Once, long ago, part of your responsibility as a card collector was checking off boxes. It was your duty to put pen to cardboard.
Each card set featured set checklists almost every year. But then, in the 1970s, team checklists began to appear. I don't know whether team collecting suddenly became the thing to do in the '70s, but Topps finally recognized it for the first time that decade with its team-specific checklists.
From 1975 to 1981, Topps issued team photo cards that also displayed a checklist on the back:
Look how neat I was in 1977. But this is the exception rather than the rule.
I particularly like the '77 team checklists, because they listed the players' uniform number for the first time -- or at least the first time since I started collecting.
The first team checklists that I marked up were from the first set with team checklists, the 1975 Topps set. I don't have very many of those left in their original state. I'm not sure what happened to them all.
The following year, 1976, I was a good little collector and scribbled in the boxes again. I think I have a few of those still around. But I'm upgrading and trying to complete the set, so they're stashed in an unknown box right now.
The 1977 set is a good one to show my young handiwork. I have barely updated this set and almost every card that I have in the binder are the same cards I first collected as an 11-year-old. I'm not going to repeat that wonderful year in my collecting life. But for a detailed description, go here.
I really beat the crap out of my '77 cards. Most of my team cards from that set are just as worn as the player cards, but the team cards show their wear on the back, too:
That is more typical of what my checklists looked like in the late 1970s. Scribbling in the squares, different colors of ink, erasure marks, lines and other scribblings on the side.
But there was somewhat of a method to my scribblings. A child's team-checklist code. I will attempt to explain it with the Rangers checklist:
First, the different color inks don't mean anything. I probably happened to have a red pen one time and a blue pen another time, that's all.
You can see I attempted to erase boxes that I had previously marked with players like Roy Howell and Dave Moates. That means I no longer had the card. I either traded it away, or as in the case of Moates -- who was on one of those four-player rookie cards -- I cut up his card to create mini cards of Moates and the three other guys on the card.
Pen doesn't erase too well, so there is also a line next to the boxes of those players. The line told me that I didn't have that card anymore.
Sometimes I lost the card and then regained it again. So I would scribble out the line, as with the Steve Foucault card, to signify that I had the card.
Sometimes, as with the Gene Clines card, I would gain the card, lose the card, gain the card back, and then lose the card again, creating the notation that you see on the checklist, which is "box checked," "line marked," "line scribbled," "second line marked," "second line scribbled." Good thing I didn't acquire and lose the card again. I would have run out of room.
Why I was doing so much transacting with a Gene Clines card, I have no idea.
By the way, I don't know why I filled in the boxes instead of merely checking the box, or using an "X," which I do now. Too many standardized tests in school, I suppose.
Yankees and Mets didn't last long where I lived. I was surrounded by kids who rooted for those teams for some ungodly reason. So I was fortunate to keep this Mets team card.
But, as you can see, I wasn't too successful filling out the checklist. The Mets were traded away almost as soon as I pulled them. I can't even show you a Yankees checklist because I don't have it. I have a grand total of three Yankees from that year.
This White Sox team card, besides displaying those gloriously unfortunate shorts that Chicago wore for one misguided season, also is a harbinger of things to come for cards with checklists on the back.
If you can tell, I filled this card out in pencil. And then I erased all the markings in an attempt to return it to its original pristine state.
Apparently, somewhere in 1977, I became aware that marking a card was "bad," and an untouched card was "good."
Still, I continued marking my team checklists through the end of the 1970s, although many more of them are in pencil or erased. By the 1980 set, only a few were marked on the back.
Topps stopped putting out team cards after the 1981 set, but the team checklists remained, on either team leaders cards or manager cards. That practice continued through the 1980s.
By the 1990s, cards were too much of an "investment" to put a checklist on the back of a card. They would show up here and there, but a lot less often. When Topps brought back team cards in the early 2000s, the backs featured team statistics and write-ups, not checklists. Upper Deck has had team checklists on the back of some of its cards, but most of the ones I've seen don't have any boxes next to the names.
It has been generally understood that you don't mark up the back of your cards.
I've been the same way, too. I never marked up the back of my 1980s cards. I was older, wiser, less prone to childish habits.
My 1981 set, the last year in which Topps put checklists on the back of its team cards, is free of markings on the back. Each checklist is in untouched form. I was 15 by then. No time for children's games.
Or so I thought.
I just pulled out my Dodgers team card in my 1981 binder. I was filing some of the '81 cards that Mariner1 sent me. I turned over the card to the back:
Well, what do you know. It's marked, it's erased, and then it's marked again. In pen.
Hey, that's what the boxes are for.