It's a set that appeals to both vintage and modern collectors.
Mimicking the design of the 1952 Topps Baseball offering, the 2001 Topps Heritage set is one of this decade's most popular issues.
Similar to the set it honors, this seminal Heritage offering is comprised of 407 cards. Like the 1952 Topps set, the first 80 cards can be found with red or black backs and the high-number series cards (311 to 407) are short-printed. Unlike its cardboard inspiration, however, the 2001 issue features a variety of inserts – the most coveted being Real One Autograph cards.
It appears that Topps initially intended to release two series of 52 autographed cards, showcasing 26 modern players and 26 players from the 1952 set. One series features blue autographs, while the other boasts rarer Red Ink autographs. Two hundred of each blue autographed card were released, while just 52 of each were signed in red ink. These Red Ink singles are serial-numbered by hand on the backs.
Headlined by signed cards of modern stars like Alex Rodriguez (#THAAR), Barry Bonds (#THABB) and Chipper Jones (#THACJ) mixed in with legends like Willie Mays (#THAWM), Warren Spahn (#THAWS) and Robin Roberts (#THARR), these autographed sets are coveted by a broad cross section of collectors.
Bob Moynihan and Bill Dodge, both primarily vintage collectors, are attempting to complete the Red Ink autograph set on the PSA Set Registry. However, two "exchange" cards are hindering their mission.
An Eddie Mathews Red Ink Autograph exchange card could be found in a very select number of 2001 Topps Heritage packs. This card promised collectors a Red Ink Mathews Autograph if they submitted it to Topps. It's believed, however, that Mathews passed away before he could sign the cards. Topps spokesperson Clay Luraschi could not confirm this.
"Mathews absolutely did not sign. He passed away. There are no Mathews autographs cards," said Matt Angus, a Topps Heritage set expert based in New Jersey.
When Dodge submitted his Mathews exchange card, he says he was sent a Willie Mays Red Ink autographed card that was not serial-numbered on the back.
"I sent it in and I remember specifically I had the red ink Eddie Mathews (exchange) card and I got the Willie Mays card unnumbered," explained Dodge. "This card just appeared in the mail one day with no explanation as to why I was getting it. It never said this Willie Mays card is a replacement for the Eddie Mathews card he didn't sign, it just appeared, which I thought was very strange. And as time went on, I thought, this Mathews card just doesn't exist."
Kevin Reid, a Topps Heritage Baseball collector since 2001, has also seen the unnumbered Red Ink Mays single.
"I remember seeing eBay auctions for the unnumbered Mays card. Apparently Topps had had Willie sign extra cards. Topps made this trade very early on," he said.
Hobbyists don't debate that a Mays autograph is a reasonable substitution for the Mathews. What concerns them is that Topps apparently shipped out a version of the Mays Red Ink Autograph that is not serial-numbered.
"I don't know why in the world Topps would have diluted the rarity of one in 52 by artificially pumping out who knows how many unnumbered Mays autographs," said Moynihan.
Hobbyists would like to know how many unnumbered Red Ink Mays cards have been disseminated by Topps, outside of those that have been serial-numbered (1 to 52).
"There's definitely more than 52," said Dodge. "If they exchanged all the Eddie Mathews Red Ink redemption cards for the Willie Mays unnumbered one, there would have to be more than 100 of them."
"I've had maybe five to 10 serial-numbered Mays (Red Ink Autographs) go through me. But I've had at least 20 or 30 unnumbered. So my guess is that there's at least 200 of the unnumbered Mays," he said.
Luraschi couldn't offer any information about the quantities released by Topps. So far, no premium has been realized for either version of the Mays Red Ink Autograph card.
The Larry Doby exchange card presents another obstacle to completing this set. Though this baseball pioneer lived until June 2003, it doesn't appear that he signed cards for the 2001 Topps Heritage Set. Luraschi could not confirm if Doby did or did not sign cards.
"I've yet to see one Doby card on eBay in six or seven years. I've never seen any at shows either," said Moynihan.
"Doby did not sign at all, and the decision to list him as a 'no sig' card took much longer than Mathews. For years, other price guides listed the card as live," said Reid.
Moynihan owned two Doby exchange cards and he submitted them to Topps. He can't recall what he received from Topps, but it was not the signed Doby card.
"I don't have the exchange cards anymore and that's the mistake I made: I got scared and I mailed them both in. Looking back, I should've kept one," he said.
So why didn't Doby sign cards for this product?
"I heard that Doby's people couldn't negotiate a price with the Topps people. I've heard that from more than one source," said Angus.
Moynihan has heard a similar story.
"As I understand it, it was for legal reasons or corporate reasons that they didn't get together," he said.
Luraschi could not confirm if Doby signed cards or offer an explanation as to why Doby may not have signed them.
Though clearly a source of frustration, the exchange cards and the mystery surrounding them add intrigue to this set. The scarcity of the Red Ink Autograph cards also makes them extremely desirable.
"In the last five years, I think I've gotten maybe four cards. They just disappeared. They went into some guys' vault, or they're still in the boxes," said Moynihan.
Dodge has been similarly stifled.
"They're very, very hard to find," he said.
Angus has put together a few sets – minus the Mathews and Doby, of course – but he says the Red Ink Autographs are becoming harder to find
"It was a lot easier in 2001, when the cards were going for $20," he said.
As some of the legends have died, the value of their autographs has risen. Doby, Spahn, Phil Rizzuto (THAPFR), Hoyt Wilhelm (THAHW), Mickey Vernon (THAMV), Hank Bauer (THAHB), Hank Sauer (THAHS), Johnny Sain (THAJS), Preacher Roe (THAPR) and Enos Slaughter (THAES) are among the featured players who have passed away.
Collectors would like to see all hobby publications drop the Mathews and Doby exchange cards from the set composition.
"There are 50 cards. There are not 52. I really don't think it's fair to include the exchange cards because what did Topps do with them?" said Angus.
Richard Carter, who runs a website dedicated to Topps Heritage sets (www.topps-heritage.com), agrees.
"I think there should be a clear explanation so that collectors know they will most likely never see the Eddie Mathews or Larry Doby cards," he said.
Moynihan suggests that perhaps a Basic and a Master Red Ink Autographs set could be created. The Basic Set would consist of the 50 autographed cards that can be obtained, while the Master Set could include the 50 autographed singles that can be accounted for, plus the two exchange cards (Mathews and Doby) and the Willie Mays without a serial number on the back.
These adjustments might even make the 2001 Topps Heritage Real One Autograph sets more popular.
"It's the most underrated set in the last 20 years," said Angus of the Red Ink issue. "The truth of the matter is that it's in high demand. People just can't find them."
"There have been a few Topps Heritage insert/relic sets with lower print run autographed cards, but overall, I'd say that the 2001 Topps Heritage autograph set is the most desired," he said.
Help us solve the mystery of the Mathews and Doby 2001 Topps Heritage Real One Autograph cards. Has anyone seen an autographed Mathews or Doby (blue or red ink) card from this set? If so, please contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] Bill Dodge provided pictures for this article.