I have a bad habit of procrastinating when it comes to following up on a story, which often leads to me forgetting to follow up all together. The "History of the Leaf's Studio Releases" is a perfect example; I began with covering the story of Leaf Studio releases (1991-98) and meant to follow up the story with the history of Donruss Studio releases (2001-05). I figured now is as good a time to complete the history of Studio releases.
In 1998 Leaf shut down production and the company shuttered, shortly afterwards Donruss bought out the Leaf name and all intellectual properties, including the Studio line. In 2001 Donruss re-introduced Studio and they worked hard to continue the line as Leaf had previously done, something they were able to accomplish on the most part.
You will notice that Donruss used the same Studio logo during the entire run of the product, 2001-05, and they continued the artistic theme with the inserts.
The 2001 Donruss Studio release was Donruss’ first go at Studio and they went the safe route using a similar design to the 1993 release. Donruss used a candid shot of the player placed over the team’s hat logo. The only change was adding a thick white border around the image, which contained the Studio logo at the top and the player’s information at the bottom. Obviously 2001 was the perfect year to begin experimenting with a new product line because there were 2 rookies that would help float the product, Ichiro and Albert Pujols. Donruss had a 5x7 jumbo autographed version plus plenty of relics and autograph inserts. The very popular Diamond King set was added to the Studio line to increase popularity for the new product.
Following the tragedy of September 11, 2001 the 2002 Donruss Studio release had a patriotic theme. The base set used a posed shot of the player in front of a waving flag with a filmstrip running across the background which included a picture of the city skyline where the team was located. This was the year when inserts and parallels came on like gang busters. The base card had 4 parallels, Press Proof (#/100), autograph (#/50), National Convention SP (#/5) and Flag (unreleased). The Press Proof had a foil “Press Proof” logo, the autographs had sticker autos below the player, National Convention had a “National Convention 2002” crimped stamp at the bottom left and the unreleased Flag had a silver foil flag embossed on the bottom left.
|Unreleased Foil Flag|
The inserts varied too, including patriotic themes like Heroes Icons and Spirit of the Game and there were old-school inserts like Studio Classic which was based on HOF players. Series insert mainstays like Masterstrokes and Studio Stars continued.
The 2003 base design returned back to form and showed the player in a staged photo over the player’s home stadium façade. There are autograph parallels of the base cards too. The artistic Masterstroke insert remained but appears more like a painting on canvas; this is one of my favorite inserts of the Donruss Studio line. Again the Studio Stars credit card is still on the checklist, the only saving grace is that Donruss began moving away from the credit card design slightly plus the cards were clear acetate, which is a bonus.
The 2004 base set used a similar design with a staged shot of the player placed over the city skyline. I like how Donruss decided to use a flowing master plan of the life of the product, a staged shot and a recognizable background. Again there were parallels including a Press Proof and autograph versions.
The Studio Stars insert was changed to a passport type of design, not the greatest but better than a credit card at least, and Masterstrokes was not really pleasing to the eye with hard colors and odd paint strokes. Spirit of the Game insert also made changes, this time worse. It just seemed tossed together with no control of flow on the cards design.
The 2005 release was Donruss’ final Studio release and they returned to what started it all, black and white images. A posed player image in black and white over a desaturated picture of the city skyline that was hued in the team’s colors. There were also autographs and Press Proof parallels of the base card.
Studio Stars changed again to a different shape, going from credit card to passport and finally ending up as an ID badge. Masterstrokes, another of the series long running inserts, appears to be designed as an afterthought.
This final release was just painful, not because it was the end of an era, but it was just fubar. The base design was just phoned in and the inserts were slapped together. They were either plain (Studio Portraits, which was actually the best of the inserts) or jam-packed (Spirit of the game, Heroes of the Hall, Diamond Cut).
The final set from Donruss was the worst of the second life of Studio. It does not top Leaf’s 1997 release so at least they have that to cheer about. Sadly Donruss lost their MLB license in late 2005 so this is one of their final professional baseball release and they ended on a down note.
What is funny is that as I was doing research for this story I came across an old post from Mario Alejandro (formerly of Wax Heaven and now The Wax Morgue) on the Card Collector Digest from April 2009 asking “What if Donruss brought back Studio?”. It was right about that time when Panini bought out Donruss and was transitioning over to Panini America.