Forty Years Young: A Look at the 1965 Topps Baseball Card Set

Jim Churilla
Jun 21, 2005

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the 1965 Topps baseball card set. It's hard to believe that 40 years have gone by since its release. The 1965 baseball season itself was nothing short of remarkable with the Los Angeles Dodgers winning the World Series over the Minnesota Twins four games to three. Sandy Koufax would have his greatest year ever, going 26-8 with 8 shutouts, 27 complete games, 382 strikeouts and he had a minuscule 2.04 ERA.  Koufax would also throw a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs, save 2 games and be named the World Series MVP! Wow! 

The Twins Zoilo Versalles was the AL MVP while Willie Mays won the NL award, hitting an incredible 52 home runs while playing in blustery Candelstick Park.  Mays would also hit his 500th career home run and Ernie Banks his 400th home run. The 1965 Rookie of the Year winners were Baltimore's Curt Blefary and Jim Lefebvre of the L.A. Dodgers.  The Houston Colt 45's would change their name and become the Houston Astros, moving into the new $31 million dollar Harris County Domed Stadium or better known as the Houston Astrodome.  The Milwaukee Braves would play their last season in Milwaukee before moving to Atlanta and the Los Angeles Angels became the California Angels. 

Also of note was the first free agent draft which saw 328 players drafted by the 20 teams, bringing balance and an organized structure to major league baseball.  

Of all the sets issued by Topps in the 1960's, the 1965 set is one of the more attainable sets of the decade because there are no hidden scarcities or error cards that demand premium value.  Like other Topps sets of the time, the 1965 set does have its short printed high number cards but, according to some East Coast collectors, it wasn't the high series cards that were difficult to collect, it was the mid-series cards. 

It has also been pointed out that the 1965 Topps cards were not as abundant in card shops as previous and subsequent issues produced by Topps.  One explanation may be the fact that so many young adults that normally would have been buying cards were now either being drafted or voluntarily going off to the Vietnam War, since 1965 was the year America fully committed.  It's only speculation but it may be a valid reason.  

The 1965 Topps set consists of 598 cards, with each card measuring 2 ½ x 3 ½ in size. Cards were released in different series throughout the year, with the later series believed to be short printed. Cards were purchased in either five-cent wax packs or one-cent wax packs, the last year that penny packs were sold.  The front of the card consists of a framed photo or, on some occasions, a painted portrait of a player or players in a variety of different poses.  These are either a close up facial shot or a batting, fielding, or pitching pose.  The lower left of the card front has the player's team name and logo fixed inside a pennant against one of nine background colors which can be either green, red, black, light blue, grey, purple, orange, blue, or light green. 

On the lower right of the card, the player's name and position appear (with the position in a lower font).  The card back has the card number in the upper left corner, inside a baseball with the word "Topps."  There is also a blurb about the player drawn as a cartoon and, below that, is the player's bio and statistics.  Rookie cards have split information on the back.  In the lower right corner, you will find the "T.C.G. printed in USA" found on all Topps cards.  

The key rookie cards in the set are the cards of #16 Joe Morgan, #477 Steve Carlton, #526 Jim Hunter, # 581 Tony Perez and of #282 Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player in major league baseball.  Morgan, Carlton, Hunter and Perez are all members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. 

Besides the aforementioned rookies, there is a great mix of other rookie cards of players who went on to have respectable careers.  These include #145 Luis Tiant, # 236 Denny McClain (who was baseballs last 30 game winner), #266 Bert Campaneris, #533 Tug McGraw (father of country music singer Tim McGraw), #550 Mel Stottlemyre (the New York Yankees current pitching coach who in his rookie year became the first pitcher in 55 years to hit an inside the park home run), and # 373 Jim Lonborg (the 1967 Cy Young award winner).  

Key non-rookie cards in the set include #350 Mickey Mantle, #250 Willie Mays, #170 Hank Aaron, # 160 Roberto Clemente, #207 Pete Rose, and # 300 Sandy Koufax, all demanding a premium in high grades. 

