The checklist was a short one but you couldn’t beat the price.
The 1978 Topps Zest Soap baseball card set was a free with purchase mail-in promotion that focused on some of the top Hispanic players in the major leagues. Thanks to limited distribution, it’s a little difficult to find today, but not that expensive.
The five-card set was cello wrapped and produced by Topps for a Proctor & Gamble promotion. It’s believed the in-store offer was made in areas of the country where there was a heavy concentration of Spanish speaking people. The wording on the display was done entirely in Spanish.
By purchasing two bath size bars of Zest and sending in the wrappers, collectors could mail in to receive a complete set of five cards. Collectors who sent in eight bath size wrappers by mail would receive a free poster of Houston Astros outfielder Cesar Cedeno. The offer was only available for a relatively short time, running from August 1 to November 1, 1978.
The format for the card fronts mirror the 1978 Topps design, while the backs are different. The card backs are printed in both English and Spanish. On the right-hand side, where the regular Topps set has a game feature that had a baseball situation, there are logos from Major League Baseball and the MLBPA for the Zest version.
Since there are only five cards in the set, the numbering is different from the main set. Curiously, Zest is not mentioned anywhere on the cards.
The players in the set are indicative of the promotional set’s aim at the Hispanic community. They include, in order, Joaquin Andujar, Bert Campaneris, Ed Figueroa, Willie Montanez and Manny Mota.
Interestingly, the 1978 Zest card of Montanez shows him in a head-and-shoulders bat pose, wearing a New York Mets uniform. That does not seem like a big deal, since Montanez played for the Mets in ’78. However, his 1978 card from the Topps flagship set shows Montanez in a batting pose, wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform.
Montanez had an All-Star season in Atlanta during the 1977 season, hitting 20 homers and driving in 68 runs. With the Mets in 1978, Montanez would hit 17 home runs and have 96 RBI.
So perhaps the Zest card could be considered a Topps update.
One can only imagine how large the set could be now, given the larger number of Hispanic players in the majors. It would be quite a layout.
The cards measure 2½ inches by 3½ inches, the same dimensions as Topps’ flagship set.
Only 50 cards have been sent to PSA for grading, and only one of them — a Mota — has been classified gem mint. Mota is the card that has been graded the most — 13 times. In addition to the gem mint card, three Mota cards have been graded at PSA 9, while eight are PSA 8s.
Overall, 20 cards have been graded PSA 9.
As far as PSA registry sets, collector David Puddy has the best one with a 9.80 rating. All five of his cards are graded PSA 9.
The cards are easy to find on eBay. Complete sets can usually be had for under $25, sometimes as little as $10 or so. Uncut four-card panels of each player have also popped up.
Washington state collector Mike Rumley-Wells said he recently bought four-card panels of Mota, Montanez and Campaneris on eBay for approximately $10 plus shipping.
“I had no idea these existed on the planet,” he said.
Definitely an unusual version of the cards.
“I think these just came off the printer and didn’t get cut for some reason,” he said. “I don’t think they were ever sold or marketed this way.”
As an aside, Topps teamed with Scholastic Book Club to produce six-panel cards of the flagship 1978 set in Dynamite magazine. The publication, which ran from 1974 to 1992, was geared toward kids during the 1970s and featured pop culture notables on the cover like Henry Winkler as “The Fonz,” John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino from “Welcome Back, Kotter” and Jimmie Walker from “Good Times.”
The 1970s were definitely a different time. And for collectors with a zest for the unusual, the soapy, five-card promotion fit the bill.