The idea for this new series of posts came from the general reaction to this year’s Heritage set. While I knew that there wasn’t a huge amount of love for the 1966 design, I didn’t expect this year’s Heritage to be greeted with the overwhelming wave of indifference that came upon its release… And that indifference may turn out to be well-founded because, to be frank, I’m far less “into” this year’s set than I had been when it initially came out. I have some thoughts on my flagging enthusiasm for this year’s Heritage, but I’ll save that for later.
Anyway, indifference to 2015 Heritage got me thinking about how hard it would’ve been for most Heritage steps coming on the heels of 2014 Heritage (based on the wonderful 1965 design)… and that, in turn, got me thinking it would be fun to do a ranking every Heritage base set. Plenty of bloggers have ranked the sets these are based on, but I don’t know of anyone who actually ranked Heritage as Heritage.
When going through these, I tried to take a number of things into account… the design being “Heritaged”, how successful Topps was in replicating the design and feel of the set, whether it changed my feelings towards the original cards, and – more of a belllweather than a factor – how many of the Heritage cards I have in my collection.
OK, let’s get started…
#15: 2001 Heritage (1952 design)
Right off the bat, I’m giving everybody cause to get out the pitchforks and torches. I realize that the 1952 set achieves its fame from the fact that it’s the first “real” Topps set and it contains Mickey Mantle’s rookie card, but I maintain that if neither were true, 1952 Topps would not be viewed as quite as much of a classic as it is. Yes, it was groundbreaking at the time, but I don’t find it to be a great design. The original pulls it off by being sort of “organic”, and looking like a set where everything was done by hand. When replicated through 2001 technology, you lose the organic appeal and it comes across as kind of homely.
I suppose I should cut them some slack, the Heritage concept was new… but looking back at it, I wondered how many lessons had yet to be learned when they started this. A lot of the images seem like they just ran photos through some filter and tinted the background some sickly color.
Given that this is a ranking of Heritage sets, it might be off-topic to compare the 2001 set with its “peers”, but it does have a lot to do with how I felt about this set at the time, and how I feel about it now.
Heritage wasn’t the best throwback set of 2001… it wasn’t even second-best… not even close. Upper Deck had their Vintage set which was a tweaked 1963 Topps design….
Fleer had the 1950’s-ish Tradition set which is as derivative as derivative can be, but is still a far nicer set than 2001 Heritage.
Looking at my 2001 Heritage cards, there’s one damning piece of evidence that makes my feelings for this set clear: I’ve been a Mets fan and active collector for over 40 years, and this is the extent of my 2001 Heritage Mets.
Yep, one card that I think I pulled from a pack. If that doesn’t say “disinterest”, I don’t know what does. I’ll probably go back and fill in the gaps… Someday.
How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals: 2001 Heritage, combined with the “Topps ’52” Rookie sets that came a couple of years later, made me tired of this design… although I’ll say that the “Topps ’52” sets seemed to have done a better job of replicating the feel of the originals.
2001 Heritage cards in my collection: 36 cards out of 407 in the set (8.85%)
#14: 2011 Heritage (1962 Design)
I’ll admit, the original 1962 set is a set that I sort of… resent.
It’s not a design that I care for… Part of it is the wood grain. Somehow, I find wood grain to be less interesting than just a solid border. I can’t explain why, it just is.
But – and here’s where the resentment comes in – but the catch is that the first-ever Mets cards are from this 1962 set… and as they didn’t get photos of players in Mets uniforms until the later series, an awful lot of the 1962 cards in my collection look like this:
Without team-specific colors on the card front, without caps, this is just a bunch of head shots of guys with crew cuts.
Unfortunately, Topps often did a little too good of a job re-creating the feel of the original set, so we get a bunch of head shots of guys (minus the crew cuts).
I did buy a number of packs of this set, but mainly because I had gotten into the Heritage “habit” by 2009. I don’t hate the design, I just don’t care for it a whole lot.
