Banjo All Stars trading cards from Bluegrass Trading Co.

Anyone who collected trading cards as a youngster can recall the thrill and anticipation each time you got a new pack of cards. Quickly tearing open the wrapper, you would check through the cards to see who you got. If you were really into it, there was the fun of trying to trade your duplicate cards with friends for an especially cherished player, or a new card you hadn’t seen. Since they fit in a shirt pocket, you could carry arounds cards for trading wherever you went.

While the tradition started with baseball cards, it has grown to encompass all the major international sports, and even pop music artists. I remember buying Beatles trading cards in the early ’60s, a trend that continues to this day.

The very earliest baseball cards featured a likeness drawn in pencil on one side, with personal stats and interesting facts on the back. New cards are produced every year, though now printed with full color photos and often 3D images.

Colyn Brown in Friendsville, TN is betting that banjo players would enjoy doing the same thing, without regard to age. He has launched a new company, Bluegrass Trading Co, to produce Banjo All Stars trading cards for top five stringers of today, as well as historically important players who have gone on. With an eye towards an adult market, each card will feature an original artist’s representation of the picker in question, with biographical information on the back.

This is a passion project for Colyn, who is a successful web developer and graphic designer, who is also learning to play the banjo. He tells us that the inspiration just landed in his mind one day.

“Last May the idea just popped into my brain after getting to know some banjo players online. I was getting exposed to so many great players, and it occurred to me that you could learn about new pickers with trading cards.

So I posted in the Banjo Players United Facebook Group, and asked if they had seen anything like this before. They told me that cartoonist R. Crumb had done a few drawings like that for some historical old time banjo guys, but nothing since.”

The idea of banjo trading cards stayed with him, but he wanted to make sure that they would be something people would want to hold on to. And with an already busy schedule, Colyn wasn’t sure he would have the time to do all the artwork and design himself.

But he said the project was in his blood.

“My dad is a banjo player and my mom is an artist, and I’m a graphic artist myself. I put the idea on the back burner for a while, unsure if I could pull it off. Then a friend of mine posted some portraits from an artist in Ireland, Georgina Flood, and I thought, hey… these would work. I wanted something different and really unique, so I reached out to her. She started right away on an Earl Scruggs portrait.

At first I thought she might do all the portraits, then I realized that I should get other artists involved.”

Brown now has six different artists, each with their own distinct style, creating portraits for the cards.

“I didn’t actually start on these until last September, and initially figured I’d do 24. I’m doing this in my spare time, with my own money, but as we went on, I kept thinking well I need to add this guy, and that guy.”

The first batch of Banjo All Stars trading cards will be ready to ship in April. The count is now up to 40 players, and they will be sold in packs of eight cards. Like baseball cards, you won’t know who is in the pack until you open it up. Each pack will feature seven common cards, plus one commemorative card, special foil accented cards for deceased members of the banjo community.

Colyn tells us that he will also be offering full-sized framed prints of the original artwork, and 5×7 large format cards for wall hanging. Several of the pickers featured on the cards are considering having them for sale at their shows – where you can get them autographed. The cards will also have a QR code on the back, which when scanned will take you to a bio page on the Bluegrass Trading Co web site, with more detailed biographical information and links to their music.

Pre-orders are being accepted now online for the first run of banjo cards in April at a special pre-release price of $13.99 per pack. Final pricing for when they are in production hasn’t been firmly established. This initial pricing will be good on orders placed through February.

Brown says that he definitely caught the banjo bug from his dad, Ken Brown, who was a prominent banjo picker in Philadelphia when Colyn was young. Ken won the Philadelphia Folk Festival banjo contest in 1965 when he was 20 years old, judged by Bill Keith. The next year he was first runner up at Union Grove, which a teenaged Butch Robins won in ’67.

If these prove to be a hit, Bluegrass Trading Co would like to create cards for fiddlers, guitarists, mandolin players, and the like. Before long they could be several hundred different cards on offer.

Current plans are to present the original art work to each of the players once the design work is completed, but Colyn wants to see them all together in one place first.

“When all the paintings are done, I would love to do a show with them all. So I’m looking for a place to do it.”

What a marvelous idea! Hats off to Colyn Brown, not only for the inspiration, but for following though to create Banjo All Stars trading cards for us to share.

See all the details on the Bluegrass Trading Co web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.