It was still the only game in town but the 1978 Topps Baseball set brought a few changes with it when it arrived in retail outlets and by case to the few serious dealers spread across North America. Prices for a standard wax pack had increased from 15 to 20 cents from 1977 but there were now 14 cards per pack instead of 10. Good thing, too, because the set size had ballooned from 660 cards to 726. It was the largest set Topps had produced since 1972 when it was still distributing cards in series spread out across the calendar year. Topps increased the size of the photo on the front of the card and put the team name in a cursive style with the players’ positions in a baseball design.
Printing and Prices
The design was simple but as was often the case until much later in the next decade, centering and other printing issues often reared their ugly heads. Today, star cards with notoriously tough centering, attain a premium price in mint condition. A PSA 9 1978 Topps Nolan Ryan sold for $575 in August. A George Brett in the same grade—a little easier to find—often brings $150-175 when listed. A PSA 10 Mike Schmidt sold not long ago for $449.
Even ‘common’ players bring star quality money from those seeking cards for their registered sets. A PSA 10 Mickey Rivers sold for $1,650 this summer. A Jackson Todd in PSA 9 brought $171, while cards of Dave Parker, Wilbur Howard and the Astros team sold for $100-125 each in the same grade.
1978 Topps Double Prints
Collectors also noticed one thing immediately upon opening a quantity of packs or a vending box: some cards were much easier to find than the rest. A four-year era of double prints had arrived. There were 66 in all, which meant a lot of duplicates for dealers sorting stacks of cards to make into sets. Not all were commons. Pete Rose and Tony Perez of the Reds showed up twice on the 132-card sheets. So did Graig Nettles and Ron Guidry of the red-hot Steinbrenner Yankees. A rookie card featuring a kid named Jack Morris. It’s one reason why both can still be found today for under $5 in near mint condition.
If you’re looking for the year when baseball cards started to become known as something more than just a kids’ thing, 1978 wouldn’t be a bad starting point. It seemed sports card shows began increasing in number and size, the concept of a ‘National’ sports collectors convention really began to gain momentum and the increasing prices sought—and paid—for old cards were starting to make news.
Major League Baseball had expanded in 1977, with the Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays added to the American League and while neither added much to the star power of the 1978 Topps set, there was plenty of that elsewhere. Topps began the set with Record Breaker cards that featured players who had achieved milestones in ’77 like Lou Brock, Rose, Nolan Ryan, Willie McCovey, Brooks Robinson and Reggie Jackson. There were regular issue cards of Ryan, Jackson, Mike Schmidt, Johnny Bench, George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, Tom Seaver, Rod Carew and several other Hall of Famers.
1978 Topps Rookie Card Crop
Packed in red wax packs, rack packs, cellos and vending, the 1978 Topps set has held up well thanks largely to a remarkable rookie class. Eddie Murray’s first card is here and he has it all to himself. The Detroit Tigers’ 1984 World Series championship team was born in the set with Morris, Lance Parrish, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker all appearing in the Rookie Prospects subset that shows four players per card.
As seasoned vintage card collectors know, Trammell shares his card with Hall of Famer Paul Molitor, then a Brewers’ prospect. It would be valuable by itself, but the card is plagued with a printing issue that left a smudge of blank ink across the front. Cards without the smudge—or just a slight touch—sell for a premium. A PSA 9 Molitor/Trammell card sells for $375-$475.
The rookie class helps push submissions to grading companies much higher than cards from the preceding year. For example, there have been 122,791 1978 Topps Baseball cards encapsulated by PSA as of October 2014 compared to 72,696 from 1977.
Complete 1978 Topps Baseball sets sell for $200-275 in near mint-mint condition depending on the quality of the rookie and star cards. Prices for even slightly lesser grade key rookies can bring the full set well below that range.
You can see what’s currently available on eBay here.