Collecting the 1962 Venezuelan Topps Baseball Card Set
Tarjetas Imposibles? Claro Que Si!
by Pete Putman
Over the past seven decades, the Topps Chewing Gum Company of Brooklyn, New York, has produced quite a diverse collection of sports trading cards, ranging from traditional baseball, football, basketball and hockey players to team sets, die cut fold-outs and pop-outs, tiny felt-backed cards, decals, rub-offs, pennants, emblems and photos.
Despite the size, shape and composition of these products, they all shared one thing in common: Every item was designed and manufactured by Topps at their Brooklyn and Duryea, Pennsylvania, factories. Yes, the printing was done in Baltimore, Rochester or Philadelphia, but the printed sheets were cut and trimmed in Brooklyn and Duryea, where the gum was inserted, the wax wrapper was sealed, cellophane was wrapped and vending boxes were loaded.
There were a couple of exceptions. O-Pee-Chee licensed and printed Topps baseball, football and hockey cards for distribution in Canada starting in the early 1960s. A&BC Chewing Gum in England produced sets of soccer (football) players for the European market, based on the American Topps card designs.
And then there are the Venezuela Topps sets. Almost 50 years after these cards were last manufactured, they remain enigmatic, wrapped in mystery. To this day, it isn't completely clear why Topps chose to sell separate, truncated versions of their 1959, 1960, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1967 and 1968 baseball sets solely in the Venezuelan market and not in other Latin American countries where baseball was just as popular.
Perhaps the decision was made because several prominent baseball players of the late 1950s and 1960s came from Venezuela, including Hall of Famer Luis Aparicio and All-Stars Alfonso (Chico) Carrasquel and Victor Davalillo. In addition, the country had a substantial American corporate presence at the time - mostly oil and gas exploration companies - and despite widespread corruption, maintained strong economic ties to the U.S.
Although Cuba had produced far more major leaguers in the 1950s, that country was in the throes of a political revolution that culminated in the overthrow of the government by Fidel Castro's revolutionaries in early January of 1959 - not exactly a favorable business climate from Topps' view.
What we do know about the early Venezuela Topps sets is they were much smaller than their American counterparts, with only 198 cards issued in 1959, 1960 and 1962. They were also notorious for the inferior quality of both the printing and cardboard stock used to manufacture them when compared to the American issue. When the average collector comes across a Venezuela Topps card from these years, it's usually in well-worn condition - often grading poor to very good with creasing and heavy wear.
Josh Alpert, a long-time card collector from Michigan, has been hunting down Venezuelan Topps cards for over 15 years, amassing an amazing collection of these hard-to-find cards including the highest-ranked 1959, 1962, 1966, 1967 "MLB," 1967 "Retirado" and 1967 "Winter League" entries in the PSA Set Registry. Believe it or not, the typical weighted GPA for these top-ranked sets ranges from just 5.46 to 7.42 - that's how tough these cards are to find in nice shape.
The 1962 Venezuelan Topps set is noteworthy because it represents the first time the card backs were printed in Spanish. (The 1959 and 1960 Venezuelan issues retained the English-language player descriptions and stats that were found on Topps' American and Canadian issues.)
For instance, Howie Koplitz' (#114) card reads, "Pitcher, Tigres de Detroit. Estatura 5,11 pies, peso 194 lbs., batea a la derecha, lanza a la derecha." (Pitcher, Detroit Tigers. Height, 5 ft. 11 in., weight 194 pounds. Bats right-handed, throws right-handed.)
According to Alpert, printing of the 1962 cards was licensed by Topps to an unknown Venezuelan company. The method of distribution was believed to be four cards in a paper pack with a piece of bubble gum for the sum of .25 Centimos, about the equivalent of six U.S. cents in 1962. To date, no unopened packs or complete wrappers have ever been found. As a result, much of the information we have about this set comes via "word of mouth" from Venezuelan collectors of the day.
The stock used to print these cards was much lighter in weight than the American issues, and these cards did not hold up well over time. The cards are also missing the gloss coating typically used on photos to produce higher contrast and more saturated colors, in addition to providing some protection against minor surface abrasions and wear. You'll find the black printing on the reverse to be much lighter, too - almost a faded gray color. Likewise, the red ink used on the card backs for the cartoon and statistics box is a different shade than on the American cards.
A search on eBay for raw Topps Venezuelan cards will frequently result in "poor," "fair" and "good" descriptions, with "excellent" or better examples commanding high prices. These condition issues are the norm. Aside from typical rounding of corners or creasing found on lower-grade cards, Venezuela Topps cards frequently suffer from noticeable surface wear, glue/tape stains and writing. It was not uncommon for Venezuelan collectors to add an identifying mark to each card in their collection.
