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E.B. Johnson
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Jan 30, 2018
In 1970s Sports Collectibles
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. Player Selection 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. Prices 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.
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E.B. Johnson
Welcome
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Jan 30, 2018
In 1970s Sports Collectibles
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. Landmarks 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.
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E.B. Johnson
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Jan 30, 2018
In 1970s Sports Collectibles
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. Design 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. Value 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).
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E.B. Johnson
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Jan 30, 2018
In 1970s Sports Collectibles
By Anson Whaley / SCD Let’s face it – some of the later 1970s Topps baseball card sets aren’t credited for being all that popular from an aesthetics point of view. However, if you’re a 1970s and early 1980s collector and looking for a little bit of a twist, the 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980 Topps Burger King baseball card sets might fit the bill. What are they? In a nutshell, they are baseball cards from those years that were produced by Topps but distributed at retail Burger King locations in select markets. We’ll provide a closer look at these oddities over four separate features and today, we’ll digest the 1977 Burger King Yankees release. 1977 Topps Burger King Yankees Set Overview Founded in 1953, Burger King broke into the baseball card market for the first time 24 years later in 1977. While the popular fast food chain had offered up other promotional items in the past, that year marked the first when the company tried its hand at baseball cards. While Burger King also distributed some 8″ x 10″ photos of Detroit Tigers players in the Detroit market in 1977, the company’s cards that year were limited to New York Yankees players and only issued for restaurants in New York locations. A total of 22 (then 23 … we’ll get to that in a minute) players were featured with an additional checklist card.  Topps created and printed the cards for the restaurant. Cellophane-wrapped three-card packs of three 1977 Burger King Yankees cards plus a checklist were distributed at BK stores and according to the Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards, approximately 170,000 cards of each player were produced. Design Mirrored Topps If you only glanced at some of the 1977 Burger King cards, you might not know the difference between them and the standard issue 1977 Topps cards. In many instances, Topps used the same images as those in their regular set. The fronts and backs had the same design and were the same 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″ standard size as the main issue. No marking is included to indicate that the cards are a part of a special set designed for Burger King as only the checklist card includes a Burger King logo. The primary distinguishable difference between the standard Topps cards and the Burger King issue is that the card numbers on the backs are different. Player Variations Many of the 1977 Burger King Yankees featured the same image from their regular Topps counterparts and the only differences in some instances are that the images have been slightly cropped. However, several 1977 Topps Burger King cards were variations from the regular Topps editions. The most popular, perhaps, is that of Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Jackson’s standard Topps card pictured him in an airbrushed Yankees uniform as he hadn’t signed with that team until late 1976 and they apparently didn’t have an updated image of him available before production. The Burger King issue corrects that, featuring Jackson in a much more appealing picture with his new team uniform with a bat. Another card with a key difference? Willie Randolph’s regular Topps card includes the All-Star Rookie Cup logo, noting his inclusion on that honorary team, while his Burger King issue does not. Jackson and Randolph were two of several players that had modified cards. Others with different poses included Thurman Munson, Don Gullett, Mike Torrez, Bucky Dent, Graig Nettles, Jim Wynn, and Paul Blair – several of whom had come from new teams. No. 23 No, we’re not talking about a special insert card of Michael Jordan. No. 23 refers to a specially-released 23rd card in the 1977 Topps Burger King set featuring Lou Piniella. Not the biggest name in the set, Piniella is certainly the most interesting subject. Despite a solid 1976 season where he was a key member of the team, batting .281 while appearing in 100 games, the outfielder/designated hitter and future big league manager didn’t make the cut initially. However, with speculation that someone higher up in the organization wanted him to be included, phone calls were placed and Piniella eventually got a card, being added to the set later in the promotion. As a result, not as many Piniella cards were available, thus making his a short print and a desirable find. Whatever the reason for his lack of inclusion, Burger King made sure to not make the mistake again. The company created two more sets of Yankees cards in 1978 and 1979 and Sweet Lou appears in both. Value of 1977 Burger King Yankees Despite being an older food release from nearly 40 years ago, the 1977 Topps Burger King cards are very affordable, although high-grade examples can surprise you. As you would expect, the short-printed Piniella as well as the Jackson variation are the key cards in the release. Both are relatively easy to find and their cards can be purchased for under $10 from time to time with a little patience. A third key card, the Munson, generally goes for under $15. Unopened packs from 1977 are still around but not the easiest to find and certainly are the scarcest of all of the Burger King issues. Why? Likely for two reasons. First, the cards were only released in a single market making their mass availability much more scarce. In addition, you can bet that many collectors opened them in search of the missing Piniella card, which was tougher to find. Unlike other Burger King sets where you can occasionally find even full boxes, unopened packs from the 1977 set are much more difficult to find. Sets, on the other hand, are easy to secure and those with the Piniella card are often found in the $15 – $30 range.
