Set Registry: Grainy Gems, A look at the 1962 Topps Baseball Set by Jim Churilla

For those of you not old enough to remember the year 1962, it was a time of great promise under the leadership of President Kennedy, but also a time when the nation was nearly brought to nuclear war as a result of the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Marilyn Monroe, who is quite arguably the most recognizable Hollywood figure of all time, mysteriously died at the age of 36. Future baseball Hall of Famer Roger Clemens was born. The top movies debuting on the silver screen in 1962 were the first James Bond movie Dr. No, starring Sean Connery, and Lawrence of Arabia starring Alex Guinness. Hot on the top of the charts, on the spin dial, were Bobby Vinton's Roses Are Red, Ray Charles' I Can't Stop Loving You and Chubby Checker with The Twist.

In sports, Wilt Chamberlain set the all-time record for individual points scored in an NBA game with 100, while the Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 4 games to 2 for the league championship. USC would go 11-0 to win the NCAA Football Championship and Cincinnati would be the Men's NCAA Basketball Champions.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants would finish tied at the end of the regular season with identical 101-61 records, forcing a best 2 out of 3 scenario to determine who would face the New York Yankees in the World Series. The Giants would win the playoff with the Dodgers but lose to the Yankees 4 games to 3 in the World Series, as Ralph Terry is named World Series MVP.

Berra Maris Clemente

In 1962, the US debt was $302 billion, a far cry from today's trillion dollar plus deficit. A first class stamp cost 4 cents and a 6-ounce bottle of Coke was just 10 cents with a 2-cent deposit. Many young baseball card collectors in 1962 would go out bottle collecting until they had 60 empty Coke bottles that could be redeemed for $1.20, which in turn, would buy a 24 pack box of 1962 Topps Baseball cards! Yes! This is a true story, only $1.20 for a box!

Veteran baseball card collectors today can remember growing up in the early 60's and going to the local drug store to purchase their 1962 Topps baseball cards, and those who can't, can only drool at the price of the cards and the many possibilities. Distinguished by their wood grain appearance, the 1962 Topps cards were definitely one-of-a-kind gems.

For the many collectors from coast to coast, it was all about getting your favorite players, making trades with your friends and completing the entire set, which proved to be a tough task in 1962, if one did not live near a major metropolitan area. It was the cards that connected one to their youth, cards that locked you into a moment of time never to be forgotten.

At the time of its release, the 1962 Topps was the largest set of baseball cards ever issued. The set consists of 598 cards, plus a number of different variations that contributed to the challenge of completing this set. The dimensions of the cards are 2 ½ x 3 ½, with the front of the card showing a photo of the player against a wood grain background. On the back of the card, you have all the vital information, from a brief biography, the player's statistics, and a cartoon with a small blurb below it.

At the time, one could purchase the cards in 1-cent wax packs, 5-cent wax packs and cello packs. The wax packs sold in the stores were dark green in color with various advertisements such as Bazooka Bubble Gum, mail in offers, etc., depending upon the series. The rack packs that one sees for sale today on such sites as eBay and other auction sites is an area of debate with some current collectors, who only recall seeing these in the past 10 to 20 years.

Skowron Mantle Colavito

As was the case with Topps cards of that period, the set was issued in seven series at different times during that year. Series One consists of cards 1 – 109, Series Two is cards 110-196, Series Three is cards 197-283, Series Four is cards 284-370, Series Five is cards 371-446, Series Six is cards 447-522, and Series Seven is cards 523-598.

Not every collector had the opportunity to purchase cards from all seven series. If you lived in an area away from a major city, chances are your local store would not have ordered all seven series, leaving the collector to acquire the rest of the set through mail order or other sources.

Adding to the difficulty of attaining the complete set was the fact that it is an extremely condition sensitive set, due to its simulated wood grain front and borders which are very susceptible to chipping just like the 1971 Topps issue. Series Two, contains cards that come in two different variations, the regular issue and the tougher "green tint" version. A good example of this would be card #134 Billy Hoeft that shows the regular version with a blue-sky background and the tougher version with the green tint background. This card also has two different facial features, which add to its appearance. It is not known exactly why the green tint version was produced, but it is scarcer, and as a result, as much as six to ten times more valuable than the regular version.

