Saturday, March 14, 2015

Metal Shop

Running off a sheet of cards at the printers would seem like a pretty mundane task these days. That's not the case of course but like anything else it seems like it happens almost effortlessly these days. It isn't and never really has been all that easy and there are a lot of processes involved before the final product spins out of the press.

One part of one method, namely offset lithography printing,  involves the use of thin aluminum plates, which have the images being used to make the cards (or anything else really) etched on to them.  If I have this right (and this is a very simplified explanation), the plates are dampened with a water based solution then inked in the press. The ink ends up adhering only to the "dry" areas to be printed, as the solution prevents ink from adhering where it is applied.  The inked portion is transferred, or offset, to a rubber roller, making a reversed image before being rolled over the press sheet.  This is done for each color pass.

The plates cannot be "wiped" once used, they have to be melted down and remanufactured.  As you can imagine, a lot of aluminum has to be destroyed for any type of meaningful recycling to occur, ergo when it comes to Topps, there are few aluminum plates floating around.  That is, unless you are talking about 1962.

 Take this 1962 Kansas City team cards (#384):



In order to print it, you needed this first:


Compare that to this 1962 Football plate, which has corroded to a degree:


When you look at the card this plate produced you can see that the Baseball plate has an additional element, namely the team name is visible in the black oval. Therefore, it must have been used to produce a different color than the one for Chandler. The inset photo is missing as well; that would have been added during a different color run.


A large find of 1962 aluminum sheets was noted in an SCD ad in  the January 31, 1986 issue where Mid-Atlantic Coin Exchange was selling 1962 Baseball Green Tint plates (second series). They also had a number of 1962 Hockey plates as well.  All of these had been cut from the original, larger aluminum sheets used to make the cards. However, at least two partial sheets have survived from the Hockey run:



You can get a good idea of how vivid these were in the unfaded areas (which look like they had something like a paint can on top of them for years. 

Plates even exist for promotional material, like this one for the 1962 Baseball Bucks set:


I'm not certain how these all came to survive.  It's not like today where Topps sells or uses as inserts the plates that produce the cards. Given that the green tint plates were in the '62 mix, it seems plausible Topps required the plates be returned to them as that run was not produced in Philadelphia. Or did Topps also sub out work on the Football and Hockey sets that year? No matter where they were printed, it's clear these sheets never got melted down.

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