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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Poll Results: Printing Plates

Parallels can be either the best thing since glossy coatings or the bane of a collector's existence. While the modern parallel movement has its start in the 1990s, its history really begins with some of the first trading cards.
The first chase parallel, 1992 Topps Gold
Depending on your definition of a parallel, the 1887 Old Judge set contains up to 17 variations of some player cards, with different poses, lettering, dates, and teams. The famous T206 set is full of parallels - The T206 Museum lists 32 different backs, relating to the tobacco brands the cards were inserted with. More recently, the 1975 Topps mini set is a vintage favorite, and Topps and Fleer both entered parallel sets in the 1980s with Tiffany and Glossy. Other parallels occasionally popped up, including the highly popular and extremely rare Desert Shield 1991 Topps parallel, which most likely inspired the parallel inserts that would start the next year.

1992 saw the first chase-based parallel card with Topps Gold. Inserted one per box, the set was a hit, and a scratch off-based game saw the creation of a "Winner*" variation. Donruss would answer back in their Leaf set with Black Gold parallels inserted one per pack, and Upper Deck's factory sets that year were all "gold hologram" parallels. Soon, most sets had gold or other foil-based parallels. 1993 saw the introduction of the Finest set with refractor parallels. The push to change from mass-produced to rare and unique super-premium cards was well underway.
I wish I had this card. 1998 Flair Masterpiece one-of-one.
It wasn't until 1997 that the first one-of-one parallel appeared, the Flair Showcase "Masterpieces" set. That year saw the first printing plates inserted into baseball products by Pinnacle, and in 1998 Topps released them in their Stadium Club and Gallery baseball issues. They didn't really catch on - Topps inserted them into Stadium Club and Gallery products, but it wasn't until 2004 that they started appearing for every Topps release. Upper Deck jumped on the plate bandwagon that year.

Advertised as one-of-one cards, there have been as many as eight variations for a given set.
Who put a printing plate on
Most sets have four plates representing the four colored inks used in the printing process - black, cyan, magenta, and yellow. Topps Total inserted the four colored plates for both front and back, making a total of eight plates available per original card. Beckett's catalog identifies most printing plate sets by separate colors, and being advertised as one-of-ones, logic dictates that they must either be their own unique set or variations of the same set. I put that question to you, and fourteen people responded in the poll.

My question to you was: Do you consider each color of a printing plate to be a separate set?

Yes, each color is unique and deserves to be its own set, just like each parallel card is a different set.
  1 (7%)
No, they are the same set.
  2 (14%)
No, they are variations of the same set.
  5 (35%)
Printing plates aren't cards anyway.
  6 (42%)

Only one of you said each color really constitutes its own set. Seven of you said in one way or another that they make up the same set, either as four copies of the same card or four variations of the same card. Six voters said they don't even count as cards.

What does this mean for me? I already felt that trying to locate four different one-of-ones for any particular set was futile, and your responses tell me that if they do count as cards, there is no difference between cyan and magenta in a collection. It makes my collection easier, as there are approximately 1600 plates listings in my sampler spreadsheets, and that number will drop to 400. And I think it makes more sense. Though it would be awesome to have a full printing plate set for any one card.

Thank you for your input! 


  1. Great post. I don't think they're really cards, so I wouldn't count them at all.

    I think that if you do count them then the should be counted as four separate one of one cards, since that's how they're labelled.

  2. Sorry I missed your poll.

    I collect printing plates for my Hochevar PC. My goal is to get at least one "set" of four plates that match one card. I've got two plates for two (or maybe three) different cards, so I'm kinda close to this goal.

    My biggest problem with some "printing" plates is that a true printing plate would be a mirror image of the card they made. But I've noticed many recent ones are the same direction as their cardboard counterpart, which leads me to believe that they weren't actually used in the production of the card.

  3. Interesting, Eric - now that you mention it I think I've seen some forward-facing plates as well. Kind of misleading, if you ask me, but I wonder if it's because of MLB rules regarding the use of backwards-printed logos. I recall Upper Deck's reverse negative cards made on purpose (in homage to the 1989 errors) had the logos airbrushed back to forwards.

  4. I never thought about the backwards-printed logo loop hole. That makes sense. Still annoys me thought.

  5. I am starting to come around on the plates. I have picked up 5 Rockies for the Gypsy Queen set including both the cyan and black Ubaldo mini. But I think that set may be an aberration because the plates are done so well. I will not turn down the opportunity to pick up a Rockie plate cheaply, but I don't really consider them a must have for my collections.

  6. Great post and poll! My biggest problem with the printing plates is that they're... well... not printing plates. The ones Topps inserts these days are bogus. More like color proofs than actual plates, made specifically to be included as "1/1"s. I wouldn't dig the real printing plates all that much either, but these fakes are useless to me. -Andy