Of all of the various Topps “test” issues, the 1973 Topps Comics set is one of the company’s most unique, most rare, most mysterious and most colorful issues. Chances are you don’t have any in your collection. Don’t feel bad. Few do. If you do have one—or more—you’ve got a truly rare piece of collecting history.
Topps created numerous sets that had either a short shelf life, a limited distribution area or were never distributed at all. The little bubble gum comics fit the latter category.
1973 Topps Comics a Cousin of Bazooka Joe
While information has remained somewhat scarce, we do know that the comics were meant to be folded around a rectangular piece of gum with the outer side serving as the front label. Topps owned Bazooka and it’s pretty clear the idea was to create a baseball-specific issue that was more about the bubble gum than a “trading card” type product but still offered something different from a corny Bazooka Joe comic you could buy back then for a nickel. These comics were also bigger than the little Bazooka Joe comics, measuring 4 5/8″ x 3 7/16″ on the typical wax paper stock.
It was an idea that apparently made it as far as very limited packaging but for the most part, the number of comics that actually made it into the hobby is extremely limited and most don’t have the folds that would have been associated with the production process. Some were found in finished form, wrapped around gum, but most of those that exist were clearly never distributed. Fewer than 150 have been authenticated and graded.
What were they all about? Think of the cartoon on the back of a baseball card and multiply it into the form of a comic strip. Each one features a small color photo of the player in the upper left. Each little story that follows offers highlights and insight into each player’s life and career.
According to Robert Edward Auctions, which sold an extremely scarce complete set of 1973 Topps Test Comics for $17,625 in 2010, the comics originated with hobby pioneer Woody Gelman, who at the time was Topps’ art director. While the comics were never offered for public distribution for reasons unknown, Gelman apparently wound up with a small quantity of them. Some were stored at Gelman’s Card Collectors Company but were destroyed in a warehouse fire. He’d kept some at his home, however and most of what’s currently owned by collectors or in dealer inventories originated with Gelman.
Big Names and Rebirth
While we don’t know much more about the set, Topps scored with player selection. There are 24 different players in the set with 14 now in the Hall of Fame. The set includes Hank Aaron and Nolan Ryan, both of whom are popular with collectors. An EX 5 copy of the Ryan sold for over $4,700 at auction in 2014. A NM 7 Johnny Bench sold in the same auction for over $2,100.
Topps would revisit the Comic idea six years later when it released nickel packs of gum with an outer MLB wrapper housing a player comic. Released in three series, the 1979 Topps Test Comics did enjoy traditional distribution although they were thought to be a limited and rare test issue at the time. Maybe they were. The ’79s were a one-and-done issue.
The 1973 Topps Comics will likely remain one of the hobby’s rarest sets and one of the few vintage “interactive” issues. You can see several for sale on eBay by clicking here.