They’re almost an afterthought now. Complete sets sometimes go unsold at $10 when you see them but most veteran show dealers don’t even bother to bring them. In their day, though, they had the hobby buzzing. The 1980 Topps Superstar 5×7 photos were big, bold and more importantly—something new from Topps.
It was a year before Fleer and Donruss turned baseball card collecting upside down following the legal ruling that ended Topps’ monopoly. With no competition, Topps had become fairly predictable. The company created one main set of baseball cards each year and once in a while they’d roll the dice with something additional (we’re looking at you, 1979 Topps Test Comics) but for the most part, it was a long wait until the next season, or football if you were so included. Collectors who built the flagship baseball set rarely had much of anything else to look forward to and so when ANY new product was released, collectors flocked to it like a school of barracuda.
While the Comics had their detractors, the arrival of the nearly 5×7-inch “cards” of the Superstars set the following year was generally met with a favorable reaction. There was no real “design.” Topps simply relied on its photography to carry the 60-card issue. The backs contained only the player’s name, team and position. The card number was at the bottom. The stock used was similar to Topps’ regular issue cards. It may sound funny now, but the Superstars set really was a step forward for Topps photography. The colors were bold and the images were, for the most part, sharp. The only drawback was the airbrushing used on Nolan Ryan’s card after his move from the Angels to the Astros via free agency.
The cards first showed up in the usual places where baseball cards were sold. Offered in boxes of 48 for 15 cents each, you could literally walk into the store, find an open box and purchase the players you wanted. Needless to say, a lot of Pete Rose cards were sold and a lot of Garry Templetons were left in the box.
They were also distributed in unopened packs of five with a cardboard header that contained a checklist on the back.
Send in a wrapper plus $9 (pricey for the time) and Topps would send you a complete set.
Gray vs White
Topps then confounded collectors and dealers by announcing plans for a “white back” set that would be sold in complete set form to dealers. The checklist was exactly the same. Literally the only difference was the white colored stock, which was slightly thicker.
The white back sets ordered by dealers arrived later in the year, packed in simple manila envelopes, which not surprisingly led to some sets being delivered with a few corner dings. They were also test marketed to the public with three-card packs available only in a few geographic areas. The white back sets and singles were—and are—much rarer than the grays but still aren’t likely to cost more than about three times as much.
Superstars and So-So Stars
The checklist was fairly solid with 16 Hall of Famers, most of whom were bunched among the first 25 cards. In fact, the first six cards in the set were of players who would eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown several years later. Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Rod Carew and Carl Yastrzemski are just some of the names you’ll find.
As was often the case with Topps products of the era, there were double prints. No, make that triple prints. Six cards in the gray back set including Brett, Jackson and Schmidt, appear on production sheets three times as much as the other 54 cards and are very plentiful.
Unless you’re chasing graded examples of the mint and gem mint variety, the Superstars cards are easy to find and very inexpensive today. You can see sets and single cards from the 1980 Topps Superstars sets on eBay here.