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E.B. Johnson
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Jan 30, 2018
In 1970s Sports Collectibles
By Anson Whaley In 1972, Kellogg’s produced its third consecutive set of 3D baseball cards. But unlike past years, the manufacturer pleased both young and old fans with the creation of two sets. The first was a standard 1972 Kellogg’s issue featuring current players while the second was a smaller set of all-time greats. 1972 Kellogg’s Basics Kellogg’s primary set in 1972 was a bit different from the company’s past releases. Not only were there fewer cards included, but the actual size was smaller. The set was shrunk dramatically from 75 cards in the 1971 issue to only 54. Further, the size of the card in 1972 was 2 1/8″ x 3 1/4″ – a tad smaller than the 2 1/4″ x 3 1/2″ cards produced the year before. Player names and positions adorned the card on the fronts along with an image and replica signature. The backs included a small headshot, team and Major League Baseball logos, and biographical and statistical information. Also differing from the year before was the mode of distribution. In 1971, collectors were forced to complete sets by buying Kellogg’s product as cards were packaged inside boxes of cereal. The 1972 Kellogg’s set was a little easier on fans as they obtained complete sets via a mail-in promotion. Digging Deeper Into The 1972 Kellogg’s Set One thing that didn’t change from past years was the presence of numerous errors and variations. Quality control clearly wasn’t a strong suit in the production of this issue. In all, no fewer than 20 errors/variations of mostly statistical inaccuracies and subsequent corrections exist. Those with stat differences include Tom Seaver, Willie Davis, Willie McCovey, Vida Blue, Jim Palmer, Dave Roberts, Joe Coleman, Bob Gibson, Mike Cuellar, Dave McNally, Bill Freehan, Bud Harrelson, Sam McDowell, Claude Osteen, Cookie Rojas, Dave Johnson, Billy Williams, Sal Bando, Willie Stargell, and Willie Mays. That more than 1/3 of the set contains errors is nothing short of mind-boggling. Speaking of players, there was an abundance of stars included. In addition to many of the names above, the set also included players such as Pete Rose, Fergie Jenkins, Reggie Jackson, Catfish Hunter, Juan Marichal, Lou Brock, and Roberto Clemente, among others. Also noteworthy is that Clemente’s card would be his final appearance in the Kellogg’s sets after his tragic death in a plane crash on New Year’s Eve 1972. 1972 Kellogg’s All-Time Greats While the first issue featured current players, Kellogg’s second set in 1972 provided a glimpse back into the past. The All-Time Greats issue was a 15-card set that included some of the game’s biggest legends. 📷Image courtesy: http://runforekelloggsbaseballcards.blogspot.com/. The set was a massive collection of talent with subjects including Babe Ruth, Walter Johnson, Rogers Hornsby, John McGraw, Mickey Cochrane, George Sisler, Lefty Grove, Pie Traynor, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, Cy Young, Lou Gehrig, and Ty Cobb. Ruth was the lone player that was duplicated as he appeared on two cards. There were also many other differences aside from the players included. For starters, these cards were a bit larger than the 1972 set and the same size as the company’s 1971 release – 2 1/4″ wide x 3 1/2″ tall. They also featured a 3D look and included the player’s name, image, and replica signature on the front. However, the distribution on these was also different as the All-Time Greats cards were included in breakfast roll products. 1972 Kellogg’s Prices Both sets remain extremely affordable despite being nearly 45 years old. As with Kellogg’s other vintage 3D issues, these cards are susceptible to cracking on the fronts. Collectors seeking them in mid- or high-grade condition can become frustrated easily. However, even in excellent condition without that common flaw, prices on both sets are relatively low with many cards being available for under $5. Ungraded examples of bigger names can range up to $20 or more. However, for the most part, these are sets that can be pieced together inexpensively. High grade examples are a bit different since they can draw a premium because of the large number of cards suffering from cracking. If raw cards are acceptable, though, collectors will find these very affordable. Complete 1972 Kellogg’s sets (minus all of the variations) generally sell in the $150 – $200 range and are usually available online. The All-Time Greats set can be had for about $50 – $75.
