Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Me and Topps Down By the Schoolyard

The schoolyard - a place where you observe the fads currently gripping the youths of America.  These days, you can finds dozens of children fanatically twirling fidget spinners on the tips of their fingers while they discuss the latest "dank" memes.  When I was a kid, you couldn't walk through the area without risking your knee getting blown out by an errant yo-yo toss, while Pokemon cards and Pogs were the currency of the student body.  In years previous, I'm sure an observant teacher would learn all they ever wanted to know about Cabbage Patch Dolls, Shrinky Dinks, bell-bottom jeans, the Twist, and hula hoops.  In short, school is the perfect window through which to see youth culture in action.

When it comes to trading card collecting, much has been made of the youth factor when it comes to the state of the modern hobby.  By that, I mean, is the original target demographic of bubblegum cards still involved with the hobby?  Are the kids still collecting?  Has the shift towards serial numbers, autographs, rising prices, and high-end hysteria left the kids on the outside, longingly looking in, like a Dickens novel?

Ever since I started my job as the IT specialist/graphic designer/photographer/etc. (I wear a lot of hats) at the local K-8 school district, I've been heavily immersed in the culture of the younglings.  In the last year and a half, in addition to learning waaaaaayyy more about slime than I care to know, I've been making note of any time I see trading cards pop up as an informal survey of children's interest in the hobby.

In the junior high wing, I've come across a couple of forgotten trading cards, left behind for the janitorial staff to deal with.  From this, I can tell that there is at least someone in this building who takes an interest in Panini's soccer offerings and perhaps has been building an international football collection of his own... without poor Diego Alves of Valencia CF.  Meanwhile, I've also determined that one of these destructive teens has some sort of grudge Cristian Guzman or the Washington Nationals.  Must be an Orioles fan or something.

Furthermore, I also came across a full deck of rubber-banded Pokemon in one of the teacher's offices, but I forgot to take a snapshot.  C'mon kids - you have to be more careful with your school contraband - I'm sure building that deck was quite the undertaking.

In that time, these sightings are the only traces of trading card collecting that I've come across... when it comes to students, anyway.  If I'm really stretching it, I also found this taped to the door of one of the intermediate grade classrooms:

That is an ink jet print out of an 8x10 photograph, styled something like a baseball card; in fact, it has some clear inspiration from 1972 Topps.  If I recall correctly, this stylized photograph was affixed to the door as part of a larger display about Black History Month -  Jackie Robinson is always bound to make an appearance in such class projects, as he should.

However, like I said, that about does it... for students.  On a few occasions, I've noticed some of the adult staff members have used trading cards to decorate their professional spaces.  For instance:

One of our sixth grade teachers is a huuuuuuuuuuge Bears and White Sox fan and has decorated her classroom appropriately.  In addition to her posters and pennants, as you can see above, she made use of some 2013 Topps football cards as accent pieces.  Does she actually collect football cards or did she purchase these specifically for decoration, I guess I'll never know for sure since I've never asked and I now work in a different building.  Nevertheless, this sight warmed my heart.

Moving on....

This over-sized oddball was given away on Carlton Fisk day at the South Side ballpark back on August 7 2005.  Eventually, it made it's way from New Comiskey/U.S. Cellular/G-Rate Field to the back room of the main office in one of our schools.  Like the Jackie Robinson...card-like thing... this piece measures approximately 8x10; but, unlike Jackie, this Nike-sponsored SGA is printed on card stock and features a full statistical write-up and player bio on the back (which I neglected to document).  While it's much bigger than your traditional Topps piece, I'm inclined to call this a baseball card.

Lastly, there is one further example of baseball cards making there way into our schools:

Two copies of this "stay-in-school," tech-inclined Jim Abbot card (from 1992 Upper Deck) rest on the desk of one of the faculty.  There are two copies so that both sides can be visible to whoever passes by at any time.  Can you guess who might want to display a baseball card which prominently displays a full computer set-up... terribly outdated though it may be?

If you said the IT guy, then you'd be right; taking it one step further, if you paid close attention to the introduction of this post, then you'd know that's me!  Darn right my desk is going to be decorated with a nod to my job from my favorite hobby.

In conclusion, what can we conclude about my observations over the course of the last year and a half?

Empirically - absolutely nothing.  While the returns appear to indicate that the kids really aren't collecting all that much anymore, this informal study takes absolutely no mitigating factors into account and comes solely through my eyes and experiences.  I guess the best you can say is that students K-8 don't often show their trading cards to me while in the halls of my school district.  Colloquially, I guess you could say that, in the schoolyard of today, it appears as though trading cards have taken a back seat to the fads of today.... which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

Trading cards have been around for well over a century now and have had their ebbs and flows in popularity in that time.  While we may never see the massive spike in popularity that took over middle school playgrounds during the height of the junk wax era, I don't think trading cards are an endangered species.  Be it baseball, football, soccer, Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh, or what have you, humans are a collecting-inclined species (from childhood through adulthood) and as long as these things remain part of our collective consciousness, cards will make for an attractive avenue to "collect" them.  But, that's just my opinion.

Now, if chokers and flare jeans can keep making comebacks, so too can trading cards!


  1. If I ever become a teacher, I'm definitely putting that Abbott on my desk, along with a '96 UD insert of Tony Gwynn that features Mr. Padre at the head of the classroom.

  2. In my last job I used to "tack up" cards at my desk and rotate them every so often. I'd do like four cards at a time by theme. My boss was mildly interested in guessing the theme. Me and Julio is one of my favorites Paul Simon songs. Artie has a book coming out in a couple of weeks. Complicated relationship those two have.