Long before video games, Topps was often the go-to choice for kids entertainment and it usually wasn’t sophisticated. They went interactive with the 1974 Topps Puzzles issue, one designed to while away at least a half hour or so of a youngster’s summer. Today, it’s among the most unusual sports products ever produced by the company and fairly rare.
Topps often quietly trotted out some new ‘test’ sets, offering them in a small geographic area to see if they were worthy of nationwide distribution. Such was the case with the ’74 Puzzles, which were available in New England about the same time as the short-lived 1974 Deckle Edge packs. They apparently didn’t sell well as the puzzle concept quickly disappeared with most collectors at the time unaware of its existence.
Each 29-cent pack featured Tom Seaver on the front and held a 40-piece puzzle picturing one of the more notable players of the day. Nine of the 12 are now in the Hall of Fame. There is also a 25-cent version of the wrapper.
The photos used to create the puzzle are similar or identical to those used in the Deckle Edge set.
When completed, the puzzle measured about 4 3/4″ x 7 1/2.” Production was far from perfect and among the common defects are pieces that don’t quite fit or have improper cuts. The Nolan Ryan and Dick Allen puzzles were poorly cropped and don’t have the typical white border.
The entire checklist includes: Hank Aaron, Allen, Johnny Bench, Bobby Bonds, Bob Gibson, Reggie Jackson, Bobby Murcer, Jim Palmer, Ryan, Seaver, Willie Stargell and Carl Yastrzemski. When complete, the player’s name, team and position are shown at the bottom. They are unnumbered.
Interestingly, a mock-up for production of a set that appears similar to the puzzles emerged through a Lelands auction in 2007. It appears the original idea was to create giant size cards, something Topps eventually did in 1980 and ’81.
A complete puzzle set sold for $1,200 through Robert Edward Auctions in 2017. The Ryan and Aaron puzzles are usually the most expensive while others can sometimes be found for $100-$150. You can usually find several on eBay. Unopened packs typically sell for $200-$300.
An uncut proof of the Hank Aaron puzzle sold for $290 last month via Memory Lane.