A triumphant return to the original purpose of this blog: Topps 1980’s Decade Wrap-up

22 09 2011

I’ve been collecting and going over this year’s “retro sets” for the last couple months and am ready to pick back up on blogging about my Topps project.  I’m through 1989, so the next step I wanted to do is do a re-cap of the decade.  Here’s info I usually put in the post for each year, only I’ve accumulated it for the whole decade.

  • Subsets by year: Topps either had a Record Breaker of Season Highlights subset every year in the 1980’s.  They only missed having managers in 1982, and once they started up the All-Star subset in 1982, they stayed with it every year.  The All-Star Rookie designation was brought back in 1987, along with the Future Stars subset.  Every year from 1981 to 1985, they had a subset that was a “one-time-only” thing.
    • 9 years:  Manager / Team Checklist (’80-’81, ’83-’89)
    • 8 years:  All-Stars (’82-‘89)
    • 7 years:  Team Leaders (’82-’84, ’86-’89)
    • 7 years:  Record Breakers (’81, ’83, ’85-’89)
    • 5 years:  League Leaders (’80-’84)
    • 4 years:  Turn Back the Clock (’86-’89)
    • 3 years:  Season Highlights (’80, ’82, ‘84)
    • 3 years:  Future Stars: 3-player (’80-‘82)
    • 3 years:  Future Stars: 1-player (’87-‘89)
    • 3 years:  Topps All-Star Rookie Team (’87-‘89)
    • 2 years:  #1 Draft Picks (’85, ’89)
    • 1 year:  Post-Season (’81)
    • 1 year:  In Action (’82)
    • 1 year:  Super Veterans (’83)
    • 1 year:  Active Leaders (’84)
    • 1 year:  Father-Son (’85)
    • 1 year:  Tribute (’86 – Rose)
    • 1 year:  Team USA (’85)
  • Set Design: See pictures above.  1986 and 1987 were the only years they didn’t have a completely white border.
  • Packs: See the chart below for retail prices of wax packs and cello packs.  Wax and cello packs were both available in all years, and both were raised by Topps at about the same pace.  In 1980, a 15-card wax pack cost a quarter, but by 1989 that had gone up to 45¢, while a cello pack had gone up from 39¢ to 79¢.
  • Rookies: I’d say the two most notable rookies are the 1980 Rickey Henderson and the 1985 McGwire Olympic card.  Ripken’s RC would be 3rd, only because his RC isn’t his most notable – his card from the ’82 traded set fetches a higher premium.  After that, I’d go with Roger Clemens (’85), Tony Gwynn (’83), Barry Bonds (’87), Wade Boggs (’83), Ryne Sandberg (’83), Don Mattingly (’84) and Kirby Puckett (’85) to round out the top 10 – and probably in that order.  I’m excluding Topps Traded from this list.  You could also consider some other guys from later sets, like the Big Unit in 1989 or Glavine from 1988, but this is getting into the big over-production era.
  • Hall of Fame: See the Hall of Fame numbers by year below. The Turn Back the Clock subsets added a few more Hall of Famers, but this number has been gradually going down (as expected).  It also won’t go up much over the next few years, as the guys up for HOF consideration with cards from the 80’s are basically Barry Larkin and a couple of guys with “steroid concerns”.


  • Variations: The most interesting variation is on the 1980 proof sheets, where Billy Martin was on there as the Yankees manager before he was fired (for only the 2nd or 3rd of times).  The next really interesting error I know of is not really a variation – because it was never corrected.  The 1985 Topps RC of Angels OF Gary Pettis is actually of his younger brother.  The next year saw two cards with the wrong # – there were no cards #’d #51 and #171, but 2 cards #’d #57 and #141.  In 1988, the first print run of Al Leiter’s RC from the “Future Stars” subset included a picture of a different Yankees pitching prospect – Steve George.  George never made it above Triple-A Columbus, thus this was the only time he was featured on a Major League card.  In 1989, Tony Oliva’s card has a somewhat notable variation where the copyright line is not included.
  • Last Active Player: Jamie Moyer was the only player with a card in the 1980’s Topps flagship set that was active in 2010.  Omar Vizquel has a card in the 1989 Traded set and is still active.

Factory Sets

Topps first began issuing a factory set in 1982 via the JC Penney catalog and continued to do so through 1985.  Beginning in 1986, Topps sold factory sets to hobby dealers earlier in the year, then issued retail-only “holiday” versions later in the year in much more colorful boxes (see picture above).

