PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1960 Topps Baseball Card Set Sixty Years Later
By Pete Putman
One of Topps' most colorful and odd-looking baseball sets celebrates its 'diamond' anniversary this year
The scene is the Topps Chewing Gum Company offices in Brooklyn, New York. It's early fall in 1959, and company executives are already deep into production of next year's trading card sets - specifically, their flagship product, Topps Baseball. With nine previous sets under their belt and little competition from confectioners Fleer and Leaf, the playing field is wide open for the makers of Bazooka and Blony bubble gum.
Photographs have already been taken of nearly every player during the current season, although rosters are always subject to change at the upcoming winter meetings. At least one team (Washington) is talking about moving to a new city (Minneapolis), while major league baseball has opened discussions about expansion. And there was the possibility of a third professional baseball league, the upstart Continental League, announced earlier in July by Branch Rickey and several wealthy owners who planned to site teams in New York, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Toronto and Denver.
Topps' sets had started modestly with the 1951 blue and red backs, then went all-out with their 407-card 1952 offering (cases of which were still sitting in Topps' warehouse seven years later). Having grossly over-estimated demand, Topps scaled back their sets with each successive year to 280, 260 and then 210 cards, finally buying out competitor Bowman Gum in 1956 and ramping up production again. The 1959 set totaled an amazing 572 cards, including several themed cards, rookie cards and All-Stars.
For 1960, Topps would match that number by continuing with multi-player cards, two sets of rookie cards, a set of Sport magazine All-Stars, a set of managers, yet another set of team coaches, and of course, team cards that doubled as checklists. All that remained to be decided was the design. Would the 1960 set feature vertical (portrait) orientation, as the '52, '53, '54, '57, '58, and '59 sets did? Or would a horizontal (landscape) orientation make a splash, as it did in '55 and '56?
What finally emerged from Topps' art department was one of the quirkiest baseball card sets ever made. The horizontal layout was back, creating all kinds of problems when formatting and cropping vertical player photos. And Topps turned the 1954 set design on its side, combining a small, vertical black-and-white, full-body image of each player with either a head-and-shoulders color portrait or a tightly cropped headshot that barely fit into the remaining space.
The card backs featured each player's vital statistics, their highlights from the 1959 season, and a cartoon by noted artist Jack Davis, who was already well-known by his illustration work for Mad magazine. Davis would also provide the cartoons for the 1961 baseball Topps set.
The 1960 Topps issue stands apart from other sets because of the wacky color combinations used for players' names inside the solid color banner at the bottom of each photo. Some of these color combinations worked well, like yellow and white text on a blue background, or black and red text on a bright yellow background. Others were more subdued, like white and red on orange, yellow and white on red, and yellow and white on green.
And then there were "what the???" color combinations like black and white on pink, or orange, white and yellow on black. It seems as if the art directors in Brooklyn simply drew up a list of all possible mathematical combinations of colors and used every one of them without regard to contrast or readability.
Add in the solid color backgrounds behind the black-and-white player photos, and what you wind up with is an explosion of solid color hues, making the 1960 Topps baseball set either the most garish thing a kid had ever seen or an enduring piece of pop art (or both). The choice of a bright yellow wax wrapper just amplified the visual impact. Notably, Topps never used a color scheme like this again, nor did they repeat the horizontal card layout.
Nobody had ever seen a set like 1960 Topps baseball before, and no one had seen a year like 1960, either. The United States elected its youngest and only Catholic president, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, in November following the first-ever televised debates between Kennedy and his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon. The Soviet Union caught the U.S. military spying on them when they shot down Francis Gary Powers' top-secret U2 spy plane on May 1, creating a national embarrassment and eventually leading to a high-level prisoner exchange two years later for Rudolf Abel, a Russian spy captured in Queens.
Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, Saudi-Arabia and Venezuela formed the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1960, while in Vietnam, the National Liberation Front (a.k.a. the Viet Cong) was organized to fight against the South Vietnamese government (and eventually, the United States) to achieve reunification. France tested its first atomic weapon and the nuclear-powered submarine USS Triton completed the first submerged circumnavigation of the globe. Above the waves, the United States launched the USS Enterprise, the world's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
The first patent for a laser was issued in March, and a month later, the first weather satellite (TIROS-1) rocketed into space, while the bathyscaphe Trieste descended nearly 36,000 feet to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. NASA launched the Pioneer 5 space probe in March to travel between the orbits of Earth and Venus in order to gather information about deep space between the two planets. It successfully completed its mission and stopped transmitting data back to Earth by April of that year.
In Liverpool, England, four local, hard-working teenage musicians started a band that eventually became The Beatles and went on to sell hundreds of millions of records. On this side of the Atlantic Ocean, teenagers in the U.S. were gyrating wildly on the dance floor to Chubby Checker and his recording of "The Twist," while Alfred Hitchcock had theater audiences squirming in their seats during screenings of his classic thriller, Psycho. Elvis Presley received his honorable discharge from the Army and embarked on a career of appearing and singing in cheesy movies.
In 1960, you could buy a new house for about $12,000 or rent an apartment on average for $98 a month. The minimum wage was just $1.25! A gallon of gas cost between 19 and 25 cents, and a new car would set you back about $2,000. Needed a new pair of shoes in 1960? $13 would cover the cost. At the grocery store, a gallon of milk cost 95 cents, a dozen eggs were 53 cents, a bottle of ketchup 22 cents, a six-pack of soda was 59 cents, a loaf of white bread 20 cents, ice cream was 79 cents for a half gallon, and a candy bar was 5 cents. And of course, so was a wax pack of five (and sometimes six) Topps baseball cards and a stick of gum. Or, you could fish that lone penny out of your pocket and buy one card and one stick of gum... a concept that seems remarkably quaint today.
There were also many changes in the world of sports in 1960. The underdog United States Hockey team captured its first Olympic gold medal in ice hockey at Squaw Valley, California, and the Minneapolis Lakers bid adieu to the twin cities to settle in Los Angeles, following the lead of the Brooklyn Dodgers two years earlier. The National Football League suddenly had competition from a new American Football League and its franchises in New York, Boston, Dallas, Houston, Los Angeles, Buffalo, Oakland and Denver.
Some things remained the same. The National Hockey League (NHL) consisted of just six teams, while the National Basketball Association (NBA) had eight, including a team in small-market Syracuse, New York. In the NHL, four teams qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs, won by the Montreal Canadiens in a four-game sweep over the Toronto Maple Leafs, while in the NBA, the perennial first-place Boston Celtics captured the 1959-1960 title, four games to three, over the St. Louis Hawks.
The 1960 season was also a turning point for major league baseball, as it was the last year of two eight-team leagues. Over the next two years, the American League would place expansion teams in Minneapolis and Los Angeles and the National League in New York and Houston, consigning the Continental League to the dustbin of history. To celebrate this new decade for baseball, demolition crews tore down and carted away the remains of the beloved but antiquated Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, while the transplanted San Francisco Giants moved out of their temporary quarters in Seals Park to the brand-new and very windy Candlestick Park in April.
A 40-year-old Ted Williams capped off a legendary 19-season career by hitting his 493rd home run on opening day and finishing his season with a .316 average, 98 hits, 72 runs batted in and 29 home runs. Williams hit home run #521 in his last at-bat of the season at Fenway Park, and after circling the bases, refused to come out and acknowledge the crowd. The Sporting News later named Williams their player of the decade for the 1950s.
Managers Joe Gordon and Jimmy Dykes were traded for each other during the 1960 season, Dykes moving from Detroit to Cleveland and Gordon passing him in the other direction. Chicago White Sox owner
Bill Veeck - always innovating - put players' names on the backs of their jerseys in 1960, eliciting immediate protests from other clubs and a ruling from the commissioner's office that teams could retain the option of using numbers only if they wished.
