Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How I got into All-American customs

This is a column that I wrote for a recent issue of Sports Collectors Digest. That issue had a feature on the original Topps 1955 All-American football cards.

When editor T.S. O’Connell invited me to create a column for this issue of SCD in which the 1955 Topps All-American college football card set was going to be featured, I knew I had to participate.
It has probably been two years or more since my own “updates” to that set outpaced Topps’ original production.
As of now I have created 122 cards in that format. My homage to the ’55 AA set includes 121 different players (I created two different Troy Aikman cards, Oklahoma and UCLA) representing 73 different colleges.
Many of my custom card creations have been featured in these pages in the past seven years since I began making my own “cards that never were.”
Once I realized that modern technology had created the tools to allow me to fulfill my childhood ambition of making my own cards, it was virtually a no-brainer to begin with the 1955 All-American style.
That was one of my favorite bubblegum card sets as a kid, and provides one of my earliest childhood memories. I have a firm recollection of sitting on the floor of my kindergarten classroom opening a red-white-and-blue wax pack of All-Americans during afternoon recess while the rest of the kids were outside playing. I was inside while they were outside because health issues often limited my mobility, even as a four-year old.
I don’t remember who I got in that pack, but I do remember that the Army players were my favorites, probably due to a combination of the martial sword-and-rifle logo and the players’ gold helmets. (I have created three Army cards in my own series: Glenn Davis, who Topps did not include in 1955, probably because he was under contract to Bowman, a Glenn Davis-Doc Blanchard combination card titled “Mr. Outside & Mr. Inside,” and a card of quarterback Arnold Tucker, who directed the offense of those USMA powerhouse teams of the 1940s.)
When my card collecting interests were revived in the mid-1970s, the first football card set I wanted to reclaim was the All-Americans. By then, through the courtesy of Larry Fritsch’s checklist books, I knew that there were 100 cards in the set, including a Four Horsemen of Notre Dame card that I know I had never encountered in my childhood.
By about 1982 I had completed a set of the originals in what I recall as high-grade in those pre-slab days. I wrote a heavily illustrated article about the set for one of the early issues of Baseball Cards magazine, then sold the set.
Around 2003 when I began my card creation efforts, I began piecing together another set of the 1955s. I needed the originals so that I could copy school logos and the cartoons on the backs. This time I endeavored to put the set together in at least Ex-Mt condition, as certified by PSA, SGC and SCD, though I removed each card from its plastic tomb and inserted it into a binder after scanning.
During this process I discovered that while some of the cards in the set were merely expensive (Thorpe, Horsemen, Grange, Rockne, etc.), others were truly hard to find in Ex-Mt or better condition, usually due to centering issues. Such cards were among the last to find their way into my current set. Besides cards #1 Herman Hickman and #100 Fats Henry, they included #3 Ed Weir, #24 Ken Strong, #28 Mel Hein, and, the last card I added to my second set, #99 Don Whitmire.
I believe the only cards in my current set that aren’t Ex-Mt are the Whizzer White and Gaynell Tinsley error version, which I have in VG-Ex or EX.

Since beginning my custom cards hobby with the 1955 AA style I have expanded my repertoire of baseball and football cards to about two dozen formats, but I don’t think I’ll ever be “done” with my ’55s. While I have done nearly 125 cards in that design, I still haven’t completed what I have named by Second Series (I consider the Topps originals to be the First Series). I’ve left card #152 unmade. On the checklist cards I have created in a Fifties Topps format, that card is listed as Randy Moss.
Long ago I acquired some nice images of Moss from his days at Marshall, but have delayed putting together his college card. I originally did so because I wasn’t sure he was going to be remembered for anything beyond his faux mooning of Packer fans in the end zone after a touchdown a few years back. Now, his legacy as one of the greats is assured, and I’m just waiting for his NFL career to end so that I can craft an appropriate biography for the back of his card.
I’m already 22 cards into a Third Series of All-Americans, and I don’t see a Fourth in the offing. My pace of All-American creations has slowed considerably from more than one per month when I first started to six or eight per year now.
My to-do list of All-Americans consists of cards for which I have appropriate photos and just the lack the impetus to see them through. Besides three of four of my existing cards that’s I’d like to someday “rehabilitate” by using more recently acquired superior photos, the Top 10 on my list of cards to add include former NFL greats Earl Campbell, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, Joe Perry, Ollie Matson and Ray Guy. Also on the drawing board are 1950s baseball stars Ted Kluszewski, Moose Skowron and Jackie Jensen, and actor Tommy Lee Jones.
I also maintain a wish list of players whose cards I’d like to do, but whose photos in college uniform have thus far eluded me.
The “most wanted” on that list is Donald Driver. My efforts to acquire a reproducible photo of the great Packers receiver and fan favorite in an Alcorn State uniform have been unavailing.
Two former NFL stars of whom I’d like good college pictures are Jim Taylor from LSU, and Rocky Bleier at Notre Dame.
Surprisingly elusive has been a photo of future baseball Hall of Famer Frank Thomas in an Auburn football uniform.
Actors Dean Cain, Carl Weathers, Woody Strode and Johnny Mack Brown all played college ball, but I haven’t yet been able to find football photos for them.
One player you’ve never heard of is a personal project of mine. I went to grade school and high school with Jim Bond in Fond du Lac, Wis. After high school he received a scholarship to Michigan State. When that signing was announced, the local paper ran a photo of Jim and some MSU dignitaries in which Bond is holding up a Spartans jersey with the number “007”. This was in 1969, at the height of the first popularity for Sean Connery James Bond movies. Bond injured his knee early on and didn’t have much of a college career, but it would be fun to do a card of someone from my old neighborhood.
As you can see from my wish list and checklists, my All-American series encompasses a wide variety of players from college stars to NFL and MLB stars, TV and movie actors, presidents, personal friends and relatives of friends, and even a few fictional characters. That’s part of the appeal of making you own card set, you get to create the line-up.
If any of the readers are able to provide or direct me to a good photo of any of these players, please contact me at, or write me at P.O. Box 8, Iola, WI 54945. I always offer to share my first printing with those who provide photos I need.
And, unlike many other custom card creators, I do actually print my cards, front and back, and cut them into single cards. I’ve done as few as six cards of a player (that’s how many fronts or backs in the classic Topps size of 3-3/4” x 2-5/8” I can fit onto a sheet of 8-1/2” x 11” label paper on which I print before sandwiching them to a cardboard core) to as many as perhaps two dozen.
There are currently only four complete sets of my custom All-American cards in existence. I maintain two sets, and two collectors have prevailed upon me to provide them with complete sets. Of the single cards, I have given away some and sold some.
Early on I found out it’s much easier to offer cards for sale than to explain to a dedicated Alabama fan why I can’t get him a Bart Starr college card because of the time and handwork involved in printing and cutting the cards.
While the occasional sales help keep me in special paper and printer ink, the real reason I make my All-Americans (and all my other custom cards) is to satisfy a deep creative urge that, as mentioned, has been with me since childhood. I relish the challenge of colorizing or otherwise revamping a photo to make it fit my format. And I greatly enjoy the research that goes into getting the 90 or so words I need to write the backs. I once spent an entire afternoon in the library scouring biographies of JFK to gather the details of his undistinguished football days at Harvard.
Ever since I sold most of my card collection to Alan Rosen in 1993, I haven’t been much of a card collector. I seldom buy a card these days for any purpose other than to provide a template for one of my customs. Making and sharing these cards has become my real hobby.
You can see color galleries of many of my All-American cards and most of my other football and baseball creations in my Photobucket albums at

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