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E.B. Johnson
Welcome
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Jan 30, 2018
In 1970s Sports Collectibles
By Adam Hughes Spring training in 1971 washed over baseball fans with a wave of relief, assuring them that the strange dream world they had endured for nearly a year was finally over. The mighty Baltimore Orioles reported to their Miami base that February flashing the confident smiles of World Series champions, intent on helping the game recover from the shock of the Amazin’ Mets’ run to a title in 1969. The baseball world was beginning to right itself after nearly flopping over on its axis, and the future looked, well, staid. Imagine the horror, then, when collectors ripped open their first packs of 1971 Topps baseball cards to find their vernal anchor had been snipped free by the confectioner’s cardboard chain cutters. While President Richard Nixon was thawing relations with China even as the Vietnam conflict raged on, and while Charles Manson and his “family” were finally convicted for crimes committed during the Mets’ run two years before, it was the baseball card hobby itself that spun into a helter-skelter spiral. Stodgy, dependable old Topps had ripped up its 20-year-old blueprint and decided to try something new. That 1971 Topps set is a polarizing issue that can be evoked in the minds of collectors everywhere with one simple phrase. The Chipped Black Elephant in the Room “Black borders.” From the moment that the first youngster pulled a two-batted Del Unser card from a wax pack on his way home from the diamond, the 1971 set has been ridiculed, reviled, celebrated, and exalted for the thick black border that dominates every single card in the set. As any good collector knows by now, black borders show every little bit of wear, and they cast a somber pall when laid out on a bedroom floor or arranged neatly in a three-ring binder. Although the borders monopolize collectors’ thoughts, each design element of the 1971 Topps builds on the last to make the set an anachronism that could belong to an earlier period or to a later, but certainly not to the early 1970s. Laid over the black rectangle of the top border on each card are capital block letters announcing the team nickname, though not necessarily featuring a team color — yellow “Tigers,” for example. Beneath the team designation, the player’s name appears in all lower case letters, followed by a colored dot, and then his position. The player photo is surrounded by a thin white border with rounded corners, and a facsimile autograph adds a finishing flare to an otherwise geometrical card front. At first glance, the 1971 cards look very old, or maybe like something produced in a high school print shop. There are no team logos, no mention of Topps, and no trademark symbols. Other than the black borders, the design imparts a very generic feel to each card. If you take a step back and look at the cards through the lens of the 2010s, though, you find elements that would feel right at home on the most elegant of modern websites. Simple is better when it comes to web design, and some of the biggest names in technology employ the all-small tactic that Topps embraced in 1971. Whether the set transports you to 1920 or 2020, there is no doubt that it’s a departure from normal Topps fare. For shell-shocked collectors rifling through the cards for the first time in 1971, flipping them over did not ease the trauma, either For the first time ever, Topps included player photos on card backs, dedicating nearly a third of the real estate to a square(ish) black-and-white head shot tilted into the left-hand side of the green canvas. Next to the grainy image is a curved-cornered box that contains the player name, vital stats, a biographical note, and a listing of his first year in “pro ball” and his first year in the majors. If the disembodied head staring at them didn’t make boys think they were looking at anything but a Topps baseball card, then the stats bar at the bottom surely convinced them of it. Breaking with their tradition of including ALL of a player’s stats, Topps had room to display only 1970 and lifetime numbers thanks to the card-back photo. Issued in the same year that the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) was founded, cheaping out on stat lines was