Not every Super Bowl ad is a winner. I mean, if you saw it way back in 2000, can you ever forget the sock puppet for Pets.com? It was so expensive it killed the company. Yes, we had some funky ideas at the turn of the century. Reading an article about those failed (and very expensive) TV spots on Super Sunday got me thinking about some one-off card sets we’ve seen in the hobby.
We’ll begin with a kind of…sort of…one-year wonder.
In 1963, Fleer, which had been nibbling around the edges of the card hobby for the past few years (1959 Ted Williams, 1960-62 Retired Greats and 1960-62 football issues) went whole hog and created a 66-card set of current baseball players. Their big draw was having Maury Wills since Topps had not been able to sign him and the speedy Dodger shortstop was a baseball card “free agent”.
The set came in nickel packs with a cookie (they couldn’t legally use gum ) and did draw the ire of Topps, which successfully sued and prevented Fleer from creating another set of active players until the Topps monopoly was upended nearly two decades later.
The 1963 Fleer Baseball set is actually a very clean, nice looking set with some great portraits. It’s laden with many of the bigger names of the time including Sandy Koufax, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente but it’s pretty clear Fleer had anticipated a second series before the courts put the kibosh on it.
And, in a way that foretold the card hobby future, sure enough there are short printed cards in ’63 Fleer. Joe Adcock and the checklist card were on the same place in the uncut sheets, and thus neither of those cards were issued to the same print run as the rest of the set. Today, you’ll pay good money for them in nicer grade.
To call Fleer a “one-off” may not be totally accurate but in between 1956 and 1980 this set was as close to competition as Topps had in the 1960’s.
Then there was the full-size SSPC set issued in the mid-1970s. It consists of 630 cards and had a beautiful full-color “pure card” front design. The text on the back edited by a very young Keith Olbermann, who was already very active in the hobby as a young man growing up in New York.
SSPC was issued as part of the multitude of sets issued by TCMA in the 1970’s and 1980’s and this was their biggest issue ever. However, the only way one could acquire it was in complete set form from the nascent dealers of that time. Needless to say, Topps again was able to shut down that set fairly quickly and the full set had just a one-year run. However, if you want to see great photos of the 1970’s, then take a good look at the beauty of photos within this set. The George Brett-Al Cowens card is a classic.
Our third and final one-off is 1992 AW football. The early 1990’s were a fascinating time for football as anyone with only a few thousand dollars could acquire a license and print away. In addition, there was the war going on between the NFLPA and NFL Properties which is why many of the most popular player of the time were not in every card set. Take a good look at a set such as 1992 Topps and you will see a preponderance of lineman and reserve offensive “skill” players.
Many leading stars were not in every set which did make those cards much more popular among collectors who only wanted the players who would create the “Quarterback Club”. That was an idea to gather the most popular players into one group for better bargaining power. However, AW was noteworthy because they had an exclusive on Desmond Howard, who had won the 1991 Heisman Trophy. They also had an exclusive on Rocket Ismail who had been the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner and went to Canada. Yes, there was a time when collectors believed almost Heisman trophy winner would develop into a superstar.
The AW set did have autograph card inserts of Howard, Joe Namath and Jim Brown. All three of players signed 1000 cards for random insertion into packs. If you can find boxes of AW, it’s a fun product to rip as the player selection is pretty decent and there is a possible chance of a nice autograph.
So, sometimes, one-hit wonders can be pretty cool to reflect on many years later but just as in music, some of those one-hit wonders (i.e. Beach Baby by First Class) are far better than others (An Open Letter to My Teenage Son by Victor Lundberg).
If you have a favorite one-off set, let me know via the email address below.