There were a handful of uncorrected error cards in the set but none that added significant value.  They include: card #43 of Mike Shannon which has his name on the front of his card in red, while other St. Louis Cardinal players have their names listed in yellow, card #62 of Jim Kaat has his name misspelled on the front of the card as Katt, while the back of the card is correctly spelled Kaat, card #79 is the series one checklist that can be found in two versions and is the only known variation in the set, card #61 listed on one series one checklist says C. Cannizzaro while on the other series one checklist variation he is listed simply as Cannizzaro, card #134 is the World Series action card of Mickey Mantle, which shows him wearing a road uniform when in fact the game was played at Yankee Stadium, card #160 of Roberto Clemente has a spelling error on the back with the word Pittsburgh misspelled as "Pittsburfh" after the year 1960, card #404 of Stan Williams has him listed as a Cleveland Indian but wearing a New York Yankee cap, card #462 of Lew Krause shows a photo that is actually of Pete Lovrich, Card #472 of Don Pavletich has him incorrectly listed as a pitcher, card #519 of Bob Uecker has him posing as a left-handed batter when, in fact, he was a right-handed batter and the rookie card of #526 Jim Hunter has his name on the back of the card spelled as "Tim."  

Some of the more appealing cards in the set are the first 12 cards, which are the league leader cards.  A good example is card #3, which shows the American League home run leaders Mickey Mantle, Harmon Killebrew, and Boog Powell. Another neat group of cards are the World Series action cards numbered 132-139, covering the 1964 WS highlights.  Card #187 of Casey Stengel shows him sitting in the dugout steps with a bat but one of the best cards is card #385 of Carl Yastrzemski, who is in a posed position as if ready to catch a fly ball. The card has great colors that go along well with the classic Red Sox jersey. 

The SMR Population Report shows that 62,942 1965 Topps cards have been graded with 135 receiving the grade of PSA Gem Mint 10 and 5,085 graded out PSA Mint 9's.  Individual cards, which have been submitted the most for grading, are the # 477 Steve Carlton rookie card (1,967), the #350 Mickey Mantle card (1,638), the #207 Pete Rose card (1,068), the Roberto Clemente card (1,065), the #170 Hank Aaron card (1,043), the #250 Willie Mays (899), the #134 World Series Game 3 of Mickey Mantle (897), and the # 300 Sandy Koufax (840). 

The 1965 Topps set had two different insert sets, one being an iron-on transfers insert set, and the other a gold foil embossed insert set.  Both sets were issued separately in different series wax packs.  The Topps iron-on transfers measured 2 by 3 in size and consisted of 72 players, who were released in 3 groups of 24 in 3 different series wax packs. 

On the wax packs were instructions on how to iron on the transfers.   On the top of the transfer, and just above the player's portrait, is the team name and his position, while the bottom of the transfer has the player's name.  Half of the transfers had blue panels at the top and bottom while the other half had red panels.  The most valued transfers in the set are the Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, with the Yaz and #32 Bob Veale thought to be short printed.     

The Topps Embossed inserts consist of 72 cards that measure 2 1/8 by 3 ½ in size and, like the iron-on inserts, were released in different series. The cards have a player in a gold foil portrait against either a blue background for the American League or a red background for the National League.  The back of the card has the player name and card number listed.  The Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Sandy Koufax cards are the most valuable in the set.  According to the PSA Population Report, 675 Topps Embossed inserts have been graded with most falling into the PSA 6 to 8 range, and only two receiving a Mint grade of PSA 9.

Both the one-cent and five-cent wax pack wrappers demand a premium on the market in high-grade condition. The wrappers are yellow and red in color and can still be found at various card shows and on internet auction sites. Prepare to dig deep in your pocket for any unopened material for it is extremely scarce.  I recently spotted an unopened 1965 nickel pack that had a completed sale price of $750 and a wrapper went for $33.   The wrappers themselves promote Topps Bazooka bubble gum with a picture of a boy blowing a bubble with the words "He said a mouthful when he said Bazooka".   Cellos and rackpacks are not thought to have existed, but it is not certain. 

Another 1965 Topps product was the Bazooka Bubble Gum panel cards.  The cards were on the back of Bazooka bubble gum boxes in panels of three. Thirty-six players made up the entire set with the key cards being Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, Sandy Koufax, and Hank Aaron.  Single cards measure 1 9/16 by 2 1/2 with a panel of three cards measuring 2 ½ by 4 11/16.  The PSA Population Report notes that only 16 graded hand-cut cards, with one being a PSA 10 Sandy Koufax.  Twenty-two hand-cut panels have been graded with 5 receiving PSA 9 grades.

The 1965 Topps set is a nice set to start with if you're thinking about putting together a set from that decade.  It's spattered with a number of great players of that era and all the cards are feasible to obtain.  Card lots can be readily purchased on the various internet auction sites, by attending card shows, or visiting your local area dealers.  This can give you a good head start at completing the set which, in time, can be upgraded. The PSA Population Report and SMR can also help you by providing an accurate guide to the various cards that are out there and their current market value. 

Good luck and until next month!