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Ultimate Set Build: 1994-95 Fleer Hockey

October 13, 2021, 2:30 PM ET [2 Comments]
Shawn Gates
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I invest the time in creating these specific articles as I have a genuine appreciation of collectibles as an artform. Not in a pretentious, haughty-taughty way, but from the perspective that art is really anything that provokes some type of a reaction. Without a shadow of a doubt, the things I collect trigger a visceral reaction from me. That little shot of dopamine that pulls me from the oft-times dank daily grind as a psychologist into a lighter “world of wonder” that comes as shiny things hitting my line of sight! The designs. The originality. The nostalgia. The thrill of the hunt. The personal stories and memories they evoke. The banter. Love it on all levels! Nothing short of art in my mind.

Now here’s the rub when it comes to anything artistic: the emotions and/or reactions do not have to be positive ones! There are some who might argue that some of the best art is the stuff created when pushing boundaries, which is a breeding ground of uncertainty for exactly what the response to it will be. Might people enjoy it? Will they hate it? Will they be straight up confused by it? Who the hell knows! Certainly a mix of freedom, excitement and accompanying anxiety that can come with taking those chances knowing that for every game changing masterpiece there are many more that simply crashed on arrival.

Now how does this intersect with collectibles, and for the purpose of this article hockey cards, you may ask? Well, it brings me back into the junk wax era of the early to late 90’s. As the industry began its exponential growth and expansion, the predictable hustle for companies trying to cash in on collectors gave birth to an interesting dilemma for collectors: Did the product in front of me come from an effort to add something of quality into the market, or is it a display of randomness slapped onto a card with the expectation that we’ll buy anything right now? In other words, am I looking at an inspired effort to push the boundaries or something made different solely for the sake of being different? While the former approaches did create some decent (albeit overproduced for the most part) product, the latter put a lot of horrid creations out there! To be fair, there were also plenty of sincere efforts that still ended up being crap, while some blatant money grabs turned out well by complete accident! Start and end points aside, the fact is this: the ‘90s was a decade of thrown s%&t at the wall to see what stuck! Norms and expectations be damned. This was kindergarten class with 30 bottles of paint open, smocks gone AWOL, and a teacher already packed in for their impending retirement.

Suffice it to say, the decade brought along some interesting pieces of work, ranging from quite conservative in design and up-sell factors to all out chaotic. Evocative? Hell to the yeah my peeps. There will be many samples from this era that will challenge your ideas of what a hockey card could look like, and how horribly wrong it could go! I don’t want to start there, however, preferring to have a peek at something reflective of this time but not being completely off the rails either! The “right amount” of crazy I suppose? Let’s give 1994-95 Fleer a go…

1994-95 Fleer

Here we have a, for the time, comparatively restrained 250 card flagship offering from Fleer. While showing restraint with set size, card design was evidently given a pretty wide berth in terms of freedom! Now I really tend to believe there was a concerted effort to do something different here that would challenge more traditional conventions while also providing something people would enjoy. That being said, it was classic overkill! No word of a lie: flipping through this set last night had me on the verge of sliding into a migraine, and so for the sake of my noggin’ I grabbed Mr. Richter for the necessary photographs and tucked the binder away! Let me elaborate on why…

What we have here in this Mike Richter offering is what I would describe as a middle of the road offering from the set. Let me get more specific on what I mean by this. There were four differing designs applied throughout the release, seemingly at random, albeit consistent within teams. One design was quite subdued, coordinating team colours into the card, with the main design element being a larger shot of the player worked into the background (larger than the primary picture and faded into the colouring). Looks quite nice, is relaxing almost, and did not hurt the noggin’ of yours truly. Design two is where the transformation began! Gone was the softness of the coordinated colours as an identity crisis emerged: Do we keep some traditional aspects after all or go all in on “cool and edgy”? What you end up with is one corner/diagonal area with some colouring which may (San Jose had purple) or may not (LA had an orange/burnt red) fit with the team colours, while the remaining area was unaltered on the ice photo. Then, out of nowhere, let’s slap their birthdate and hometown up the left side of the card? Why? Could have done position. Team name! Nick name! Odd choice and very non-committal about where they’re wanting to go with design.

Then we have our guy pictured above! Seemingly random colours that don’t necessarily mesh with the team (with other examples being even more off the charts than this one might appear), out of place player stats slapped in the lower right corner, and foil stamped player name and team logo framing in a smaller version of the focal player pic with a “photo negative” effect applied. Now I love the actual player photography in the set, with this Richter one especially throwing an intensity off it that really grabs you. Yet the craziness of the colouring and design pulls you out of it. Rather than adding to the experience it overwhelms. Then there is design four. Design four, which takes what worked with design one and drops a steaming pile of dog crap on it, then sprinkling on a side of the dog crap from design two for good measure! Summary: let’s remove the player pic from the background element, make sure the team colour elements you use are either increasingly detail based ones from aspects of the logo (picture Chelios era Chicago Blackhawks on a mixed forest green and mustard yellow board/bench background) or don’t draw from the team at all (Detroit players in the solid reds placed over a heavy blue and green scheme). While we’re at it, randomly run their birthdate and hometown up the right of the card, and their name with a double fade into the background on the left with a super hip and edgy font! In case you didn’t catch their name there, they foil badged it and the team logo across the bottom third of the card. This is where my migraine honestly started grabbing hold and I had to tap out! Trying to process all the elements was straining my eyes and confusing the hell out of me..

(I will embed examples of the other three designs tomorrow for reference! As for now, my head is NOT ready for it!)

Herein lies the frustration with the card fronts: The backs aren’t bad at all! They play with the design by doubling up player pics with and without some effects, while interchanging name coulours does the rest. It’s not bad at all, especially since they stay true to the team colours in doing all these things. A truncated set of stats and done. Neat and tidy. What sucks is that there’s more than enough space here to have EASILY included the stats that were flung against the wall of the front. It’s a shame as it would have been to the betterment of the overall presentation. And yet, it was the 90’s, right?

Do I still consider this art? Sure do! The type of art best placed on the fridge with what the kiddos bring back from kindergarten…

Previous “Ultimate Set Build” Articles

1959-60 Parkhurst
59-60 Base

1980-81 O-Pee-Chee
80-81 Base

1991-92 Upper Deck
High Series Young Guns

2005-06 ITG Heroes & Prospects
Prospects Base

2008 UD Champs
Champ’s Mini Signatures

2016-17 Upper Deck Parkhurst
Rookie Red Parallel

2017 Upper Deck Toronto Maple Leafs Centennial
Maple Leafs Marks

2018-19 Upper Deck Tim Horton’s
Clear Cut Phenoms

Positive vibes to you all. Please put some care into you and yours this beautiful day and look out for one another where possible! Our impact on others with even the smallest of actions, is far greater than we tend to realize. My best your way…


Do you have a piece of treasured memorabilia that has a great story behind it? Let me know and you can be featured in an article. Doesn't matter how big or small the piece is, how valuable it may be, or whether it's a common item or more oddball. If you think it has a story, contact me via the information below and we'll chat. In the meantime, check out some previous "Display Case" articles via the links below to see what others have submitted in the past...

Shawn Gates

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