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Venturing into the Third Dimension

by Paul Angilly
March 2, 2004

These days, it seems like all card sets are beginning to look the same. Take a 90- to 200-card base set, plus another 50-100 short-printed rookies, add an assortment of memorabilia, parallel and/or autographed cards at various seeding ratios and you’ve got the modern sports card set.

But there was a time when some card companies tried various ways of taking cards into a new dimension ... literally.

An early example is the 1965 Topps Embossed insert set, which features raised (embossed) images of players in gold on a gold background. The lack of a color image (or any photograph at all) on the front is one of the main reasons that set remains unpopular today -- yet the set was a key forerunner to the once-popular Action Packed brand of football and baseball cards during the 1990s.

In 1968, Topps released one of its scarcest issues -- a limited test issue of "3-D" cards. The 12-card set currently books for $12,000. The cards featured a sharp image in the foreground, set against a semi-blurred background image and covered by a layer of plastic to create the 3-D effect.

That test issue never took off with Topps, but two years later, Kellogg’s began a run of 14 straight years of using baseball cards as a promotional item with its cereal, with all but one of those years (1973) featuring 3-D cards in the same type of style that Topps had experimented with.

The Kellogg’s cards were very popular among collectors during the 1970s and early ’80s, and Upper Deck paid homage to those sets when it introduced the 30-card "3-D Sluggers" subset as part of its 2003 Vintage issue. That subset proved popular enough to return as a 90-card subset in the 2004 Upper Deck Vintage set.

The 2004 "3-D Sluggers" cards are slightly more common -- found two per box rather than one per two boxes, like the 2003 issue -- but current high demand for this year’s set is keeping prices at about $5 to $12 for singles from both years. At the high end of the spectrum, a Frank Thomas card from 2003 recently sold for $31.03 on eBay, while an Albert Pujols card from this year recently sold for $21.60.

While very attractive, the old Kellogg’s sets (along with the slightly less attractive Vintage subsets) really are only a 2-D image made to appear to be in front of a blurred background. Other attempts have been made to create a true 3-D image on a card, but perhaps none were either a grater success or a more bitter failure than the 1995 Topps D3 set.

Prior to its release, hobby magazines raved about how the Topps D3 cards were going to revolutionize the hobby. The technology, the magazines said, was unlike anything the hobby had seen before and collectors everywhere were sure to fall in love with the set.

Well, that turned out to be only half true.

The technology was certainly unlike anything seen before or since. Photos could never do the cards justice -- the cards somehow offered a true, full 3-D image without needing to use special glasses (more about that idea later). All you had to do is pick up a card and it looked like a gloved hand was reaching out of it to make a catch, or dirt was coming up to hit you in the face as a player slid into a base. Although the images on some cards were more effective than others, overall the cards really made it seem like the players were competing right before your eyes.

So if the cards were so great, you ask, why have you never heard of them?

Well, probably for a number of reasons. Like today, there were seemingly countless sets being issued in 1995, many of them new brands (including a very similar UC3 brand from Sportflix), so it wasn’t hard for the Topps D3 cards to get lost in the shuffle.

Perhaps more importantly, the D3 set, originally intended to be the first of at least two series, contained no rookie cards and even many of the top veterans were missing from the small 59-card issue. Plus the only insert set was a six-card "D3 Zone" series, issued at a generous rate of one in three hobby packs -- so collectors really didn’t have any scarce cards to chase after.

Bottom line: The set was not a money-maker, so the planned second series was scrapped and the technology has not been seen in sports cards since (although Topps did use the same type of 3-D effect in a couple of "Star Wars" sets, to limited success).

Collectors familiar with Upper Deck’s hologram technology know that company has made numerous 3-D holograms over the years, with various success, but when it comes to 3-D cards, the 1993-94 Upper Deck Pro View basketball set is in a league all its own -- although in this case, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Eschewing its traditional high-tech, hologram-oriented approach, Upper Deck turned to 3-D technology of the past (think of old 3-D movies) to create its 1993-94 Pro View NBA set. And yes, you needed to wear special 3-D glasses (conveniently included in each pack) to properly view the images on the cards.

When properly equipped with the glasses, the cards actually looked kind of cool -- but generally speaking, collectors don’t like to have to use special equipment to view their cards. The concept has not been used again in a trading card set.

Hockey Card Updates: In a January column, I mentioned that a new 2003-04 AHL Top Prospects card set has been released by Choice SportsCards. Although available in some AHL arenas, it is currently not available in Hartford. Interested collectors can purchase a set on-line at the AHL’s official merchandise site: www.ahlstore.com.

Three weeks ago, I mentioned that Pacific Trading Cards would soon be making autographed trading cards of past WHA greats. The first of those, Andre Lacroix, is now available for $12.99 (or $29.99 for three copies) at Pacific’s web site: www.pacifictradingcards.com.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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