By Doug Koztoski
Like a multi-faceted diamond ring, in its own way the 1966 Topps football set stands out for several reasons: A color TV-themed card front design, a bubble gum pink background on the flip side and some choice star cards picturing quarterbacks George Blanda, Len Dawson, Jack Kemp and Joe Namath.
But for many collectors, the most eye-catching “gem” in this issue is a bit of a flea-flicker or fake punt kind of pasteboard: The Funny Ring checklist.
Collectors back in 1966 probably never saw it coming, and what reasonable cardboard connoisseur back then, or at any time in the hobby before, could have anticipated such a quirky twist?
A handful of slots into the 132-card set offers up the checklist (No. 15) for the colorful non-sport ’66 Topps gridiron pack inserts, meant to be punched-out from their “card” and looped around a finger of choice.
Mingling among the gridiron players in the issue, this checklist card is – to borrow a line from the legendary detective fiction writer Raymond Chandler – “as inconspicuous as a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake.”
Normally found off-center, the checklist also presents a basic condition challenge, as does the regular 1966 football set, with its simulated wood grain borders.
It’s a safe bet that back in the day, this particular card was routinely greeted with a double-take-type response and then the pasteboard quickly made its way into many a bicycle spoke and/or turned up in gobs of card flipping contests.
Every turn a surprise
While the checklist has received a well-deserved amount of attention in the nearly half-century since its debut, what about the goofy little rings themselves – the 24 “players” that made this card discussion possible? Well, here is a closer look at the two dozen head-scratchin’, blank-backed pack promotions and a couple of collectors who get a few kicks out of these inserts from ’66.
Maybe it was the offering’s “star,” who’s to say, but at the top of the checklist card sits an image strongly similar to the set’s second ring, “Bloodshot Eye.” This is not to be confused, of course, with “One-Eyed Terror” (No. 18), which looks like a monster head, not an overtired eyeball.
“The head with one eye (No. 18) and The Snake (No. 11) are two of the toughest to find in better condition,” said Hubert Bernheim. “There are no PSA 9s of them.”
Bernheim knows all about the cranky-looking Cyclops, his bloodshot-eyed “brother” and the other odd-named “Funny Rings,” as he can lay claim to the top-ranked collection of them on the PSA Set Registry.
Describing it as “one of the weirdest sets I own,” Bernheim said he likes the inserts issue because “it is fun to look at” and because of its overall offbeat nature. He warmly said he did not have a favorite individual Funny Ring or two, but that “they are all weird.” The hobbyist noted, “The checklist is probably one of the neatest ones because it has all the cards (rings) on it.”
Bernheim picked up the first of his Funny Rings about 15 years ago when he bought a football card collection. Since then, he has owned several of the inserts and upgraded along the way. The CPA regularly checks the Internet for other razor sharp examples of the oddities.
Carl Lamendola began his Funny Ring quest around 2004 and has put together a highly graded set of the unusual inserts, as well.
Lamendola’s attraction to the offbeat ’66 freebie is simple: “I like to collect the inserts and all the complementary items for a set.” When pressed about it, the veteran collector said that if he had to select a favorite Funny Ring, it might just be “the one with the tooth on it (No. 4 Tooth-Ache).”
Noshing on some numbers
On average there are about 30-40 of each Funny Ring in PSA holders within the hobby. The famed checklist, meanwhile, shows up about 190 times in PSA slabs. A second-year Namath, by comparison, one the highest demand cards in the 1966 Topps football offering, has some 725 PSA-encapsulated samples; the Kemp card, another popular one from the set, shows up about 350 times.
Meanwhile, the second regular checklist (No. 132), the set-ender which is hard to find well-centered, appears around 40 times in PSA holders. So at this point, the last regular football card in the collection and the average Funny Ring card, especially in solid shape, are about on par for difficulty.
When it comes to the most pristine Funny Rings, Gem Mint PSA 10 samples, there is a grand total of three of Mr. Glug (No. 23) and one of Mrs. Skull (No. 6). Talk about playing hard to get. And the Lady Skull card comes adorned with lipstick. Ah, what a nice touch from the boys at Topps back in the swingin’ ’60s.
Raw, intact Funny Rings in EX+ to NM condition commonly sell for $7-$12 apiece. PSA 7s go for $13.50 to $16; PSA 8s $25-$40; PSA 9s $150-$165. A raw checklist in VG+ recently sold for $82, while a PSA 6 and a SGC 80/6 went for $150 and $170, respectively.
Lamendola said he thought any vintage insert set was undervalued, “especially the ones that have nothing to do with football, like the Funny Rings and the 1963 Fleer Goofy Gags.”
The availability of the Funny Ring inserts is limited enough on eBay on most days, and they seem to surface once in a while at shows. Sometimes you can find a group or set of them in bigger auctions.
When it comes to collecting, Bernheim emphasized to “buy what you like” but also to “enjoy the cards, not just collect them.”
As he checks his computer most mornings for high-grade Funny Ring cards, another point he mentioned in our phone conversation about the funky insert issue enters his thoughts on occasion: “How did it get issued with a football set?”
In this case, that is a hobby question that loudly sounds the bell of wonder.
Funny Ring Checklist
The 1966 Topps Football Funny Ring inserts:
o 1. Kiss Me
o 2. Bloodshot Eye
o 3. Big Mouth
o 4. Tooth-Ache
o 5. Fish Eats Fish
o 6. Mrs. Skull
o 7. Hot Dog
o 8. Nail Thru Head
o 9. Say “Ah”
o 10. Wormy Apple
o 11. The Snake
o 12. Yicch!
o 13. (If you can read this) Scram!
o 14. Nuts To You
o 15. Get Lost
o 16. You Fink
o 17. Hole In Sole
o 18. One-Eyed Terror
o 19. Mr. Ugly
o 20. Mr. Fang
o 21. Mr. Fright
o 22. Mr. Boo
o 23. Mr. Glug
o 24. Mr. Blech
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to SCD. He welcomes comments and questions related to this article at email@example.com.