Harking back to the dawn of baseball cards, the Topps version of the Gypsy Queen set (sans cigarettes) is a nice looking set that keeps the basic design of the original cards of the 1880s. The player photos are slightly photo shopped with some extra grain to appear antique-y, and the cards have an appealing stained-glass appearance. Especially appealing to me is the inclusion of players from baseball’s past including deadball players like Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb, so I bought a few packs at Target.
I seriously considered buying a box, until I saw those special, special cards of actual gypsy ‘queens.’ Yes, Topps decided to take a very literal interpretation of the name, Gypsy Queen, by inserting chase cards of what I assume are models dressed in gypsy garb. Really. Do I really want her autograph? No, I don’t. These cards do not fit in a baseball card set. If these are actual gypsies then I apologize, but I can find no evidence that they are, and reading the backs of the cards leads me to believe they’re not. The biographies on the backs of the gypsy cards revel in stereotypes with tales of magical powers and dowries of goats and potatoes. Good job Topps! I guess gypsies are the last ethnic group that you’re allowed to parody. How about a gypsy queen’s trip to a concentration camp, or a tale of a gypsy who could not find work due to discrimination against her ethnicity? Maybe I’m taking this too seriously, but I believe Topps made an incredibly insensitive move with these inserts. Just as the baseball cards resurrect card designs of the past, the gypsy inserts resurrect stereotypes based on Hollywood and fictional interpretation of a real ethnic group. I’m happy to say I did not find a ‘gypsy’ in the Target packs.
The original Gypsy Queens had no cards of gypsies. Other than baseball players, the original Gypsy Queens featured photo cards of boxers and actresses of the 1880s. Topps could have followed suit by including past and present boxers and actresses. It would prove to be more expensive than ridiculous depictions of fake gypsies, but I believe a sub-set of boxers like Mike Tyson and Jack Johnson, or actresses like Natalie Portman and Louise Brooks would be more popular.
Another subset could be custom-made inserts of baseball players using photography techniques of the 1880s. The original Gypsy Queens were actual photographs glued to cardboard. The photographs were second-generation copies of larger ‘cabinet’ photographs, made smaller so they would fit in packs of cigarettes. Topps could have inserted photo cards of current stars created by a photographer skilled in the photography techniques of the 1880s, maybe at the rate of one every two boxes. Again, an expensive expense, but it would surely be a crowd-pleaser inciting demand. Hell, even a card made of chewed bubblegum from Don Zimmer’s jowls would have been better than faux-gypsies.