By Rich Mueller
Looking to lick a vintage set that includes a roster full of Hall of Famers but doesn’t stick you with a hefty bill? You might consider the 1974 Topps Stamps issue.
Lightly regarded for, well, being stamps, the 240-player set otherwise has everything collectors generally like.
Packaging and Distribution
The ’74 set wasn’t Topps’ first stamp rodeo. They had produced them as inserts in 1962 wax packs and a standalone set in 1969. Distributed in 10-cent wax packs, the 1 x 1 1/2″ stamps were issued on a perforated 12-player sheet folded to fit inside the pack. There were albums issued for each team, but they are very hard to find today.
There were 24 different sheets in a set. Each team was represented by 10 stamps, a very fair representation of the better players on each major league team and a very diplomatic move by Topps.
Some refer to it as a “test issue” and that’s fairly accurate. The 1974 Topps Stamps weren’t available everywhere.
1974 Topps Stamps Design
They are very colorful but with limited space, there wasn’t much Topps could do with the design. Most of the images are head shots. Below the player photo is an oval that contained the player’s name, team and his position. The different colors of the ovals along with the color photos create a very sharp look. The backs are blank.
Production woes hampered the project. The perforations are often misaligned, sometimes encroaching on the photo and the edges were sometimes cropped poorly.
The albums offer player photos and information inside and a collection of facsimile player autographs on the back. If you were a youngster in ’74, they provided a fun little project that didn’t take up much space in your room.
Here’s where collectors get their money’s worth. The 1974 Topps Stamps set is loaded with stars. Of the 240 players in the set, 32 are now in the Hall of Fame. Hank Aaron? Check. Nolan Ryan? Check. Johnny Bench? Check. It’s a long list. Even Dave Winfield and Dave Parker, whose rookie cards are in the ’74 card set, each have a “rookie stamp.”
The list of notable big leaguers who aren’t in the set isn’t a long one. There’s no Mike Schmidt, but to be fair, the Phils’ third baseman was still a very young player whose career had yet to blossom. Steve Garvey is a curious omission.
Interestingly, the set lists some players with the teams they had joined in the off-season but not others. Willie McCovey, traded by the Giants to the Padres on Oct. 25, 1973, is shown with his new team (albeit with a horribly airbrushed cap as in the Topps card set. As reader Eric Loy pointed out, it also has the Reggie Smith updated to show his joining the Cardinals on Oct. 26, 1973, but Jerry Reuss is still listed as an Astro despite the fact he’d been traded to the Pirates on Oct. 31.
“Given that the Reuss deal was reflected in an airbrush in the regular (card) set, this suggests that the stamps were made before the cards were,” he told us.
Collectors can choose to chase the ’74 Stamps in a couple of different ways. Uncut sheets of 12 are harder to find than individual stamps because most youngsters tore them apart as they were intended but they make for a nicer display. Complete sets on full sheets can usually be found for $100-$150; often less.
Individual stamps are usually sold inexpensively by single or lot. Graded single stamps can sell for strong prices to collectors piecing together player collections or complete sets in slabs.
You can see 1974 Topps Stamps for sale and auction on eBay by clicking here.
By Rich Mueller
It was still the only game in town but the 1978 Topps Baseball set brought a few changes with it when it arrived in retail outlets and by case to the few serious dealers spread across North America. Prices for a standard wax pack had increased from 15 to 20 cents from 1977 but there were now 14 cards per pack instead of 10. Good thing, too, because the set size had ballooned from 660 cards to 726. It was the largest set Topps had produced since 1972 when it was still distributing cards in series spread out across the calendar year. Topps increased the size of the photo on the front of the card and put the team name in a cursive style with the players’ positions in a baseball design.
Printing and Prices
The design was simple but as was often the case until much later in the next decade, centering and other printing issues often reared their ugly heads. Today, star cards with notoriously tough centering, attain a premium price in mint condition. A PSA 9 1978 Topps Nolan Ryan sold for $575 in August. A George Brett in the same grade—a little easier to find—often brings $150-175 when listed. A PSA 10 Mike Schmidt sold not long ago for $449.
