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Stepping through the minefield of high numbers

I am in the final stages of completing the 1973 Topps baseball set.

In fact, if I do a little fudging, I've basically completed it.

-- No, I don't have all of the cards in hand. The Cleon Jones, Joe Niekro, Leo Durocher and Yankees team cards are on their way. So is the elusive final checklist card, ol' number 588. But more on that later.

-- No, I haven't acquired an extra Walter Alston card (a high number) or an extra Mike Schmidt rookie (Ron Cey's second-year card). Both reside in my Dodger card binders and I'll consider the '73 set complete even without the two extras, although I do intend on getting both at some point.

-- No, I haven't grabbed all the non-numbered team checklists. I still have the Red Sox, Indians, Twins and Padres to go. I'll get them, but I'm not going to delay my announcement of completing the set for them.

-- No, I haven't bothered with the manager variation cards or the team checklists with extra stars on the bottom. This is trivial stuff that I can't possibly believe I would have cared about when I was a kid collecting cards, therefore, they're meaningless to me and not part of the completion task.

So that's all of my fudging, but basically I'm finished and when those final five cards arrive, I will create a completion post for '73 Topps the way I have for every other set I've completed since the start of the blog.

This set marks my third encounter with vintage sets that contain high numbers. It's been interesting.

The 1971 set wasn't terribly tough, I was able to get some good help from other bloggers as far as high numbers go. The 1972 set was rough and took a long time just because that set is easily the most challenging out of all the non-1960s high numbers sets.

The 1973 set is proving to be something different with its high numbers -- basically what it's been is annoying.

The '73 high numbers aren't all that hard to find when compared with the sets that immediately preceded them. However, I've had to be rather resourceful when acquiring them.

First of all, my go-to place when I'm down to the final few high numbers -- the card show -- has been fairly useless. Every time I check the usual dealer tables, the spots where that high number is supposed to reside has been missing. Just about every time.

So I'm forced to rely on trades or online means. Trades tend to be nonexistent when high numbers are concerned, unless I get some sort of surprise mailing. Collectors don't just have extras of those cards lying around.

That means going online and that's where it gets stupid.

Here is what I paid for the Dave Concepcion card at the top of the post:


It came from Sportlots.

I went there after viewing what was available on COMC:

There is no way I'm paying those prices for the Concepcion card.

A revised search shows that there is now a '73 Concepcion available for $7.44 in poor/fair condition. There is also another one for $23.54. But neither of those are $4.95.

I'm sure someone is saying, "but your Concepcion isn't CENTERED!"

Yeah. I don't care.

Centering is the biggest scam perpetrated by the graded card industry, with the exception of graded cards themselves. I don't know how many times I've seen videos of vintage pack openings or people showing vintage cards -- almost all of these people I'm sure didn't grow up in the 1970s or earlier -- and them pointing out immediately that the centering  is off, LIKE IT WAS FOR EVERY CARD BACK THEN.

It was no big deal. In most cases, the centering wasn't off drastically and we barely noticed. It wasn't until price guides and then grading came along where centering became an obsession. People say "quality control" was terrible in the '70s. Well, no, not really, they were just working with the equipment they had. And there weren't collectors beating down their doors if their Reggie Jackson card wasn't centered anything better than 60-40.

OK, that was a tangent rant off my original rant. Back to inflated high-number pricing.

I picked up this high-numbered '73 off of Sportlots, too. It perfectly fits my needs.

This is what I paid for it:

Now, here are the current prices at COMC.

Those are the cheapest of the bunch. There are also Reds team card prices of:


My Reds team card may be off-centered (god that quality control in the '70s, didn't anybody back then have pride in their work?), but it looks beautiful to me and I didn't pay 20 bucks for it.

That's good because I did pay 20 bucks for the 1973 Topps final series checklist card, #588.

This is the card that I was warned about a few months ago from a fellow blogger (I can't remember which one, possibly Baseball Card Breakdown or Cardboard Catastrophes). They said, much like the case of some 1960s high numbers, the final-series checklist was being bought up by a few select collectors, creating a premium for the card -- a freaking checklist.

After hearing about that, I basically resigned myself to getting a marked up copy of the #588 checklist, because I didn't want to pay big prices for it.

However, yesterday, I was scrolling through ebay and seeing the monster prices for that checklist:

In the middle of those pricey things was a single unmarked checklist for 20 bucks.

Well, after seeing the prices on those, the cost of a blaster seemed pretty good to me, so it is now on its way to me (by the way, Bo of Baseball Cards Come To Life just posted about an extra #588 that he has in his possession so you might want to see what he wants for it if you're interested).

This is the weirdness of high-number land.

I'm pretty glad I'm finished with it (for now) because I'm getting this suspicion that people are boosting up the prices on high-number vintage cards and other vintage stars just because we seem to be in a renewed sports card boom in which people are thinking all over again that all their investment dreams are going to come true from little pieces of cardboard.

