The 1961 Topps Dice set is one of the most mysterious test brands ever put out by the trading card giant.
The 18-card set is scarce, with very few known to exist since it was a test run that did not have a large distribution. However, longtime collector Fred McKie recently completed a deal that add four to the scant population including Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Bobby Richardson. The find brings the total PSA population for the issue to 23. SGC has examined ten cards from the rare test set.
McKie sent all four cards to be graded, and the Mantle came back at PSA 2.5, the Mays was PSA 2, Musial was PSA 2.5 and Richardson came in at PSA 3.5. Mantle is the crown jewel as it represents the new highest graded copy known to exist.
McKie, 72, had hoped for higher grades, but he still could reap more than the six figures he spent for all four cards when he decides to sell them.
The New Jersey native said he bought the items from a South Carolina resident, who knew nothing about cards but was more interested in collecting toy trains. However, the man traveled from his Myrtle Beach home to clean out his mother’s place in Brooklyn, New York, when he stumbled upon the cards.
“They weren’t his cards,” McKie said. “They belonged to his brother.
“They were in a pencil case in a drawer in his mother’s house. It was one of the things that didn’t get thrown out.”
The man, not knowing the value of the cards, decided to put the cards on eBay for $4.99 apiece in September. The response was immediate, with the seller bombarded with emails asking him, “do you know what you have?”
Realizing he had something, the man pulled the cards off eBay.
After weighing offers and negotiating for several months, he decided to accept McKie’s bid. The money was put into an escrow account until the cards could be authenticated and graded. Once that happened, the money was released to the seller and the deal was done.
“It took months to get it figured out,” McKie said.
But once the transaction was completed, McKie was pleased with the cards — especially the Mantle.
“This is the ultimate Mantle card,” he said.
He’s right. There are only three graded cards of Mantle from this set. The 1952 Topps Mantle, considered the Holy Grail of post-World Warr I cards, has had more than 1,800 cards submitted to PSA for grading.
A PSA 1 Topps Dice card of Mantle sold for $144,000 on May 6, 2018 through Robert Edward Auctions. At the time, REA believed it was the only graded Mantle in existence.
However, Heritage Auctions sold a different PSA 1 card for $372,000 on Feb. 27, 2021, during its Winter Platinum Night Sports Auction. Heritage resold the same card on July 21, 2022, for $396,000 during its Summer Sports Catalog Auction.
Bidding will most likely go much higher for McKie’s higher grade example.
Here is a little background on the Topps Dice set, which has confounded collectors for years.
For starters, it is doubtful that these cards even were printed in 1961.
The black-and-white images used to make the cards came from press photos released by the player’s respective teams. The Musial pose, for example, would be used for his 1962 Topps card. The shot of Mays was used as the smaller photo in the horizontally designed 1960 Topps set and would be used later in Topps’ 1969 Deckle insert set.
In his blog The Topps Archives, baseball card historian and collector Dave Hornish wrote about the set in a few 2019 posts, and also discussed it in other posts through the years, including 2009 and 2011.
He confirmed this week that he believes that the test run was most likely done in 1963.
Hornish, the author of the 2013 book, The Modern Hobby Guide to Topps Chewing Gum: 1938 to 1956, wrote about the cards in a May 4, 2019, post titled (appropriately enough) “Dice K,” noting that the cards were distributed as a test run that was played by youths.
Hornish wrote that the Dick Groat card image, which closely mirrors his 1960 Topps card (the smaller photo) and is similar to his 1961 Topps MVP card (No. 486), had the St. Louis Cardinals logo airbrushed onto his cap and removed the Pirates logo on the vest-like uniform that was a signature feature of Pittsburgh uniforms during the 1960s. Groat was traded to the Cardinals from the Pirates after the 1962 season.
The card backs looked like they were inspired by baseball board games at the time, particularly APBA, which debuted in 1951, or Strat-O-Matic, which came along a decade later. A roll of the dice from 2 to 12 on the Topps test cards had four possibilities under fastball, curveball, slider and change-up.
On a personal note, in late 1969 a friend and I concocted a similar idea for a baseball dice game, not knowing about the Topps test brand. We assigned various outcomes to dice rolls. Snake eyes (double ones) was a home run, for example, while a pair of sixes was a double.
We played it during breaks in music class when we were in junior high school, which was fine until a fellow seventh-grade student accused us of shooting craps. We had to explain to our teacher — who carried a bottle of codeine-laced cough medicine in his front shirt pocket and was not averse to taking a sip or two as he played the piano — how the game worked.
He liked the idea but told us to limit the competition to the lunch table.
Back to the original Topps test set.
Because they were not ready to market, the cards did not carry a Topps logo or a copyright mark.
“They didn’t test in stores,” McKie said. “Topps would send guys out to playgrounds.”
In January 1978, hobby pioneer Larry Fritsch offered a complete 18-card set for sale in an ad that ran in The Trader Speaks magazine, according to PSA. Then he pulled them back.
The Topps Dice cards are the latest finds for McKie, who once owned a T-206 Honus Wagner card that sold for a whopping $6.6 million during the summer of 2021 by Robert Edwards Auctions.
McKie bought the card at a convention in Detroit in 1973. Then in his 20s, McKie had heard about the card from hobby veteran Michael Aronstein, who convinced the seller, who lived in Long Island, to bring the card to auction. McKie won the auction, paying $1,100, ESPN reported.
“He said, ‘If you want to sell it, there’s an auction in Detroit,’” McKie said.
McKie said he used a $600 tax refund and sold the items at his table at the Detroit convention for $500 to come up with the cash.
In 1976, McKie sold the card to Barry Halper for $2,500.
Despite what the card fetches now, there are no regrets.
“I still think of it as mine,” McKie laughed. “I still see the crease on the right side.”
McKie, who grew up in South Jersey and graduated with an economics degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, New Jersey, said he had worked in a shoe store owned by the father of Bill Mastro.
After selling the Wagner card, McKie used the money to open his own shoe store at a mall in the Philadelphia area. The business grew to five stores, and its success allowed him to retire when he was 55.
That gave McKie the chance to pursue his collecting passions. He once owned an original stadium chair from Philadelphia’s Connie Mack Stadium before it was demolished, which he loaned to the National Constitution Center in 2006 during that organization’s Sports: Breaking Records, Breaking Barriers exhibit.
A Beatles fan, McKie said he saw the Fab Four on Aug. 16, 1966, when the group played at Philadelphia’s John F. Kennedy Stadium.
The stadium was near the airport, and when a plane flew overhead, “John Lennon took his guitar and aimed it at the plane like he was holding a machine gun,” McKie said.
“They did a 25-minute show,” he said. “Paul McCartney is now, what, 80, and he does 2½-hour concerts.”
Beatles bootleg albums and tapes are among the items McKie has collected through the years.
But baseball is still the big hobby for him, even though he has downsized his collection.
“I still look for a few things,” McKie said. “I collect deep and heavy.”
He is looking forward to selling the Topps Dice cards. The response from other collectors, he said, has been “awesome,” and the cards have generated some buzz on online card forums.
“I’ve been contacted by collectors, dealers and auction houses,” McKie said. “I am leaning toward a private sale.
“It’s a great find and everyone is excited,” he added. “The Mantle is a biggie, but the Mays is nothing to sneeze at.”