Sunday, December 20, 2020

My Topps Baseball Card Set Collecting Journey

1956 Topps #220
1975 Topps #242
1981 Topps #540
1974 Topps #255
1976 Topps #455

I'm primarily a collector of Phillies baseball cards, but the team's disappointing play in the abbreviated 2020 season led me to turn my attention back to my first collecting priority - complete sets.  It's always been in my nature to take notes and keep records of major baseball card purchases and I've tried to keep those notes together with my baseball card sets in their binders.  My memories about when and where my Dad and I started or finished complete Topps sets is getting a little hazy so I decided to document here my personal set collecting journey.

I'm going to focus solely on Topps flagship sets with this post.  There are other sets I've enjoyed collecting (1982 Donruss, 1985 Fleer, 1988 Score and various Topps Heritage sets) but my primary focus has always been on the annual Topps flagship set release.  The chart below shows each Topps flagship set for 1956, 1965, and 1970 through 2020 and how it entered my collection, either through hand-collation (blue) or purchasing the set all at once (green).

The 1980s
Sets started:  1956, 1970, 1973-1976, 1981-1989
Sets completed:  1974-1976, 1981-1989
Sets purchased:  1977-1980

This is where it all began.  I first started gathering baseball cards in the late 1970s after reveling in the glory of my cousin Cindy's small collection of cards and when a big Friday night out to Burger King meant adding a few cellophane-wrapped Phillies cards.  I wasn't all about baseball cards at this point, and I still have stacks of Star Wars, Superman and E.T. cards squirreled away in a large box.

The first Topps set my Dad and I decided to collect together was the wonderfully colorful 1975 set, and I remember thinking he had lost his mind when he paid close to $20 for the George Brett rookie card at a baseball card show at some point in either 1984 or 1985.  This was at the height of the rookie card craze in the hobby.  As we came closer to completing the 1975 set, we ambitiously started collecting both the 1974 and 1976 sets at the same time.  While chasing both those sets, we also began a 20-year journey of collecting the wonderful 1956 set - a journey I'm currently documenting here at my 1956 Topps blog.

While all of this was going on, complete sets from between 1977 and 1980 were added as birthday or Christmas presents.  I'm guessing my Dad had figured out it was easier (and cheaper) to buy complete sets from those years rather than collect each card one at a time.  I was also building each year's Topps flagship set released between 1981 and 1989 with packs purchased frequently from Wawa by either my Dad or my Pop-Pop.

Christmas 1988 marked an important milestone as we finished up both the 1974 and 1976 sets with Santa bringing a 1973 starter set.  As we neared completion of the 1973 set, I chose 1970 as our next mission, daunted by the challenge and high prices of the 1971 and 1972 Topps cards.

1970 Topps #324
1973 Topps #300
1990 Topps #469
1999 Topps #159
1972 Topps #112

The 1990s
Sets started:  1971-1972, 1990-1994, 1997, 1999
Sets completed:  1970, 1973, 1990-1994, 1997, 1999
Sets purchased:  1995-1996, 1998

We slowed down quite a bit in the '90s as there were college bills to pay and other life events got in the way of collecting complete baseball card sets.  We bookended the decade by completing the 1973 set in 1990 and the 1970 set in 1999.  We were also adding cards every year to our growing 1956 set.

1995 saw the end to my long-run of hand-collating the current year's flagship set as I broke down and purchased a Topps factory set for the first time.

The 2000s
Sets started:  2000-2001
Sets completed:  1956, 1972, 2000-2001
Sets purchased:  2002-2009

This decade saw almost a complete stop to our set building, save for the 1956 set which was completed after a 20-year odyssey a few days after Christmas in 2007.  The 1972 set, started way back in 1992, was somewhat unceremoniously and finally completed at an October 2007 baseball card show held in Reading, PA.  My first son was born in 2006, with a second son on the way in early 2010, and my Dad's health was starting to fail.  As I turned my collecting attention towards Phillies cards, and with less of a budget to spend on opening packs, factory sets were purchased every year between 2002 and 2009 and I've not hand-collated the current year's Topps flagship set since.