nothing short of blasphemy! You Want MORE Black? If collectors were reluctant to embrace the oddball black-bordered 1971s, Topps seemed determined to give them plenty of chances to warm up to the idea. Issued over seven series, the 1971 set checked in with a mammoth 752-card count that broke all previous records and would stand as the largest set ever for … a whole year. As would be expected, the final series was produced in lower quantities than the six that proceeded it, and those cards are 📷tougher to find today. Topps also double printed 44 of those seventh-series pasteboards and short printed the other 66, making them really tough to find in nice condition. Among the bigger names on the short-print list are Sparky Anderson, Boog Powell, and the combo rookie card of Dusty Bake📷r and Don Baylor. The Baylor/Baker issue is popular with collectors and high grade examples can be expensive. One of the toughest issues in the set is card #733 of Lee Maye, not to be confused with card #40 of Lee May. The Maye issue is not only a short print in the seventh series, but nearly always suffers from terrible centering, kind of like Bill Lee (#58), only in a different sort of way. Other condition-tough cards, even by 1971 standards, are the Thurman Munson (#5), Pete Rose (#100), and Claude Raymond (#536) issues. Bert, Be Home … Even if you’re not a fan of black borders, ghost heads, and misaligned card-cutting scissors, it’s hard to fault Topps’ player selection in their 1971 set. With so many cards issued, it would have been difficult for the gum maker to completely whiff on their lineup choices, but they did significantly better than just not striking out. Aside from the Baylor/Baker first-year issue, notable rookie cards include Dave Concepcion (#14), Bert Blyleven (#26), and Steve Garvey (#341). The Garvey card can be found for $100-200 in graded NM/MT form but much cheaper at the lower levels while the Blyleven rookie is quite a bit harder to find with good centering and near perfect corners. Meanwhile, the 1971 set is absolutely loaded with non-rookie cards of Hall of Famers, including Willie Mays, Willie Stargell, Hank Aaron, Bob Gibson, and Ernie Banks, among many others. One of the most popular veterans in the set, as is the case with just about all issues of similar vintage, is Nolan Ryan on card #513. Though you can pick up a decent ungraded Ryan for less than $50, expect to pay more than $400 for a slabbed NM-MT copy. Which One Was Ryan’s Card Again? While Ryan wasn’t quite the draw (drawl?) in 1971 that he would turn out to be more than 20 years later, sharp-eyed collectors might have caught a glimpse of the flame-thrower on card #355 of teammate Bud Harrelson. Ryan is standing near the bottom of the frame with his back to the camera, apparently watching the end of a stolen base attempt. In the background are two Mets players — presumably Harrleson is the shortstop — an ump, and the opposing runner. Although the image is harried and confusing, it’s a prime illustration of an innovation that Topps introduced in their 1971 set: in-game, regular-season action shots.  For years, collectors had been “treated” to only posed photos or lifeless head shots, with any action photos relegated to post-season tribute cards. By bringing the plays to their cards, Topps began to add some verve to their photography, a trend that would continue in the coming years. That’s Special and Different That’s not to say that Topps abandoned their action-packed tribute to the World Series. In fact, the World Series subset (#327-332) produced one of the more recognizable cards in the set, as #331 shows Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson crawling through the Sahara looking for a sip of water while his teammates were busy taking care of the Cincinnati Reds. Other subsets from the 1971 issue includes playoff highlights (#195-202) and league leaders (#61-71). The ’71 set also features a handful of variations that true master-set collectors would need to consider when building a set. Among those are Jim Northrup (#265) and Jim Nash (#306), issued both with and without a black blob in the background of their photos. No word on how Jim Nelson (#298) escaped the same fate. Checklists for Series 2, 3, and 4 can be found with either red or orange hats, and the Series 2 checklist exists with a couple of