In the mid-1970s, the small fraternity of adult baseball card collectors surely began corresponding by mail and sharing long-distance phone conversations once the existence of a new set. The only place it seemed to be showing up was in a small area of New England. The 1974 Topps Deckle Edge set, as it came to be known, was one of the many ‘test’ issues Topps produced during the decade. Today, despite its black and white photos and unusual size, ’74 Deckle Edge set has become a bit of a classic.
Packed with star power including 23 Hall of Famers, the set is valuable in higher grades but a desirable target for collectors who love its manageable 72-card checklist.
Available in packs with two cards and a stick of gum (some packs had three cards and no gum), the wrapper read simply ‘Baseball Photos’ with the original Topps logo in the top left corner. ‘Deckle’ or scalloped edge photographs were popular in the late 1960’s and 70’s and Topps took the concept to youngsters with this oversized set.
While of the photos feature players posing for the camera, the Hank Aaron card shows the future Home Run king signing autographs, not long before he would break Babe Ruth’s record.
With cards measuring 2 7/8″ x 5″, the 1974 Deckle Edge issue was a distant cousin of the 1964 Giants set that had been issued ten years earlier and featured color photos.
The backs of the cards featured something that had never been done before and has rarely been seen in the hobby since: dated photos. Printed in a cursive style and rather formal, the copy includes not only a date but the location of the photo. At the bottom is a newspaper-style paragraph highlighting a player’s recent achievement.
Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Frank and Brooks Robinson, Tom Seaver, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Rod Carew, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie McCovey, Thurman Munson and other notables are the most expensive players in the set, which doesn’t really have any ‘scarce’ cards.
Backs were printed in either gray or the more scarce white color. Proof versions exist without the scalloped edges.
Some uncut sheets have surfaced over the years as well.
Why Topps only tested them in such a small geographic area and opted not to expand the project has been lost to time, but it’s something they did often during the era. Five years earlier, they had used the “deckle edged photo” concept for an insert set that came inside packs of the company’s flagship product. The idea of a larger, standalone set must have been percolating for awhile.
1974 Topps Deckle Edge cards remain relatively scarce today with few new examples entering the market as time has unfolded. In all, PSA has authenticated and graded fewer than 2,900 of them while SGC’s pop report lists about 500. Only 65 examined by PSA have rated a Gem Mint 10. Four SGC examples have graded 10 with 87 given a Mint 9 label.
A PSA 8 Tom Seaver sold last week for $1,400 while one of four PSA 9 Amos Otis cards netted $330. An SGC 6 Nolan Ryan brought $1,500 earlier this year while an ungraded white back Ryan went for $2,000.
Because of the scarcity, even lower grade examples are usually snapped up by collectors.
To see 1974 Topps Deckle Edge cards on eBay, click here.