Monday, September 3, 2012

The History Of Leaf's Studio Releases

Yesterday I posted up some of the base cards from the upcoming 2012 Signature Series Baseball release. For some reason the cards are being promoted as a modern version of the 1990s Studio releases. I had a hankering for those old Leaf Studio releases and decided to post up some from each year that Leaf released a Studio product. Note that the 1990s Studio sets were Leaf products, Donruss purchased the Leaf name (and all Leaf products) I believe in 1998 or 1999 and they began releasing their own line of Studio sets for a couple years beginning in 2001 through 2005. Donruss did stay true to the original Leaf creations, something lost in translation by Panini.
Leaf began the Studio baseball line in 1991, a year after they returned to the baseball sets. Their 1990 Leaf Baseball set was led by a couple of young guys out of Chicago and Seattle. Frank Thomas and Sammy Sosa’s rookies along with a second year Ken Griffey Jr. card drew collectors en-mass to their product but it was just another release in an era of over-worked printing presses pouring out cards by the millions, what eventually was called the “Junk Wax” era. Leaf wanted to add an additional line that went in a different direction from the standard action shot cards; this led to the Studio release which would allow collectors to get up close with their favorite players.
A couple of things that you will notice with the Studio line is that the Studio logo changed often and Leaf stuck with an artistic theme using photographs and painting motifs in a number of the sets/inserts over the life of the brand.
The 1991 Studio set was just a basic start, Leaf went safe because they were not sure what to expect. The cards contained a black and white staged studio photo of the player in front of one of those backgrounds that you would find in any photographers studio. The player’s image was closed in by a dark red border which contained the player’s name, position and a team logo. There were no inserts, subsets or parallels just base cards.
The 1992 Studio set was brought to the next level, now there was a staged photo of the player in the foreground with a black and white action shot in the background. The borders were changed to gold/brass and the player’s name was enlarged. The team logo was replaced with the team name.
Additionally Leaf decided to add an insert, the Heritage Series. The cards showed select players in their teams original/old style uniforms. The pictures were in sepia tone and to add a “vintage” feel the border of the picture had old-school corner holders so it appeared as if the photo was adhered to a photo album. The Heritage Series is still one of my favorite inserts of the 1990s.
The 1993s Studio set changed again, this time using a candid shot of the players over a background of the team’s logo. This was a unique design because it used live elements. The player’s name was a facsimile autograph in silver foil. The borders were removed along with most of the previously used info like team name and position.
Out of all of the Leaf Studio sets the 93 Studio release is hands down my favorite base set by far. Great pictures, the logos really stand out and the addition of the foil signature really ties in nicely. This was also the first Studio set that I collected after I returned to the hobby. 
Another cool insert was the Superstars on Canvas, a staged shot of the player was used and it was black and white but an easel was placed in front of the player and made to look like a painting.
In 1994 Leaf again used the candid shot of the player but switched out the team logo for the player’s locker. This was a way to invite collectors in to the player’s world. The player’s name was now in script and the team name was added in standard font, both in silver foil.
 This year Leaf went the way of acetate/clear cards. The long running Series Stars insert was introduced in style. An action shot of the player with a large foil embossed stamp on the front in either gold or silver. The gold versions were limited to 5,000 and the silver versions were limited to 10,000. Remember when #/5,000 was an ultra-rare insert that demanded big money?
The gold versions had the card number on the front and the serial numbering on the back and the silver versions had the serial numbering on the front and the card number on the back. For those not familiar with these types of cards, where it says “Card Number 8 of 10”, that was not the serial number but the checklist number. This was the 8th card out of a 10-card checklist.
In 1995 Leaf designers seemed to have slammed their heads rapidly against cabinets because they went in an awkward credit card route. For all intents and purposes, the cards looked like credit cards with the player’s close-up action shot to the side and their stats in place where a credit card number would appear. They even went so far as to include the security hologram which is where the team’s logo was added to the card. The back of the card had another picture of the player along with the checklist number and a facsimile player’s signature across the strip. There were base, gold and platinum versions and I am not certain of the difference besides the card coloring and a designation of “Gold” or “Platinum” in the upper left corner.

 The Heritage and Series Stars inserts were continued.
The 1996 Studio release was a return to what worked but with a bit of a switch. The candid shot of the player was moved back and an action shot of the player was moved to the foreground. This led to floating players which is not the best route in design, you do not want elements that appear disconnected and out of place. Another Studio logo change came this year but this was the logo they used for the remainder of the product line’s life.
I think had Leaf removed the floating action shot this would have been one of the more successful designs from the Studio line. Additionally dropping the player's name to the bottom of the card, shifting the team logo to the top right corner and the Studio 96 logo up slightly and this card would look well balanced and complete.
 The big thing to hit Studio in 1996 was the die-cuts; it was about this time that most card companies were using die-cuts and was all the rage. Another tie in with the artistic motif was the Hit Parade, a music themed insert centering on the big hitters. Probably one of the most collected inserts of 1996 (including all baseball products) was the Stained-Glass insert. A die-cut card that also used colored acetate to appear like stained glass. The Hideo Nomo version sold for big bucks, I remember hearing some collectors were willing to pay hundreds for this card, a card that can now be found for under $5 anywhere.
 By 1997 the Studio line was on its last legs, the set had changed each year but never seemed to stick with something that worked. This year’s design was a return to the origins with a studio shot of a player but this time they went with a gray vertical design in the background with the two end bars being brought forward to enclose the card with a pseudo border. What is odd is that around the player’s chest level the bars are in front of the player but with a low opacity. The whole design makes me think of a jail cell. Out of the 8-year run of the Leaf line this set and the 1995 set were the worst designs. Had the designers left the vertical bars entirely in the background this may have been at least reasonable but this was just horrible.
The Series Stars set was a unique design using acetate and die-cut where the player was posted over a batting helmet. Not bad but nowhere near the best of the Series Stars inserts.
We end with the 1998 Studio release and again with something that works. The design is similar in idea to the 92 set using a candid player shot over an action shot in the background. The team’s colors are used in a mist like masking towards the bottom border.
Leaf closed out the 1998 Studio set with a handful of inserts that had run through most of the series line including Hit Parade and Masterstroke, additionally a new insert Freeze Frame was added. Each team had a checklist which utilized their top player in a different pose than the player's base card and was marked as a checklist.


I actually enjoyed going over one of the product lines that I enjoyed from the 1990s, it brought me back to when I got back in to collecting. I think I am going to pull up the Donruss Studio line and do another post covering that product’s 5-year lifespan in the near future.

1 comment:

  1. why is it that on ebay and other sports card internet outlets that the 1995 Studio box is never up for sale, as the other years are still readily available. If 1995 was so unpopular it sure seems all of the sealed boxes have just up and vanished. I find individual cards at random but no sealed boxes of packs. Odd!