Most baseball card sets are full of commons with a selection of star players. But the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set was the opposite. This short 55-card issue featured primarily big name stars. That, plus an elusiveness that appeals to collectors who like a challenge is what makes it so collectable. Here’s a closer look at this unique, oversized set.
The 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set is just as it sounds – a collection of cards showcasing some milestones and moments achieved by contemporary players. Sort of a cardboard highlight show. At 2 1/2″ tall by 4 3/4″ wide, the shape of the cards is unique to be sure. The cards are, of course, still rectangular in shape. But the oversized nature made them significantly different from regular cards. In addition, the cards weren’t only larger, but also horizontal.
Each card featured the picture of a player along with the caption, “One of Baseball’s Greatest Moments.” The player was actually pictured twice – first in a small color portrait shot off to the side and second in a larger black and white picture that occupied the bulk of the space on the front of the card. Most of the photos pictured players in game action.
Backs had a newspaper headline style, similar to what Topps utilized on some vintage subsets. Below the headline, a miniature ‘article’ described the scene and the special baseball moment. Vintage collectors will look at them and see an immediate parallel to the 1971 Topps set, which also had black borders.
The story of how these cards came to be is a bit of a mystery. They are believed to have been a test issue of sorts in the Brooklyn area, but details are fuzzy. It isn’t even a 100% fact that the cards were distributed in packs, although at least one wrapper with a sticker seal exists and a display box, too. In addition, many of the cards are found with water damage. They are believed to have been in a fire at the location of a distributor, also contributing to their short supply.
Many of the players in the set became Hall of Famers while most others are big names, making it a little different than your typical set. There are, of course, some common players. But the set largely consists of key players from the era.
Reggie Jackson’s and Thurman Munson’s cards are the keys to the set. That’s not only because they are great players but because they cards are some of the earliest of their careers. Reggie Jackson’s card is a 3rd year issue since his rookie card was in the 1969 Topps release. Munson’s is even earlier, a second year card, with his rookie appearing in the 1970 Topps set. His card, in fact, is actually a recap of him winning the Rookie of the Year Award. Several other big names are worth your time, too.
Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Johnny Bench are there. So is Pete Rose. Other Hall of Famers include Tony Perez, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Joe Morgan, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Luis Aparicio, Willie McCovey, and several others. The set is a virtual Who’s Who of players from the 1960s and 1970s.
About 40% of the set is double printed so, while some of the names are big, prices can be a little lower than expected compared to other cards in the set that were single printed.
A Tepid Tester
The general consensus is that Greatest Moments was a test issue but they’re not as rare as some of the sets Topps produced. PSA has graded over 4,000 of them and a check of eBay or any large card show reveals there are a lot of ungraded examples.
1971 Topps Greatest Moments Prices
Popularity and scarcity keep prices well above their cousins in the regular set. Commons in mid-grade condition generally start around $20 with stars commanding significantly more, depending on the player and grade.
The Jackson can start around $600 – $700 and isn’t easily found. Cards in NM condition carry a premium because the cards are often found not centered. A Jackson PSA 8 sold recently for $6,000.
Click here to see them for sale and auction.