For my first “Looking Back” column, I thought I would take a peek at my most desired set of all time: the 1964 Topps baseball set.
What makes this my dream set is quite simple: 1964 was the year I was born.
Of course, it was easy to complete sets for the years my kids were born, because in 1991 and 1996, cards were a dime a dozen.
Several key items make this a tough set to put together. For starters, the Mickey Mantle card is one of the most sought-after cards in existence, with a high-book value around $750.
Another challenge to this set is the season-leader and other multi-player cards, because they contain so many Hall of Fame players that the book values of even these cards are high.
One more challenge to this set lies in the card backs. On the bottom of the card backs is a trivia question, and you had to scratch off a box with a coin to find the answer, making quality conditioned card backs tough to find.
One of the things I like most about the 1964 Topps Baseball set is the clean card fronts. As in most Topps cards from that era, the card fronts, for the most part, feature a close-up photo, often posed, of the players. The Mantle card might be one of the nicest cards you’ll ever find in terms of getting a clear, close-up photo.
The card fronts also feature very little clutter. The players’ names and position are at the very bottom of the cards, while the team nickname is in large, clear print at the top. Nothing else.
The card backs, aside from the aforementioned trivia game, is what card backs should be: Complete player statistics, along with a player biography beneath the name.
There were a few error cards in the set. Card #417 has an incorrect number sequence on the back, which also has a corrected version. Card #532 is an uncorrected error card of Rookie Stars that lists Bud Bloomfield and Joe Nossek, but the Bllomfield photo is actually Hay Ward. Card #561, another uncorrected card, features Rookie Stars Dave Bennett and Rick Wise, but Bennett’s statistics lists 19 games instead of 18.
Other tough cards to look for include Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente. But the set is chock full of Hall of Famers, including Yankees manager Yogi Berra ($50), Lou Brock ($40), Eddie Mathews ($25), Ernie Banks ($50), Don Drysdale ($25), Duke Snider ($50), Harmon Killebrew ($30), Carl Yastrzemski ($60), Roger Maris ($80), Brooks Robinson ($50), Al Kaline ($50), Frank Robinson ($40), Willie Stargell ($40), Willie McCovey ($30), Whitey Ford ($50), Orlando Cepeda ($30), Warren Spahn ($60), Bob Gibson ($50) and many others.
Checklist cards, because of the scarcity of finding them unmarked, book for around $12 apiece.
It’s easy to see why this is such a desired set for collectors.
If I could find a reasonably priced Mantle card, I would begin a quest to collect this set. But without the Mantle, there’s no sense in even trying.
1964 Topps Baseball
Complete set: 587 cards (cards 523-587 are high-number and
High book: NM, $4,000; EX, $2,000; VG, $1,000.
Top Stars: #50 Mickey Mantle ($750); #125 Pete Rose ($350); #150 Willie Mays ($150); #200 Sandy Koufax ($150); #300 Hank Aaron ($150); #331 AL Bombers – Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Al Kaline – ($200); #440 Roberto Clemente ($250).
Top Rookies: #128 Mickey Lolich ($25), #146 Tommy John ($40), #167 Lou Piniella ($40), #243 Richie Allen ($40), #244 Tony LaRussa ($40); #287 Tony Conigliaro ($60); #541 Phil Niekro.