Jonathan Ross Holography Collection

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Trading cards of various kinds have been in existence for over one hundred years, the first baseball cards dating from 1887 and cigarette cards a year or two before that. Since then it has been a mainly North American phenomenon though the cigarette card was popular in Europe at various moments in the 20th century, principally the 1930s.

Like all premium products, the need for novelty is a driving factor, for without it the market will not be renewed. As a result any development in the printing industry is seized upon with alacrity.

When embossed holograms provided a new and reliable source of mass-produced 3D images, in the mid 1980s, it was therefore only a matter of time before the technique would be absorbed by the Trading Cards Industry.

All things 3D seem to go in cycles and as stereo photography has had peaks and troughs of popularity, when different generations discover and then tire of its novelty, so it is with lenticular photography which now seems to be taking over from holography as the 3D medium of choice. Actually many people confuse lenticulars with holograms and call them all 'holograms', but I won't dwell on that subject here. Anyway holography certainly had its moment in the sun.

I am not sufficiently expert on the subject to write the definitive history of the Holographic Trading Card, but just by collecting a few hundred examples I can see that the industry has kept quite a few holography studios in business over the past 10-15 years. Most of the major US hologram manufacturers (and a few from Europe and the Far East) have clearly done business with trading cards industry and, as a result, a collection of hologram trading cards provides a good overview of what holographic techniques were available during that period.

We find classic 3D images, 2D/3D from artwork and photographic sources, holographic stereograms derived from movie clips and hand-drawn animations, and images which combine some or all of the above. Model-making and artwork studios were also kept pretty busy too, by the look of it, as some series of comic-related images have over twenty different models in the set, each with their own related set of artwork. Most of the cards take the form of embossed holograms hotfoil stamped onto a card stock with conventional printing on the back but a number have also been produced as reflection holograms in photopolymer.

The tendency of trading cards is to only credit the publisher of the images and , as a result, it is often difficult to identify who is responsible for the holographic content. Based on a familiarity with some of the companies concerned I figure I can recognise the work of Light Impressions, ABN, Simian, Chromagem, Spatial Imaging and Polaroid but there are doubtless others and if anyone from any of those companies sees this website and would care to identify their work I would be happy to give them due credit.

What the 2D images you will find on this site do not convey, of course, is not only the 3D aspects of the holograms but also the degree of animation to be found as you tilt the cards. Whoever designed some of these products had a very clear understanding of the medium and many display a great deal of sophistication in the sequence of colour changes in 2D/3D imagery, shifts of lighting of 3D models, flips from 3D to 2D and so on. I can't actually think of another area in which holography has been used with such variety.

Sports images seem to dominate the field but Comics-related ones represent another large section. Others relate to television or cinema subjects and of course there are a few girlie pin-ups.

In with trading cards I am including Telephone Cards as, although their initial purpose was more practical, they have become collectables in their own right, particularly in Japan, and the format is very similar.

A lot of this material was not acquired at the time of issue, as I did not encounter much of it in the UK, but bought on ebay over the past couple of years and, if it appeals to you, you can still form a wide collection that way quite quickly and inexpensively. I have found it a lot of fun and can easily relate it to my collections of 19th century stereographs and cartes de visite in the way that it provides an insight into the preoccupations of western society at this moment in time. So, an interesting thing to collect on many levels (no pun intended).

Jonathan Ross
October 2006

Last modified on Thursday, 16 October 2014 17:31
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