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1975 Topps Mini sets proves size does matter

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Some vintage cards fit on eBay better than anywhere else. Too specialized for the local shop, not valuable enough for a big auction house to bother with them, yet there’s enough of a collector audience out there trolling eBay that sellers get a decent return on the time and money they spend creating listings.

1975 Topps Mini Baseball fills that niche perfectly, although after a George Brett rookie graded PSA 10 sold for $6,500 recently, the auction houses surely will think twice about passing on these not-too-old, not-very-big baseball cards that seem to be enjoying a renaissance among collectors in this age of grading companies and set registries.

“I believe many vintage collectors love this set,” says T. Allan Bergquist, who collected them as a kid growing up 30 miles from the Oakland A’s stadium and in the same neighborhood where Rollie Fingers lived.

So why isn’t there the enthusiasm for this set that there is for other 1970s baseball?

We asked Bergquist to speculate, as he’s been in the trenches upgrading his set on the PSA registry and discussing the topic with other dealers and collectors.

“It is extremely difficult to put this set together in high-grade condition,” Bergquist said. “I believe collectors may be reluctant to pursue the daunting task of trying to put this set together because of this. I’ve heard there is a lot of unopened ’75 Topps Mini material out there. Did the dealers pay more than they can get for it? Why are they not selling it?”

The Mini Brett rookie is a hot commodity, thanks to his 2004 Hall of Fame induction. Even in mint-graded condition, the Brett commands $500-$750 on eBay, a far cry from 1975 when this 660-card release but mirroring the regular sized Topps issue limited to Michigan and California, sold for 15 cents a pack.

Vintage cards could see a spike this off-season, as fans’ disgust with steroid shenanigans and weary of a convoluted pennant drive (remember when it was just two teams in the postseason?), reflect back to the good old days. The 1975 Topps set is recent enough to be cheaper than its 1960s counterparts, most of us can remember witnessing firsthand the on-field heroics of then-rookies Robin Yount and Brett, yet it’s 30 years old.

“There are also far less ’75 Minis vs. the ’75 regular cards,” Bergquist said. “Scarcity, I believe, is a good thing when referring to vintage cards. Perhaps the only drawback to the set is that there are not enough of the high-end graded cards to invite large numbers of collectors to make a run on the ’75 Minis in high-end graded condition.”

He also pointed out there’s only one graded Mini card for every three graded regular-sized 1975 Topps.

Bergquist, who today makes his home in Draper, Utah, feels that the market is a little down over the last year for most cards in the set with the exception of the Hall of Fame rookies Yount and Brett. In fact, he sees potential for the set to increase in value over time once more collectors comprehend its scarcity relative to the larger-sized set.

“This is quite the sleeper set in my eyes,” Bergquist says. “They are selling the Mini graded cards for practically the same price as the ’75 Topps regular card? It makes no sense as Minis are statistically three times more scarce than the PSA-graded regular sized card.”

The top-selling Topps Mini lots on eBay over the summer show that non-rookie star cards also get noticed among bidders looking to compile better quality sets:

l $6,500: The above-mentioned Brett l $1,226: Nolan Ryan, PSA 9 l $649: Complete set with PSA 8 Yount and Brett l $500-$750: Numerous mint-slabbed Brett cards l $430: Hank Aaron, PSA 9 l $319: Mike Schmidt, PSA 9 Private dealer auction Web sites and combination live/Internet auctions posted a few key recent Topps Mini sales, including: l $21,916: (34) uncut sheets, including 16 with Yount and Brett rookies (MastroNet) l $1,696: Unopened wax box (Superior Sports Auctions) l $418: Brett, PSA 9 (Heritage Sports Collectibles) l $311: Reggie Jackson, PSA 9 (Superior Sports Auctions) l $224: Reggie Jackson, PSA 9 (Mile High Card Co.) eBay seems to be the main venue for these cards.

They’re not new enough to get a marketing lift by current product as only a few players from 1975 remain in the bigs as coaches and managers but not old enough to attract the big-fish vintage collectors. So the Generation X’ers who flock to eBay to buy other items from their childhood run into these peculiarly small cards and fall in love with them even if this limited regionally distributed issue wasn’t sold in their hometown back in the day.

Like most sets from the era, some cards fell in spots on the sheet that make it hard to get good grades (even a NrMt-Mt 8) because of printing problems. Ironically for Bergquist, who grew up a huge A’s fan, two of the cards feature players from the Swingin’ A’s: Claudell Washington and Larry Haney.

“My guess would be that both these cards are victims of bad sheet position, as they are nearly always off-center when I’ve found them,” Bergquist says. “The ’75 Topps Minis were often plagued with ink marks, bubble marks in the color, miscuts, and most of all, centering problems. Some cards were plagued more than others. Some cards show up short cut. They may be centered fine, but they are cut shorter than the other cards, so short that PSA will on occasion have to reject them.”

For Bergquist, the rarities and anomalies of the set further invigorate his drive to chase down the top cards. Because the 1975 Topps Mini set only saw release in two states, that makes it all the more difficult.

“I’m mostly a one-set collector right now,” he says. “When I get into a set I usually am all in.”