The Switch Hitter

In addition to the green tint version cards, other difficult cards in the set include the series seven short print high number cards, checklists that have not been checked and the #1 Roger Maris card, which was subject to damage for being the first card in the hand collated sets. Rubber bands also contributed to the less than stellar condition Maris card. It is, however, disputed by some that the Maris card is not that hard to find in good condition for the simple fact that many people put their cards together by teams and not in number order. The key rookies include #99 John "Boog" Powell, #199 Gaylord Perry, #218 Joe Torre, #387 Lou Brock, #461 Ken Hubbs, # 592 Jim Bouton (short print) and #594 Bob Uecker (short print). Other notable rookies are #167 Tim McCarver, #209 Jim Fregosi, #219 Al Downing, #591 Sam McDowell (short print), and #596 Joe Pepitone (short print).

In the 1962 set, you will find a number of great pictures and an awesome ten-card tribute to Babe Ruth, right after Roger Maris broke his single season home run record. Cool cards include the #1 Maris card, #18 Managers Dream card of Mantle and Mays, #251 Yankees Team Photo, #313 "Maris Blast's 61st", #318 "The Switch Hitter Connects", showing Mickey Mantle blasting a home run. Stan Musials #50 card, #288 Billy Williams as the Topps 61 All-Star Rookie, #425 of Yaz kneeling with three bats on his shoulder, #478 of Don Zimmer shown with a Mets cap but listed as a Red, and card #53 of the AL Home Run leaders featuring Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew and Jim Gentile.

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of different variations that exist throughout the 1962 set. Some of the more notable variations include the following numbered cards, in Series One, the checklist card #22 list cards #121-176 on the back, while another version list cards # 33-88.

Mays Ford Ford

In Series Two, card #129 of Lew Walls shows him facing left on one version and right on another. Card #132 of the Angels team has inset photos while another version has no inset photos. Card #139 has four versions, two of Hal Reniff with one pitching and one as a portrait. The other #139 is of Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run, showing a left foul pole and one not showing a pole. Card #147 shows Bill Kunkel pitching and one as a portrait. Card #174 is of Carl Willey with a cap and another without a cap. Card #176 of Ed Yost has him batting while the other is a portrait version. Card #190 shows Wally Moon with a cap and another without. Checklist card #192 is spelled "checklist, 3" and on another is spelled "checklist 3."

In Series Three, checklist cards # 277 and # 367 each have a dark wood border version and a version with light wood borders with lower checklist boxes.

In Series Five, checklist card # 441 has the word "checklist" in large font, and another version in smaller font. Series Six card #458 of Bob Buhl shows him with an "M" on his cap, and another with a plain cap. Card #462, Willie Tasby, shows a "W" on his cap and a plain cap version. Checklist #516 has either white boxes or yellow boxes.

Uncorrected error cards include #279 Hobie Landruth, with the word "hobby" instead of "hitting" on the card back, #392 Ken Boyer list his batting average on the back as ".392," #490 Clete Boyer with a negative photo, which was reversed and #521 Jacke Davis listed as an outfielder on the front of the card and as a pitcher on the back.

Aaron Robinson Aaron

Another oddity to point out, is the fact that only three players listed as being on the New York Mets are actually wearing Mets caps. Needless to say, there are a number of variations that exist throughout the 1962 set.

Topps also released a "Presentation Set" which were high-grade cards in strong blue binders, and believed to be available only to employees of Topps or business associates. A number of the high graded 1962 cards are believed to have originated from these sets. Additional 1962 Topps releases include the Topps Bucks set that looked like actual money, and featured a picture of the player, a drawing of his home park and on the back of the "buck", the player's league and the team logos. The Bucks were sold separately in packs and can be found today at numerous card shows. Inserted in the regular wax packs, were single player stamps, which totaled 200 for the set and were either bright red or with yellow backgrounds. In 1962, you could order a stamp album for only ten cents. One player, Roy Sievers has two stamps, one as an Athletic and another as a Phillie.

There are a number of variations that exist throughout the 1962 set, and the fact that it is so condition sensitive makes it one of the toughest to complete. Regardless, it is a true gem and a challenge for any collector young or old.