The backs have artwork, but not the goofy cartoons I prefer.
I will admit, I like the All-Star cards a bit better, because there’s something going on beyond wood grain.
How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals: Pretty much a wash… I wasn’t a fan of the originals to begin with, I’m still not.
2011 Heritage in my collection: 140 / 500 (28% – I’m honestly surprised it’s this high)
#13: 2009 Heritage (1960 design)
I’ll start right off by apologizing to CommishBob, who just started a blog devoted to 1960 Topps. I know a lot of people love the 1960 set, but I don’t think of it as a classic, it’s just a middle-of-the-pack vintage set to me. The main reason that 2009 Heritage ranks so low is because Topps unintentionally played up the worst aspects of 1960 Topps and made 2009 Heritage into a set that I REALLY DO NOT LIKE AT ALL.
Horizontal design, clashing colors, a portrait in “Landscape” mode, a little B&W “inaction” shot, alternating letter colors that often make it appear that we’re looking at a card of “A R A G N A E” rather than Adrian Gonzalez.
It works better with less-clashing colors, but 1960 and 1962 are like evil twins of each other. Just as 1962 has too few colors and too little going on, 1960 has too many colors and too much going on.
The backs aren’t bad, and the Jack Davis-drawn cartoons go a long way towards bringing me back towards this set.
I think there are two ways that the Heritage set “blew it”. The first is that the photos are not cropped tight enough, which lets the design and photo background take over. Most of the portraits should be head and shoulders, and that’s it. With too loose of a crop, it draws attention away from the player and towards the large amount of background you have when you’ve got a horizontal portrait.
Similarly, the black and white pose should be taking up a lot more space, and they shouldn’t have been afraid to let a player’s arm, leg or other extremity go out of frame. We get too much colored background as a result, and just this sad little black and white guy standing in front of it.
Furthermore, because so much of this set is large slabs of color, I think it worked better with the imperfections of 1960’s printing technology. Without any flaws, with an even distribution of ink on the cardboard, we end up with big swaths of PINK! and GREEN! and YELLOW! …and again, it takes away from the overall effect.
By letting the players take a back seat to the design, it emphasizes the fact that there are so many different design elements competing for the eye.
Here, take a look at a 1960 Topps card, just to see what I mean.
Cropping this image this tightly probably goes against the Topps Stylebook (or maybe even the MLB Stylebook, if there is one), but without the tight cropping, the design does not work.
“OK, Joe”, you say during a break in the egging of my house that started shortly after I started dissing classic Topps sets, “If you have such a problem with 2009 Heritage, why is it not ranked at the bottom?”
Ah, a lovely question. Very astute of you to ask.
The funny thing about 1960 is that even though I’m no fan of the base design, I really like most of the subsets.
The manager cards are my favorite. If this had been the designed used throughout the set, we would not be discussing this set down at #13.
I also like the team cards and combo cards, although these designs couldn’t have worked across the whole set.
(Note to Topps: Combo cards work better when the players are actually photographed together, and not just photoshopped in front of an outfield wall)
I don’t love the rookie cards, but they’re not bad.
And I really like the All-Star cards, even though I don’t often care for cards where so much of it is taken up by the design.
One thing I find interesting among all of these cards is that there’s not a lot of cohesion in the designs. The team and combo cards go together, but don’t go with anything else. The manager cards echo the alternate-color-lettering of the base cards, but that’s about it. This last bit isn’t so much of a criticism as much as something I noticed.
How Heritage affected my opinion of the originals: Heritage is what got me to appreciate the subsets, which I hadn’t had a lot of exposure to (except for the Rookie design, which I know from the Carl Yastrzemski rookie card).
2009 Heritage cards in my collection: 108 / 720 (15%)
So that’s the first three sets in my ranking. Hopefully the remaining posts wont take as long to write as this one, otherwise they’ll be coming out once a month rather than the once a week I’d intended from the start.