseball wearing a sideways hat and there have been plenty of remakes that copied the 1958 Topps animation style. However, while you can copy their style, you’ll never be able to relive those glory days. That’s why these sets that capture the essence of an era are so special.