I’ve been thinking that if I’m going to try to write about vintage cards on this blog, maybe it would be a good idea to start by defining exactly what vintage cards are!
There really are no hard and fast rules governing the definition of vintage trading cards. To a young collector, “vintage” could mean a card from the 1990s. Others consider true vintage cards to be those produced prior to WW2. Both of these are valid points of view. It all depends on the collector.
There are several distinct points in time which most collectors use when deciding what vintage means to them.
The Pre-Bowman/Topps Era – If you’re not really into vintage cards, you may not be aware of the plethora of sets that were produced prior to WW2. Several large cigarette card sets featuring baseball players were produced in the late 19th century through the first couple decades of the 20th. These were followed by sets which more closely resemble the cards that we know today – Goudey, Batter-Up, Diamond Stars, PlayBall. To many, these are true “vintage” cards.
1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio
The Golden Age or The Series Age – The arrival of the first Bowman card sets in 1948 sparked the modern era of trading cards. Bowman produced both baseball and football sets in those early years. The first modern Topps set came out in 1952, although this had been preceded in 1951 by the small Topps Red/Blue Backs. From then up until 1973, Topps released their products in “series”. Series 1 would normally appear prior to the start of a season, with new series hitting the shelves periodically throughout the year until a set was complete. Print runs on later series in any given year tended to tail off, commonly giving rise to scarcity among higher numbered cards.
1952 Topps Dizzy Trout
The 1970s or The Decline of the Topps Empire – In 1974, Topps changed their printing and distribution strategy and released all 660 cards in that year’s baseball set in one fell swoop, a practice they would continue for the next 3 decades or so.. Topps were still the only game in town at this point, but were coming under increasing pressure from other companies hoping to feed from the trading card trough.
1974 Topps Mike Schmidt
Competition Time! – Topps monopoly was finally broken in 1981 when licenses were granted to both the Donruss and Fleer companies to produce true baseball card sets. Other companies soon appeared on the scene. In 1989, Upper Deck released the first premium quality card set and kicked off the UV Age.
1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.
Collectors of “vintage” trading cards tend to use one of the above milestones as the cutoff point for their own definition. Most, however, consider 1980 to be the last “vintage” year – before the hobby was opened up to almost anyone and everyone who wished to produce cards. This is the definition that I will most often use within this blog.