2003 Playoff Portraits
If you're unfamiliar with this upper-mid-level product from the early '90s, let me assure you that this is the best art set ever produced. This came out in the middle of the Gallery vs Diamond King wars and pretty much blew every other art set out of the water. The card is printed on very thick stock. Each player portrait was created by an actual artist. The front of the card is textured both to look like canvas, but also to mimic individual brush strokes on the painting. I don't know how the hell they did that but it looks and feels fantastic.
I remember this product as being way out of my price range back in the day. Of course I thought a 5 dollar pack was absurd back then, and I just bought four packs of Gyspy Gypped for... well let's just say it's more than that and I am not proud of myself. Donruss/Playoff did provide a product that was worth the money in the long run though. They're even cheaper than Gypsy right now... The relic cards were done high-class, as instead of ruining the artwork with a bunch of holes featuring bits of old rubbish, they incorporated a slide out card with the goods that tucked back into the main card when you were done gawking at your fetish. If you can scrounge up a set it's well worth it.
2002 Diamond Kings
This is one of the best sets that Donruss put out under the Diamond King brand. It had some great artwork that took up a large percentage of the card front. The design is just fancy enough without being a complete distraction. The framed border parallels worked out great. The only drawback is that the Legends cards were slightly shortprinted. Not a problem when you can pick them up cheap nowadays. Mark Turnes painted this portrait of Thurman for Donruss.
2005 Diamond Kings
Over the next couple of years the borders took over, squashing the portrait so there would be some available territory for the relic swatches on the card. It's classy looking sure, but the Diamond Kings logo is about as big as Willie's face here. While the relic cards (that you don't have) look wonderful there's just too much empty real estate down at the bottom. That being said, it's still way nicer than 90% of the crap sets pooped out in 2005. Artist Ron Stark has painted for many, many card sets and is responsible for this portrait of Willie.
2003 Diamond Kings Heritage Collection
Another nice thing about Diamond Kings is that they took the Art Set label seriously. Even the inserts were painted. Or in some cases, black and white versions of the portrait on the base card, but art nonetheless.
2001 Topps Gallery
Topps went all-in on the Art sets with their Gallery brand. While at first it was a set with normal photography with some gimmicky picture frames for the borders, it quickly got higher and higher class until it turned into a full blown painted set.
The Hall of Famer cards were the only ones in the set to get foil stamping. I'm not completely sure if it works or not, but at least it doesn't distract too badly from the artwork.
Hall of Famers and rookies were short printed in the set. For a set collector, that's bad. However, 10 years later the hobby has withered to the point where the remaining customer base is only interested in new MOJO and not old short prints, so you can pick these kinds of things up in a dime box. Terrible for the hobby, but great for me!
Topps put the name of the artist with a bio on the back of each card, something that should be mandatory in all art sets. New York artist Frank Scicchitano got the call to paint this Hall of Fame subset.
2001 Topps Gallery Heritage
This insert set in 2001 Gallery was a forerunner to the Topps Heritage sets. This card combines the excellent 1965 design with a portrait of Vladdy in an Expos uni. Can anyone else not wait for 2014 Topps Heritage?
2005 Topps Gallery
All good things come to an end, and by 2005 Topps had abandoned actual artwork in favor of running photos though a image program to make them look like they had been painted by an impressionist. Not to say that good art can't be done with a computer, but it really does not have the same feel as the one created with paint and brushes. This is still a fine looking set with a simple design and a nice canvas texture to the cards.
2010 Turkey Red
The last pickup is a recent card badly scanned. Artistically, this card is inferior to the rest of the cards on this page, but is does actually work pretty great as a knock off of the original Turkey Red. Ok, so it's actually more of a retro card than an art card. It's still kind of artsy and there's a frame around it, ain't there? Any excuse to post a card of Big Jawn.