Tim Landis calls the 1978-79 Topps Superman set "one of the most underrated non-sports card sets ever created."
"It's 34 years old, it has the well-known actor [Christopher Reeve], and it has all of these great all-American patriotic images," he noted. "I'm surprised the set is not more popular. Nothing can compare with Star Wars from the previous year, but I would think Superman should be a close second."
Pasteboards from this 165-card offering showcase scenes and characters from the 1978 blockbuster that introduced Reeve as the Man of Steel and Margot Kidder as Lois Lane. Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty also star in the movie and are featured in the card set. The much-anticipated film was a financial and critical success.
"I like the set because, for me, Christopher Reeve in the movie version [of this comic] is the iconic Superman," said Bob Oakes, who has put together several sets. "I was never into comics as a kid, so the movie was it for me."
Landis relishes the set for similar reasons.
For him, the attraction to the set likewise stems from his fondness for the movie.
"It was the earliest superhero movie that I was exposed to [as a kid]. I was about seven years old, so the appeal for me was seeing a character that I knew up on the big screen."
This set was issued in two series, and the white-bordered cards from the first series (#1 to #77) were unveiled in 1978. Presenting photos of the cast or scenes from the movie in a vertical or horizontal design, the fronts of these pasteboards flaunt the card title, card number and copyright information. There are three different types of backs. A trio of backs provide a story summary, 44 are puzzle pieces and the remaining 30 offer "Movie Facts."
Ten cards were included in each 20-cent, first-series pack, along with one of six foil or blue-bordered stickers and a piece of gum.
Unveiled in 1979, second-series cards (#78 to #165) highlighted movie scenes and also featured many of the same actors as the first series. The red-bordered fronts brandish the title, card number and copyright information, while the backs are either puzzle pieces or "Movie Facts."
Second-series singles were available in 10-card, 20-cent packs that included one of ten foil stickers or one of six red-bordered stickers and gum.
"The second series is tougher to find than the first series," said Eric Cooper, who once owned several cases of this product. "At the time, most collectors didn't even know there was a second series."
The stickers from both series are difficult to track down in pristine condition.
"The foil stickers are very condition sensitive," said Oakes, adding that roller marks seem to have dented the surface of the cards.
Landis has also had troubles tracking down high-grade stickers.
"It's pretty much guaranteed that the stickers will be ruined because they're always packed with the gum, and the sticker back is always against the gum," noted Landis. "So the stickers I own always have that stain on the back from the gum."
In recent years, Landis has focused on collecting iconic Superman images from this set rather than the full set.
"I was just looking for the prototypical Superman pose," he said. "There are a few cards in the set where Superman is either standing there and it says 'The Man of Steel' or he's flying through the air."
The first card of the set fits Landis' "prototypical Superman pose" description. Titled "Christopher Reeve as The Man of Steel," this pasteboard showcases Reeve in the Superman costume. With 15 submissions, it has been evaluated by PSA more than any other card in the set. Unfortunately, it's hampered by poor centering and print defects, and there has yet to be an example grade above PSA NM-MT 8.
Card #59 "Superman (Christopher Reeve)" offers a side shot of the Man of Steel, and #63 "All American Hero!" showcases Superman in front of an American flag. These colorful, standout singles have been submitted to PSA twelve times each, and a PSA 8 example of the latter sold for $18 on eBay in May 2011.
With multiple cards featuring Hollywood legends like Marlon Brando, Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty, this set should capture the interest of more than just Superman collectors.
"There must exist some sort of crossover interest," ponders Landis aloud. "I would think that a hardcore Brando collector would certainly want a card of his in the Superman set."
However, even the PSA GEM-MT 10 common cards from this issue remain relatively affordable. For example, the sole PSA 10 copy of #13 "Incredible Laboratory of Jor-El" fetched $50 on eBay in March 2012, and even Landis himself has sold a couple of PSA 10 commons for $100 each.
With just 251 of the 1978-79 Topps Superman cards submitted for grading, it's difficult to determine which cards are the most condition sensitive. Nonetheless, we do know that some of the common flaws with these pasteboards include print defects, smudges and chipping on the black borders of the "Movie Facts" backs.
"The condition issues are the same as [they are] for all Topps issues," said Oakes. The set, he specifies, is "plagued by poor centering and corner issues."
"The centering really seems to be a big factor," Landis added.
Cooper believes that the new Superman movie entitled Man of Steel -- which is directed by Zack Snyder (of 300 fame) and scheduled for release in June 2013 – should rev up interest in this issue.
"I think [the set] is extremely undervalued and undercollected," states Oakes. Moreover, he feels like "it is actually a great investment, especially as an unopened vintage product."
"Superman is not an outdated concept that people aren't interested in anymore. He's still probably the most recognizable superhero over Batman or Spider-Man," he said. "Superman is the all-American superhero, and I'm just really surprised that you can pick this set up for a fraction of what it should be worth. It's literally the forgotten set of the '70s."
View the set in the PSA Set Registry.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Tim Landis and Bob Oakes provided pictures to the author for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of May 2012.