The 2019 Topps Archives Post I Wasn’t Going To Write

Despite my tempered expectations of Archives, I was so so disappointed in the pack I bought that I tweeted out a three word review: “One And Done”.

That was going to be my final word on the subject as I would move on to greater things.

Then I read Night Owl’s post on it, saw some other positive reactions on blogs and Twitter, wondered if I just got a bad pack and decided to buy another hanger.

…Only I was just as disappointed with the second pack as with the first and I just said “Ah, the heck with this crap.”

Then I read Dime Boxes’ post on it, realized I had a number of things to say about the subject and… well, here we are.

Fair warning if you want to bug out now:  This post is about 20% review and 80% “Stuff that, as someone who makes custom cards, bugs me”.

My main complaint with Archives boils down to one word:  DARK!

1958 on the left, 2019 on the right.  The photos are DARK!  DARK!  DARK!!!

1975 on the left, 2019 on the right.  Not as bad as the previous two, but still DARK!

Interestingly enough, the photos which appear to be colorized black and white photos fare much better… but there are only a handful of retired players in this set who would interest me, so that doesn’t save this set from getting a big ol’ “meh” from me.  (And yet here I am writing about it…)

One of the big head-scratchers for me are the “Topps Magazine” cards.

I’m OK with the way these inserts turned out, but to me it doesn’t fit this set. I subscribed to Topps Magazine for a while, and each issue came with a sheet of cards.  If I were in charge of this set and some suggested “Topps Magazine Cards”, I would’ve used the design for the cards which came with Topps Magazine.

Yeah, it’s kinda ugly, but it’s SO VERY NINETIES and Archives is supposed to be about honoring past card designs, not turning magazine covers into cards.

Getting back to the 1975 design, this next thing is what really drives me up a wall… And it’s going to take some explanation.

I collected 1975 Topps as a kid, so I didn’t expect much from the Archives take on 1975.  I’m also familiar with some of the finer points in replicating the design, as I made a series of custom 2018 Olympic Curling cards using the 1975 design.  (Yes, I’m dipping from that well again.)  I knew I didn’t have the right font, but I spent a lot of time trying to get the size and spacing right, as well as getting the black “drop shadow” effect down.

The shadow is not always the same angle, and it extends further right for short names (CUBS) than for long names (CARDINALS).

The thing is, with 2019 Archives, the ‘wordmark’ for some teams looked better than other teams…. but I couldn’t figure out why at first until I started looking at it closely.

For starters here’s the 1975 Topps “ASTROS” compared to the 2019 Archives Astros.

Not an exact match, but the fonts are similar.  The original “O” is a little more squared-off than the Archives “O”, but it’s close enough for Archives.  I would say that the letters should probably be a point or two bigger, and there should be a little more space between each letter.

Before I move on to my main point, I’d like to point out that the graphic artists on this set… or at least whoever did the 1975 “ASTROS”…  didn’t really ‘get’ (or care about) the way drop shadows are handled in 1975 Topps.  I don’t know the proper graphics terms for what I’m trying to describe, so I’ll just share the same image with the lines behind the words marked up in green

Note how the lines from 1975 are more or less parallel while the lines from 2019 are all over the place.  Pretty damn lazy.


Compare these examples, all from 2019 Archives.

Look at the right ‘leg’ on the ‘R’ from ‘ASTROS’ and ‘ROCKIES’… Notice how it’s kind of curved and then goes straight down? Now look at the ‘R’ in ‘Dodgers’. It is a straight line that goes out at an angle. OK, now look at the ‘S’ in all three… ‘Astros’ and ‘Rockies’ have an ‘S’ which curls around more at the end, while ‘Dodgers’ has an ‘S’ that doesn’t curl at the end and is also more narrow at the end.

OK, now compare the ‘E’ in ‘ROCKIES’ to the ‘E’ in ‘DODGERS’. Notice how the Rockies ‘E’ has three equal-length horizontal lines, while the Dodgers ‘E’ has a shorter middle horizontal line?

So what’s the point of all this? My point is this:


I would ask “How does this happen?”, but I’m guessing that the corporate culture at Topps is like it is where I work:  Despite all of the “collaborative” buzzwords being thrown around, nobody communicates what they’re doing.  (Double whammy – I get to complain about Archives *and* my job!)

Last August I Tried To Predict The Designs Used In 2019 Topps Archives… How’d I Do?

The answer to how well I did on my predictions from last August is… ummmm… Not well.

Thanks for stopping by!  Remember that The Shlabotnik Report is also out on Twitter!

Nah, I’m not getting out of it that easily. I thought I had a decent handle on how Topps picks designs, and in 2017 I got two out of three right for the 2018 Archives.  This time around, I… uhhh… Well, let’s go through it one by one.

The first design (1950’s / early 1960’s)

What I predicted:  The 1961 design.  Back in August, I said “It’s never been used in Archives before, plus duplicating a design doesn’t get much easier than this.”  By the way, this custom is from August, which is why Sergio Romo is shown with the Rays instead of the Marlins.

What Topps is going with:  1958 Topps.  This is a design that’s never been used in Archives.  In August I had suspected that divorcing the player from the photo background was more effort than Topps would want to put into a set like Archives.

