Have you ever wondered how your trading card is signed? We spent a night watching it happen
Jeremy Fullerton meticulously guides a full pint of beer, balancing it and avoiding spillage, on the usual terrain of the long wooden table in a bar. There are cell phones, sunglasses, a mask… and a box of unsigned, unreleased Jared Hart Allen & Ginter cards.
If you’ve ever received an autographed card, you probably haven’t given much thought to how and where they were signed. But every signature had to come from somewhere. In the case of Hart, a rock legend from New Jersey who fronts Mercy Union, it was over (or, more technically, below) beers at Jersey City’s 902 Brewing Co., a huge warehouse-style brewery with long tables for shared seating and beer names like “Heaven, Hell, Or Hoboken” and “Finding Emo.”
Fullerton, the brand manager of Topps’ baseball line – he’s the mastermind behind the popular Super short “Big Heads” print variations in Topps Update last year, as well as the “mascot heads” in series 2 of this year, among other things – needs Hart to sign about 400 cards. It’s a process that will cover about five hours on a windy June evening.
Fullerton arrived at 902 Brewing ahead of Hart, who was born and raised in nearby Bayonne. He carried a long brown cardboard box with Hart’s card taped to the top and a blue “Sign Here” in script where Hart was to put his signature. On the side of the box was a sticker with a breakdown of how many cards Hart should sign of each type and what color (like 25 silver variations).
It’s the first time Fullerton, who estimates he’s made “a few hundred” signings with celebrities and athletes, has chosen a brewery as the venue. These usually take place in homes, offices or locker rooms. The laid-back nature of the venue belies the details inside Fullerton’s box. He pulls out six markers – two gold, two silver, one red and one blue – and each stack of Hart cards he takes out of the box is wrapped in a piece of paper that screams something like “SIGN THEM IN INK BLUE”.
The Allen & Ginter line began in the late 1800s as a series of tobacco cards. If you wanted a Buffalo Bill Cody card back then, chances are you had to chase down Allen & Ginter. In 2006, Topps relaunched the line and, in homage to the original content, mixes baseball players with pop culture figures, fishing lures, Italian subs and even hair relics. It’s awesome. It’s funny. And it’s the perfect home for a Jared Hart card.
Hart’s father, who recently retired after 28 years as a high school photography teacher, took the photo that was ultimately chosen by Topps. “It was great to share that with him,” Hart said. And while Hart had seen digital versions of the card, the signature was the first time she had seen it in actual physical form.
Signed and relic cards – “hits” in trading card lingo – are smaller than the usual Allen & Ginter cards. Hart will have an unsigned “common” base card which is the normal size, but everything he signs today is of the “mini” variety, making the signing area much smaller.
Among the cards Fullerton brought to the brewery were ultra-rare, black-rimmed “Ginter X” versions, which Hart would sign in gold and silver. Each gold signed card is limited to five.
But no really.
There were actually seven of them. Hart signed them all, as Fullerton explained, they bring extras in case a signature gets smudged or a card falls inadvertently, or more premature fate. Plus, “people aren’t used to signing things that small,” Fullerton explained. Hart, however, has no problem with this; A musician on tour, he puts his signature on objects as small as a pick. (His the weirdest the signed item, for the curious, was a Bret Hart shirt that a fan was wearing. “For some reason he thought I was his cousin.”)
And not all seven cards will go to Topps. Hart is allowed to keep one of each to complete his own “rainbow”.
In addition to the autographed versions, Hart also had to choose an item of clothing for his “relic” cards. If he had been a basketball player, it would have been his jersey, cut into small pieces to be pasted into a card and sought after by collectors. Some celebrities sent ties. Hart opted for a palm tree shirt which he started wearing on stage when Mercy Union first formed.
“I think he did three or four tours with me,” Hart explained, “and probably ended up on stage for a third of those shows.” He also had the collector in mind when he chose the palm tree shirt over the others in his collection. “I thought the relic would look much cooler with a little palm sticking out on each card,” he said. “There’s a lot of sweat and beer embedded in that fiber.”
Fullerton does not recall a palm tree shirt ever being used for a relic. He lists some of the more interesting relics he’s seen passing through Allen & Ginter, including “Breaking Bad” storyboard maps for use with Vince Gilligan’s maps, an old Dan Rather notebook he used during interviews and the original tiger mask sent. a worn mask. Erin Andrews gave Topps several old press credentials, and Tony Hawk “gave us a well-used skate deck.” A typical item, Fullerton said, should create “several hundred” relic cards.
At some point in the evening, Allen asked if he could sign a “201” under his name – a tribute to the Bayonne area code. Fullerton told him he could write whatever he wanted. Athleticism is proud to exclusively announce that Allen has signed many of his 400 “base” autograph cards with a “201” on them. Our best estimate is 20%. Keep this in mind when buying on eBay.
What else are we talking about while someone is signing over 500 cards? Hart shared his inner agony at the thought of recording a Christmas song — not because it was a sold-out sale, but because he was worried he couldn’t “get it right.” He also recommended we check out jazz musician Robert Glasper and shared a story of when a very specific part of his car was stolen while he watched from his porch and couldn’t do anything about it.
About five hours into our time at 902 Brewing, Hart – a remarkably cramp-free hand but maintaining impressive pace throughout – signed his final Allen & Ginter card. Fullerton put everything back in the box and put it away for safekeeping. The cards would be shipped to the printer, where they would be collated and randomly inserted into Allen & Ginter packs by a machine programmed to ensure that Hart’s five Ginter X gold ink cards were properly distributed into packs.
And at that time, Hart will join Bell Biv DeVoe, Mark Duplass, Scott Hanson, Rachel Balkovec and Alice Cooper in the Allen & Ginter 2022 packs. And at some point in the near future, a collector somewhere will receive a Jared Hart card and wonder aloud what the “201” under his name stands for.