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Faux Wood Grain Bordered Sports Cards

As I wrote last week’s article about Bobby Orr and the 1966 Topps USA Test set, the wood grain borders reminded me of other sets with a similar look and feel. And love them or hate them, you definitely have an opinion about the faux wood grain bordered cards; they’re pretty unforgettable once you see them. In this article, I’ll run down a few details about five key wood grain framed sports card sets in the hobby and share a few thoughts about them.

1955 Bowman Baseball

1955 Bowman #202 Mickey Mantle

The first faux wood-grained border set was Bowman’s final vintage postwar set. I consider it the first bold design choice that Topps or Bowman made with the horizontal color television set style (inspired by the 1950 Drake’s cards). Most real TVs at the time had the wood-grain paneled look. The first 64 cards have a lighter wood grain within the set, and the rest are darker.

The look of these cards is incredibly recognizable, show one to a vintage collector, and they KNOW it’s a 1955 Bowman card. Sports Collector’s Digest once wrote in an interview that “if collectors mention the set they hate from the ’50s the most, the 1955 Bowman set is the one that’s mentioned probably 80-85 percent of the time.” I don’t hate ANY sports card set, but I probably fit more in the group that isn’t a fan of this design than the group who love it; it’s just a little tacky/cheesy to me. Oddly, I like the umpire cards in the set a lot, though, which maybe makes sense; I am the guy who is building an oddball archive.

It’s also weird that the card fronts don’t show the player’s first name, team name, or position. However, Bowman’s last set is still important to the hobby with a few massive cards. So I think the best way to summarize the set is something I heard at a hobby chat once, the cards are ugly but historic. I do applaud Bowman for trying to do something different.

1962 Topps Baseball

1962 Topps Baseball #387 Lou Brock

The next time a major release went with a faux wood grain background was Topps with their 1962 baseball set. This time, they made the image look like a sticker peeling away from the wood background revealing the player’s name, team, and position. 

The look of the wood seems a bit more “elegant” this time. Some say they are inspired by the 1955 Bowman design, but Topps did the design in a way that works a lot better to me. The vertical orientation, the move away from the television screen, and additional player information on the front make a complete design. It’s still not the most attractive design Topps has made, but it’s nicer than the 1955 Bowman set.

From a collector’s perspective, the edges in this set really show chipping, so, just as the 1955 Bowmans, the cards are tough to find in better condition.

1966 Topps Football and Hockey

1966 Topps Football #96 Joe Namath
1966 Topps Hockey #35 Bobby Orr

The 1966 Topps Hockey and Football sets have the same color tv-based design of a player’s photo within a faux wood grain border with the player’s name, position, and team printed along the bottom of the horizontally aligned card. So they’re just as polarizing as the sets I already wrote about (more so the 1955 Bowman than the 1962 Topps set, obviously).

The hockey cards images are imposed in front of a game crowd which I think looks pretty cool, while the football cards seem to have either the background from where the photo was taken (likely a practice field, and usually of the sky) or a pure color red or yellow background.

Color TV was still a new thing in 1966, so the cards were probably pretty appropriate for the time. Also, the hockey cards have a TV shape on the back (white text on a black background shipped like an oval TV).

1987 Topps Baseball

1987 Topps Baseball #320 Barry Bonds

I think the 1987 Topps Baseball set pulled off the wood grain border the best of all. The frame looks like a baseball bat and fits the era really, really well. Therefore, it’s one of the most recognizable sets from the 1980s.

The box around the player’s name, the black texted Topps logo, and the team logo in the upper circle look great from a design perspective. It’s just really clean, so I’m a big fan.

Like I said in the intro, these wood grain bordered cards definitely elicit a reaction and opinion from collectors, so I’d love to hear what you think about them down in the comments. Happy collecting!

PS: In writing this article, I thought about including the 1958 Hires Root Beer set but wanted to concentrate on major releases since many people may not have heard of the classic oddball set.

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