One thing that was noticed by a number of people before I caught on:  Jeets’ head is in front of the text, something that didn’t happen in 1958 Topps.

Moving on to the “middle” set…

I predicted the 1985 design.  I figured it was popular, simple to re-create and hadn’t been used in Archives since 2013.

What Topps is going with:  1975.  This choice made me raise my one eyebrow and say “Fascinating” in my best Mr. Spock voice.

Why is it fascinating?  Because I didn’t think that 1975 was even in play;  This same design will be used for 2024 Topps Heritage, a mere five years away.  This short of a timeframe between Archives and a similar Heritage set is unprecedented.  On the other hand, 1975 is a popular design and has not been replicated for Archives before.

Fun little touch with the Ohtani:  In 1975, there was only one Angel with the purple/magenta border and that was Nolan Ryan (although on the original the player’s name was in white, not black).

Just for funsies I made an image with the top of an original and an Archives Angels card (and cranked up the brightness/contrast on the Archives so we could see the drop shadow better).  The original is on top.

The font’s not quite the same, but I suppose it’s close enough for Archives.  It’s also somewhat satisfying that the Archives card isn’t really any better than what I did last year for my Olympic Curling customs (pauses to pat himself on the back).

OK, I don’t mean to distract from the fact that I’m Oh-for-Two at this stage.  Let’s get on to…

The Third, “later” design:

In August I did a ‘Hail Mary’ and predicted a set that had never been done for Archives before, the 1988 design.

Instead, Topps surprised me again by going with the 1993 design which – repeat after me – had never been used in Archives before.

1992 was the last year that Topps used “real” cardboard for their set, so I thought/guessed that it might be the upper limit of Archives.  It appears that I was wrong.  I’ll be interested to how the card stock for the 1993 design differs from the other two “subsets”.

I did another side-by-side comparison of the 1993 Topps design and the 2019 Archives replication.  The font for the player name is different, which looks like it might be less legible than the original (but which I’m less concerned about because I’m not a huge fan of 1993).

OK, so I got completely shut out on my predictions this time around.  As they say in the corporate world, “What are the Lessons Learned?”

  1. Topps is not averse to tightening up that “No-Fly zone” around their Heritage sets.  Before now, there had appeared to be a 15-year “No-Fly Zone” around the current Heritage set, but it looks like this gets changed to 9 years – the current year plus four years before and four years after. (1970 design for Heritage means a “No-Fly Zone” from 1966 to 1974).
  2. Topps is also not averse to a little heavy lifting for designs like 1958 (and, hopefully, for 1988 in the future).
  3. While the “Nothing from the past 25 years” rule holds fast, the “Nothing outside of the true cardboard era” rule is apparently shot to hell with the use of the 1993 design.

So that’s the rundown of my epic fail.  With that out of the way, what do you think of the designs chosen for 2019 Archives?  Are you more or less likely to collect the set?

I’m not sure myself…  1993 is OK but not a favorite, I like 1958 and I went nuts for 1975 as a kid.  I don’t think I’ll know how hard I’ll chase these until I get the cards in hand and see what kind of emotional triggers are… um… triggered.

Predicting The Designs Used For 2019 Topps Archives

Back in 2017 I put some theories of mine to the test and made predictions about what 2018 Archives would look like. When the set was announced earlier this year, I surprised many – myself included – by getting two out of three correct.

(I confess that there’s a small part of me which would like to think that someone at Topps had read my blog and said “He’s right, we should use the 1959 and 1981 designs in 2018 Archives!”)

Now that the dust has settled on 2018 Archives, I figure it’s time to make my predictions for next year’s Archives set.

From analyzing Topps’ choices for Archives from 2012 to 2018, I have a few observations which I will use as guidelines to figuring out which designs they’ll use next year.

Observation #1: Challenging designs are not welcome
Topps doesn’t seem to want to take on challenges when adapting Topps designs for Archives.  By “challenges”, I mean that in terms of 1) re-creating the design, with all the proper artwork, borders, fonts, etc., and 2) in terms of implmenting that design for 100 different base cards. Topps seems to lean towards designs where they can effectively slap a border down over a picture, change the player name, team name and colors, and be done. It’s a bit more work when there are card designs where the player’s image overlaps with the team name or other part of the design…

…or where the player is shown in front of a colored background (requiring that the original background be removed).

Observation #2: Topps stops where the “real cardboard” stopped.
Archives has yet to feature a design from any later than 1992, the last year Topps used “real cardboard” for the cardstock.

Observation #3: There’s a 15-year “No-Fly Zone” surrounding each year’s Heritage set
I’m confident about this one, and the data backs me up. Topps doesn’t want Archives to step on the toes of the much more valuable property that is Heritage, so they will not use designs which had been used for Heritage in the prior 7 years, nor ones which will be used for Heritage in the next 7 years.

