Featured Cards: 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen #32, Darin Ruf; 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Mini #29(b), Cole Hamels (photo variation); 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen #189(b), Cliff Lee (photo variation); 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen #288, Jim Bunning; 2012 Topps Archives Fan Favorites Autographs #FFA-JKR, John Kruk; 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Autographs #GQA-JK, John Kruk; 2012 Topps Five Star Silver Signatures #FSSI-JK, John Kruk; 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen Relics #GQR-MSC, Mike Schmidt (bat variant); 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen No-Hitters #NH-KM, Kevin Millwood
In an off-handed way, I started reviewing this set when I posted about Topps’s Photoshop mishaps with the Ben Revere and Delmon Young cards. Although those were the first to Phillies from the set I owned, I actually acquired them at the beginning of my efforts to build a complete set — a separate endeavor from my collating a nearly complete master team set covering all the SPs, inserts, & basic parallels. Given how much I loved the 2011 & 2012 Gypsy Queen sets, seeing those two cards dampened by enthusiasm as I waited for my eBay purchases to filter in. Now that I have them all — or, at least, enough of them to feel comfortable in writing a full-fledged review — I can honestly state that the Revere and Young cards were an unfortunate harbinger of what I saw as a Phillies collector. But, before I continue talking about the set, I feel the need to recap a couple things Topps did with their 2011 and 2012 sets. In particular, the way they previous handled photo variations and the mini parallels.
While I understand the appeal of the minis to a certain segment of the hobby and they certainly make sense in the context of the Allen & Ginter’s and Gypsy Queen products, I overwhelmingly prefer my cards standard-sized. In 2011, I was a little disappointed to discover that the photo variations were only available in the mini parallels. If it hadn’t been for those variations, I never would have bothered collecting a Phillies team set of them as well. However, in 2012, Topps decided to include photo variations in the primary set. Furthermore, these variations served as the SPs, thus making Gypsy Queen, from both the team collector and the set builder standpoints, a very attractive alternative to Allen & Ginter’s. True, the minis still had a couple exclusive variations, but the fact that most of them were available in standard-size as well made me far more forgiving to Topps for feeling compelled to assemble the mini team set as well. Despite my aversion to minis, I actually loved everything about the way Topps handled them, the SPs and the photo variations.
For this year’s Gypsy Queen set, unfortunately, Topps decided to take a step back and primarily relegate the photo variations to the minis and reintroduce non-variant SPs to the primary set. Worse, the SPs are scattered throughout rather than clustered together in the high numbers, as they are in the Heritage set. Even worse still, the few photo variations that they did include in the primary set are incredibly rare/expensive super short prints. Given the small number of Cliff Lee variants that have appeared on eBay thus far, I feel fortunate in acquiring one and being able to afford it. Finally, just to rub a little metaphorical wax stain to the whole endeavor, this year’s set contains the smallest number of Phillie photo variations to date. Quite frankly, I was disgusted by the whole change in approach by Topps, whom I felt had done a marvelous job with last year’s Gypsy Queen offering.
Then there was the glass-shatter moment. For those of you who don’t watch How I Met Your Mother, or don’t recall the specific episode of the show where the concept was introduced, the glass-shatter moment is when someone points out an irritating habit, heretofore unnoticed by you, exhibited by the person you love. Once it’s made obvious, you cannot help but be annoyed by this flaw every time you see it. This occurred when I read the following from the recent “Beauty and the Beast” post over at Night Owl Cards: “I still think the 2011s look very nice. But since then, GQ has overdone the border motif, increased the size of the border frame…” He’s absolutely right. While I disagree with him on most of his other criticisms of the set, once he pointed out the increased border size on the cards I couldn’t help but continually notice the meager amount of space allocated to the photo. Furthermore, as much as I loved last year’s set, at the time it came out I actually stated, “when you compare the 2012 set to other cards issued during the 19th century it certainly seems as if the border is just a little too ornate.” That problem is only worse in the 2013 set. Please keep in mind that I wanted to love the 2013 set, and it actually pains me to acknowledge all of its drawbacks.
I wish the pain would end there, but alas, that is not the case. I’ve grown to accept that in regards to retired players Topps doesn’t want to spend any more than necessary to acquire rights to photos it hasn’t used before, and that it will readily reuse a photo ad nauseum. But, is it too much to ask that they do a better job on rotating the photos they use on the autograph issues? I have four John Kruk autograph cards from 2012 & 2013, and three of them use the same photo.
Come on, Topps, you issued a few dozen different Kruk cards featuring different photos during the first half of the ’90s. You certainly could recycle a few of those photos again.
Yet, while I am disappointed by many aspects of the set, there is still much to love. The number of Phillies relic and autograph cards, which includes Darin Ruf’s first fully-licensed autograph, is manageable in both number and quantity, thus making it relatively painless to acquire them — with the notable exception of Mike Schmidt’s jersey and bat relic cards. Furthermore, Topps continued its tradition of using the primary set’s design for those cards, thus making them a rather attractive extension of the set itself, as well as using different photos for those cards (that is, different from the photo used in the primary set) — I really do wish Topps would do more of this with their other issues. In addition, while I certainly think the border takes up too much space, I like the intent of the design and find it nicely reminiscent of the 1909 Ramly (T204) issue. I don’t think the similarities in border colors are coincidental. Finally, Topps once again did a great job with the insert sets — in particlar, the Dealing Aces and No-Hitters sets — while ensuring that although the borders are different, there is no question what set they were packaged with (this would be true without the Gypsy Queen name sprawled across the front of the card).
So, while I am not as happy with this year’s set as I was its two previous predecessors, I actually am hoping to see Gypsy Queen return next year. Although I sincerely doubt it will happen, nothing would please me more than to see Topps make an effort to produce a set similar to what I described a couple years ago: a variant of the original Gypsy Queen border in conjunction with sepia-tinged photos of players posed in early 20th century style uniforms. Yes, I understand that many of today’s teams don’t have a history that goes back that far, but many of those same teams have find away that issue with throwback uniform days. Topps could certainly figure something out as well.