PSA Set Registry: Showing Their Metal, Collectors Clamor for Vintage Topps Coins by Doug Koztoski

Apr 21, 2010

"The jingling around sound got me hooked on those buggers," said hobbyist Paul Ratz, referring to 1971 Topps baseball coins. That's an understatement.

The collector first "heard about" the card pack metal inserts the year they debuted in a "concert" of coins "conducted" by a pair of brothers Ratz knew from a nearby Minnesota neighborhood.

"They bought an entire wax box every week, some weeks they bought two. I'm sure they opened 25-50 wax boxes that summer, which was a real treat for me to watch," he said. Ratz estimated the brothers accumulated 1,000 coins in the process. "And, I'll never forget the clinking of the coins," he noted.

Today, Ratz owns a collection of 1971 Topps coins that those two brothers would likely enjoy seeing: The No. 1 and No. 3 All-Time Finest sets on the PSA Set Registry and the No. 5 Current Finest set, among hundreds of other 1971 coins.

Ratz pointed out that, at press time, three inserts in the 153-coin issue have yet to reach the PSA Mint 9 level. "The highest grade so far for Reggie Jackson (#108), Brooks Robinson (#114) and Julian Javier (#39) is PSA 8," he said.

"Hands down, the toughest coin to find well-centered is Jackson and, centering is a huge problem with this set in general," said Scott Grebenstein, No. 6 on the Current Finest 1971 coin Set Registry.

The PSA Population Report indicates that other 1971 Topps coins are nearly as scarce with just two samples each in PSA 9 of Bobby Murcer (#54), Bob Gibson (#63), Jim Northrup (#82), Lou Brock (#87), Steve Hargan (#110), Mike Hegan (#116), Joe Horlen (#120), Juan Marichal (#125), Mike Epstein (#126) and Mike Cuellar (#150).

Even so, Grebenstein is optimistic about some better condition coins of these and other players surfacing. "The set is relatively young in terms of grading," he noted.

Roberto Clemente's coin (#71) is somewhat tougher to find in top condition than others (just 5 PSA 9s) but the Pittsburgh player, who owned the 1971 World Series for the champion Pirates, consistently leads the set in general.

"You could blindly sell PSA NM 7s of Clemente for $75 to $80, PSA NM-MT 8s bring $150 and PSA 9s around $250," said Grebenstein.

The hobbyist added "there is a ton of demand" for the Pete Rose coin (#101), as well. Recently on eBay, PSA 9s of Clemente and Rose notched some $450 and $200, respectively. SMR lists Clemente, Hank Aaron (#137) and Willie Mays coins (#153) in PSA 8 at $75, with Rose at $50.

Common PSA 8 1971 coins often sell in the $10-$15 range while PSA 9s can bring $25-$65. "Depending on who it is and the population, I've seen PSA 9 commons go for well over $100," said Grebenstein. The hobbyist also said PSA Gem-MT 10 commons, of which about 50 exist, sell for $100-$200.

"The coins were so integrated in the set," emphasized Grebenstein, "that I don't think you can call the (1971 Topps) card set complete without them." Adding "currency" to that stance: a coin checklist (#161) appeared in the black-bordered 1971 card issue.

"I remember getting the checklist and wondering what a baseball coin was," said collector Anthony Nex, then ten years old, "and when the 3rd series packs came in we found out. I loved that (coin) set when it came out."

Nex recalled that the metal premiums were also distributed in the 4th and 5th series packs. "That tinking sound of the coins still takes me back, I love that set."

A Good Start

Certain 1964 Topps baseball packs also contained coins; the only other time the card maker had metal inserts in the era.

Yet, like its 1971 little brother, the 1964 Topps coins, each about 1 1/2" in diameter, are often found off-center and/or with scratches, dings and rust, making finding top samples even more challenging, especially after many decades.

Mike Bothner, owner of multiple Top 5 ranked sets of each coin collection on the PSA Set Registry, All-Time and Current Finest, said it's anybody's guess as to how many vintage coins survived in nice shape but he does know how to keep them in top condition.

"Get them in PSA cases. If they are raw and in high-grade, get them graded to protect the coins.

I don't trust that either humidity or the plastic from (thin cardboard-framed) coin holders might not someday damage them if not graded," said Bothner. " If they are in lower grade it's really not much of a concern."

From these sets, Bothner particularly likes anything Clemente, his favorite player, and the 1964 National League variations of Wayne Causey (#161) and Chuck Hinton (#162) since "they are scarce for reasons other than centering."

PSA 8 Causey and Hinton All-Star "N.L." versions each list in SMR at $40, while PSA 9s book at $90. Only four PSA 9 Causey errors and two Hinton variations are in the Pop Report—and that's after around 8,000 total 1964 coins have been graded. "I have seen PSA 9 Causey errors go for $500," said Bothner, " but, for some people, it seems money is no object."

Another currently scarce 1964 coin pictures Floyd Robinson (#39) and only two have earned PSA 9 status—with none higher, out of about 1,500 PSA 9s. Common 1964 PSA 8s and 9s list for $12 and $25, respectively, in SMR.

Around 100 1964 coins have reached the PSA 10 level. Bothner said on occasion those top-grade coins sell for "$500 to $600 and up."

Mickey Mantle, perhaps the most famous switch hitter of all-time, shows up three times in the 167-coin issue (including variations). The slugger is the last of the "regular" format coins (#120) and twice in the All-Stars (one batting left-handed and the other right-handed—but both are #131) with way above average Pop Report numbers.

But, even with this comparable "flood" of 1964 Mantles, they hold their value. His regular coin prices are PSA 7 ($70), PSA 8 ($120) and PSA 9 ($250), while his All-Stars book about 20 percent lower.

Additional era icons show up in both the regular and All-Star sections, too, including Clemente (#55, #150), Mays (#80, #151), Aaron (#83, #149) and Sandy Koufax (#106, #159). That quartet holds up well against Mantle coins as their regular 1964 spheres list for $60 each in PSA 8 and $150 in PSA 9. Their All-Stars are slightly less.

Pete Rose, in his second year, only appears as a regular coin (#82) but his entry matches Clemente and Company's PSA 8 and 9 prices. "Rose and Koufax have a very hardcore following," said Bothner, "and Koufax's regular coin is a tough one to find in high grade."

As on some 1971 Topps baseball wax pack boxes, when a picture of a Rose coin helped hawk the inserts, Stan Musial's image did the same in 1964. The big difference in these two situations is "Stan the Man," who retired after the 1963 season, did not appear on either a regular 1964 Topps card or in the coin issue. Go figure.

Looking Forward

With respect to interest in vintage oddball sports inserts and the like in coming years, Ratz feels collectors will not pull a "Stan the Invisible Man," from 1964, in fact, quite the opposite.

"I think a lot of collectors will jump into the smaller sets like the 1971 coins," he said. "The set basically had the same amount of stars as the (1971) card set. With the coins, you have fewer to collect and that means less money to spend so it's more doable."

In other words, the future for 1964 and 1971 Topps coins "sounds" like a hit.