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New Sets in 1995: The Best & Worst

by Paul Angilly
April 19, 2005

Continuing a look back at the baseball card hobby 10 years ago, several new sets were introduced in 1995 as the card companies searched for the right formula to get collectors interested in cards again after the Major League Baseball strike that wiped out the 1994 World Series.

Some of those new sets survived to see another year, others were one-year wonders.

One of those one-year wonders that wasn't so wonderful was the Collector's Choice SE set from Upper Deck -- possibly the most useless set ever created.

The Collector's Choice line was introduced in 1994 as a less expensive alternative to the Upper Deck brand set, which repositioned itself as a higher-priced brand that year. The line continued through 1998 before being replaced by the similarly-designed and similarly-priced MVP brand in 1999 (the MVP brand lasted through 2003).

The Collector's Choice SE set was supposedly designed as a one-shot deal to attract collectors back after the strike. Exactly how it was supposed to do that remains a mystery.

The regular 1995 Collector's Choice set had 585 cards in two series (including the 55 trade redemption cards mentioned in last week's column). The SE set featured just 265 cards, with no rookies and no inserts other than silver- and gold-foil signature parallels. It had basically the same design as the larger set, except for blue borders and an "SE" foil logo on the front.

Similarly, Upper Deck created an SP Championship version of its popular SP brand in 1995. The 207-card SP set had a hobby-only release, while the 200-card SP Championship set (featuring a completely different design) was also found in retail stores.

Fleer/Skybox introduced the short-lived E-Motion brand in 1995. The double-thick cards featured close-up player portraits with several themes (such as "Class," "Confident" and "Power") printed in foil letters on the front. The backs had a montage of two action photos with abbreviated stats and bios. The brand returned as E-Motion XL in 1996 before disappearing.

Pinnacle Brands went upscale with three new offerings in 1995: Select Certified, Summit and Zenith.

Select Certified (a brand which lasted just one more year) featured a 135-card base set, with the cards printed on 24-point (double thick) stock, double laminated with a metal foil look. It was designed as a "high-end" version of the Select set introduced in 1993 -- itself a high-end version of the base Score set.

Summit was another brand that lasted just two years. An upscale version of the Score set, Summit included 200 cards on thick stock, but with the more traditional white color, rather than metallic foil.

The 150-card Zenith set was designed as an upscale version of the Pinnacle brand set. In terms of design, Zenith fell somewhere between the Summit and Select Certified brands, with darker-colored fronts that don't quite have the same metallic look as the Select Certified cards. The Zenith brand lasted until 1998, when it featured the now-infamous "dare to tear" concept, with standard-sized cards found inside larger 5x7-inch outer cards.

The year 1995 also marked the return of a full-scale Bazooka brand set, after Topps had made smaller-scale specialty 22-card sets for its Bazooka bubble gum from 1988 through 1993. Cards were also included on boxes of Bazooka gum from 1959 through 1971. The Bazooka brand returned in 1996 before going on hiatus, then was resurrected again in 2003.

Possibly one of the biggest trends 10 years ago was three-dimensional cards of various types. Three new brands were introduced in 1995 which never appeared again: Sportflix UC3, Topps D3 and Topps Embossed. Each brand treated the 3-D concept in a different way.

The most revolutionary was the D3 brand. Many long-time collectors are familiar with the type of faux 3-D effect as seen on Kellogg’s cards from the 1970s and early ’80s -- essentially a standard 2-D image imposed over a blurred background made to look more distant. But the Topps D3 cards managed to create true 3-D images that didn't require special equipment to view.

While the effect is better on some cards than others, it is truly spectacular. For instance, Roger Clemens' right arm and shoulder seem to pop out of card #9 as he completes a delivery to the plate. His gloved left hand appears to be well in front of his leading left leg, with his right hip pulling his right leg around behind. Seemingly in the distance a Red Sox fielder is ready to make a play. It's every bit as realistic-looking as modern 3-D movies with the funny colored glasses.

The Sportflix UC3 cards were similar to the old Kellogg's cards, with what is really a 2-D image in the foreground and a seemingly more distant 3-D image in the background. The base cards and rookies are not as effective, since the backgrounds are only computer-generated graphics, but the final 25 cards in the set -- a subset called "In-Depth" -- are very attractive. Although the foreground image is still 2-D, it pops out from a 3-D game-action background to create an effect that is much better than the old Kellogg's cards.

Topps' Embossed set was a different type of 3-D, with the player images embossed so that they literally rise above the surface of the card -- just like the Action Packed football card sets. Topps took the concept to a new level, however, by embossing not only the image on the front of the cards, but the smaller photo on the back as well.

Although Action Packed football cards survived for nine years (1989-1997), Topps Embossed never returned. It's too bad because, embossing aside, it was one of the most attractive Topps sets issued during the '90s -- with a full-bleed photo on the front (except for a faux border created by dimming the colors around the outside of the card), another nice photo on the back and some interesting "Did You Know ..." career tidbits.

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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