For the second year in a row, the American and National Leagues faced off in two separate All-Star games, two days and a thousand miles apart, on July 11 (Kansas City Municipal Stadium) and July 13 (Yankee Stadium), with the senior circuit winning both games. The New York Yankees cruised to the American League title by eight games over the Baltimore Orioles, finishing 97-57, while the Pittsburgh Pirates toppled the reigning champion Los Angeles Dodgers with a 95-59 record, seven games ahead of the Milwaukee Braves.
Not surprisingly, the 1960 World Series didn't turn out as everyone expected. The Pirates' stingy pitching staff and relief ace Elroy Face stood fast against Mickey Mantle and the hard-hitting Bronx Bombers in Games 1, 4 and 5, wrapping things up with Bill Mazeroski's dramatic ninth-inning home run off pitcher Ralph Terry in Game 7 at Forbes Field - the first time a home run had ended a Series. This, despite the Bucs being outscored by New York 55-27, shut out twice by Yankees ace pitcher Whitey Ford 10-0 and 12-0 in Games 3 and 6, and losing Game 2 by a 16-3 tally!
As mentioned earlier, 1960 Topps baseball is notable for having a generous buffet of sub-sets. There are six in all, along with scattered multi-player/coach cards. It's also the only Topps baseball collection to have two separate rookie sub-sets, the reasoning for which has been long lost to time.
The first sub-set (cards #117 - #148) showcased two rookie players from each MLB team as chosen by Sport magazine. Each player appears in a circular vignette with a red, white and blue banner on a bright orange background. These featured players went on to mostly undistinguished careers with two notable exceptions; one of them being Jim Kaat, who pitched in four consecutive decades. The second, much smaller sub-set (cards #316 - #325), featured ten players "Chosen by The Youth of America" via mail-in cards. It yielded one Hall of Famer, the Giants' Willie MCovey.
Cards #385 through #391 added a new wrinkle, combining details of each game of the 1959 World Series between the White Sox and Dodgers with some oddly-cropped action photos and summarizing the Series stats on the last card, which featured a Dodgers coach getting a champagne shower. A 16-card coaches sub-set (cards #455 - #470), also new for 1960, turned out to be a "one and done" concept and was dropped for 1961, while a sub-set of managers (cards #212 - #227) was arranged in alphabetical order by team. As in 1958 and 1959, 1960 Topps baseball closes out with Sport magazine All-Stars, twenty in all from cards #553 to #572.
Despite the absence of Ted Williams, who was under contract to Fleer, there are plenty of big-name players in the 1960 Topps set that wound up in Cooperstown. Among them, you'll find Ernie Banks (#10), Brooks Robinson (#28), Whitey Ford (#35), Al Kaline (#50), Bill Mazeroski (#55), Bob Gibson (#73), Nellie Fox (#100), Carl Yastrzemski (#148, and the only Sport 1960 Rookie Star to make it into the Hall of Fame), Willie Mays (#200), Luis Aparicio (#240), Stan Musial (#250) and Robin Roberts (#264).
The largest cluster of Hall of Famers appears in Series 4 (cards #265 - #352) with Hank Aaron (#300), Richie Ashburn (#305), Willie McCovey (#316, and a Topps All-Star Rookie), Roberto Clemente (#326), Sandy Koufax (#343) and Mickey Mantle (#350). The Yankees Team card (#332) also falls into this grouping. Imagine finding an unopened pack from this series today!
Hoyt Wilhelm (#395), Ed Mathews (#420), Warren Spahn (#445), Don Drysdale (#475), Frank Robinson (#490) and Duke Snider (#493) round out the top-tier players. Some of the combo cards also feature HOFers like #7 Master & Mentor (Willie Mays with manager Bill Rigney), #115 Fork & Knuckler (Hoyt Wilhelm and Elroy Face), #160 Rival All-Stars (Mickey Mantle with Ken Boyer), #230 Mound Magicians (showing Warren Spahn flanked by Lou (Lew) Burdette and Bob Buhl), #352 Cincy Clouters (Frank Robinson flanked by Jerry Lynch and Gus Bell), and #429 American League Kings (Nellie Fox with Harvey Kuenn).
