It's convenient to dismiss modern sets as flashy, mass-produced junk, unworthy of grading. Add the word "insert" to the equation and vintage collectors are bound to start cursing.
But contrary to widespread belief, there are recent issues that are worth collecting. Through their Heritage, All-Time Fan Favorites and Archives brands, Topps has done an excellent job of marketing nostalgia and reintroducing pasteboards from their storied history that appeal to both vintage and modern enthusiasts.
One such success is the 2001 Topps Archives set. Released in two, 225-card series, this issue boasts rookie and last card reprints of Hall of Famers and hometown heroes. While the regular cards in this offering remain relatively popular and fetch modest prices, the autograph inserts – which are signed rookie reprints – command big bucks.
"For baseball, this set is probably the most popular certified autograph issue," noted Bill Dodge, who owns the top set on the PSA Set Registry. "It has the best overall checklist of all the certified autograph sets that Topps has produced. Collectors also love this set because the cards are rookie reprints."
Charlie Fagerquist, who owns the registry's No. 2 set, expresses similar sentiments.
"I'm amazed at how popular the 2001 Topps Archives Autographs set still is," he said. "The demand for the autographed cards is still incredibly strong."
Randy Larkin, who owns the registry's No. 3 set, echoes Fagerquist's thoughts.
"The autographs have not gone down in price," he said. "The prices for these on eBay have been very consistent."
Topps originally planned 170 autograph cards, but it has been confirmed that singles for 11 players never materialized. Larkin says Juan Marichal (#72), Bob Uecker (#82), Don Sutton (#105), Reggie Smith (#109), Jack Morris (#159) and Ozzie Smith (#161) were included on the set's initial checklist and redemption cards were issued, but for various reasons, they couldn't be fulfilled. Rod Carew (#95) was also part of the initial checklist, but Larkin is uncertain if a redemption card was issued for him.
Larkin also remembers reading that Topps planned to feature Larry Doby, Willie Stargell, Ted Williams and Eddie Mathews autographs, but these cards never came to fruition.
"I remember reading somewhere (an article maybe) at the time that they intended to include autographs of Mathews, Doby and Stargell, but that they were too ill to sign and those were not ultimately issued," explained Larkin. "I also know Ted Williams was supposed to sign, but I can't remember if it was because of illness (he died shortly after) or a contract problem with another card company that he did not sign."
As a result, when you view a current checklist for this set, you'll notice the following card numbers don't exist: #9, 15, 47, 72 (Marichal), 82 (Uecker), 84, 95 (Carew), 105 (Sutton), 109 (Reggie Smith), 159 (Morris) and 161 (Ozzie Smith). Larkin theorizes that cards #9, 15, 47 and 84 would've been Doby, Mathews, Williams and Stargell respectively.
"In the base set, Antonelli was #1, Bauer was #226 (the first card in the second series), Berra was #2, Branca was #227. In the autographs, Antonelli was #1, Bauer was #2, Berra was #3, Branca was #4 and it kept alternating between the two series. Doby was #5 in the base set and would have been #9 in the autograph set," explained Larkin. "Mathews was #8 in the base set and would have been #15 in the autograph set. After that, Topps stopped alternating, although they continued to do so for some of the cards. At that point, I figured Williams had to be #47 because it was near where his rookie would have been and Stargell had to be #84, as it fell in with the rest of the '63s."
Even though a Keith Hernandez redemption card exists and many hobby publications list him as part of the set, Dodge, Fagerquist and Larkin believe that he never signed cards for this issue. When Topps was contacted for this article, spokesperson Clay Luraschi couldn't confirm if the Hernandez card does or does not exist.
"We've never seen a Keith Hernandez card and we've been looking for the past eight or nine years, so it probably doesn't exist," said Fagerquist.
"I've never seen a Hernandez card. I'm sure it doesn't exist," he said.
The autograph singles in this series are rookie reprints that showcase a gold "Topps Archives Certified Autograph Issue" stamp on their fronts and numbered silver stickers on their backs. The individual card numbers were also included on the card backs.
"Each card has the Archive number in very small print and in a location where it does not alter the original card design," explained Fagerquist. "It was very confusing to collectors when the set was first sold. This was true with the base set cards as well."
It's also interesting to note that the original version of some of the rookie cards in this set featured multiple players, but these were adjusted to focus on one player for this issue. Fagerquist indicates that 43 cards were so altered.
One autograph card was included in each 20-pack, 2001 Topps Archives box. As mentioned earlier, redemption cards were included for a number of players, and while redemptions were not fulfilled for the aforementioned players, there were six players – Billy Pierce, Boog Powell, Ron Santo, Enos Slaughter, Jim Wynn and Robin Yount – whose redemptions were fulfilled.
When hobbyists submitted redemption cards for players that didn't sign cards, Topps reportedly sent them a selection of autographed singles, not necessarily from the same series.
"I bought a redemption card for Juan Marichal on eBay for $15 or $20, which I thought was a great deal," explained Larkin. "Then I sent it to Topps expecting to get it and they wrote a letter back saying they didn't have it and they sent me a Terrence Long and something else."
One of the biggest challenges to completing this set is that 14 players inked only 50 cards each. Yogi Berra (#3), Willie Mays (#16), Hank Aaron (#40), Ernie Banks (#41), Don Larsen (#44), Brooks Robinson (#56), Stan Musial (#59), Bob Gibson (#63), Lou Brock (#75), Tom Seaver (#108), Johnny Bench (#110), Reggie Jackson (#115), Mike Schmidt (#139) and George Brett (#144) signed just 50 cards a piece. Dodge, Larkin and Fagerquist believe Nolan Ryan may have also only signed 50.
