Saturday, June 1, 2013

1984 Topps: Part II


First Impressions

Like the 1982 set, this was definitely a design that reflected the tastes of its times. As a fourteen year old, I loved them. In fact, at the time, I liked this set more than the '83 set, which I've grown to consider the benchmark for quality. The cards were colorful and flashy. And since I'd decided to go back to collecting the set through packs, I was once again treated to cards that smelled like gum. Don't underestimate the allure of that particular treat for the senses.

29 Years Later...

Throughout the years there have been a few back-to-back Topps sets that have enough similarities that I consider them siblings, and the 1983 (sister) and 1984 (brother) sets might be the closest thing to fraternal twins that the company had produced since 1955/1956. The 1983 set exuded class and subtlety, with its bright yet reserved color scheme, its tight curves and its compact text. Like an energetic (or even slightly obnoxious) younger brother, the 1984 set was clearly of the same family, but there was nothing subtle about it. Its bright primary colors were gaudy, its angles sharp and its text big and bold. Two specific design decisions are at the heart of their differences. The first is the use of marquee-sized block type for the team name running down the side of the cards. The second is the transformation of the portrait section of the cards, opting for a silhouette technique with the player's head popping out of a box filled with bright color.

While the 1983 set seemed solid and sturdy, the quality of the '84 set was slightly diluted. The card stock seemed a little thinner and prone to bowing in a way that recent Topps sets were not. Though the colors were vibrant, the printing seemed less precise and sometimes splotchy, with more irregularities appearing. I got the impression that these cards were much more plentiful (i.e., had a higher print run) than those of the previous few years, which may have something to do with my perception of a dip in quality. But I can't be too sure of this impression, given that I had ordered complete sets the previous two years. Perhaps the impression was simply formed by the fact that I was once again inundated with duplicates by collecting through packs.

When it came time to chose the "Most Aesthetically Pleasing" cards, there were more candidates from this set than in any of the previous sets I've examined. And that really astonishes me, because I've always kinda taken this set for granted. To my surprise, the photos in the '84 set are more consistently excellent than those in the beautiful '83 set. Despite the seeming disadvantage of locking the portrait to the left side of the cards, rather than reserving the option to choose left or right as in 1983, this set seems to do a better job of accommodating the shape of the space left for the action photo. Also, though the same effort is made to use action shots, those in the '84 set tend to be cropped closer than those in '83, which contributes to their bold look.

Adding to the boldness of this set is the use of color on the card backs. Recent sets had also used two colors (with black often being one of them), and even different shades of single colors. But none had used the two colors as creatively as in this set. Echoing the box on the front for the player portrait is a box featuring a team logo in the upper right corner. In many of the logos the red and blue are used to good effect, with the Dodgers logo being one of them, given the bonus of the design decision matching the team's actual colors. For that reason, the Yankees, White Sox, Expos and Blue Jays cards, among others, also have some really nice-looking backs. Unfortunately, this was one of the years in which Topps chose rather generic game highlight information to feature, with the "Dateline" section being not at all different in content from any additional blurbs on back. Still, it's a really nice-looking design that neatly pairs with the set's overall look.

The more closely that I look at these early 80s sets, the more I get the feeling that the people at Topps really put a lot of thought into imbuing each set with a unified purpose in its presentation, in a way that perhaps they failed to do for a while in the years ahead. I guess we'll see for sure in the coming weeks.


  1. The Tony Gwynn card from 84 Topps is one of my favorite Gwynn cards, and my favorite from the 84 set. But I'm totally biased. I was born in 84, and it was the first year the Padres made it to the World Series, so the set has a special place in my collection. Great post.

    1. Thanks. Naturally, I look at that Padres League Championship as a Garvey thing... but I too am quite biased. No question Gwynn is probably the division rival from his era that I had the most respect for. I was glad to at least have his brother and his son grace the Dodger roster for a little reflected glory.