Of the many Hall of Famers, several made it into the final sub-set of Sport All-Stars, including McCovey (#554), Fox (#555), Mathews (#558), Aparicio (#559), Banks (#560), Kaline (#561), Mantle (#563), Mays (#564), Aaron (#566) and Drysdale (#570). And although the coaches' subset wasn't all that popular, there are a few HOFers in that grouping - look for Billy Herman as a Red Sox coach on card #456, Luke Appling as a Tigers coach on card #461 and Bill Dickey as a Yankees coach on card #465.
Errors, Scarcities and Trivia
Generally speaking, 1960 Topps baseball cards aren't very hard to come by. First-series cards (#1 - #88) are the most difficult to locate with strong centering and corners. In contrast, 2nd series cards (#89 - #176) are found in abundance. Go to a card show and look through boxes and binders, and you'll come up with stacks of the pumpkin-orange Sport Rookie All-Star cards in pack-fresh condition and at bargain-basement prices.
The notable exception is, of course, Yastrzemski's #148 rookie card, which shows his headshot against a nondescript green background (presumably trees). The same photo was used on his 1961 Topps card. It's not unusual to find green "schmutz" on this card from spillover ink during printing. The Mantle/Boyer combo card (Rival All-Stars) also comes from this series and is easy to come by in nice condition. Unopened wax and cello packs also pop up from time to time, and more often than not, they're from the 2nd, 3rd or 5th series.
There are a few challenging cards to find in high grade, in particular #116 Jim Rivera and #451 Curt Simmons. Both cards are plagued by centering issues due to their placement on printing sheets, and Simmons' card is also affected by print snow. As of this writing, more than 260 copies of Rivera's card had been submitted to PSA with just 49 PSA NM-MT 8s and three PSA MINT 9s awarded. Simmons is by far the "white whale" of the set. Out of the 439 PSA submissions to date, just 37 have received the PSA 8 grade, with only a solitary PSA 9 and no PSA GEM-MT 10s.
Billy Jurges' #220 manager card is also a chore to find centered, as is Danny Murtaugh on card #223. Other centering-challenged cards include Del Crandall (#170), Hank Bauer (#262), Ray Semproch (#286), McCovey's #316 rookie, Jim Perry's #324 Topps All-Star Rookie, Jim Coker (#438), Ellis Burton (#446), Ned Garver (#471), Bill Virdon (#496), Al Pilarcik (#498) and Sandy Amoros (#531).
In fact, centering is such a problem with this set that only 305 PSA 10s have emerged from over 292,000 cards submitted to PSA. Unqualified high-grade 1960 Topps cards (PSA 8 and higher) account for just 30% of all submissions, compared to the 1959 (32%) and 1961 Topps sets (39.7%). Among the Hall of Famers, only the regular issue cards of Yastrzemski (1), Mays (3), Koufax (1), Spahn (1), Drysdale (3) and Berra (1) have earned at least one PSA 10 designation.
Given the size of this set and the usual complex logistics to bring it through production to your local candy store, it's amazing that there are only three errors in the issue, none of which were corrected. In the Sport All-Star Rookie set, Julian Javier's #133 card identifies him as "Manuel" Javier on the front and back. Card #346 shows outfielder Gary Peters of the Chicago White Sox but identifies him as Sox pitcher J. C. Martin, while the opposite occurs on card #407 with Martin identified as Peters. That's it!
One super scarcity involves early test prints of Faye Throneberry (#9), Gino Cimoli (#58) and Kent Hadley (#102). These variations show a Yankees logo on Throneberry's card, a Cardinals logo and team name on Cimoli's card, and a Kansas City Athletics logo on Hadley's card. Only a handful are known to exist and would command crazy premiums if they ever showed up at auction.
Populations & Values
As might be expected, the 1960 Topps card most often submitted for grading is Mickey Mantle's #350 entry, while Carl Yastrzemski's card comes in a very close second. As of this writing, Mantle's card has been shipped to PSA 7,912 times, garnering 312 PSA 8s, seven PSA 8.5s, 29 PSA 9s and no PSA 10s, while Yaz's rookie card had been graded 7,872 times, netting 574 PSA 8s, 12 PSA 8.5s, 42 PSA 9s and that single PSA 10.
