Over the weekend I decided to bring some order to the Sports Illustrated For Kids cards sitting in my “inbox”. I’ve been on a general drive to organize my horrendous mess of a collection, plus a potential custom card project had me looking at SI Kids cards as a sort of “visual research”, and that made me want to focus on those sets in particular.
I tried Googling for some sort of overview of these cards… what designs went with what years, how the numbering worked, the meaning of the “SERIES” listed on the back of some of the cards. I came up empty, so I started compiling data in Trading Card Database in order to upload it into my personal database… and after putting a number of hours into this and discovering patterns and finding stumbling blocks, I decided to share what I have.
Now I’ll point out that I am really not the person to be writing a post like this. I was several years out of college when SI4K (as I’m going to abbreviate it) debuted, so I was never a kid – chronologically, anyway – during the magazine’s 32-years-and-counting run. I have never bought nor read an issue, at best I’ve flipped through a magazine in a store before putting it back on the shelf… that’s when I could remember whether the store I’m in files this magazine under “Sports Magazines” or “Children’s Magazines”.
Fortunately I got some help on this from @ElCaminoBilly of the Cardboard History blog. Billy told me he’s been intending to write an overview on these cards but has never had time… but he was gracious enough to share some information. Thank you, Billy!
So one thing I discovered is that nothing is clear-cut with this long-running line of cards. Over the 32 years there are a number of designs and borders, a number of “Series”, a number of times that the card numbering started over at 1… but if you break down the nearly 3300 cards by year and those three categories, you’ll get four different breakdowns.
I put the word “Series” in quotes when talking about these cards, because that will get confusing for reasons you’ll see. Instead I’m going to refer to the different designs and to the different “runs” of card numbers (from #1 to… whatever).
When the magazine debuted in January, 1989 it started out with what I think of as “The Very Nineties Design” even though it technically preceded the decade.
They seemed to have this green border for all of 1989 and most of 1990.
Late in 1990 they switched to this red and blue border and used it for most of the rest of the first run of 324 cards (ending in 1991).
The second run of card numbers started in 1992 with the same basic design but with a different border design.
These are labeled as “SERIES 2” on the back, which make sense because they restarted the numbering without significantly changing the design.
For 1993 the kept the basic design and switched to a pink and blue “lava lamp” border.
Although the borders and some of the “flair” changed over the run of the sets, and there were some special “subsets”, the basic design stayed the same for over 4 years.
Starting with the second issue of 1994 the cards shifted to a brand new design, but the numbering didn’t change and it’s still “SERIES 2”.
Any reason why the design changed at this point is not clear to me, maybe it has something to do with a redesign of the magazine itself… That’s just a guess, though.
In 1995, the design shifted to a gold and silver themed design which was very similar to the previous year’s cards but is a little cleaner, and sort of evoked Olympic medals with the silver and gold fake metallic borders.
Unlike the previous designs, these alternated between silver and gold within the same sheet.
With the shift to a new design, the numbering remained the same but the Series on the back changed to Series 3… for one issue. They switched back to Series 2 (by mistake?) for another issue, and then shifted permanently to Series 3.
Here’s a image to show that there are many different designs and borders used for cards labeled as “SERIES 2”.
At the beginning of 1998 the card numbering which began in 1992 continued but the design changed and the notation on the back changed to “SERIES 4”.
FYI, this card is part of an April Fools theme for one issue, that’s why Mike Piazza has goaltending equipment.
This design ran through then end of 2000 and finished up this second run of card #’s at 963.
The third run of card numbers started at the beginning of 2001. The cards also have a new design and a new SI4K logo… I would guess that this is all related.
Starting with these cards, they also seemed to drop any mention of “Series” from the back of the cards, as well as the month and date (i.e. 9/98) of the issue the cards came from. This makes things a bit of a pain when trying to figure out what year a card is from.
In the middle of 2004 the card numbering continued but the design changed to this:
This design lasted for a year and a half and closed out the 2001 – 2005 run of card numbers (with #540 being the final in this run).
With the last issue of 2005, the fourth run of numbering started and a new card design came in. Note that the SI4K logo remains the same… for now.
This design lasted just 6 issues which makes it the shortest-lived design of the whole bunch, even when you factor in that the original design changed the border design each year.
In the middle of 2006 this similar white-bordered design started. Note that the “transparent” SI4K logo is now missing from the front of the card.
You can see in the lower right-hand corner of the back that the magazine’s logo has changed with this design… At this point it appears that the magazine name dropped the word “for” and is just “Sports Illustrated Kids” from this point forward.
With some color variations for the themes of particular issues, this design remained until the end of 2010. I believe it’s the second most used design
With the start of 2011 came the start of the 5th (and current) run of card numbers, as well as a new design.
Near the end of 2014 they introduced another design without changing the card numbering. When I started working on this post, I thought this was still the current design:
This design picks up with – I think – Card # 388 and runs through # 898. This design had the longest run out of any of them, but I can’t say for sure that there are more cards in this design than any others because SI4K has been known to change the design for special issues (i.e. Olympics, Super Bowl) without changing the numbering.
In the final twist of researching this set I was reminded of something I’d discovered a few months ago and had forgotten about: A new design was introduced early this year… but not with the first issue of this year. This is another case where they redesigned the magazine logo (and probably the magazine’s layout) and changed the card design as well. It looks like the magazine also shifted from monthly to bi-monthly (which means fewer cards per year… bummer).
This design looks like something I would make as a custom, and that is, of course, very much a compliment.
AND SO, TO SUMMARIZE MY FINDINGS:
- There are eleven different primary designs at play, some didn’t last a full year, others ran through a number of years.
- There are five different runs of card numbers: 1989 – 1991 (324 cards and one design), 1992 – 2000 (963 cards and four designs), 2001 – 2005 (540 cards and two designs), 2006 – 2010 (531 cards and two similar designs) and 2011 – present (currently at 934 cards and three designs).
- From the perspective of someone currently collecting these cards, the “Series” printed on the back seems to matter only when it comes to distinguishing the first 225 cards of the first numerical run from the first 225 cards of the second numerical run (those cards are largely done with “The Very Nineties design”). Of course, you can also differentiate them based on the border design.
Looking back on my research, it’s no wonder I couldn’t find an overview of these cards… I spent a number of hours on this researching and refining my post, and I feel like I’m still missing significant parts of the set’s history.
But anyway, there you are. I hope someone finds this useful.
...AND PLEASE… if you find any mistakes or omissions in this post, let me know. I will gladly correct any flubs I’ve made.