Looking Back at 1960s Topps Baseball Cards

By Bruce Amspacher

The 1960s. For those who lived through that great and terrible decade, it was a time filled with indelible memories of tragedy and triumph, ranging from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy to the first man to walk on the moon. It was a time that brought us the Vietnam war, the Beatles, tremendous advances in civil rights, and Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle chasing Babe Ruth's home run record. It was certainly a great decade for sports cards, as innovative changes and new offerings created a bonanza for a growing band of collectors.

In 1960, in addition to the 572-card regular issue, Topps offered "Tattoo Bubble Gum," featuring players, autographs, or action figures that could be applied directly to the skin. What already harried mom wasn't absolutely delighted to see her son with Yogi Berra tattooed on his head as he left for church on Sunday morning?

Mickey Mantle
1961 Topps Mickey Mantle

Topps returned to the vertical format in 1961, with a large offering of 587 baseball cards. Oddly, the numbers ran through 598, with a few skips, and with two cards numbered 463. The #1 card features an All-American basketball player (Dick Groat) and the #2 card pictures a man who once ran back four kickoffs for touchdowns in a single football game (Roger Maris). Who said baseball players weren't versatile? There are three Mickey Mantle cards in the set, if you count #44, American League Home Run Leaders. There's also the regular Mantle card (#300) and Mickey Mantle All Star (#578). "Bizarre" is the word for three other Topps baseball issues in 1961. There was a Topps Dice Game, Topps Magic Rub-Offs, and even a series of Topps Stamps!

The 1962 Topps set was the biggest ever, at least at the time, with 598 cards, plus some varieties that took the actual count over 600. For the first time, multi-player rookie cards were included. In addition, there were ten Babe Ruth cards in the set, covering the Babe as a boy (#135) through Babe's farewell speech (#144).

The Topps Stamps were back in 1962, this time in color, with red or yellow backgrounds. Did you ever hear of Topps Baseball Bucks? You Didn't? Where were you in '62? The Baseball Bucks series featured 96 issues, including Mantle, Aaron, Koufax, Musial, and many other great stars.

1963 Rookie Stars
1963 Topps Rookie Stars — Pete Rose's first rookie appearance!

Both a color and a black-and-white photo of the player denoted a radical change in design for 1963. This highly popular set is perhaps best known for its Pete Rose rookie card, but the insatiable demand for Mickey Mantle cards has almost equalized the price of the two.

A premium inside the 1963 Topps packages has created another collectible. The Topps Peel-Offs included 46 players of the day that could be peeled and stuck to a shirt, wall, or refrigerator. Also available was a Mickey Mantle plaque, framed and ready for hanging, that could be ordered by mail.

The 1964 set was another huge issue of nearly 600 cards, and is considered by many to be among the most attractive sportscards ever issued. Topps also released its "Giants" series that year, named that not because of affiliation with the San Francisco Giants, but because the card was a relatively gigantic 3-1/8" by 5-1/4." Inserted in the wax packs were metal discs that have come to be called "Topps Coins." There are 164 pieces in this coin set.

Topps also issued the famed "stand-Ups" series in 1964, along with another try at marketing tattoos. The 77-piece "stand-Ups" collection included 55 double-print and 22 single-print cards on a sheet, creating a "twice as rare" situation. The 1965 Topps baseball set featured some high number "short-prints," known today as "SPs." Also offered was the "Topps Embossed" set of 72 players, plus a group of inserts known as "Topps Transfers."

Sandy Soufax
1962 Topps Sandy Koufax

The multi-player cards returned in 1966, and, once again, some of the high numbers were short prints, including the star cards of Denny McClain (#540), Willie McCovey (#550), and Billy Williams (#580). The year 1966 also noted the return of the "Rub-Offs," this time expanded to cover 100 players and 20 pennants.

Topps' largest set up to that time appeared in 1967. As usual, there were minor changes in the format from previous issues, including the first ever vertical printing of the statistics on the reverse. The set featured the incredible popular rookie card of Tom Seaver.

Who Am I? That was the name of a new Topps set issue in 1967. It featured 44 cards, with facial featured obscured. Scratch off the fake beards (or whatever) and you could find out who was underneath. Only four baseball players were included in the set: Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, and Sandy Koufax.

The 1968 set contained 598 cards, with lots of subsets, including the return of All-Star cards. The set included a Mets Rookies card that has become much better known as the Nolan Ryan rookie card (#177), although star pitcher Jerry Koosman is also featured.

Topps went overboard with other sets offered in 1968, including Topps Plaks, Topps Posters, Topps Action All-Star Stickers, Topps Discs, and Topps 3-D.

The final year of the 1960s went out with a bang for Topps, with a huge 664 card issue that included Reggie Jackson's rookie card and a rare white letter variety of the important Mickey Mantle card (#500). Another major issue was the Topps Supers, with a high-gloss finish that enhanced the color photo. Also offered in 1969 were Topps Decals, more stamps, and a short issue called Topps Deckle Edge.

The 1960s. It was a great decade for sports, and a triumph for Topps sports cards. The memories of this era are brought into sharp focus as we view the great cards from this decade and remember the boys of summer who gave them meaning.

Bruce Amspacher has been a professional writer since the 1950s and a professional numismatist since the 1960s. He won the OIPA sportswriting award in 1958 and again in 1959, then spent eight years in college studying American Literature. This background somehow led him to become a professional numismatist in 1968. Since then he has published hundreds of articles on rare coins in dozens of publications as well as publishing his own newsletter, the "Bruce Amspacher Investment Report," for more than a decade. His areas of expertise include Liberty Seated dollars, Morgan and Peace dollars, United States gold coins, sports trivia, Western history, modern literature and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. In 1986 he was a co-founder of the Professional Coin Grading Service (PCGS). Today he is a full-time writer for Collectors Universe.