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Topps unveils Allen & Ginter's varied lineup

In a set that nods to the past, Allen & Ginter's no includes cards of Hercules with the usual cache of current stars.

Usually, the Topps graphic designers are poking around in their own archives when they come up with all the retro magic that has been such a major element in the company’s new-card offerings over the last decade or so. But they’ve also connected mightily with a number of non-Topps designs, as well.

Such is the case of the Allen & Ginter’s issue, now in its third year, re-creating the elegant look and feel of the 1887 Allen & Ginter’s tobacco cards.

With a nostalgic nod to the 19th century, the Topps guys have enhanced the retro-style issue with a host of historical components, meaning collectors can wind up with Ben Franklin and Hercules in the same pack with Ryan Howard and Ichiro.

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“The non-baseball and historical subjects are part of the draw to the set,” said Clay Luraschi, Topps’ director of product development. “Some of them are so quirky that it instantly sparks comments and conversation.”

Quirky is a good choice of words for a baseball card issue that might yield things like a strand of Abraham Lincoln’s hair or a dinosaur fossil. If the goal was to introduce card collecting to groups that might not otherwise have been exposed to it, some of the unusual aspects of this and other Topps offerings would seem well suited to the task.

“Allen & Ginter has featured many of the hobby firsts: The first DNA Relics, the first autograph from an animal, the first automobile AUTOgraph (from Big Foot, the monster truck) the first Bruce Lee Relic card and so on,” Luraschi continued. “It’s these unique aspects that intrigue collectors. The original Allen & Ginter tobacco cards covered many subjects and topics ... some so obscure that we get a chuckle when we see them. The history of this brand leaves many creative opportunities for the present product.”

For old-time collectors, the bells and whistles of modern-day cards can be startling. The 2008 Allen & Ginter’s issue features cut signatures from political figures, a secret code subset that offers collectors the chance to be featured on their own card in next year’s version, framed original Allen & Ginter’s cards and enough inserts and parallels to keep database experts busy for months. All of which makes for baseball cards decidedly unlike your father’s baseball cards (or maybe even yours, for that matter).

“The 2008 version obviously cost a bit more than its 1880s counterpart, but this is definitely one of the products on the low-end of the SRP scale,” Luraschi insisted. “It’s affordable, it offers value and provides for great entertainment.”

At 350 cards, the issue would seem to be at a number that would entice set collectors, but the vast array of side ventures provides a host of alternatives, as well. In addition to the regular-issue cards in the standard size, all 350 cards are inserted in the original Allen & Ginter’s size of 11/2-by-211/16 inches, in variations of different card backs, black borders, unnumbered, Bazooka backs and even in cloth and wood.

That would seem imposing enough, but there are also autographed cards, relics, DNA relics, printing plates, a number of box loader features and even the opportunity to get original Dick Perez artwork used in the jazzy RIP cards that return once again to leave collectors with that same vexing dilemma that vintage guys face when they purchase unopened material – whether or not to open.

“We don’t have data on how many RIP cards are ripped, but we do know that people enjoy the ‘Should I or shouldn’t I’ scenario with these unique cards,” said the ever-enthusiastic Luraschi.

It’s the kind of genuine affection for card collecting that can hardly be faked. “The product is an absolutely joy to work on. And as we have done in the past, we always like to add some unannounced fun into the packs.”

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