As if the flimsy paper stock and seemingly cut-rate printing process wasn't bad enough, the glue used to seal these paper packs frequently seeped through the pack and adhered to the bottom card in the pack. Sometimes this resulted in paper damage to cards when opening a pack, and other times a glue residue was left on the card. Alpert estimates 25% of all 1962 Venezuelan Topps cards were damaged in this way.
This set is also distinguished by the number of stars found in its 198-card run. In the American set, cards #1 through #109 made up the first series, while #110 through #196 filled out the second series, having been distributed later in the year. In contrast, all 198 Venezuelan cards were distributed at the same time in roughly equal numbers.
Venezuelan baseball fans and collectors who opened these packs found a treasure trove of stars and future Hall of Famers, from Roger Maris (#1), Sandy Koufax (#5), Roberto Clemente (#10), Managers' Dream (featuring Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays) (#18) and Ernie Banks (#25) to Ed Mathews (#30), Orlando Cepeda (#40), Brooks Robinson (#45), Stan Musial (#50), Harmon Killebrew (#70), Vada Pinson (#80), Warren Spahn (#100) and Al Kaline (#150).
In fact, the limited run of cards in this set contains more star and semi-star players than any other Venezuelan Topps set. Plus, the set included all of the 1961 League Leader cards (#51 - #60) and the Babe Ruth Special subset (#135 - #144). However, you won't find any of the "green tint" or pose variations in this Latin American series - those were limited to the American market.
Now, here's the quirky part. Even though this set consists of 198 cards, Alpert states that cards #197 and #198 do not exist. In theory, the highest-issued number for this set should be #196, which shows pitcher Terry Fox of the Detroit Tigers, representing the last card in the American second series run. To round out the set, two additional cards of Venezuelan players were added - #199 shows infielder Elio Chacon of the New York Mets, while #200 portrays Venezuelan legend Luis Aparicio.
How was this possible? Chacon occupies card #256 in the American set (third series), while Aparicio appears on card #325 (fourth series). These numbers are too high to have made the Venezuelan printing cut. To get around this problem, two new cards were created for Aparicio and Chacon - possibly using simple photographs of their American-issued cards or photos of the original card artwork from Topps.
In Alpert's opinion, both photos seem to be cropped. Both cards appear with an extra border that appears off-white and presses up against the top and left edges of the wood grain design, resulting in a partial white outer border, then wood grain, then the original inner white border.
The 1962 Venezuelan Topps set was the first to include stand-alone checklists, unlike 1959 and 1960 where the checklists were found on the backs of team cards. These checklists are extremely difficult to find in any condition, as they were probably discarded most of the time. When a checklist card does surface from this set, it is usually marked up - unmarked checklists are extremely rare. The few copies of Checklist #3 that do exist simply replicate the American numbering sequence.
Alpert also notes that, although it was believed that collectors would likely glue or paste these cards into albums, that practice did not become widespread until 1964, by which time a pre-printed album was offered for sale at the same stores that sold the packs. So any glue or paper loss damage seen on the backs of these cards is more likely due to flaws in the pack sealing process.
Populations and Valuations
To provide some perspective, consider this: As of the writing of this article in February 2016, over 187,000 1962 Topps cards have been examined and graded by PSA. In contrast, just 1,368 Venezuelan Topps cards have passed through the doors - about .007% of that total! Cards from the 1962 Topps series are very condition-sensitive, with 56,000+ PSA NM-MT 8s and PSA NM-MT+ 8.5s, 4,962 PSA MINT 9s and 92 PSA GEM-MT 10s in the PSA Population Report. But 1962 Venezuela Topps are even tougher with just 10 PSA 8s and one PSA 8.5 registered and zero PSA 9s or 10s to date.
In fact, the largest quantity of Venezuelan Topps cards have earned PSA GOOD 2 grades (over 260 so far), with slightly over 200 PSA VG 3 examples right behind it. PSA VG-EX 4 cards are in third place with 180 entries, while the PSA PR 1 entries total 133. Together, those four low-grade categories account for 790+ cards, or nearly 60% of all Venezuelan Topps graded by PSA so far. (Scarce enough for you?)
Discussing "tough," low-population cards is almost pointless with this set - as they're ALL tough. In some cases, PSA has graded only two copies of a card! And half-point grades are also conspicuous by their relative absence: There's only one PSA 8.5 in the entire Population Report: the NL Home Run Leaders (#54) card, which makes it the highest-graded 1962 Venezuelan Topps card, PERIOD. There are no PSA NM+ 7.5s, just three PSA EX-MT+ 6.5s and six PSA EX+ 5.5s.