Even ‘common’ players bring star quality money from those seeking cards for their registered sets. A PSA 10 Mickey Rivers sold for $1,650 this summer. A Jackson Todd in PSA 9 brought $171, while cards of Dave Parker, Wilbur Howard and the Astros team sold for $100-125 each in the same grade.
1978 Topps Double Prints
Collectors also noticed one thing immediately upon opening a quantity of packs or a vending box: some cards were much easier to find than the rest. A four-year era of double prints had arrived. There were 66 in all, which meant a lot of duplicates for dealers sorting stacks of cards to make into sets. Not all were commons. Pete Rose and Tony Perez of the Reds showed up twice on the 132-card sheets. So did Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry of the red-hot Steinbrenner Yankees. A rookie card featuring a kid named Jack Morris. It’s one reason why both can still be found today for under $5 in near mint condition.
If you’re looking for the year when baseball cards started to become known as something more than just a kids’ thing, 1978 wouldn’t be a bad starting point. It seemed sports card shows began increasing in number and size, the concept of a ‘National’ sports collectors convention really began to gain momentum and the increasing prices sought—and paid—for old cards were starting to make news.
Major League Baseball had expanded in 1977, with the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays added to the American League and while neither added much to the star power of the 1978 Topps set, there was plenty of that elsewhere. Topps began the set with Record Breaker cards that featured players who had achieved milestones in ’77 like Lou Brock, Rose, Nolan Ryan, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson and Reggie Jackson. There were regular issue cards of Ryan, Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew and several other Hall of Famers.
1978 Topps Rookie Card Crop
Packed in red wax packs, rack packs, cellos and vending, the 1978 Topps set has held up well thanks largely to a remarkable rookie class. Eddie Murray’s first card is here and he has it all to himself. The Detroit Tigers’ 1984 World Series championship team was born in the set with Morris, Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker all appearing in the Rookie Prospects subset that shows four players per card.
As seasoned vintage card collectors know, Trammell shares his card with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, then a Brewers’ prospect. It would be valuable by itself, but the card is plagued with a printing issue that left a smudge of blank ink across the front. Cards without the smudge—or just a slight touch—sell for a premium. A PSA 9 Molitor/Trammell card sells for $375-$475.
The rookie class helps push submissions to grading companies much higher than cards from the preceding year. For example, there have been 122,791 1978 Topps Baseball cards encapsulated by PSA as of October 2014 compared to 72,696 from 1977.
Complete 1978 Topps Baseball sets sell for $200-275 in near mint-mint condition depending on the quality of the rookie and star cards. Prices for even slightly lesser grade key rookies can bring the full set well below that range.
You can see what’s currently available on eBay here.
By Anson Whaley / SCD
From 1977-1980, one of the world’s most popular fast food chains produced sets of baseball cards. Distributed on a regional basis and produced by the Topps Company, they were similar to the mainstream cards that came with bubble gum during those years. However, there were some pose variations and, of course, different numbering on the 1970s Burger King sets.
We’ve got a four-part series covering each of those 1970s Burger King baseball card sets. Part I covered the 1977 Yankees set and in Part II today, we’ll study the 1978 Burger King follow-up issue.
1978 Burger King Baseball Card Overview
In 1977, Burger King broke into the baseball card market for the first time, issuing a set of New York Yankees cards limited to the market in that state. The release must have been a popular one since it not only prompted the fast food chain to continue the experiment in 1978, but expand it.
One of the new markets for the 1978 Topps Burger King team sets was Detroit, which was added after the company released a set of four 8″ x 10″ photographs of Tigers players at retail locations in 1977. That had to be another successful venture as the restaurant chain opted to return there with a full set of cards.
