PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1969 Topps 4-in-1 Baseball Test Set
Four Times the Fun or Four Times the Challenge?
by Kevin Glew
It was designed to be four times the fun.
Unfortunately for Topps, collectors weren't particularly amused.
The 1969 Topps Baseball 4-in-1 set offered four mini-stickers on one 2-1/2" by 3-1/2" card. Each sticker was a smaller version of the player's regular 1969 Topps single. Upon their initial release, these were met with little enthusiasm and died during their test run.
But in the 48 years that have passed since they were unveiled, these quirky singles have developed a cult following, and some have even become important cards in player set collections.
"For some reason, the 1969 [Topps] 4-in-1 set has always been one of my favorites," said Manny Andrews, who owns the top set on the PSA Set Registry.
Fran Hart, who has assembled the No. 7 Current Finest set on the PSA Set Registry, also has an affinity for this issue.
"The design was just something different and I hadn't seen anything like that before," said Hart.
The 1969 Topps Baseball 4-in-1 series is comprised of 25 unnumbered cards, with four mini stickers on each. Veteran hobbyist Bob Fisk notes that the players featured are from the second series of the regular 1969 Topps set.
Fisk, Andrews, and Hart all like the design of these cards.
"I just thought they were cool cards," said Andrews. "I think it's a simple and clean design and it's unique; that's why I like collecting it."
Fisk adds that these cards share the same characteristics "in terms of the layout, the framing, and the color" that made the first and second series 1969 Topps regular cards so attractive.
The backs of the cards are blank and these 4-in-1 singles were disseminated in a test run in three-card (12 mini stickers, with four on each card), five-cent packs with gum. The wrappers were white with a sticker advertising their contents.
Hart remembers these from his youth.
"I actually collected them in real time back in 1969," said Hart, who was 14 when these were released. "So I guess we were in one of the test markets when I was in the Boston area."
Hobby historian David Hornish, author of The Modern Hobby Guide to Topps Chewing Gum: 1938 to 1956, believes the 4-in-1s were likely also tested in other regions.
"I would guess that these were tested near the Topps plant in Duryea [Pennsylvania] and their headquarters in Brooklyn as that was the MO back then," explained Hornish. "One thing I am learning from the recent 'Beer Box' test pack find is that some test packs would be given to better customers by the regional Topps salesmen. This would be a handful, not necessarily for testing, but to get opinions from high volume sellers."
Fisk points out that these cards must have been manufactured relatively early in 1969 because Clay Dalrymple's 4-in-1 card highlights him with the Philadelphia Phillies. For the regular Topps set, there were two variations of the Dalrymple card: the first, rarer version pictures him with the Phillies, while a second more plentiful card showcases him as a member of the Baltimore Orioles (to reflect his trade to the O's on January 20, 1969).
"So it's not like they waited until the end of the year to print these [4-in-1s]," explained Fisk.
The veteran hobbyist estimates that "at least 1,000" but "less than 5,000" of each 4-in-1 card was produced. Wrappers and unopened packs are difficult to uncover today.
"The wrappers are very rare," said Andrews. "In the past 10 years, I've only seen the one I won in an auction."
Aside from initial collector indifference, another theory as to why Topps may have discontinued these cards after a test run in 1969 was they were probably cumbersome to produce. The fact that the 1969 Topps Football 4-in-1 cards, which were manufactured after the baseball cards, boast a similar format (although they were not stickers but rather perforated cardboard stamps) seems to support this.
"You could imagine when they were printing these [4-in-1 baseball stickers] that maybe the printing presses didn't like having stickum cards," said Fisk.
Eight Hall of Famers are featured in the 1969 Topps 4-in-1 set. Two of them - Lou Brock and Al Kaline - are showcased on 1968 The Sporting News World Series highlights stickers, while six others - Willie Mays, Bob Gibson, Jim Bunning, Leo Durocher, Don Sutton, and Carl Yastrzemski - are highlighted on mini stickers of their regular 1969 cards.
Sutton shares the same single as hit king Pete Rose, which has made this the set's most coveted card. Andrews says there a lot of collectors hunting down this card for their Rose Master sets. Of the 53 submitted, there have been five PSA MINT 9s and 13 PSA NM-MT 8s.
The 4-in-1 card that Mays is a part of is also highly desirable. The "Say Hey Kid" is pictured alongside Jerry Adair, Johnny Morris, and Don Wilson. There are two PSA 9s and 10 PSA 8s.
Cooperstowner Bob Gibson is also featured on two stickers in this series - one depicts him on a 1968 World Series Game 1 highlights card, while a second presents him on his own mini sticker alongside stickers of Larry Haney, Rick Reichardt, and World Series Game 3 highlights. Of the 23 of the latter card evaluated, there have been three PSA 9s, one PSA NM-MT+ 8.5, and five PSA 8s.
The single highlighting Yastrzemski is one of the most elusive Hall of Famer cards to uncover in mint condition. The Red Sox legend's sticker is the first card on the left in the seventh row on the print sheet, an edge-sheet position that generally makes cards more vulnerable to miscuts and production flaws. The seven PSA 8s represent the highest-graded examples.
Another evasive card in top grade offers Kaline on a World Series Game 5 highlights sticker alongside stickers of Chris Cannizzaro, Bob Hendley, and Yankees Rookies. This is the only card in Andrews' No. 1 Registry set that has a qualifier (PSA 9 (OC)). Fisk says this card is coveted by Yankees collectors, as well as by Tigers and Kaline collectors. The seven PSA 8s are the highest-graded examples.
In general, the 1969 Topps Baseball 4-in-1 cards are not easy to find in top condition. Of the 658 total submissions, 108 have received qualifiers. Fisk says one of the biggest problems is the stickum from the back of the cards bleeding through to the front to create a stain. Hart has also seen stickers that are peeling away from their card backs.
"They're going to start to come apart because, in terms of age, we're getting close to 50 years old on these," explained Hart.
Hobbyists say the most competition for the 4-in-1 cards comes from player set collectors.
"If you're a Yaz collector and you're putting together the Yaz player set, you owe yourself this card," said Fisk.
But although it enjoys a cult following, the 1969 Topps 4-in-1 Baseball set tends to get overshadowed by its test set contemporaries such as 1971 Topps Greatest Moments series. That doesn't mean, however, that it's not four times the fun for collectors like Fisk, Andrews, and Hart, who appreciate this intriguing and challenging set that, you might say, offers four times the challenges of the regular 1969 set.
"It's a nice little oddball set," said Hart.
For more information on the 1969 Topps 4 in 1s set, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/baseball-cards/1969-topps-4-1s/4699.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Bob Fisk for providing cards for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of April 2018.
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