1969 Topps White Letter Variations Remain Mysterious

1969 was a year of change for baseball and baseball cards. For baseball, there were four new teams which joined the major leagues including the first team based outside the United States. In fact, only two of these four teams are still in the same town they started. The baseball card world was changing as well. Under the leadership of Marvin Miller, the Players Association was beginning to flex its muscles including a very short strike at the beginning of spring training.

Ralph Houk 1969 Topps white lettersAnother way the union was beginning to work on was getting Topps to pay more each year for the right to put players’ pictures on trading cards. The story goes in the pre-Miller years the Topps agent would sign up every player he could for a $5 bill and have them sign a contract so Topps could use their photos for as long as they were in baseball. Miller felt, and probably rightly so, this was far less then these players were worth and started a campaign to have Topps pay more. That could very well be one of the reasons why so many photos in the 1969 set used recycled or old player photos.

White letter variation Gaylord PerryThe other, unconfirmed part of the story is that Topps began using multiple printing presses to print cards in 1969.  Why else were there so many variations in this issue?  There were stray marks, team changes applied and spelling corrections.  Ron Perranoski’s card had the “LA” partially visible on his cap, then completely airbrushed away.

From #440 to #511, there was also a grouping of 23 cards that were issued with either white or yellow lettering for their last name. The white letter variations are far more scarce and often cost far more than the yellow versions.

This was very similar to the yellow letter or team variations in the 1958 set and shows that certain issues can and do occur during the printing process. A quick count shows 23 cards have what are known today as “white letter variations”.  The best players in this grouping are Hall of Famers Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry.

1969 Topps Mickey Mantle white lettersMost of these cards, with the exception of the Mantle, can be found at fairly reasonable price points.  Mantle cards vary in price; from around $400 for one in VG condition to thousands of dollars for the rare high grade examples.  One dealer has cornered the market to some extent, offering 26 white letter Mantle cards, mostly in lower to mid grades, for $11,000.  He claims to have a variation that shows the “Yankees” name in white as well.

We know from experience the white letter variations were issued in certain parts of the country but not others and have no idea how the distribution was so diffuse.

I used to go to the Albany, NY shows and we believed that 1969 white letter variations were issued up there. I don’t remember if I ever found any but I know my friends did so those trips were worth it then for the profit (and now for the memories of the long drives).  Others showed up, it seems, in Iowa.

If anyone has any personal memories of purchasing these cards from packs or in certain parts of the country we’d love to hear your stories so we add to the knowledge of where these cards came from.

And as for some of the other pose variations, although I never got those out of my packs, my cousins living in the next town did get those cards so some variations were issued all over. It would be fun to know how many “white” letters were traded away by the kids collecting cards in 1969 because they had no idea anything was amiss.

And, if you want a real challenge, add the other 1969 variations to the white letters and build a master set. You will have a lot of fun in sorting through all the various possibilities of the 1969 Topps baseball set. We would not see nearly as many variations until 1981.

You can see more than 250 white letter variations on eBay.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]


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