Late one night I wondered: Is a baseball card set like a bottle of Scotch whisky? Now of course that depends on the card’s issue (its manufacturer and year), just as it would for the bottle. Before I extend this analogy too far, however, please allow me to explain what led me to ponder thus: indeed, the following chain of recent events holds special relevance to both connoisseurs of cardboard scraps and consumers of malted barley. . . .

First it’s important to appreciate that in this pastime, this hobby (oh what a diminutive term), there proves no greater respite from admittedly material, acquisitional urges than the refreshing opportunity to sift through riches already possessed. Call it obsessive-compulsive organizing, cardboard gazing, or nostalgia killing—flipping through those old decks snugly coffined away in their long, narrow boxes can be a leisurely way to spend your time. You can also do it without spending your money on yet more thinly pressed bits of ever-so-gradually decomposing cellulose.

So that is exactly how I preoccupied myself late one swirling, peaty evening with a glass of Scotch when I came across a rather forgettable player’s even more forgettable card: Gary Redus from Topps, 1987. The front image is a fairly standard “action capture”: like a school kid on photo day, Redus stands at the plate in his pristine, almost luminous Chicago White Sox uniform and practices a well-rehearsed swing in preparation for a likely imaginary pitch. Now not to disrespect Mr. Redus—who ultimately batted a .252 average with 322 bases stolen after more than a decade-long career that ended with some unfortunate, mounting series of injuries (thank goodness for our ubiquitous internet research tools, such as Baseball-Reference)—but I wonder if even the most diehard of baseball fans could easily recall Gary’s playing days.

Yet when under the lamplight I tilted the front of the card with those infamous, lamentable wood panel borders, I observed a slight but perceptible difference in surface gloss. Then I turned the card over and saw that this 1987 Topps card had a white back instead of the customarily ashy stock of these often pitiful cards. (In fact, the common Topps cards from 1987 seem so utterly loathed by some collectors that there is even a fellow who started a blog called The BurnCardBurn Project. The site releases videos of these cards being burned in a backyard fire pit, which actually feels like a comparatively distinguished end for such an inauspicious card issue.)

While many collectors already know about these specialized Topps “Tiffany” card variations—of considerably lesser print run quantities and greater reputation—this was yet another small though intriguing discovery for me in the land of pulp ephemera. The good folks at The Cardboard Connection inform that these more limited releases were all but equal to their counterparts except for that glossy front finish and the finer white stock, reportedly manufactured in Ireland. The Tiffany issues continued from 1984 through 1991, proving now to be of far greater value than the shoddy, more mass-produced Topps offerings from the so-called Junk Wax Era.

All of this was more than mildly fascinating to me on two levels (neither being the individual Gary Redus card, which in itself wasn’t interesting at all). First from an etymological standpoint, I was curious about how precisely this phrase came about where these higher value material objects were referred to as “Tiffany” cards by collectors. You see, the actual name, “Tiffany,” appears nowhere on the cards or their long boxes. And so far I have yet to uncover a legitimate, verifiable research source to explain the origins of this name. However, I would speculate that a collector or small group of collectors inferred the widely held prestige appeal of that famous jewelry and luxury goods retailer, Tiffany & Co. They then appropriated the term for more personal and meaningful use in their subculture’s community before it caught on like wildfire at gatherings and trade shows. It simply strikes me as a unique turn of the phrase as well, since I have never before seen or heard the word Tiffany employed in this way: rather imaginatively to refer to an entirely different (i.e. non-jewelry, non-decorative) commodity. In other words, within a framework of material economy it could not be any more of a leap to assign a signifier so widely and conventionally associated with durable goods to perhaps the most quintessential of all non-durable goods, baseball cards.

Secondly, when I began to search and scrutinize photos of these limited edition Topps Tiffany boxes, I found some similarities in their design that suggested for me (with my glass of Islay single malt Scotch in hand) the likewise distinct, “elite” appeals used in branding and packaging select bottles of Scotch whisky. Although one is rectangular while the other is cylindrical, both containers hold the feel of a not dissimilar promise of treasure and, again, prestige. Whereas compared to the normally cluttered and “busy” design of its budget box sets, the Topps Tiffany box displays a far more elegant, scripted font framed by luxuriant golden ribbons. So, too, with bottles of Scotch. For example, hold up a bottle of bottom-shelf, grocery store Speyburn next to that classy eggshell Balvenie case with graceful scripts (i.e. Distilled) abound. (Actually, the budget Scotch bottles are sometimes even sold sans cylinder case.)

Moreover, each one smells subtly saccharine. The cards waft a scent of ancient, pink bubble gum, perhaps the desiccate residue clinging still—though, admittedly, not if they are “collector’s edition” Topps Tiffany cards, which were never sold with such plebian product. Meanwhile, a decent Scotch releases the fragrance of one among any number of possible myriad scents so woodsy sweet.

And just as each individual card possesses distinctiveness in the yet cohesive context of its whole once the tape is torn and box lid opened, so, too, does each pour from the bottle when removed from its case and uncorked.

Finally, age and worth: it is said that Scotch often matures and grows potentially more valuable over the years as consumers may appreciate its finer, timeless traits previously so vastly underestimated. Of course, there are countless legends as well—stories of great finds tucked away for decades in old boxes in attics, basements, and closets. What was previously purchased for a miniscule price thus morphs into gold. . . . Does this analogy really need further elaboration? Hopefully the proverbial horse has not already ascended to heaven.

But maybe I am reading too much into all of this—and maybe the alcohol’s magic encouraged a narrative never brought to full fruition or an analogy diluted with too much water and verbiage. For some reason, though, I do feel inspired to watch an Audrey Hepburn film for the first time in years.

Works Cited

Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, 2000. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

“Comprehensive Guide to Topps Tiffany Baseball Cards.” The Cardboard Connection,
n.d. Web. 16 Mar. 2013.

 The BurnCardBurn Project. WordPress, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2013. 

M. G. Moscato worked in publishing for several years in various capacities: as a fetcher of coffee, bringer of mail, warehouse hand, proofreader, and editor. He holds B.A. and M.A. degrees of purely intrinsic value, and in fall of 2013 he enters as an M.F.A. candidate at the University of South Carolina. His work has appeared in Lungfull!, PlainsongsCineAction, and elsewhere. He blogs at