Thursday, September 2, 2010

1985 Topps Minis - What Could Have Been?

As I've mentioned in previous posts, 1975 was the first year I started collecting baseball cards. Since it's release it's become a classic with collectors and bloggers. In my opinion, it stacks up nicely with Topps' Classic sets from the 1950's. For many reasons, I've always been very fond of that set.
They include:
  • It was the first set I collected
  • An eye-catching design
  • A great set of rookie cards highlighted by George Brett, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Keith Hernandez.
  • One of Topps' best designed baseball card wrappers
  • 1975 Topps (especially the wrapper) were mocked by Wacky Packages (anyone remember Beastball?)
  • The local ice cream van driver (we called him 'Van') that I bought cards from as a kid used to tell me that he put a case of baseball cards away every year and that the first year he did so was 1975 (and they were mini cellos!!!) Note: Decades later, I heard that he actually cashed out and made a nice chunk of change. Good for him.
  • Minis (These were smaller-sized versions of the regular cards. Topps released them as a test in the Michigan and California markets).

The only sticker remotely as popular to me as a kid was the Playboy Magazine spoof Playbug.

During the 1980's, it seemed as the dual fascination with the Rookie Cards in the set as well as the Minis continually pushed the price of the set up in value. There was even a period of time where the value of the minis was more than 2-3 times the regular sized cards due to perceived scarcity.

1975 Topps Mini and Regular Steve Garvey

On the tenth anniversary on the 1975 set, Topps came out with arguably their best set of the 1980's from a popularity and collecting standpoint. 1985 Topps was highlighted by Rookie Cards of Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser, Eric Davis and Bret Saberhagen. Topps also release an identical all glossy parallel set called Topps Tiffany (for the second year in a row) that was the same size as the regular set and limited to 5,000 sets. At time of release, the Tiffany Set was only moderately popular with collectors because in my opinion they weren't available in pack form and they weren't what collectors were interested in at the time (That would be Minis).

Eventually someone in Topps' Product Development division (Fleer too) took a look at the hobby and realized that 1975 Topps and especially their Minis were all the rage. In an attempt to capitalize on this, Topps released a much smaller Mini set in 1986 that was a flop along the lines of a Ford Edsel.

The main reasons it failed was:
  • Design was different that regular-sized 1986 Topps cards as well as unattractive
  • Number of cards in the set was much smaller
  • Size of the minis was even smaller than 1975 Topps Minis
  • The hobby hadn't positively accepted multiple sets in the same year from a manufacturer (outside of traded sets)
  • No must-have Rookie Card was included in the set (i.e. Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds)

If you collected in the mid-1980's, Topps coming out with this style of Mini set made all the sense in the world. Donruss and Fleer were regularly beating them to the punch by including better Rookie Cards in their base sets and their products were performing better in the secondary market. Sadly, they could have done better and in fact they almost did.

While doing the research for the 1986 Topps Minis set, someone at Topps considered making a 1985 Topps Mini set in the same fashion as the 1975 Topps Mini set. This led to 132 cards which constituted one 11x12 sheet being produced as a test. The cards were printed in Ireland (like Topps Traded sets of the 1980s) and only 100 of each set was produced.

1985 Topps Mini and Regular Steve Garvey

I don't know how these were distributed or even if they were but for whatever reason Topps missed the boat on this opportunity because a 1985 Topps Minis in pack form would have been huge considering how many Rookie Cards were in the set.

Unfortunately, we'll never find out.

Topps Baseball Cards. Now available in Tall, Venti and Grande!

For comparisons sake, I've lined 1975 and 1985 Topps Minis up next to each other along with a 1986 Topps Mini.

1 comment:

night owl said...

The later incarnation of the minis don't even compare to the '75 minis.

I wasn't even aware of the '86 minis until decades later, because my collecting fell off in the mid-80s (college years).

I still haven't figured out why if the '75 minis were issued as a test set in Michigan and California why I was able to buy them in upstate New York that year.