Other heavy hitters include the #160 Mantle/Boyer card (4,300+ subs with 551 PSA 8s, 15 PSA 8.5s, 66 PSA 9s and two PSA 10s), #200 Willie Mays (4,500+ subs for 305 PSA 8s, 12 PSA 8.5s, 24 PSA 9s and three PSA 10s), #250 Stan Musial (3,300+ subs for 370 PSA 8s, 11 PSA 8.5s and 36 PSA 9s), #300 Hank Aaron (3,300+ subs for 199 PSA 8s, seven PSA 8.5s and nine PSA 9s), #316 Willie McCovey (4,300+ subs for 285 PSA 8s, six PSA 8.5s and 29 PSA 9s), #326 "Bob" Clemente (5,300+ subs for 586 PSA 8s, 17 PSA 8.5s and 47 PSA 9s), #343 Sandy Koufax (4,600+ subs with 499 PSA 8s, seven PSA 8.5s, 40 PSA 9s and one PSA 10), and Mantle's #563 All-Star card (4,000+ subs for 529 PSA 8s, 24 PSA 8.5s, 73 PSA 9s and an amazing four PSA 10s).
As far as valuations go, 1960 Topps baseball is considered one of the more affordable sets compared to 1959 and 1961. The Mick, of course, is the runaway leader in terms of value, with PSA 8 copies valued at $3,650 and climbing. His Series 4 companions also fare well, with Aaron's card in PSA 8 valued at $1,250, McCovey's rookie card at $1,350, Clemente's card at $550 and Koufax's entry at $350.
In PSA 8, Ernie Banks' #10 card has a $450 price tag and Yaz's rookie card circles around $1,200. In the same grade, Mays is valued at $650, Musial at $290, #377 Roger Maris at $245 and Mantle's All-Star #563 card at $375. As for those "tough" commons, a PSA 8 copy of Rivera's #116 card would likely set you back at least $325, Crandall's #170 entry $500, Murtaugh's #223 manager card $415 and Simmons' #451 "white whale" at least $400.
In a recent auction, a lot consisting of both a 1-cent and 5-cent 1960 Topps wrapper in strong condition gaveled down at $360. Somewhat rare 1960 Topps boxes also pop up here and there, selling for $100 - $200 depending on condition. Salesman's sample strips from this set are not easy to find, compared to 1959. Only three examples are listed in the PSA Population Report, compared to 12 for the 1959 Topps set. A unique six-card advertising panel fetched more than $2,500 a few years ago, and the three-card panel featuring Roman Mejias, Clete Boyer and Kent Hadley shown in this article sold for $350.
The author has a particular fondness for 1960 Topps baseball, cards he collected while in grade school. In fact, many years after graduation, he located in his attic files a crumbling third-grade project that involved attaching several 1960 Topps cards to construction paper with brass fasteners and scribbling something unreadable about them. Among the resulting victims were Bud Daley, Tony Kubek, Johnny Callison, Don Demeter, Ryne Duren, Tom Sturdivant, a miscut St. Louis Cardinals team card and (horrors!) Stan Musial.
Amazingly, one of his childhood cards that missed being pierced and survived unscathed for almost five decades in a shoebox, finally winding up in a PSA NM 7 holder, was Hammerin' Hank Aaron - and that grade was largely due to those perpetual 1960 Topps centering problems, as the card is otherwise very clean and sharp. The 4th-Series wrapper it came in and the accompanying slab of almost tasteless gum are lost to history, but Hank still sits proudly in his holder, watching silently as the finishing touches are put to this article.
If you have an appreciation for over-the-top, bizarre color combinations, are predisposed to horizontal card layouts, and have a fondness for the silver age of post-war, pre-expansion baseball, then 1960 Topps baseball is the set to collect. It's loaded with Hall of Famers at reasonable prices and contains more than a few "chase" cards that will keep you endlessly thumbing through albums and wrecking your cuticles sorting through piles of Card Sav