Today's modern is tomorrow's vintage ...
... or so goes the mantra espoused by some collectors.
In our hobby, pre-1980 cards are generally dubbed "vintage", while anything released after 1980 is relegated to "modern" status.
But what about the 1980 Topps Baseball set? It seems arbitrary to refer to a 1979 card as "vintage", while a 1980 card – unveiled just one year later – is considered "modern." After all, the 1980 Topps set is more difficult to compile in high-grade than some 1970s issues and it also marked the end of Topps' baseball card monopoly (Donruss and Fleer debuted in 1981).
Distributed in wax packs, rack packs, cellos and vending boxes, regular singles in this 726-card set are standard-sized and boast a large picture and a facsimile autograph on their fronts, with the player's name and position showcased along the top. The team name is indicated on the bottom and white borders surround the picture.
Backs showcase statistics, a cartoon and biographical information. Subsets include Highlights (#1 to 6), League Leader (#201 to 207) and Future Stars (#661 to 686) cards. Sixty-six cards have also been deemed double prints. Mike Schmidt (#270), Rod Carew (#700) and Carl Yastrzemski (#720) are among the most high-profile double prints.
Several variations have also been documented. Most notably, four cards – Steve Braun (#9), Fred Stanley (#387), John Wathan (#547) and Tom Poquette (#597) – boast a rare version that showcases their name in yellow. A PSA graded Stanley reportedly sold for more than $1,000 a few years ago.
A number of Hall of Famers are also part of this set, including the final regular Topps single of Willie McCovey (#335), and Ozzie Smith's second-year card (#393). Eddie Murray (#160), George Brett (#450), Tom Seaver (#500), Pete Rose (#540), and Nolan Ryan (#580) are also represented. Rookies include Dave Stieb (#77), Rick Sutcliffe (#544), Dan Quisenberry (#667), Jesse Orosco (#681), and, of course, Rickey Henderson (#482).
"I really like the Henderson rookie," said Jeff Russell, who owns the No. 3, 1980 Topps Set on the PSA Set Registry. "I don't think he gets enough recognition for all his stolen bases and all his accomplishments on the field. He's really put up some great numbers and the way the game has changed now, I don't think anybody is going to break that stolen base record."
Russell adds that Henderson rookies tend to be hampered by poor centering. It's also the card that has been handled the most by collectors.
"A lot of the corners have some kind of flaking on them," said Jamie Gottshall, owner of the Registry's No. 9, 1980 Topps set.
Of the 8,995 Hendersons graded, there have been just 10 PSA 10s. One sold for $4,263.60 in a Mastro Auctions sale in April 2007.
Centering problems are common on cards from this set. George Medich (#336) is one of the set's most elusive cards. Of the seven Medich singles submitted, there has yet to be a PSA 10.
"The Medich cards seem to be out of focus. They're not as clear and as sharp as other cards," explained Russell.
But, the most difficult card in flawless form has been the Cleveland Indians team card (#451). Just four have been evaluated by PSA, and there are two PSA 9s and two PSA 8s.
"A lot of mine are off left-to-right and right-to-left and I just can't find one that's perfectly centered," said Russell of the Indians team card.
Topps also produced a 23-card, Phillies team set in 1980 that was available at Burger King restaurants in the Philadelphia area. The design of these cards mimic the regular Topps series with the exception of a Burger King logo on their backs. Four cards showcase players in different poses than their regular Topps singles. Gottshall says these are tougher to find in high-grade than the regular Topps cards.
"Their problem is they were packaged in cellophane three-to-a-pack and they were tightly wrapped, and to get them in a PSA 9 or 10, your card would have to be the center card of the three," he explained.
The Schmidt and Rose Burger King cards command premiums over their regular Topps cards. A regular issue PSA 9 Rose, for example, generally fetches around $13, while a PSA 9 Burger King card sold for $44.01 on eBay in December 2007.
Topps also manufactured a Burger King Pitch, Hit & Run set in 1980. More widely distributed than the Phillies cards, these singles also share the same design as the regular Topps series with the exception of a Burger King logo on their fronts. Of the 34 cards in this set, singles #1-11 were pitchers, #12-22 were hitters and #23 to 33 were base stealers. Fifteen of the singles present players in different poses than their regular 1980 Topps cards.
Gottshall, who owns the No. 2 Pitch, Hit and Run Registry set, says these are easier to find in high-grade than the Phillies Burger King cards. He believes these were packaged the same way as the Phillies cards, making them susceptible to wear. The Pitch, Hit & Run cards, however, don't generally command a premium.
Hobbyists have seen an increase in interest in the 1980 Topps baseball products in recent months.
"In addition to people that are going after the standard 1980 set, you always have your private collectors or team collectors that are looking for certain players for certain teams and that can really throw a wrench into trying to come across a nice high-end card," explained Russell.
With this spike in interest, the "modern" 1980 Topps set seems to be returning to hobby prominence. Maybe now that it's 28 years old, collectors are redefining it as a "vintage" issue.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Mastro Auctions, Jeff Russell and Jamie Gottshall provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
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