variations in placement of the card number. None of these variations add much in the way of a price premium, but they do impart a bit of flavor and a few more cards to an otherwise scrawny (!) set. Build or Buy … or Just Dabble? Building a 1971 Topps set is not terribly difficult as long as you’re willing to accept a constellation of white-chip stars sprinkled among your night-sky borders, but targeting higher grades means you’ll need to have your budget in order. Graded singles from the set in NM-MT condition are regularly available on eBay, with prices ranging from around $10 each for commons to $40 or so for high-number, short-print commons to $5000 or more for popular players like Munson. Complete sets sell over a wide range of price points, from well under $500 for low to mid-grade versions with lots of white showing to more than $5000 for sets with a large portion of cards graded and/or in NM or better condition. You can also find a decent array of partial lots to help kick-start your 1971 set-building efforts and you can see which cards are popular by checking out the current ‘most watched 1971 Topps’ feed below. Extra Special As if more than 750 cards of black-border madness weren’t enough to satisfy collectors, Topps further emphasized its hobby monopoly by issuing three specialty sets in 1971. Just as they had in 1964, the gum giant inserted a series of 153 metal “coins” in 1971 wax packs, giving consumers a little extra jingle for their money. Coins feature a head shot of the player surrounded by a color band showing his name, position, and team.  The coins range in price from about a buck for ungraded commons to several hundred dollars for high-grade specimens. For something a bit more obscure, you can turn your attention to the Greatest Moments set, generally thought to have been a test issue available in the Brooklyn area, there in the shadow of Topps headquarters. It’s a 55-card set of long, horizontal cards featuring a color head shot alongside a black-and-white action photo. Though not all that common, some Greatest Moment cards are usually available on eBay, with the most expensive graded stars trading for several hundred dollars each. Feeling really super about their efforts on the year, Topps also issued a 63-card set of, ahem, Super cards. The Supers showcased mainly superstars and featured thick, layered stock and an oversize design with rounded corners and full-bleed photos. No black borders, but at least the backs DID maintain a nearly identical look to the base set. Today, 1971 Topps Super cards are widely available on eBay, and you can pick up a complete set for around $300. An Uneasy Calm By the fall of 1971, collectors were putting aside their black-bordered baseball cards and returning to school for another year of drudgery. On the field, the Pirates and Orioles maintained the order of the MLB establishment, with the Bucs able to take two steps forward from the year before and pick up a World Series trophy for the aging Roberto Clemente. With 1971 Topps collections slid safely under their beds, Little Leaguers could sleep soundly, secure that their game and hobby were starting to settle down. The football card collectors among them may have tried to raise an alert when Topps’ gridiron cards debuted with RED borders, but the diamond-only crowd likely ignored those prophecies of lunacy on the horizon. Perhaps a closer examination of the 1971 standings and post-season series would have convinced them that more changes were in the offing. Although the Oakland A’s whimpered to a 3-0 series loss to the Orioles in the ALCS, Charlie Finley’s wild gang was just getting warmed up. As 18-year-olds headed to the polls for the first time in November of 1972, courtesy of the 26th Amendment enacted around the All-Star break in 1971, the A’s had just won the first of three straight World Series championships. Meanwhile, collectors sat in sensory overload trying to comprehend the explosion of stars and psychedelic colors emanating from their 1972 cards. It just may have been at that moment, in the glow of Reggie and Catfish and the glaze from 3-D team names that we began to romanticize the 1971 Topps baseball set. Maybe those black borders weren’t so bad after all.
1971 Topps Baseball Was a Dark Ride for Collectors content media
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