Friday, December 17, 2010


Richard writes:


"I am wondering what the difference in the red and black 1952 Topps would be. Is it that the area around the name and number on the back is black and on the others red?"


 First of all, thanks for giving me an excuse to pull out my 1952 Topps binder. Granted, there usually doesn't need to be a pressing need to get them out, but I digress...

The first series of 1952 Topps cards consisted of 80 subjects. Their backs were printed entirely with black ink:

During the print run, Topps tweaked the design. Part of the reason was out of necessity, since cards #48 and #49 had their biographies reversed. At the same time, it was determined that a splash of red ink would make the cards really stand out. So, this was the result:

That definitely made the cards easier to read. Topps kept the red ink for the backs through the rest of their six series in 1952. Only cards #1-80 can be found with either black or red backs. The exception: the errors on #48 and 49 are only found with black backs.

The backs weren't the only place to get a reworking, though. Looking at the above two cards side-by-side shows another slight improvement:

(Both of these men were U.S. Army lieutenants during World War Two)

The Elmer Valo card was a black back, while Spahn features the updated back with red ink. A close look at the skin tone shows that Valo's picture is more subdued, while Spahn's is brighter. Whether that was a conscious design change or merely a result of the printing changes, it certainly makes the classic 1952 Topps design more appealing.


  1. I love reading posts like this dedicated specifically to the design process of old cards. I just want to add that looking at the Spahn and Valo fronts, it seems like there's also a difference in the yellow dots running around the box with the players name / signature. It looks like there's more black on the Valo version. I don't know a whole bunch about the actual printing process, but I think getting the ratio of the different color inks can be a very tedious process. I wonder if they just decided to cut down on the black ink a bit and that's why the border is less saturated with black and the card looks brighter overall. Just a thought. I love your blog by the way.

  2. Slangon, that's quite an observation. Using less black ink definitely would make a card brighter. I never considered that before.

    But it also goes back to my high school physics lesson...people are conditioned to see light, not the lack of it.

    And thanks for the kind words about my blog. It's reminded me that I have been meaning to get your Condition:Poor blog onto my blogroll.