A tale of a fateful set

Recently, a near complete set of 1973 Topps Pin-ups sold at auction for $11,400. Why is this set so rare? Well.. (cue theme music)

Just sit right back and you will read a tale, a tale of a test issue set/ That started from a Brooklyn press, but never would be shipped/ The idea was a mighty bold one. The sales would be great for sure/ Five airbrush artists set to work, for the logos couldn’t show through.  For the logos couldn’t show through/ The sales projections started looking rough and the set was nearly tossed/If not for the employees that kept a few, the set would be lost!  The set would be lost!

One of several “test issue” sets Topps produced over the years, the 1973 Pin-ups are like the 1968 3-D cards in that they were never issued or had a very limited release. The product was designed to be a wrapper for a large, rectangular piece of bubble gum. The collectibles are made of thin wax paper with a label on the outer side (with a small photo of Johnny Bench) and a large photo on the interior.  There are 24 wrappers in the set, each measuring 3-7/16” x 4-5/8.”

The most unique aspect of the set is the lack of cap insignia, jersey lettering and team names.  Vintage collectors know that Topps stopped producing pack inserts in 1972. The change coincided with a new contract with Major League Baseball.  Apparently, MLB wanted more money from Topps if they produced additional products beyond the base cards.  So, Topps devised a “work around” by airbrushing away all visuals that fell under the purview of MLB Properties. 

This technique used in the Pin-ups and Candy Lids foreshadowed the explosion of “logo-less” cards that would crop up in the late 1970s and run through the end of the “junk wax” era.  Of course, Panini still cranks out numerous sets with only Major League Players Association authorization.

Each team has a Pin-up and the set includes 15 Hall-of-Fame players-if Joe Torre is included. The non-HOF players are all stars of the era.

1973 is right in the middle of the “mutton chop” sideburns and mustache era.  There are some definite “badassery” photos.  George “Boomer” Scott, Nate Colbert and Mike “Super Jew” Epstein are prime examples.

The reigning American League MVP, Dick Allen, is his usual cool self.  I have yet to see a bad photo of Mr. Allen.  His “coolness” factor may never be replicated.

The worst image is that of former Seattle Pilot Mike Marshall.  Topps uses the same airbrushed photo as appears on his 1973 base card. The image is from 1967-68 during his Detroit years.  The “awesome” paint job qualifies as a “double-airbrush,” since the airbrushed cap emblem is airbrushed over.

Our esteemed co-chair, Jason Schwartz, will undoubtedly want to empty his bank account to add the Aaron to the collection. (Editor’s note: Barring lottery win, this card is firmly planted on the list of Aaron cards I’ll never own.)

Equally esteemed co-chair, Nick Vossbrink, will gladly cash out his children’s college fund to acquire Willie McCovey.

Likewise, the citizens of Red Sox Nation will spare no expense to land a “Caawl” Yastrzemski.

This is the tale of a set nearly cast away/ No one remembered it for a long, long time/ To find an even rarer set, would be an uphill climb/ No creases, no folds, no gum stains not a single deficiency/ Like the T-206 Honus Wagner, it’s rare as can be.

Author: Tim Jenkins

Sports memorablilia collector with Seattle teams emphasis. HOF autographs, baseball cards and much more. Teacher for over 30 years. Attended games at 35 different MLB parks.

5 thoughts on “A tale of a fateful set”

  1. Though Topps had practice with that technique from plenty of Traded / recycling previous team image, particularly with 1969 cards – it does seem this idea of using these tricks to just plow ahead with production of cards minus a few more licensing dollars was put to immediate use in their mid 70s Football cards. Though I never noticed that when I was a kid.

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    1. First, while many of us call 80s and 90s cards “junk,” it’s a term of endearment. The fact that those sets can both be purchased super cheap or built from packs/trades makes them a ton of fun to build.

      If you’re looking for pre-1980s cards, there are two things that are going to make a set kind of spendy: high numbers and rookie cards. Any Topps set before 1974 was released in multiple series and the last series of high numbers are frequently more expensive—sometimes, like 1966 or 1972, ridiculously so—because they didn’t circulate as long so there just aren’t as many of them. 1974 onward though does not have this problem. Rookie cards are pretty self explanatory. Some sets like 1975 (e.g. Yount, Brett, Carter) and 1978 (e.g. Murray, Molitor/Trammel, Morris) have multiple HoF rookie cards in them. Others like 1976 (I think just Eckersley) aren’t as bad. None of these are SUPER expensive but they do add up.

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