If you liked baseball cards in the early 1970s and enjoyed Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes or Raisin Bran, Kellogg’s provided the perfect vehicle for collectors. From 1970 through 1983, Kellogg’s put cards inside specially marked boxes of cereal. And with the exception of the 1973 set, all of them were 3-D, which was an enormously radical design departure for that era.
The 1971 Kellogg’s baseball cards are considered the scarcest and most difficult to find in this series, especially for those collectors putting together a master set. It’s the only time Kellogg’s did not offer a mail-away promotion for a complete set. So that meant you had to eat cereal — lots of it.
Cards offered by cereal companies were not a new idea. Post had put cards on the backs of cereal boxes from 1960-63.
But the Kellogg’s sets offered a neat alternative for kids — the look and feel of the 3-D cards. Admit it — you were tempted to scratch your finger across the fronts of the cards to hear the noise it made.
That 3-D effect was accomplished by sandwiching a clear color photo of the player between a blurred stadium background and a layer of ribbed plastic. The small dimensions of the card — 2 ¼ by 3 ½ inches — and the combination of the cards’ plastic composition made them susceptible to curling or cracking.
The 1971 Kelloggs baseball set has variations galore; 43 of the 75 cards in the set have some kind of variation, mostly a statistical glitch that was corrected. But other cards had logo variations; the cards of Angels players Jim Fregosi, Alex Johnson and Clyde Wright vary between a team crest logo and a California state logo with the letters “Angels” spelled out in lowercase. Fregosi actually has three variations — the two team logos, plus a discrepancy in career hits.
The cards of Felipe Alou come in two variations — one correctly shows “Oakland AL,” on his 1970 statistics line on the card, while the other version reads “Oakland NL.” The same issue crops up with Frank Howard, with “Washington AL” and “Washington NL” versions.
For other variations, one needs a sharp eye, and the differences are on the card backs. Bob Robertson’s career RBI totals are presented as 94 and 95; Dick Selma’s career strikeouts total is 584 or 587, depending on the card. Claude Osteen’s card has a no-number card back, along with his actual card number (70). And like Fregosi, Osteen has three variations — his ERA is listed as 3.82 in one variation and 3.86 in the other.
Who did the proofreading and fact-checking for these cards? Yikes.
In fairness to Kellogg’s, they did properly spell the name of Billy Grabarkewitz.
If you want to be technical, every card has a variation. All 75 cards can be found with and without the “Xograph” copyright line on the card back. This variation, however, does not affect the value of the card. Xograph was the company in Irving, Texas, that produced the cards, using a technology from a New York company, Visual Panographics.
The design of the 1971 Kellogg’s set is an appealing one. The player’s photo is large and includes a facsimile autograph. It is ringed by a blue spotted frame with the words “3-D Super Stars” at the top of the card. That is in turn framed by a thin white border. The player’s last name and position are situated inside a red star.
The card back makes a point of noting that it is an “Officially authorized card,” and there are logos for Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association.
Predictably, the top cards in the set are the superstars of the day. Four out of five are now in the Hall of Fame, while Pete Rose probably would have been among that group had he not been put on the non-eligible list because of his betting. The key cards are Rose (No. 65), Tom Seaver (No. 2), Roberto Clemente (No. 5), Willie Mays (No. 10) and Ernie Banks (No. 50).
Prices for ’71 Kellogg’s cards are often predicated on how difficult they may be to find in high grade. Common cards with few graded 8s 9s and 10s often sell for more than Hall of Famers at the same level.
There are several completed master sets in the PSA Registry, with the top one (Mick1) ranked No. 1 with a weighted GPA of 10.774. Only two of his cards are graded lower than PSA-9 (they are PSA-8s). Ninety-nine of them are PSA-10s, and 21 are PSA-9s.
There are currently more than 500 current eBay listings for 1971 Kellogg’s cards. Some are graded, and you can still find cards that remain in the white see-through packaging they were placed in more than four decades ago.
Most cards — even the graded ones — are relatively affordable, unless you’re buying those graded 9 or 10.
Collectors who have assembled a set of uncracked, uncurled cards should be commended. Curling was one downfall of the Kellogg’s cards, unless steps were taken to keep it to a minimum and trying to flatten them often resulted in cracking.
Still, it’s a challenging and fun set to collect — and I still scratch the card fronts because I still like the sound it makes.