So how about the popular cards? Roger Maris' (#1) single has been graded 21 times, with the highest grade being a PSA EX 5 designation. Nineteen copies of Sandy Koufax's (#5) card have been encapsulated with a solitary PSA EX-MT 6 being the highest-graded example. Roberto Clemente's (#10) portrait has gone through PSA's doors 24 times, but the best it could achieve was a PSA 5 on two occasions.
The Managers' Dream (#18) combo card, one of the keys to the 1962 Topps set, has been graded 18 times, with two PSA 4s having earned the highest grades. Stan Musial's (#50) card has been graded 25 times, and the best it's done is a pair of PSA 6s. Warren Spahn's (#100) card fared slightly better, with two PSA NM 7s out of 21 total graded.
The Babe Ruth Special subset (#135 - #144) hasn't fared very well in grading either. Only 108 cards from this series have been graded by PSA, and the top grades earned were four PSA 6s - two for #137 (Babe and Manager Huggins), one for #140 (Gehrig and Ruth) and one for #144 (Farewell Speech).
And the aforementioned checklists? Checklist #1 (#22) exists in two variations. The first variation lists cards from #121 to #176 on the reverse, while the second variation lists cards from #33 to #88. A solitary PSA 3 of the first variation exists, with only two PSA 2s (one with a qualifier) following. The second checklist variation has been graded three times as well, with a PSA 6.5 as the top grade.
Card #98, like its American counterpart, is Checklist #2 that lists cards #89 through #176. With only a population of four, this card has earned one PSA 6 as its highest grade, with the next highest example being a PSA VG+ 3.5. And then there's Checklist #3 (#192), which shows cards from #177 to #264 even though the Venezuelan set stops at #196 (or rather the 198th card in card #200). Just three of these checklists have been graded (two PSA 1s and one PSA 2, all with qualifiers). Talk about looking for a needle in a haystack!
"Building a 1962 Venezuela Topps set (or any Venezuela Topps set for that matter) is a significant hobby challenge which requires plenty of patience and, even more, persistence," says Alpert. "But in the end, knowing you were able to complete such an elusive set creates a feeling of unbelievable satisfaction."
Alpert's No. 1 Current Finest, 1962 Venezuela Topps set on the PSA Set Registry (named appropriately, Tarjetas Imposibles '62) has a weighted GPA of 5.08 and is 100% complete. The No. 2 set on the Registry, which is registered to McAvoy SportCards and was the top-ranked set six years in a row from 2009 through 2014, has an overall GPA of just 3.22. Of the remaining five sets in the Registry, none have a GPA higher than 3.40.
Attempting to determine values for these cards is almost pointless. At present, the Sports Market Report (SMR) does not list prices for the 1962 Venezuelan Topps set because there are so few of them in circulation and sales are difficult to track. The average collector may overlook them in a showcase or skip by the listings in auctions - particularly after they see the imperfect condition many of these cards present.
As a result of this "whatever the market will bear" situation, sale and auction prices can be all over the place, especially for star players that are highly sought after by Registry player set collectors. A quick check on eBay while this article was being written revealed a PSA 3 Al Kaline (#150) offered for $147, a PSA 7 Bob Will (#47) for $204, a PSA 3 AL Batting Leaders (#51) card for $62 and a PSA FR 1.5 Roberto Clemente (#10) for $645.
Roland Sheldon (#185) in a PSA 3 was just $27, while a PSA 1 NL ERA Leaders (#56) card, featuring Warren Spahn, was listed at $27. And falling into the "Wow Factor" category, a PSA 5 example of Roger Maris (#1) - one of the two highest-graded examples - had an asking price of $7,500. In reference to such sales, Alpert stated, "Top-graded, PSA star cards only reach the public market once in a blue moon. When they do, there's way more demand than supply."
If you've been collecting for a while or are new to the hobby and want to take on "a collecting challenge which offers a truly unique hobby experience few people will ever know," says Alpert, then completing the 1962 Venezuelan Topps set is a worthy quest. You will find these cards at shows, but you'll have to dig for them. More knowledgeable dealers will often already have their cards encapsulated by PSA and will be willing to negotiate.
You'll also find quite a few on eBay, and higher-grade star cards show up periodically in auctions. There is at least one dealer in Venezuela who has listed several of these cards for sale, but with any overseas purchase of raw baseball cards, caveat emptor! (As a matter of fact, while I was writing this article, I purchased a Roland Sheldon (#185) graded PSA 3 for a very reasonable BIN price - free shipping included - so I guess I'm hooked now.)
The 1962 Venezuelan Topps set ... Tarjetas Imposibles? Claro que si!
For more information on the 1962 Venzuela Topps set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/Cardfacts/Set/6066/1962-topps-venezuela-baseball-cards
The author wishes to thank Josh Alpert for his expertise and assistance in preparing this article, and for providing his cards for scanning. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of February 2016.
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