Here’s a table (updated from last year) which shows that the “No-Fly Zone Theory” holds up:

Year Heritage Archives 1 ArchiVes 2 Archives 3 Archives 4 “No-Fly” (+/- 7)
2012 1963 1954 1971 1980 1984 1956-1970
2013 1964 1972 1982 1985 1990 1957-1971
2014 1965 1973 1980 1986 1989 1958-1972
2015 1966 1957 1976 1983 n/a 1959-1973
2016 1967 1953 1979 1991 n/a 1960-1974
2017 1968 1960 1982 1992 n/a 1961-1975
2018 1969 1959 1977 1981 n/a 1962-1976

2019 Heritage will feature the design from 1970 Topps, so that means the “No-Fly Zone” will cover the years from 1963 (7 years before) to 1977 (7 years after).

OK, with those ground rules in place, let’s place a few more restrictions in place…

I would hope that Topps wouldn’t reuse a design which had been used in – at the *very* least – the prior four Archives sets. That eliminates 1953, 1957, 1959, 1960, 1979, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1991 and 1992.

I’m also going to assume that Topps will avoid designs recently used as inserts in Topps Series 1 & 2.  The 2017 set had a 1987 insert, this year we have a 1983 insert, and next year we’ll have a 1984 insert.

With all of this factored in, that leaves us 14 candidates for 3 Archives designs.  I’m going to touch on these in chronological order.

1952 Topps has never been used in Archives, but it seems like Topps regards this as almost too “sacred” for use in Archives.

The next three designs would, to my thinking, require slightly more effort and cost than Topps might want to take on.  In all three they’d have to use two images per card (so 200 images rather than 100), and also remove the background from those 200 different photos.

…And honestly, every year we complain about how Topps didn’t center this text right or didn’t correctly sweat some detail.  Do you think they want to sweat more details than they have to?

1954 Topps has not been used since 2012.

1955 Topps has never been used in Archives.

1956 Topps also has never been used in Archives, but it’s even more challenging than the others because the background photo needs enough extra real estate for the player portrait to sit in front of.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Topps just dances around this design and never quite gets around to doing it for Archives.

1958 Topps has never been used in Archives and is a classic design.  Yes, it also has the issue of requiring more time to remove the background from the player photo, but sooner or later Topps is going to have to get back to these.

1961 Topps also has never been used in Archives.

1962 Topps also has not been used in Archives and also has the upside of just having emerged from the bottom end of the “No Fly Zone”.  Ignore the solid background on this Casey Stengel card, that’s the exception rather than the rule.

It would also be very easy to produce, because the design is exactly the same for every card, no messing with colors or logos. The downside is that it is being used in this year’s Archive “Sandlot” insert, so I think that’s going to “ding” it just enough to remove it from this year’s consideration. I see this is as a strong possibility for 2020 Archives.

We jump ahead 16 years, across the No-Fly Zone, to 1978 Topps.

This has never been done in Archives and will enter the No-Fly Zone after 2019.  Because the team name is not a font and isn’t easily replicated for the 7 current teams which hadn’t existed in 1978, I think the next time we’ll see this design used is for 2027 Topps Heritage.

1980 Topps was used in 2012 and came back again in 2014.  The reaction to using two designs so close together was bad enough that I have to think they’d be hesitant to use this design a third time in the near (or not-so-near) future.

1985 Topps was used in 2013 Archives.

1986 Topps was used in 2014 Archives.

The 1988 Topps design has never been used, and I don’t know why… other than having the player’s head/bat/arm overlap with the team name might make this somewhat unpopular design more trouble than it’s worth.

Me, I love this design. On the other hand, they did make a Major League Soccer insert based on this set, so maybe the “heavy lifting” is already done.

1989 Topps was used in 2014 and was also done as die-cut minis in the same year’s flagship.

1990 Topps was used in 2013

One last observation…

Archives generally favors designs which fall after the No-Fly Zone, but that’s getting more difficult each year that the Zone moves forward. In 2019 there’ll be 7 candidates from before and 8 after, but that number will flip in 2020. I expect that we’ll continue to have one design from before the Zone and two designs after the Zone, but that could change before too long.

OK, prediction time!  As with the last time, I’m going to run down what I predict will be used, and what I would like to be used (if they did it well, of course).

For a 1950’s/early 1960’s design, I’m going to go with 1961.

It’s never been used in Archives before, plus duplicating a design doesn’t get much easier than this… to prove my point, I whipped up the above custom completely from scratch in about 20 minutes.

1970’s/1980’s Design #1: I’ll go with 1985.

It’s pretty popular, easy to re-create (I think this one took about a half hour from the ground up) and hasn’t been used in number of years.

1970’s/1980’s Design #2: No matter what I do with this, I feel like I’m going out on a limb to some degree. 1986 might be a candidate except I wouldn’t think that they’d use consecutive years. Last year I felt that 1988 was more work than Topps wanted to expend, but with that MLS insert using this design I’m going to assume that they’ve got everything they need in their magic bag of tricks.

I’m going with 1988 as the third design.

…and now…


If it were me in charge of deciding which designs to use, I’d go with 8’s across the board: 1958, 1978, 1988.

And now it’s reader feedback time, and I am truly interested in your input…

Which designs do you think Topps will use in 2019?

Which would you pick if you were the “product manager” for 2019 Topps Archives?