Meanwhile, I'm just a little ol' collector just trying to finish off some sets, stepping very carefully through the high-numbered minefield.


Outstanding. Sounds like you've completed this set to me. I'd still be going after the team checklists though but it's still complete.
Congratulations on another set completed.

When I opened packs as a kid, I liked it when I got a card that was so off-centered I could see a half-inch of another card's photo. I have two or three 1970s cards that are so badly centered they have the name of one player and the photo of another. To me those are still cooler than a card that's 50-50.

Well, now that your set is complete, if you happen to have extras of these: 1973 TOPPS: 65, 280, 339, 370, 380, 444, 480, 549, 560, 575, 605, 607, 614, 615, 616, 624, 660.
RunForeKelloggs said…
As a 70s kid, I agree with you on centering. It never was a factor. I don't mind the checklist being marked because that's what I did with them.
Bo said…
Johnny - I'm sending these your way: 280 (Kaline), 444, 560, 575, 624, 660
Bo said…

Congrats on the finished set!
Adam said…
Congrats on completing the set!

Also, like you I noticed the extremely inflated prices of vintage on COMC.
GCA said…
There are definitely people hoarding that last checklist. I got mine from a dealer that had a stack of more than a dozen of them. He said straight out that he was deliberately gathering them. Luckily, he gave me a decent price on a fairly nice unmarked one.

I would never call these people collectors....

Welcome to the '73-is-complete club!
Matt said…
Congrats on completing a beautiful set! I can't wait for the completion post!
Nick said…
Congrats on completing the '73s! I'm also worried that this kind of inflation is caused by nothing else than the current industry "boom." Though these days what cards are ten cents and what cards are $20 almost seems random. I would've never guessed a checklist could go for that much, nor did I know the '73 Concepcion was so coveted.
Congratulations on completing the set. You got some of the cards for great prices.
BaseSetCalling said…
I saw some crazy prices on a checklist at some point this year, I don't think it was that one, but the whole thing was a crazy head scratcher. But this basic news makes sense and isn't really very surprising once it is explained like that.

As for centering, etc., I will just say I really don't care for using the word "gem" as a verb re: baseball cards.

In general I think cards could be 'graded' on a 5 point scale and everything would be just fine. Except then more money couldn't be squeezed out of people because "this card goes to 11."
Fuji said…
Congratulations! I don't have the patience or the bank account to try and build this set. But I'd like to one day buy it for my collection. It's the last set I need for my run of Topps sets from my birth year to 1986. My goal has been to buy an affordable set on eBay, but prices continue to rise on this one. I guess I'll need to wait for the next hobby recession.
gregory said…
Agreed. Centering is overrated. They're baseball cards, for goodness sake. Who needs such tight tolerances? (Looking forward to your completion post!)
Stack22 said…
I would sooner squeeze lemons in my eyes than concern myself with " team checklists with extra stars on the bottom" or "centering," after slogging through a hi-number need list while putting together a set.

I've also noticed a spike in prices for high numbers (I'm grinding out '72 at the moment). Not a trend that I'm wild about.

Congrats, and of course, what's next?
BaseSetCalling said…
I also wanted to comment that COMC is an interesting place to shop for cards. I have been using it a lot lately, as my best outlet to sell any $2 card I might have pulled over the years, without the hassle of becoming an eBay seller, etc. And then of course it is very easy to knock off want list entries with the proceeds.

But it is often it's own separate marketplace for cards, in that they are generally priced based on quantity available on only the COMC site, with little relation to total supply available through other means, or even relation to total demand for a given card. So as quantities of any given card ever shipped to COMC go down, prices go up, often quite dramatically but with no real reason.

This is seen quickly if you are looking at a card with 1-2 copies on COMC that seems overpriced - just do a quick eBay search for an injection of reality. Or Sportlots, or Beckett. Sometimes the COMC card is priced accurately, but sometimes not.

I just requested about 200 cards to be shipped; the obvious savings on COMC is in shipping costs for bundled deliveries. But now that a 990 card project I am working on is getting down to the short rows of > $5 cards, I wandered back to detailed eBay searching for the first time in a while and definitely found some better deals that way.

Probably most of this flows from the basic design of the COMC marketplace, which has a number of large-scale sellers who buy up discounted "ports" from hobbyists who have decided to close their accounts. These types of sellers can end up with card inventories > 100K and have far less chance to ever edit individual card prices on such a large inventory. Or even incentive to do so, as they pay a flat monthly fee to sell and don't have to pay storage fees, so they can easily just leave a card on there with a high price for years at a stretch (as can any seller willing to pay 12¢ a year waiting for just that one buyer who really wants that card.)

At least, that is how I understand it all.

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