2000 Topps #166
2008 Topps #460
2010 Topps #23
1971 Topps #49
1965 Topps #296

The 2010s
Sets started:  1965
Sets completed:  1971
Sets purchased:  2010-2019

Which brings us pretty much up to today.  I started my 1956 Topps blog in 2015 and after sputtering out a little a few years later, I've since enjoyed the weekly exercise of writing about the cards in that set and how each of them came into our collection.  In 2019, with the long-awaited completion of the 1971 set, I took stock of where my Topps flagship set collection stood, having completed every set dating back to 1970, with the 1956 set thrown in for good measure.  I decided to start going backwards.

The 1965 set is my favorite from the decade before I was born, so I decided to start there.  Originally, I envisioned collecting the 1965 set with my oldest son Doug the same way my Dad and I had collected sets in the 1980s but admittedly it's turned more into an exercise of me adding cards and showing him what we've added.  He knows it's "his" set one way or the other, and the occasional eBay hunt during a pandemic-stricken year has made me happy and provided a welcome distraction.  I'm writing about "our" quest for the complete 1965 set on my spin-off blog here.

The 2020s
Sets started:  Most likely 1959, 1966, 1969
Sets completed:  Hopefully 1965 and one of two of the others listed above
Sets purchased:  Most likely 2020-2029

What's next?  The 1965 set will keep me busy for a while, but I'm always looking towards the future . . . or back in time as the case here may be.  In terms of Topps flagship sets from yesteryear, the three sets I could see myself collecting next are from 1959, 1966 and 1969.  1959 because it's an awesome set and I've always loved its design, 1966 since I already own the Mickey Mantle card from the set and 1969 since it would add to the run of sets I own beginning in 1970.

From a non-Topps perspective, the 1955 Bowman set has always fascinated me.  My Dad told me often that "he had them all" as a kid growing up on Oak Street in Millville and I don't doubt he's exaggerating.  I'd like to recreate that set, unceremoniously thrown out by my Mom-Mom in the mid-1960s when my Dad departed for college.  The only surviving card from his collection was one half of the Mantle card from the set, and I wrote about that here.  How awesome would it be to re-collect that complete set at some point in honor of my Dad's long-lost collection?

1955 Bowman #171
1959 Topps #300
1966 Topps #230
1969 Topps #350

* * *

[Post-credits scene]

Finally, a few weeks ago, I was caught off-guard by my sudden fascination and determination to collect a complete pre-war set.  One of the most enjoyable aspects of collecting the 1965 set is getting to research, read and learn about the subject of each card and writing about players I had heard of but never really knew anything about.  The thought of going back to a set released nearly 100 years ago and learning about players from that era really intrigued me.  I knew this was a project I wanted to undertake, but I didn't know how to start or what set to start with.

As luck would have it, I had recently subscribed to Beckett Vintage Collector and my December 2020/January 2021 issue arrived as I was trying to decide if I really wanted to collect another old set or not.  It was within that issue I devoured the article by Anson Whaley on the 1934-1936 Diamond Stars set and late one night decided - that's it . . . that's my next set.  Within minutes of making that decision, I purchased my first Diamond Stars card and I was off on my next journey!

So with that decision made and coming soon . . . I present my 1934-1936 Diamond Stars blog, where I'll chronicle my process of very slowly collecting all 108 cards in the set, some of the notable variations and the three extension sets issued years after the original cards were first found in packs of chewing gum.  And here we go.


Section 36 said...

Great read. Good luck on completing those sets!

John Bateman said...

Your Collecting Journey mirrors my own in some ways. I remember paying $25 for the 1973 Topps Mike Schmidt rookie in 1984 or 1985 to complete my 1973 Topps set. I also purchased in the mid 1980s the 1964, 1968, 1971, 1975 and 1976 Topps sets.

I stopped hand collating sets in 1991, as I was buying too much wax and building too many sets. The price increases in 1992 really turned me off to set building. I wish I would have had a better game and not wasted my money on modern stuff and went back into the 1960s stuff.

In the mid 2004 I bought a 1974 set and in 2005 I discovered Ebay and bought a 1972 set.

In 2015, I started to put together a 1970 Topps set but abandon it and sold off my cards

In 2018 I put together a 1969 Topps set and a 1958 Topps Set (minus the Gibson so far).

I recently picked up some 65s a couple of months ago and though unlikely may try to put a set together someday.

The Diamond Stars is an excellent choice to go after something really old. With a small set size good luck on attaining the cards.