Love of the Game is developing a reputation as a great resource for prewar baseball material. However, our current auction, much like our inaugural auction last fall, has an excellent selection of rare postwar cards. These cards are highlighted by a number of extremely difficult-to-obtain test issues, and one of the most rare modern issues of all: the 1991 Topps Desert Shield set.
With American troops station overseas at the start of the first Persian Gulf War, Topps modified its 1991 baseball set, creating a foil-stamped insignia on its standard 1991 baseball cards. Intended to be distributed to soldiers serving in Saudi Arabia, it is rumored that just 6500 sets were manufactured, the cards distributed in wax packs. Immediate demand ensued, resulting in high prices and hoarding among collectors. Rumors abound about the ultimate fate of many of the cards: some feel that many were lost amidst the fog of war, others say that many were destroyed in a fire. The net result is a significant modern scarcity; a set created out of patriotism amidst the hobby boom of the early 90s and scarfed up quickly, with very information about supply.
We are happy to offer an extremely attractive complete set of 1991 Topps Desert Shield cards. Not an easy accomplishment by any stretch, packs have been difficult to come by, each complete set hand-assembled by a dedicated collector, piece-by-piece. A high-grade, PSA-graded set sold for nearly $76,000 in the spring of 2012, cementing the set in hobby lore and verifying the value of what will continue to be a scarce and highly desirable collectible.
Topps is also known for its scarce “test” issues; unique sets created and released in a small market to determine the potential feasibility and popularity. Topps issued many test issues over the years, issues that were later released on a more broad scale, modified and improved, or scrapped altogether.
One interesting such issue is the 1967 Topps Discs set. Initially intended to serve as the front of a round, pinback button, the “cards” never saw the light of day. Each of the discs were printed with foil backgrounds that were intended to be waste after the circular foregrounds were cut from the sheet. Although the buttons never materialized, some individual proofs made it into the collecting world. These are particularly scarce; just 38 copies have passed through the hands of the two grading companies as of this writing. A second set of prototypes, honoring the San Francisco Giants, were also produced but never issued. We are offering two examples of the “standard” discs (the attached Marichal) as well as a San Francisco Giants Marichal. Please note that the PSA grading labels on these two examples have been reversed; the disc labeled “SF Giants” is actually the standard disc and vice-versa.
1967 was also the year of the “Punch-Out” – a scarce test issue released commercially in and around Maryland in cellophane packs that contained strips of three perforated cards that were meant to be used in a baseball game. These cards are highly sought after today, appealing to many collectors of rarities, set completists, and type card collectors alike. Due to their method of distribution and intended use, high-grade examples are particularly difficult to find. We are pleased to offer a nice group of 1967 Punch-Outs, including several of the highest-graded examples from their respective grading companies. This Bill White and extremely high-grade Luis Aparicio are two such examples.
Also produced in 1967 were the Topps Stand-Ups, one of the most rare postwar vintage baseball issues known. With just a handful of each of the set’s 24 subjects known to exist, these were never actually issued for sale. The commercial examples of these cards were intended to be die-cut from heavy cardboard so that they could be folded over into their cardboard base, so that they could “stand up” on display.
These rare cards can be found in two varieties: the actual, printed samples with the die-cuts, and uncut proofs, printed on lighter paper. This Jim Fregosi is an example of the latter. Definitely one of the most rare card types of the postwar era and one of the most sought-after card types manufactured by Topps, this is easily the most rare card of Fregosi.
Another of the many test issues in Topps’ fertile 1960s period, the Action All-Star stickers are an exceptionally scarce issue that were sold in strips of three panels, accompanying a stick of bubble gum. Condition is an issue, as surviving copies are often torn at the perforations, with stickers removed from their backing. Measuring over 15 inches in length, it is difficult to find any examples from this set, much less one with three panels intact. We are featuring this particular panel, which highlights brand-new Hall of Famer Ron Santo in the center panel, joined by fellow Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Al Kaline on his adjoining panels.
Another rare and interesting issue, the 1973 Topps Baseball Comics were intended to serve as wax wrappers to be folded around a stick of bubble gum. The gum was not likely to have been publicly distributed at all, as all the surviving examples do not contain the folds that would be characteristic of having been wrapped around a piece of gum for any length of time. Several examples, however, including this Willie Davis, are marred by paper pulls consistent with the three glue spots required to fold the wax around the gum, an indicator that some examples were wrapped around gum during the proof stage.
1973 Topps Comics are extremely rare. In 2010, a complete set of 24 was sold at auction for nearly $18,000. During that auction, it was noted that the rare set originated from the collection of hobby pioneer Woody Gelman, who served as art director for Topps. It is speculated that all the surviving examples originated from Gelman’s collection, as he was able to obtain a small quantity of these for distribution to the hobby, but all were destroyed by a fire at the card dealership Gelman then owned. The only surviving examples of 1973 Topps Comics known to the hobby resided in Gelman’s personal collection. This is surely one of those copies, one of just a few hundred examples in the entire set known to exist.
With a checklist identical to that of the 1973 Topps Comics, the 1973 Topps Pin-Ups were also a 24-card set that was intended to serve as a wrapper for a piece of gum. In fact, when looking at the reverse of the Comic and Pin-Up designs (the outside portions of the wrappers), it is easy to note that the layouts are virtually identical, with coloration and the name of the product being the primary differences.
This example, of Dodgers reliever Mike Marshall, is an unissued “proof” – an even more scarce version of a very scarce issue. Graded Authentic by SGC, the “card” is produced to the same dimensions as the commercially released Pin-Ups, but does not contain the printed reverse with the gum packaging that is featured on the actual Pin-Ups. Just over 200 Pin-Ups have been graded by SGC and PSA combined, but just four have been graded Authentic, leading us to believe that the graded population of 1973 Topps Pin-Ups Proofs may well be in the single digits.
The 1974 Topps Deckle Edge set remains one of the most scarce and intriguing issues of the modern era. Issued in very limited quantities around Massachusetts, the cards comprised a 72-card set that were larger and on heavier stock than the Deckled Edge set of 1969, but featuring a similar black and white photo with facsimile signature on the front.
The Standard Catalog makes reference to “proof versions with straight edges and gray or white backs” being known. We’re proud to offer a large group of them in our auction, including a good number of Hall of Famers. This Bench is an unnumbered proof (all the others are numbered, so it’s safe to say that Topps caught an error in the proof stage), and is one of the set’s keys. Extremely scarce, very few proofs are known, and this Bench happens to be the only graded proof from the set.