Studio Baseball Returns to Its Strong Photographic Roots, Classy Design in 1996

After a one year detour, 1996 Leaf Studio Baseball returned to its roots.  Studio released a 150 card set in August of 1996 and produced a product that once again focused on high quality, studio style portrait cards.  It was the first Donruss related card set since the company’s acquisition by Pinnacle Brands less than a year prior.

Hobby boxes consisted of 24 packs per box with seven cards found per pack with a sticker price of a $1.99 per pack.

The box art features a blurred picture of a batter, catcher and umpire from the pitcher’s perspective. It’s a washed out blue themed image with the Leaf Studio ’96 logo, that has text that directs collectors to look for the individually numbered chase sets and canvas cards.

There is a similar logo behind the batters bat on said box with the numbers ’96 that is circled with the words “Premium Quality Baseball Cards” inside the circle. It’s a very generic and nondescript box artwork for a company that boasts such great photos.

The foil pack artwork mirrors the box art with just a touch more shininess with it being a foil pack as opposed to a cardboard box.

The base set is a full color offering that ranks up there with some of the better Studio products ever produced. A large, full color portrait shot of the player takes up nearly half the card with the other half being, in most cases, a crisp action shot.

The player’s name is scrolled in foil across the top of the card with the team logo just under the player’s first name. The borderless cards have the words Leaf Studio in the lower right hand corner with the year ’96 in the “o” of the word Studio.

 

The cards are sharp enough to be almost suitable for framing. A few of my personal favorites are the Alex Rodriguez card that features a fresh faced young A-Rod with bat on shoulder in the classic Studio style posed picture teamed with a  crisp image of him playing the shortstop position for the Mariners. The Lenny Dykstra card is another fun one, showing him with a big grin on his face in the studio posed shot while the action shot shows him ready to step in the batters box with a uniform that is just covered head to toe in dirt.

The card backs offer the portrait shot in a well-placed “o” at the end of the word Studio in the upper right hand corner. The card number is also found in the very upper right hand corner. The background offers a full color action shot of the player. At the bottom of the card, you will find last year’s statistics and career totals and on the left hand side of the card are a few biographical pieces of information. 

Like in years past, the backs of the studio cards could be mistaken for the front of most cards produced in that era.

Studio was never really a product that featured a strong rookie crop.  In this case, there’s only one: San Francisco Giants pitcher Osvaldo Fernandez.

All 150 cards in the base are also available in a number of Press Proof parallels including bronze which are limited to 2,000 copies. A Gold version is limited to 500 copies and the Silver, limited to 100 copies, are exclusive to the magazine packs. None of the Press Proof cards are serial numbered.

The Silver Press Proofs sell for big bucks, as a Derek Jeter version sold for nearly $2,500 in January. Jeter, by the way, was in his first full season with the Yankees when Studio arrived on hobby store shelves.   A Ken Griffey, Jr. Silver Press Proof sold for just under $2,000 earlier this year. Many of the rest of the Hall of Famers Silvers still bring $400-$600 regularly. The superstars Gold versions sell for $200-$400. 

A new  insert in 1996 Leaf Studio is the Stained Glass Stars. The colorful series features a nice action shot in the foreground with the background of the card as a die cut, acetate stained glass design in the form of the team’s logo. There is an eye catching multicolored Stained Glass Stars logo on the bottom of each card.

The card back is the reverse negative of the card front and just as colorful and sharp as the front. These stained glass window styled cards are some of the nicer inserts for the entire baseball season.

The 12 card set features Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Chipper Jones and many other stars of the game.

Hit Parade is a fun 10-card insert that is created in the style of an old school record album. The horizontal designed cards resemble a 1960s or ’70s album cover that the record came in with a third of the card sticking out the right hand side as a die cut black record album.

The back of the card features some split statistics including players success against left-handed versus right-handed pitching, stats divided by home versus away, day versus night and other similar breakdowns. Every card is serial numbered to 5000 copies. These were also available as promo cards.

Next up is yet another new insert called Masterstrokes. Printed on a canvas like substance and serial numbered to 5,000 copies, this eight card set features stars such as Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, Jr., and Greg Maddux.

The front of the card appears to be a painting of the subject while the back has a full color image, the team logo with paint brush and paint included and a quick sentence or two about what makes the player so masterful on the baseball diamond. In addition to the insert set, Masterstrokes was released as a sample and also as a promo set.

Prices for unopened boxes typically start at around $50.

The entire collecting community was beyond happy to see Studio return to its strengths of high quality photos and elegant designs and abandon whatever it was that they were doing the year before.  

See 1996 Leaf Studio cards on eBay here.

About Tony Reid

From the time he was a little kid, Tony has been a huge sports fan. If he could play sports, watch sports and talk about sports it was a great day. From as early as he was drawn to sports, Tony was drawn to collecting sports cards. Not much has changed over the years. He collects RCs of star players in baseball, basketball and football. He also has a soft spot for first autographs of MMA stars. If you want to talk to Tony about the greatness of Michael Jordan, Bo Jackson or Ken Griffey, Jr. you can reach him at [email protected] and @OffCenterTR on social media.

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