There are also 11 players – Phil Rizzuto (#21), Tim McCarver (#77), Joe Morgan (#99), Dave Winfield (#143), Gary Carter (#145), Robin Yount (#148), Dennis Eckersley (#149), Andre Dawson (#153), Dennis Martinez (#155), Ryne Sandberg (#165) and Joe Carter (#167) – who inked only 200 cards each.
Though the quantities for the other players have not been released, many of them are also tough to track down. The Carl Yastrzemski (#69) autograph, for example, is particularly elusive.
"The Yaz card has been very difficult to find," noted Larkin. "In fact, the one I have is the only one I've ever seen on eBay, and I just stumbled on it about four years ago."
|Players that have died since their 2001 Topps Archives Autograph Cards were released|
|Player Name||Date of Death|
|#2 Hank Bauer||February 9, 2007|
|#5 Dom DiMaggio||May 8, 2009|
|#12 George Kell||March 24, 2009|
|#21 Phil Rizzuto||August 13, 2007|
|#23 Preacher Roe||November 9, 2008|
|#24 Johnny Sain||November 7, 2006|
|#25 Hank Sauer||August 24, 2001|
|#29 Enos Slaughter||August 12, 2002|
|#31 Warren Spahn||November 24, 2003|
|#33 Mickey Vernon||September 24, 2008|
|#34 Hoyt Wilhelm||August 23, 2002|
|#39 Johnny Podres||January 13, 2008|
|#46 Tug McGraw||January 5, 2004|
|#50 Herb Score||November 11, 2008|
|#52 Clete Boyer||June 4, 2007|
|#61 Johnny Callison||October 12, 2006|
|#62 Mike Cuellar||April 2, 2010|
|#70 Willie Davis||March 9, 2010|
|#103 Bobby Murcer||July 12, 2008|
|#154 Mark Fidrych||April 13, 2009|
|#169 Kirby Puckett||March 6, 2006|
Fagerquist says that the Warren Spahn, Bill Mazeroski and Kent Tekulve cards are also evasive, and Dodge notes that the Kirby Puckett card has become difficult to find.
"It has been very tough since he died," said Dodge. "It seems like there were quite a few around before he passed away and then they all dried up."
Fagerquist says that the Aaron card generally commands the most money. He has seen one sell for more than $1,000. Larkin adds that he has seen a Ryan card fetch $1,100.
So far, 921 cards from this autograph series have been submitted to PSA. With 19 evaluated, the Ron Santo card has been graded the most. The Brock card is the only card (aside from Hernandez, if it, indeed, exists) that has never been sent into PSA.
"The Brock card exists. It just hasn't been graded yet," said Larkin. "I've seen four or five of them up for sale on eBay. The last one was probably a year to a year-and-a-half ago."
Dodge has been similarly stifled looking for the Brock card.
"It doesn't come up very often. I can recall seeing maybe two and I've been on eBay since before this set came out," he said.
Fagerquist says graded cards from this series rarely surface.
"It seems like that if people have them graded, they're generally keeping them for the their collection," he said.
"Generally speaking you see the raw cards on eBay," he said. "The graded cards, for the most part, are kept by people who are collecting the set or people that are collecting players or teams."
For a modern issue, these cards aren't easy to uncover in top condition.
"Every card had to be handled by the player and repackaged and sent back to Topps, so who knows what the card went through just to make it back?" said Fagerquist. "The cards have a glossy finish that's somewhat brittle and they chip pretty easily along the edges because a lot of them have colored borders."
Competition for these cards can also be pretty fierce. Larkin says he often bids against player collectors on eBay.
"I'm down to the point where I get about one a year. I picked up a Brooks Robinson last year and a Tom Seaver the year before that," said Larkin.
Unfortunately, 21 of the players (See Accompanying Chart) that signed cards have passed away. In the autograph business, when a player dies, their signatures generally rise in value.
"Before Kirby Puckett passed away, his card was about $100 and as soon as passed away, it jumped to about $250," said Larkin.
Dodge witnessed the same spike.
"When Kirby Puckett died, then his autograph cards went way up," he said. "Mark Fidrych is another good example. His cards increased in value because he was a young man and he passed away suddenly."
Vintage collectors tend to scoff at the idea of grading modern cards, but with some of these singles selling for several hundred dollars, it makes sense for collectors to protect their investment.
"The No. 1 reason I submitted them was to protect the cards from fading or getting dinged-up over time," explained Fagerquist. "The second would be because of the registry itself. The registry is a great place to put them on display so that other collectors who are interested can take a look. I love going through the set registry and looking at other people's sets, especially if they have pictures scanned of the cards."
Larkin has his cards graded for similar reasons.
"I thought encapsulating them would be a good way of preserving them because I had heard horror stories of autographs being rubbed off on penny sleeves and all kinds of things," he said.
Dodge also sends his cards to PSA to protect them.
"The reason I have mine graded is so that they are permanently encapsulated," he said. "After PSA grades them, you don't you have to worry about accidentally dropping them and bending a corner on the card."
So, while it's convenient to dismiss modern sets as flashy, mass-produced junk, the 2001 Topps Archives Autographs issue is just one example that this is simply not the case.
"I like the set because it's the first one that Topps did that really highlighted a lot of the oldtimers," said Dodge, a converted vintage collector. "They had reprints of their rookie cards and I thought they had a great checklist. It's a great combination of players. I honestly think that as far as certified autograph baseball sets are concerned that it's the best autograph set that Topps ever produced."
If you have any further information about this set, please contact [email protected]. Have you seen the Keith Hernandez card?. Charlie Fagerquist and Bill Dodge provided pictures for this article. Set Registry rankings and Population Reports statistics quoted are those as of press time.