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An unopened gold mine from 1978

Online Auctioneer

THOSE GREAT OLD ’78s — One of the most exciting items to turn up this period is one shrouded in mystery—an unopened case (that’s case, not single box) of 1978 Topps football cards. Inside the sealed case: 15 individual retail boxes—each bearing 24 cello packs—for a total of 360 packs. There are 18 cards in each pack, meaning the case includes 6,480 untouched 41-year-old football cards. It sold on eBay for $17,999, or around $50 per pack.

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Topps’ 1978 football set features a smorgasbord of Hall of Famers, three of them appearing on their rookie cards: running back Tony Dorsett, wide receiver John Stallworth and defensive end Fred Dean.

Of course, these cards were produced in an era when printing was far from perfect. As such, “untouched” cards aren’t necessarily going to be Gem-Mint. Still, centering issues and printing hiccups would likely be the worst of the problems, so it’s reasonable to expect that most of the well-protected cards would be in Near-Mint or Mint condition.

To that end, three Dorsett rookies in 9 condition recently brought prices of $480, $450 and $404. In 10 condition, it can hit four figures. Meanwhile, a PSA 10 specimen of Stallworth’s rookie recently sold for $660. Dean’s rookie is a cheaper catch (alas, he was lineman); you can pick one up in top condition for under $50.

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Other HOFers in Topps’ 1978 set include QBs Terry Bradshaw, Dan Fouts, Ken Stabler and Fran Tarkenton, not to mention a bespectacled Bob Griese. There are running backs like Larry Csonka, Franco Harris, John Riggins and, of course, Walter Payton. Top receivers in the set were Fred Biletnikoff, Charlie Joiner and Steve Largent, a future U.S. House of Representatives member. For $50 or under, you can get 9-grade cards of any of these players except Payton, whose 1978 card, in recent sales, has drawn prices of $130 and $117.

Offensive linemen rarely get accolades, but in this set, you’ll find an accomplished group: Joe DiLamielleure, Dan Dierdorf, John Hannah, Tom Mack, Gene Upshaw and Mike Webster, plus Dolphins teammates Jim Langer and Larry Little and Vikings teammates Mick Tingelhoff and Ron Yary.

Of course, O-linemen are bargains among football players. Cards of most of these HOFers in 9 condition sell for between $1 and $15; the one exception is the high-profile Gene Upshaw, but at around $25, he’s not much higher. (Upshaw is the only player ever to reach the Super Bowl in three different decades with one team. He later served as the NFL Players Association executive director.)

Defense is well represented in Topps’ 1978 set, too. On the line, besides Dean, there’s Joe Greene, Carl Eller, Jack Youngblood and future Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page. We noted PSA 9 examples of their 1978 cards selling for anywhere from $5 to $25, although a PSA 10 specimen of Page’s 1978 card recently fetched $80.

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Leading the group of HOF linebackers in this set are Steelers Jack Ham and Jack Lambert. You can get 9-grade examples of their 1978 cards for under $25, although when PSA 10 examples of their cards listed on eBay recently, they brought prices of $135 (Lambert) and $80 (Ham).

And, finally, you’ll find 9-grade cards of HOF defensive backs like Lem Barney, Ken Houston and Paul Krause for $5 to $10. Mel Blount is double that range; in fact, a PSA 10 Blount just sold for $166.

Sometimes, Gem-Mint cards of minor stars surprise us at auction. Recent examples include a Cliff Branch PSA 10 that reeled in $750. Then there are “commons” who’ll test your football history knowledge but who command big bucks if in Gem-Mint condition. Recent examples on eBay: Vikings running back Brent McClanahan ($600), Cardinals punter Duane Carrell ($475) and Giants DB Bill Bryant ($350).

And how much do collectors pay for single cello packs of 1978 football cards? Ungraded, they sell for as low as $50. But one recent example that was graded PSA 8 brought $170.

Now, of course, we’re wondering if the seller is stashing, flipping or ripping open his case.

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