The number of Topps’ test issues and prototypes that didn’t see production in the ‘60s and ‘70s never ceases to amaze me. Recently, I stumbled across an image of a Larry Bowa from a set that may be one of the rarest of the post-war era. At first, I thought this was a “do-it-yourself” card, but a little research revealed the it to be mysterious and highly coveted collectible.
In ’71, a Topps’ designer created 10 artist’s proofs for a set called All-Star Rookies. Apparently, only one set of 10 prototypes were produced. The players featured earned the Rookie Star designation for the ’70 season and, thus, have a trophy on their base cards in ‘71. The set was probably intended for the annual Topps Rookie Stars banquet. Paul Ember had an excellent three-part post on this topic.
For over 30 years, only a black and white image of Thurman Munson’s card existed as proof of the mythical set. This image was used to illustrate the set in The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards. Collectors theorized that a collector acquired the cards in the ‘70s and kept them under wraps.
Then, in 2011, Topps historian David Hornish posted photos of all 10 cards on the Topps Archives website. Later, the Bowa and Carbo cards were made available at an auction.
In the conventional sense, these are not truly cards. The proofs consist of a standard card glued to a thick piece of artist’s board measuring 9-1/2 X 6-1/2. The disembodied head shots are Kodachrome photos pasted on the card background. Photos would have been taken to produce the image used on actual cards.
The photos appear to be unique to the set apart from John Ellis. The open mouth shot is the same as the photo on the 1970 Yankees Rookie Stars card.
Incidentally, Gio (@wthballs), who mans the fantastic blog “When Topps Had Balls,” creates great retro-card sets. His wonderful “gelatin” set-which paid tribute to the ‘60s cards on the back of Jell-O packages-contained bonus stickers inspired by the ’71 Topps Rookie Stars set.
I’m sure the Red Sox collectors amongst us are willing to mortgage their houses if the Billy Conigliaro and Bernie Carbo cards ever surface at an auction. I don’t think I’ll be “able” to go after Cain, however.
Robert Edward Auctions | Circa 1920s Leather Football Helmet Signed by Jim Thorpe and Red Grange, www.robertedwardauctions.com/auction/2015/spring/690/extremely-rare-1971-topps-all-star-rookie-artists-proofs-larry-bowa/.
The Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards