Friday, February 26, 2010

Newest custom card was co-operative project

My most recent custom card creation was more of a co-operative effort than any of my previous projects.

It all started when a long-time hobby colleague, Fred McKie of East-central Pennsylvania, contacted me after he had won a Topps Archives' auction for an original "flexichrome" that Topps had evidently created for use on a 1955 Richie Ashburn card that was never printed, perhaps originally having been intended as one of the four "missing" cards in the '55T high-number series. Cards #175, 186, 203 and 209 were never printed. It is usually believed that these were to have been cards for players that were zealousy protected by Bowman, which exercised exclusive rights to their cards. Ashburn certainly could have fit into that scenario. Ashburn made his "rookie card" debut in 1949 Bowman, and appeared in every Bowman set through their finale in 1955. Along the way he also appeared in 1951 Topps (Blue Backs), 1952, and 1954 Topps.

We know Topps had intended to use Ashburn in its 1953 set, because artwork was created, though it was never made into a card until 50 years later when I used that artwork to create my own 1953-style Ashburn card.

Fred McKie is a die-hard Phillies fan and collector, and for many years was a frequent contributor of Philadelphis regionally issued cards and player memorabilia to the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. When he saw my '53-style Ashburn, he inquired about availability and I sent him one.

When he purchased the 1955 flexichrome, Fred inquired about I'd be interested in doing a 1955 Topps-style card for him. A flexichriome, by the way, is how Topps colorized most of its 1952-1956) baseball card issues. It is a thin black-and-white photographic print to which color was painstaking hand painted. The finished artwork could then be made into the necessary color printing negatives. It's too bad that internet images are so small and low-res. Up close and personal, the Ashburn portrait is stunning, right down to blazing hazel eyes.

Because I had not yet made the decision to cut back on my blogging in favor of putting more time into my custom cards, I quoted Fred a price for the commission that would have made it hard for me refuse.

He demurred, but dang it, he had his hooks in me. for the next severak weeks I kept having flashed about how that portrait would look on the fading blue background that Topps used for virtually all of its 1955 Phillies. I was also somewhat rankled that my first attempt at a 1955 Topps baseball card creation had not turned out so well. In fact, I don't think it has ever been publically viewed . . . and likely never will be. About the same time, I decided that I wanted to do a 1955 Charlie Grimm manager's card, since I found a great portrait photo on the internet. I figured it would greatly ease the workload if I had a temple for the 1955 cards, so I proposed to Fred that we go ahead and do the Ashburn.

I had him send me the portrait scan, and asked him to work up the biography for the back. He accomplished that in short order, and even did the math to fill the stats boxes.

Fred chose #175 for the card number, since not only is it one of the missing 1955s, it was also the number of hits Ashburn had in 1954.

He also sent along a color image of Ashburn at bat. At first glance I thought it would work fine for the smaller "action" picture on the front, but it turned out the wide stance in the photo created some composition problems. If you study original 1955 fronts, you'll notice that with only two or three exceptions, the action photos are cap-to-toe images, filling the horizontal space to one side of the portrait or other.

The problem with the batting photo was that if we used it cap-to-toe, it was too wide, with the vertical bat obscuring too much of the team logo. A few of the "real" '55s have a small piece of the action photo either in front of or behind the logo, but in most cases the two elements do not intersect. If I moved the action picture towards the portrait in order to get the bat mostly off of the Phillies logo, too much of it intruded on the portrait, which was also something that was rarely seen in the originals.

I slept on the design for a couple of nights, and when I returned to it, I found I could live with it. I e-mailed Fred and told him of my quandry, and he responded with a trio of alternatives that were much more vertically oriented. He offered batting, throwing and leaping/fielding poses. I colorized the batting and leaping poses, plugged them into the front design and sent them to Fred for review. It turned out that we were in synch, both favoring the fielding pose as an homage to a Hall of Famer whose fielding skills were largely overlooked in the era because of a trio of New York centerfielders (Willie, Mickey and the Duke).

With that decision made, the card was quickly wrapped up. I decided that a 1955-style card should have a shiny front, so I printed the fronts on glossy photo paper. My first attempt to pair that in a sandwich with the matte back and a cardstock center proved too thick and I ruined the first sheet trying to cut it. I opted for a thinner center stock and got the look and feel I wanted.

As per our agreement, I sent Fred half of my six-card production, and he is now able to fill that hole in Richie Ashburn's Topps baseball card legacy. I got an addition to my custom card opus that I am very proud of. Now it's on to the 1955 Charlie Grimm!

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