By 1970, baseball card collecting by adults was no longer a secret. The landscape was populated by at least four “dealers” who earned their livelihood buying cards – mostly directly from what was then Topps Chewing Gum – and selling them via mail order. The working relationships had begun to allow cards the public had never seen in Topps’ annual retail blitz to find their way into the primordial “hobby.”
As you read in the first part of this series, while Topps had begun “proofing” – making test prints – of its baseball cards no later than 1957, the number of major changes between the first runs and the final issued versions had been few, and relatively minor.
But in the early 1960s, Topps baseball cards began to get more iconic, and more comprehensive. After two bursts of expansion, there were suddenly 100 more major leaguers in April of 1962 than there had been in September of 1960. And more players meant more players changing teams, more cards, more details, and more variations between proof and issued cards.
1962 – A treasure trove of proof variations, nearly all of them discovered because a non-collector happened to read my 1985 article on proofs a day or two after one of his friends had mentioned all the sheets of “old baseball cards” he’d discovered when he went to remodel the false ceiling in his house.
Have you got that 1977 Topps card with Reggie Jackson trying to out-grin the beaming Oriole on the old Baltimore helmet?
How about the 1968 card of Tom Seaver pitching left-handed?
Or the 1983 Bill Virdon card that actually shows Jim Fanning? The answers to these questions – even from the most ardent of Topps set builders – is likely to be a resounding “no.” Except, of course, in those cases where it’s simply a dumbstruck “Huh?”
For its combination of popularity, scarcity, beauty, and utter unfathomability, no 19th-century set – maybe no other card set ever – exceeds Kalamazoo Bats, which appears to have been a two-year issue produced by Charles Gross & Co. of Philadelphia in 1886 and 1887. Extraordinarily, 12 of the 62 known player cards have been discovered since 1980, one was uncovered in 2005, another early in 2006. Some of the long-known cards are so scarce as to exist in mere handfuls; some of the recent discoveries are comparatively common.