Update Sets

Topps released 132-card Topps Traded sets in factory set form ever year but 1980.  The most notable “update” card is probably the Cal Ripken from 1982 – it’s also the most valuable in just about any price guide.  After that, it’s probably Junior Griffey’s RC in the 1989 Traded set.  Other notables include:

  • 1981 – Fernando’s first Topps card on his own came in the ’81 Traded set, right in the height of Fernando-mania
  • 1983 – Darryl Strawberry’s RC
  • 1984 – Pete Rose in an Expos uniform
  • 1986 – RC’s of Bonds, Jose Canseco and Bo Jackson
  • 1987 – RC of Maddux, Reggie Jackson’s last card (back with the A’s)

Topps offered a bronze replica of an earlier card to dealers who ordered a case of the Traded set.  The bronze “replicas” included Steve Carlton, Darryl Strawberry, Pete Rose, Hank Willie, Mickey and the Duke.

Parallel Sets

For the last 6 years of the decade, Topps issued a Tiffany variation in factory set form.  This set was printed on white cardstock with glossy coating on the front and had limited print run of 5,000 to 15,000 sets.

Insert sets

    • 7 years:  Glossy “All-Star and Hot Prospects” – 40-60 cards (’83-’89, mail-in sets)
    • 6 years:  All-Star Glossy – 22 cards (’84-’89) (1 per rack pack)
    • 3 years:  Rookies Glossy – 22 cards (’87-’89) (1 per jumbo pack)
    • 1 year:  Batting Leaders – 22 cards (’89) (1 per K-Mart blister pack)
    • 1 year:  Stickers (’82)

Notable Promotions

  • Wax and cello pack usually contained a game card with some type of theme – most commonly “Spring Fever Baseball”.  Topps included a test version of a “Hit to Win” game card in the 1980 packs, then had the cards in all 1981 packs.  After a year off in 1982, they continued having a game card of some type in every pack the rest of the decade.  Grand prize winners could win some sort of trip, either to any Spring Training site, the World Series or the All-Star game for the next season.
  • In 1983, Topps issued boxes with sealed cellophane wrappers as opposed to wax wrappers in a test effort.  These tamper-resistant packs were released in limited quantities in the Michigan area, and are generally referred to as “Michigan Test”.

Other notable releases associated with the Topps flagship set

#1 – Continuing a promotion from the 70’s, in 1980 and 1981, you could send in a wrapper and a S&H fee for an uncut sheet of all the Team Checklist cards.  In other years throughout the decade, you could send in for uncut sheets of the whole set for $30-$60.

#2 – Beginning in 1984, Topps created a “Gallery of Immortals” set of 12 metal ¼-size replicas of the base cards.  This was later renamed to “Gallery of Champions”.  There were up to three variations – Aluminum, Bronze and Silver (#’d to 1,000), and there was usually a pewter variant of one card given to dealers who purchased the sets.

#2 – Topps issued a “Super” set in larger format but the same design as the base set, consisting of 30 to 60 cards from 1984 to 1986.

#3 – Using O-Pee-Chee’s equipment, Topps printed variations of one sheet (132) of cards of the 1985 base set that were ~10% smaller than the standard cards and were printed on white cardboard stock.  These are particularly rare and the sheet they printed featured two fan favorites – Nolan Ryan and Mike Schmidt.

#4 – In 1988, Topps released a rare test issue called “Topps Cloth”, which was an experimental release of 121 cards from the base set printed on textured paper.  The cards seem to be pretty indestructible.

#5 – Topps super-sized and reproduced some 1988 and 1989 base cards in conjunction with Shaeffer Eaton into 9-1/2 x 11-3/4 “Sports Shots portfolios”.

#6 – In 1989, Topps produced two 24-card sets called “Double Headers” that came a full set via 24 packs per box.  These sets were 2-sided miniature cards (1-5/8 x 2-1/4) with a reproduction of the 1989 card on one side and the player’s first Topps card on the other side.  Topps issued an All-Star set and a Mets/Yankees set.  Topps issued proof versions of 4 Yankees and 4 Mets that had the ’88 card instead of ’89.

#7 – Topps worked with LJN Toy Company to produce “Baseball Talk” cards.  This set of 164 cards had 163 players and a checklist.  The larger cards were 3-1/4 x 5-1/4 and came 4 per pack, retailing at $4.  The set contains both current and retired players. The current players were featured on a card with the 1989 design, while the retired player cards had a replica of an older Topps card bordered by the ’89 Topps “wave” design.  Collectors could purchase a hand-held player and hear a 2-minute blurb about the featured player.

So that’s my 1980’s decade in review for Topps.  It’s really just a re-cap of the decade – I’ll do a few more posts over the next few days relating to this – I probably won’t start posting on the 1990’s until I’ve finished with the 3 remaining vintage sets coming up.  I’ve purchased boxes up to 1995 or so.



One response

22 09 2011

Great post! It’s always nice to take a look back to the wonderful Topps cards of the ’80s.

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