Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Most Underrated Topps Sets

I suppose this is true for almost any topic, but I often think about underrated Baseball card sets, specifically Topps Flagship sets. With well over 60 years of Topps sets being released, there's bound to be a group of them that are underrated or at least, not represented as much as better-known products.

It's not completely known, at least to me, why certain sets don't get as much attention as others. Even within a 2-year span, you can have 1 set (1975 Topps) be one of the most well-loved Flagship products ever released as well as 1976 Topps, a set that doesn't receive much attention at all.

Other times, these underrepresented sets are sandwiched within an era of lackluster products, something that could definitely apply to 1991 Topps. Besides that set, the early to mid-1990s was pretty much hit or miss when it came to Topps sets.

No matter how much sense I try to make of it, I often struggle to grasp exactly what classifies a set as underrated and why it obtains that label. So, rather than attempting to comprehend the concept, I'd rather identify a handful of Topps Flagship sets that are some of my favorites but aren't necessarily as well-known or well-liked as the more popular products, even if some of these sets could be considered superior.

The 50s were a different era of Topps sets altogether with many classic and popular sets being released in that time period. Because of that, I opted not to include a set from that decade, but I made up for it by featuring 2 sets from the 1970s.

Considering that Topps didn't release their first Flagship set until 1952 and the last few sets of the 70s symbolizing the end of an era, one could argue that the 60s are the definition of true vintage with every year of the decade producing a unique set. With that being said, one of these sets, 1963 Topps, remains rather underappreciated.

If Baseball cards are a form of art, then 1963 Topps is towards the top. Not many Topps sets have opted to go with 2 images on the card, and 1963 Topps definitely pulls it off. The black and white image is a nice compliment to the rest of the card. 

Despite how fond I am of the set, the selection of cards I have from it is somewhat limited. Even with the limited number of cards that I have, I've taken a strong liking to the product.

The easily-identifiable grey borders of the 1970 Topps set may help the product stand out, but it's not as well-loved as the other sets from the 70s like '71 and '72 Topps. Part of this is likely due to it being the first set of the 1970s, lacking the appeal that many other sets from that era had. Even so, there's plenty to like about 1970 Topps.

The 100th anniversary stamp on Dave Nelon's jersey is just one of many examples of minor details on 1970 Topps cards. Many cards feature pictures of player's picking up bats in the dugout while others feature the iconic jerseys of the early 70s. With a great design and fabulous pictures, it'll be great to see 1970 Topps recreated in next years' Topps Heritage.

As I continue to gradually piece together the 1976 Topps set, it gets more and more exciting to fill up the 9-card pages with tons of color, more color than nearly any other set Topps has ever made. While sets from the last 30 years or so tend to feature the same base design, a set like 1976 Topps includes separate color combinations for different teams.

Combinations of pink and blue for the Cubs, red and green for the Cardinals, and even the brown and yellow for the Tigers all work exceptionally well. In the few cases in which multiple teams have the same color combo, the placement of the 2 colors on the card are switched in order to help keep every card in the set unique, something that can't necessarily be said for todays' sets.

Not quite fitting in with the sets of the early or late 1980s, 1985 Topps is often overlooked in favor of sets like 1984 and 1987 Topps. However, a closer look will prove that the set has a lot to offer, particularly the #1 draft picks subset which was recreated in Topps Archives a couple of years ago.

One of the main things about '85 Topps that instantly catches one's attention is the card backs. Sometimes dubbed the Christmas card backs, the green color with red text is easily identifiable as one of the best and most memorable card backs ever made. With a respectable base set to accompany it, '85 Topps deserves more attention than it actually gets.

A card from 1991 Topps is at the top of this post as well and for good reason. Personally, 1991 I think '91 Topps is the most underrated set in the brand's 60+ year history, though it has become more well-known over the last few years thanks to its inclusion in the 2016 Topps Archives set.

I first took a strong liking to the set when I found a hobby box of it at a previous Baseball card show for just $5. Loaded with fabulous and untraditional images, 1991 Topps is accompanied with a nice base set design as well. Lacking a truly bad card, 1991 Topps stands in a league of its own in terms of 90s Topps sets.

A close 2nd to 1991 Topps in terms of the most underrated Flagship sets in history, 2008 Topps takes on a similar role as 1991; one of the few standout sets in an otherwise drab decade for Topps Flagship. Topps included just about as much color as they could for a 21st century set with the exception of 2015 Topps, because obviously, sets from the last 10 years are either dominated by the color white or borderless.

I will say that Topps' standards today are much higher than they were when creating the previously mentioned sets on this list. Therefore, a set like 2008 Topps has very few weak points when it comes to image quality. The set had a ton of opportunity for success, and I think Topps did an excellent job.

2011 and 2015 remain the lone standout sets from the 2010s with 2018 Topps being somewhat close but not quite at their levels. Since I don't consider 2015 Topps to be an underrated set, that leaves the 2011 set, yet another example of a producg chock-full with some stellar pictures.

The base set is pretty good as far as 2010s Flagship sets go, the logo on the Baseball in the bottom right being a nice detail. I wish the team name appeared only once and was larger, but I can't be too picky. The card backs still had complete stats, the fronts had borders and great pictures, and the set as a whole did a nice job paying tribute to Topps 60th anniversary.


  1. 2011 and 2015 are also the sets from the 2010's where I actually enjoy the design. Most of the rest are meh, with a few total uggos (including the upcoming 2019 release, yuck).

    I'm glad you chose the 1985 set for your list - specifically with a Cubs card. This is probably my favorite flagship set, in terms of design, of all-time. All of the elements work well together and the layout looks really sharp with the blue and red of the Cubs. Love it!

  2. I like almost all Topps flagship designs but some are not quite as attractive as others. The 1970 design disappointed me back in the day when I opened packs of 1970 cards but those cards are still near and dear to me. The 1991 and 2008 designs are also awesome imo. As with most things, beauty is in the eye of the cardholder, lol.