To many, insert cards are a modern invention; something to push sales of modern packs. Vintage card collectors know that’s not true. Like their baseball and football brethren, 1970s Topps basketball packs were full of unique little bonuses that are somewhat elusive today, waiting for new collectors to discover them.
If there is one insert set that has been wrongly ignored for many years it is 1969-70 Topps Rulers. A unique and fun design, with all of the great players of the era, and sometimes at very low prices to buy, Topps Rulers are underrated.
With its ‘tall boy’ sets of ’69-70 and 1970-71, Topps seemed to be trying to mimic the height of a new generation of players like Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). The look and theme of the rulers were a more obvious part of the effort.
Folded by Topps three times, the Topps Rulers are smaller than a standard card when folded, around 2.5 inches high and across, but when unfolded measure in at close to 10 inches high and 2.5 inches across. There is nothing on the back while the front is full of color and a great caricature of the player. They have measurements along the left side which indicate the player's height.
The Topps Rulers set goes from #1 to #24 but actually has 23 cards. There is no #5 and reportedly that would have been Bill Russell, who never made it into the 1969-70 set. The top Topps Rulers to collect are those of Wilt Chamberlain, Lew Alcindor, Jerry West, John Havlicek and Oscar Robertson.
It seems that a market for graded Topps Rulers is starting to appear. Their paper design would seem to suggest many have deteriorated over the years but that doesn't seem to be the case. High grade examples can be found. A PSA 10 John Havlicek Topps Ruler sold not long ago for a cool $1,000. A PSA 10 Willis Reed sold for $689 on eBay and a PSA 10 Gail Goodrich was bought for around $200.
As with many other folded inserts in card packs, there aren’t a lot of options to store and display Rulers. When folded, they do sit neatly in a spot on a 9-pocket page. Several unfolded Rulers would fit on a large page, that is used to store magazines, but while they could be viewed in their entirety they could move around which could cause damage. A skilful collector might view a 6-pocket page as an option, as cutting the bottom part of the three top pockets would create three thin and long spaces that the Ruler could be stored in.
The next year, Topps went a slightly more traditional route with its insert. The 1970-71 Topps basketball insert posters measured about 8x10. While the cards in that year's set often had a posed player picture there was plenty of action in the posters. Walt Frazier and Oscar Robertson are driving through traffic, Jerry West is reaching for a loose ball, Wilt Chamberlain is high above the ring for a dunk and Lew Alcindor has the ball in the low-post and looks about to turn and score with the Skyhook.
The most expensive poster in the set is a battle of Wilt and Lew. Havlicek, West, Robertson and Reed are some of the other big-names in the set. Most of the posters can be found for under $10 with stars bringing more, but condition plays a big factor. Because of multiple folds and the fact that a lot of kids did what they were supposed to and tacked them to the wall, high grade examples can be a little hard to find. Buyers looking for posters on eBay will need to search in more than just the basketball card categories, as some sellers list the 1970-71 Topps Posters in the posters category instead.
When a pack of Topps basketball was opened in 1971-72 the cards might have ended up in a shoebox and the Topps Trios Stickers were probably peeled and placed on a schoolbook or in a scrapbook. These unique, black-bordered cards are a real challenge for those who like high grade cards. Centering and susceptibility to wear trump hopes for piecing together a quality set.
There are some interesting player combinations in the 46-card Topps Trios set. Havlicek and Maravich share a card, along with Bob Kauffman. Oscar Robertson is teamed with Wes Unseld and Bobby Smith. Wilt has Gus Johnson and Norm Van Lier. If only there had been a three-on-three competition featuring these groups of players, maybe the card of Jerry West, Chet "The Jet" Walker and Willis Reed would have had the best balance and won the competition. Near mint sets of Trios can sell for $400 and up with graded singles of stars selling for that much and more.
There aren't any action photographs or player information or statistics on them but the 1973-74 Topps Team Stickers are a fun way to learn about the history of the NBA, and the ABA, with some team logos that are no longer used and a few logos from teams that are defunct.
The awkward Denver Rockets logo is something to see, dribbling a basketball across the mountains isn't easy for anyone let alone a rocket, while there is also a Houston Rockets sticker in the set too. A close look at the ABA's Carolina Cougars logo shows a very suspicious big cat. The Bullets looked like they were going uphill while the Buffalo Braves featured a feather in their logo design. $140.00 was paid recently for a complete set of 27 cards of the NBA and ABA logos.
There was a time when all collectors did was open packs, trade cards and hope to complete a set. The checklist was an important tool for that task and the 1975-76 Topps Team Checklist set was sent out by Topps to collectors through the mail in the form of a fold out type of panel.
The numbers say that few people these days are looking for them, fewer are selling them and only a very small number are sending the 1975-76 Topps Team Checklist cards in for grading. Despite being cut from the panel by collectors there are cards that have the highest of grades.
While just outside the 1970s, the 1980-81 Topps Team Posters is another insert set from the era. They provide a look at not only the star players, but the bench players, coaches and assistant coaches who never received a basketball card of their own. They were included in packs of 1980-81 Topps and are made of thin paper and again folded in quarters for insertion into packs. Measuring a little less than 5x7, the posters were called "Team Pin-Ups" by Topps back in the day.
The number of posters for sale and the prices seems to vary quite a bit but a patient collector can find the poster of their team for a dollar or two (except perhaps the Lakers and Celtics), and there are complete sets available too, but they aren’t commonly found.