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  #1  
Old 07-07-2019, 06:48 PM
deweyinthehall deweyinthehall is offline
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Default Topps Production Process

This could really go under the pre-1980 category as well.

I own several different kinds of production items from the Topps Vault - match print photos, color negatives, slick proofs, blank back proofs, progressive proofs, etc.

Is there any source (or anyone here) who can explain precisely how all these different artifacts fit together in the production process? In other words, in what order and for what purpose was each made? Why a blank back proof AND a slick proof? Etc.

Also, is there any known video showing the cutting process at Topps? I have a couple odd misprints (including a diamond cut..not that the image is off diagonally, the actual finished card has non-right angles and is in the form of a diamond) that make me wonder how it all actually worked.

Thanks!
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  #2  
Old 07-07-2019, 08:53 PM
steve B steve B is offline
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I'm not sure anyone has put together the entire process at Topps, it probably also varied over the years.

A good guess can be made about many of the items, and what they'd be used for when in the process, but being certain would be difficult.

The place I worked for did almost no proofing at all. Probably a photographic proof to get customer approval, but I only ever saw one or two of them. The print job I had done a year after I left was straight to production, no proof whatsoever. But it was also a very simple job.
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  #3  
Old 07-07-2019, 10:47 PM
West West is offline
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I have an article that I dug out of the Topps Magazine in 1991 during my research into the cause of the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF. It details a lot of the production process you are asking about and I will attach a full scan of it in my next post. I don't have my new scanner hooked up so the quality is not great.

Your vault items are mostly or all pre-production items, proofing, as Steve mentioned.

As it mentions in the article I'm attaching, pre-production began at the original Topps facility in Brooklyn. I imagine that after a card design had been decided on, many of the proofs that you have in your possession were made. According to the article, after all 792 cards in the 1991 set were ok'd by staff, film was then sent to Duryea to have plates made. In the first few photos of the article you can see the proofing process. It's important to note that the Topps Magazine article is more promotion than journalism. The article implies that the entire printing process was done at Duryea, but two sources inside the company have confirmed that the actual mass printing of uncut sheets required to fulfill the massive production demands of the late 80's and early 90's was done elsewhere. Additionally, the article states that film was sent to Duryea in order to make printing plates, but a former pressman at Quebecor was quoted elsewhere as saying “The film was sent to us. All we had to do was strip it in.”

Regardless of who ultimately did what task, the article is very helpful in piecing together the puzzle and has some great images. Here is the only pre-production photo that I've been able to find:

"Each of the four pieces of color film (black, blue, red, yellow) are inspected before being developed onto metal printing plates."



My knowledge of the rest of the process only covers the time period from late 1989 to 1991. Some of this information is in the Topps Magazine article and some comes from sources inside Topps whom I have spoken with. Topps contracted out printing of most or all baseball cards to Federated Lithographers-Printers, who were then bought by Quebecor Inc. in '89. Printing took place at a plant in Providence, RI, with three shifts working around the clock. Uncut sheets were shipped to the Topps factory in Duryea where they were cut, assembled into packs and then into cases. Each case was stamped with a six digit serial number that indicated the date and shift when it was shipped out to a vendor. From there it went into the hands of dealers, stores and collectors.

Some blown up photos from the article.
An uncut sheet rolling off the press:


Uncut sheet being pulled for inspection by quality control:


Sample sheet being inspected by QC:


Uncut sheet being fed into a cutting/slitting machine


Cut cards in coded boxes getting ready for packing:


Cards being loaded into a new plastic test wrap called polypropylene:


Boxes hand loaded into cases:


The Topps shipping department:


On your last question, you'll see in photo labeled "5" an uncut sheet being fed into a "slitting" machine for cutting.

Employees at both the Topps factory and the Providence plant were required to sign non-disclosure agreements to protect Topps' trade secrets, the details of the production process and, I assume, card population (Topps may have produced over 10 million of each card in 1990). It was difficult to find information on this subject due to the secretive nature of the business.

Oh and one last bonus photo from the archives (I don't remember the date but someone will most definitely recognize the packaging):

Last edited by West; 07-07-2019 at 11:03 PM.
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  #4  
Old 07-07-2019, 10:50 PM
West West is offline
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Original article:




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Old 07-08-2019, 09:51 AM
ALR-bishop ALR-bishop is offline
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Great post West. Made me go dig out my Topps Magazines.

Last edited by ALR-bishop; 07-08-2019 at 10:00 AM.
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  #6  
Old 07-08-2019, 10:01 AM
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bnorth bnorth is online now
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NDA was a common thing in the industry. We had a Score plant here for a short time and had one 50 miles away that lasted the entire time they produced BB cards. I know it was very strictly enforced at both plants.

If you talked to anyone about anything they would fire you at a minimum. They would also press charges if you took anything home or even got caught dumpster diving.

Before 1991 they also made sure that little to no print error cards left the factory. The only thing that somehow got out was a ton of 89 blank backs. Not sure how they got out because I know the person in charge of destroying them at the time. I did get a few(very few) 89 and 90 Score wrong backs but nothing else.

EDIT:to add thanks for posting the article. I did notice they didn't show the tables full of star players pulled to sell directly to large dealers. I know Score used to pull 10s if not 100s of thousands of cards of EACH star player to sell directly to large dealers. Remember how back then you could buy huge lots of single star players. All those didn't come from dealers breaking up sets.
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T210 Series 3 Ft Worth, looking for low end examples and especially ones with a Y shaped hole punch. I also have some extra T210's for trade.

Last edited by bnorth; 07-08-2019 at 11:49 AM.
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  #7  
Old 07-08-2019, 11:52 AM
steve B steve B is offline
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I believe the bonus pic is 1974.

Thanks for posting the article, I haven't seen it.

And the secrecy is even in that article. The slitting machine is too small for that sheet to fit.
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  #8  
Old 07-08-2019, 05:37 PM
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toppcat toppcat is offline
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I've seen that Topps Magazine piece before. Even into the 90's they were misdirecting people as to how things were done at Topps-crazy! That last photo features the 1974 Baseball Cards being rolled off the line and I believe was from their 1974 Annual Report. More on those reports here if interested:

http://toppsarchives.blogspot.com/se...nnual%20Report

Some of their printers over the years, there's probably a couple more I don't know about but Lord Baltimore Press and Zabel Brothers were the biggest ones I think until the early 80's. LBP was bought out around 1959 and Zabel lasted into the early 80's:

http://toppsarchives.blogspot.com/se...pps%20Printers

http://toppsarchives.blogspot.com/se...0Lithographers

Last edited by toppcat; 07-08-2019 at 05:37 PM.
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Old 07-08-2019, 09:03 PM
Mike D. Mike D. is offline
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Here's an article about the Providence Plant:

https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.co...hn-tassoni-jr/
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  #10  
Old 07-09-2019, 05:05 PM
West West is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mike D. View Post
Here's an article about the Providence Plant:

https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.co...hn-tassoni-jr/
Ah, thanks Mike for posting that. I meant to include the link in my original post. It was great to finally hear about the third party printers operating behind the scenes. I bet the workers there had some stories!
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  #11  
Old 07-09-2019, 09:02 PM
Mike D. Mike D. is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by West View Post
Ah, thanks Mike for posting that. I meant to include the link in my original post. It was great to finally hear about the third party printers operating behind the scenes. I bet the workers there had some stories!
No problem. Just glad I was able to find it after having read it several months back.

Of course, back then we thought the cards were "cardboard gold" sure to be worth huge money...turns out many 1990-1992 era cards aren't worth the paper and ink that went into them.
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