While the rest of the world around us grows old, we collectors remain young (at least in heart) and continue to pursue our youthful endeavors of amassing information and just plain things that immortalize our heroes of baseball. These “things” keep yesteryears always in the present, offering us perpetual youth as we continually relive the exploits of the great and mighty and of the not-so-great and less-than-mighty.
The “things” take on an abundance of forms: cards, ticket stubs, yearbooks, autographs, statues, equipment, uniforms, pennants – almost anything that represents a personal reminder of personalities and feats on the basepaths. One class of collectibles that has gained tremendously in popularity during the past years is that of the baseball coins.
Baseball coins have all of the appeal of their contemporary card cousins and have the advantage of being generally much more durable, or “handle-able”, if you will. With proper care, baseball coins can be shown-off, examined, sorted, and just plain monkeyed-with with no fear of bending, creasing, or fraying a corner. This hands-on appeal means a collection can be enjoyed free of the antiseptic and non-personal encumbrance of plastic pages and the like, although the coins can be stored in these same conveniences if so desired.
By baseball coins I refer to those little discs that were issued in conjunction with some product promotion and that pictured the baseball stars of the day. These products ranged from hot dogs to petroleum distillates. Product popularity was strived for by association with that universal popularity of baseball.
Modern day baseball coins have been distributed by five companies at various times: Topps, Old London, Citgo, Armour, and Salada. Beginning in the mid-fifties and reaching into the early-seventies, baseball coins maintained their viability in the collecting community to the point of being second only to cards in collecting popularity in the 1980s.
Topps has produced the coins that are the most popular. Because of Topps’ extensive distribution system, their coins are the least difficult to find.
Topps Chewing Gum issued baseball coins as inserts in retail packages of baseball cards during two years: 1964 and 1971. In terms of physical dimensions, both years are identical. Each coin is a one-and-one-half inch metal disc with a rolled front edge. A player portrait in full-color is on the coin front along with player identification. Personal data is on the back, as is the coin number.
1964 Topps Coins
This year’s issue is split into two distinct series: the “regular” series of #s 1-120 and the “All-Star” series of #s 121-164. The two series are usually combined to make up a complete set of 1964 Topps coins. However, the regular coins have printed on their backs, “COLLECT THE ENTIRE SET OF 120 ALL-STARS”, implying that at one time the company intended to limit the set to the 120 coins. For this reason, many collectors split their coins into the two separate sets.
The regular set of 120 coins (PX-17) consists of 60 National Leaguers with silver backs and rims and 60 American Leaguers with gold backs and rims. Nearly all portraits are close-up “head-shots” with out-of-focus stadium features in the backgrounds. The banner beneath the portrait gives the player’s name, team, and position. Personal data on the coin back includes height, weight, and which way the player bats (or throws in the case of the pitchers), as well as a short narrative.
The PX-17’S were issued with the first few series of 1964 Topps cards, exactly how many series is not known. From auction, for sale, and wanted communications analyzed over the past years, there appears to be a regional pattern across the country in terms of some coins being scarcer than others in a given area. However, there seems to be only slight evidence that a few coins were made in significantly lower quantities than the others. Overall, the set seems to be quite balanced. The Mantle, Aaron, Rose, Banks and Drysdale coins are the most difficult to find, but this is believed to be a function of those player’s popularity rather than their being true scarcities.
The 44-coin All Star set (PX-18) is made up of 22 American Leaguers on blue coins with gold backs and 22 National Leaguers on red coins with silver backs. A.L. players are on the first twenty coins, and N.L. stars are on the next twenty. then, apparently to round-out representation from each team in the leagues, #161 and 162 are two American Leaguers (K.C. and Washington) and #163 and 164 are National Leaguers (Houston and New York).
The blue and red background colors used on these coins is metallic rather than flat and tends to wear quite easily on the coin rims. Most individual coins in this set show some of this wear to one degree or another when found in circulation.
The front of each coin has a top banner reading “1964 ALL STARS” and a bottom banner with the player’s name. The portraits are generally half-body shots in some type of an action pose as opposed to the pictures on the PX-17’s. The coin back gives the player’s name, team, and position as well as the coin number, a brief narrative, and the inscription ‘COLLECT ALL 44 SPECIAL ALL STARS”.
The PX-18’s are very interesting to complete in that there are three variations in the series. The Mantle coin, #131, is found with two different portraits, one in which he is set to bat from the left side of the plate and the other in which he has just completed his swing from the right side. Both variations seems to be distributed in fairly equal quantities, with some regional aspects showing up in data accumulation.
The last two American League players, #161 Wayne Causey and #162 Chuck Hinton, were first issued with the back inscription stating that they were National Leaguers (though coin colors were consistent with the A.L.). After the error was discovered, both coins were corrected, but some of the N.L. variations had already been distributed in the last series of cards. These N.L. variations are quite scarce and are not usually included in transactions involving sets of the 1964 Topps coins.
1971 Topps Coins
The 1971 Topps Coin set consists of 153 coins, issued in three series. The first series (#1-51) is the most common; these coins have gold backs. Series two coins (#52-102) have silver backs and are the most difficult to find. The last series (#103-153) has coins with metallic blue backs.
There is a color pattern to the coin fronts, with the pattern repeating every four coins. Coin #1 has a bronze rim with a green inner border, #2 has a blue rim with a red inner border, #3 a blue rim with green inner border and #4 a gold rim with red inside, etc. Two coins are exceptions to this: #65 is blue with green rather than the sequential bronze with green and #142 is gold with red instead of blue with red. (If you display your coins, be sure to arrange them in a multiple of four as this pattern then complements the appearance of the set).
Generally, the 1971 coins represent quite a mixture as the veteran stars such as Aaron, Mays, and Clemente were at the pinnacles of their careers, and Rose, Palmer and Jackson were becoming the newly established heroes.
Other than the series’ distribution, there are no scarcities in the set, although some players are more difficult to obtain because of their popularity. The National League stars such as Aaron, Clemente, and Mays are the toughest to find.
The set contains no known variations, other than varying degrees of off-center printing. However, one very legitimate error is known. One specimen of #21, Bill Grabarkewitz, the Dodger third baseman, is made backwards: while a normal coin has the edge rolled to form a rim on the front, this coin has the rim on the coin back, with the portrait on the reverse side. Presumably, other coins on the same production sheet as this particular coin were pressed in the same manner, but their existence has not been confirmed.
Both Topps coin sets are somewhat difficult to obtain as complete sets, in that they are not found on the market that often. There seems to be no significant difference in the prices being realized in auctions for the two different years when complete sets are involved.
The above article was written by Jim Nicewander and first appeared in The Trader Speaks, a hobby publication that published from 1968-1983
Click here to see over 1,000 1964 and 1971 Topps coins on eBay.