In addition to the Tri-State area, which again received a set of Yankee cards, the restaurant also went south, adding the Dallas/Fort Worth market (Texas Rangers) as well as Houston (Astros) to create a total of four different sets for 1978.
Cellophane-wrapped packs of three cards plus a checklist were again the mode of distribution at the restaurants. As noted on the checklist card for each set, children 14 and under received an unopened pack with the purchase of a sandwich. Each set contained 23 cards as Burger King avoided any late releases, such as the famed Lou Piniella SP card that hit the streets after production began in 1977.
As was the case with the 1977 cards, the 1978 Burger King issue doesn’t vary much from the regular Topps cards. The cards utilized the same design and size (2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″) as the standard Topps release. The Burger King logo again only appears on the checklist card and the main difference between the two issues remained the card numbers on the backs.
New York Yankees Set
Fresh off of their 1977 World Series championship, the Yankees were again back on the radar of Burger King and received a set distributed in the New York market. Cards were mostly identical to the 1978 regular Topps cards with the only pose variations for Goose Gossage, Rawly Eastwick, and Jim Spencer. Eastwick and Spencer were on different teams in the standard Topps releases and while Gossage’s 1978 Topps card depicts him as a member of the Yankees, his Burger King card features a close-up of him rather than the action shot in Topps’ main issue. Reggie Jackson and Thurman Munson lead the way as the key cards in the Yankees’ set.
Houston Astros Set
Easily the least desirable of the four 1978 Burger King sets in terms of star power, there’s little to get excited about when it comes to the Astros team set if you prefer allure of big names. Still, two interesting player variations have drawn the interest of some collectors. Dave Bergman, featured on a Rookie Outfielders card with three other players, gets his own card here. In addition, Jesus Alou has his only Topps card in the Burger King release as he was not included in the standard set. Outside of those variances, Joe Niekro and J.R. Richard are perhaps the two biggest names here.
Texas Rangers Set
The Texas Rangers also received a set in ’78. Here, several players had different cards from the regular Topps set including Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins. In addition, Jon Matlack, Reggie Cleveland, Bump Wills, John Lowenstein, and Bobby Thompson also had variations and different poses. Jenkins’ variation is a nice touch as it presents collectors with a rarer card of a star player. His Rangers card is a replacement of his Red Sox issue in the standard Topps release and the cases were similar for Matlack, Cleveland, and Lowenstein, whose regular Topps cards showed them with other teams. Like Alou, Thompson was included here but not in Topps’ main set. Wills’ major difference is the removal of his All-Star Rookie Cup logo on the front – similar to what happened in the 1977 set with Willie Randolph, whose Burger King card was printed without that icon as well.
Detroit Tigers Set
(Trammell elected to the Baseball Hall Of Fame 2017)
If you’re a rookie card collector, you’ll likely be intrigued by the Tigers release. Detroit’s set is the only one that features a major rookie card and they have three of them. The middle infield combo of Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker, as well as pitcher Jack Morris, were all featured as rookie cards in the 1978 set with other players. However, the Burger King set includes individual cards of each one without the extra players. While some collectors may not deem these to be ‘true’ rookie cards since this was not a mainstream release distributed across the country, they are highly desirable since they are from the same year and brand as their first major league cards.
Player variations here from the regular Topps issue include Jack Billingham, Jim Slaton, and Steve Dillard, as well as the three prominent rookies.
As with the 1977 sets, these four releases are pretty affordable. You can usually pick up the Yankees, Astros, and Rangers sets anywhere from $10 – $20. The rookie-heavy Tigers set sells for more, often in the $20 – $40 range. Individually, most of the star cards (i.e. Jackson, Jenkins, Munson) are usually under $10 while the Trammell and Whitaker first-year cards are more in the $10 – $20 area.
Unopened packs can be found relatively easy as well and won’t cost you much – generally around $1 – $3 unless a star player is showing or it’s a Detroit Tigers pack (both instances will run a bit more).