Riddle me this SMR readers: What's the most popular 1966 Topps Batman set outside of the Norm Saunders artwork issues?
The answer appears to be the 1966 Topps Batman Riddler Back set, followed closely by the Batman Color Photos issue (also known as Bat Laffs).
Showcasing photos from the campy 1966 Batman movie, singles in the 38-card Riddler Back set are highly coveted. Featuring bat gadgetry too expensive for the TV series, these cards picture the Dynamic Duo on a boat, helicopter and motorcycle. The most infamous scene is captured on Card #20 Attacked. This single features Batman fending off a shark with his trusty can of bat shark repellant.
The fronts of these cards boast fragile black borders, while the backs exhibit white text on a black background. The card number can be found inside a white bat design on the backs, followed by a story relating to the scene on the front. A "Riddler's Riddle", requiring a decoder to decipher the answer, is included at the bottom.
These singles were distributed in five-cent wax packs (gum and a decoder were included in every pack) and rack packs. Renowned collector, Marty Quinn, who owns the No. 2 All-Time Finest Riddler Back set on the PSA Set Registry, recalls a small find of rack packs about five to seven years ago.
"I think the find consisted of about 80 rack packs," recounted Quinn, adding that he opened some of the packs himself.
Bob Florio, owner of the No. 9 Current Finest Riddler Back set, says the Non-Sports Bible identifies six cards as being overprinted: #13, #16, #19, #22, #31 and #37. Statistics from the PSA Population Report seem to support this assertion. The single most often evaluated by PSA has been #13 A Dual Decision, while the other aforementioned over prints also boast a high number of submissions.
The set's first (Batman's Butler) and last (Rescued by Robin) cards tend to command a premium. Of the 32 copies of card #1 submitted, no example has been graded higher than PSA NM-MT 8. One PSA 8 fetched $228.50 on eBay in June 2008.
Card #38 Rescued by Robin has been evaluated 25 times and there have been three PSA MINT 9s. A PSA NM-MT 8 sold for $127.77 on eBay in October 2008.
"The first and last cards are challenging to find in high grade," noted Florio. "That's like any other set, but probably more so with these cards because they have black borders."
Brian Karl, who owns the No. 3 All-Time Finest Riddler Back set, agrees that the black borders can be problematic.
"People were a little scared of collecting these cards because the black borders chipped so easily. They're very hard to find in really nice shape," he said.
Centering issues also plague these cards. When Quinn opened rack packs of this issue, he found a number of miscut singles.
"About one-third of the cards could be thrown away just for bad centering, not just poor centering, but they were diamond cut," he explained. "Some were miscut to the point where there was no border on one side."
Batman Color Photos (or Bat Laffs)
This 55-card issue is believed to be the last Batman set Topps released in 1966. The white-bordered fronts boast a mix of photos from the TV series and movie, as well as the card number in red ink in a white circle. Most backs showcase a Bat Laffs joke at the top and a puzzle piece at the bottom. Some backs showcase solely a puzzle piece.
These singles were distributed in five-cent wax packs and cello packs. Quinn points out that this set was produced on 132-card sheets. This production model resulted in 22 overprinted cards. The Non-Sports Bible indicates that cards #34 through 55 are overprinted, shared Florio. In general, however, hobbyists suspect that these singles were
produced in smaller quantities than the other Topps Batman issues.
"I'm sure that the Bat Laffs were printed at an extremely low rate," said Karl, who owns the Registry's No. 4 Current Finest set.
Florio, proud proprietor of the No. 5 Current Finest set, agrees.
"It does seem like Bat Laffs may not have been produced as much," he said.
There are several theories as to why these cards aren't as popular as the other Caped Crusader series. The most popular explanation is that this was the last of five Batman sets unveiled by Topps in 1966 and people were simply tired of collecting the Caped Crusader.
"People just lose interest at some point," noted Karl. "I lost interest myself. Even in 1966 when they came out, I collected very little of the Bat Laffs."
Another conjecture is that these cards showcased too many photos of Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson and not enough of Batman and Robin.
"The cards were directed towards the youth of America at that time and they could probably associate Batman more so with his uniform with the logo and the utility belt, and especially the cowl," said Florio.
As with most vintage sets, the first and last singles command a premium. Card #1 showcases a photo of Bruce Wayne. Of the 25 evaluated, there has been just one PSA MINT 9.
The last card features The Penguin. Twenty-three of these have been submitted, and the highest grade recorded has been a PSA NM-MT 8. One PSA 8 sold for $49.99 on eBay in July 2008.
The least submitted single is Card #3 The Joker. Just 12 have been evaluated and there has yet to be an example grade above PSA NM-MT 8.
Hobbyists have seen a modest increase in interest in Bat Laffs cards in recent months.
"I think that maybe there has been a little bit of an increase in interest in the Bat Laffs because people are like me: they're trying to finish all the Batman series," said Karl.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Brian Karl and Marty Quinn provided pictures for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of press time