1980’s Topps: year-to-year innovations

23 09 2011

Yesterday I did a long post covering just about every detail I could think of for Topps sets in the 1980’s.  I also wanted to take a much briefer look at what changed from 1980 through 1989.  At some point in the last month or so on the blogosphere, I read that Topps considered next year’s base set to be a “game-changer”.  Then they released a design consistent with what they’ve done the last few years, and basically copy a bunch of themes from 2010 and 2011 – only it’s called “gold” now instead of “diamond”.  Well, here’s some of the innovations / changes from year-to-year in the 1980’s.

1980 – Not much was different from the year before – the biggest change was having 15 cards per pack instead of 12.

1981 – Two developments.  The most significant by far was Topps creation of the Update set, Topps Traded, which was a 132-card boxed set that added cards of free agents, players traded and rookies from 1981.  Topps had done “Traded” versions of the cards in the 1970’s, but nothing like including a whole new set.  The second new idea was the “Hit-to-Win” game card that was inserted in every pack.  This was basically a game where you could win prizes by scratching off three ares on the front.

1982 – For the first time ever, Topps issued a factory set, which was available through the JC Penney Christmas catalog.  Additionally, Topps increased the set size from 726 to 792, which eliminated the existence of 66 double printed cards per set.

1983 – Collectors could use the game cards which were inserted into packs to send-in for the Topps Glossy sets.  Bigger than that, I’d say Topps use of a second portrait photo in the lower part of the card front was a decent change from previous designs.  Topps tested out tamper-resistant plastic packs in Michigan, but didn’t follow through with the idea until some of their competitors released packs like this years later.

1984 – Topps began inserting 1 Topps Glossy All-Star card into each rack pack.  This 22-card set is the first standard-size insert set that I’m aware of.  Though these aren’t chase cards like we’d think of today, they certainly paved the way for those type of cards.  Additionally, this was the first year Topps created Topps Tiffany, which was a glossy parallel of the base set issued in factory form.  This was a bit of a precursor to all the parallel sets we have today – though there had been other parallels issued in the past like the ’75 minis.

1985 – Not really anything new this year.  The biggest thing was they had a subset of players from Team USA.

1986 – Topps started selling factory sets to hobby dealers, and the retail sets became known as “holiday sets” which came in much more colorful boxes.  Other than that, this year’s design was pretty different – the top part of the border was black, which was the first time Topps had issued a border that wasn’t completely white since 1975.  Other than that, adding a tribute subset to Pete Rose was an interesting tribute to him breaking the hit record.

1987 – Not much here other than the design change.  They went with the AWESOME wood-grain border as a throwback to the 1962 set.  Additionally, they increased pack size to 17 cards for this year only.

1988 – Not much here again.  The only thing of note – Topps issued the test set Topps Cloth, but they’d been playing around with cloth cards in the 1970’s.

1989 – Again, not much specifically for the base set.  Some oddball sets that Topps did were interesting.  They created the “Baseball Talk” cards which could “speak” when used with a recording device.  Also, they issued a double-headers set which had mini-versions of the player’s 1989 card on one side and the first Topps card on the other side.  This was a bit of a prelude to the retro craze we’re seeing today.

Topps was pretty stagnant toward the end of the decade – which is interesting as Upper Deck and Score came out and really started to put competitive pressure on Topps.  To me, the biggest developments of the decade were 1) update sets, 2) factory sets, 3) 1-per pack inserts, and 4) the Tiffany “parallel” sets.  All of those came in the first half of the decade.


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2 responses

25 09 2011
Jimmy

I started collecting in ’81 and still love the design. I remember when the ’84 Tiffany Gooden (from the update set) was $200 at the local store. All it said on the price tag was ‘Glossy.’

About a year later, Beckett issued a magazine with Strawberry’s ’83 Topps update on the cover.

My friend and I thought we could bleach the back side and cut out the Stawberry, making it an ultra-rare glossy blank back. That didn’t work so well.

25 09 2011
chuckneo

Cool story – it’s funny what kids will think makes total sense as a good idea. That’s why baseball cards are still fun for me – kind of reminds me of being a kid.

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