Monday, April 26, 2010

That's what the boxes are for

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.

As you can see this was a very unscientific process. In fact, no two checklists were alike.

For example, with the Twins team checklist:

I went with red pen all the way.

Then there was the Expos checklist. I'm not sure if you can make it out on the scan, but there are spots on the front of the card that stick out, just above the team name. Let's call them "out-dentations."

That's because the IN-dentations are on the back of the card. I pressed so hard filling in the checklist and erased so hard, trying to get rid of the mark, that it permanently scarred the card.

As in 1975, collectors could send away for the entire series of team cards, although the advertisement wasn't on the back of each team card, like in 1975. Perhaps the advertising was on the wrapper.

The team cards would come to you in a folded sheet. You would have to cut each card out separately. I did a terrible job of cutting. You probably can't tell too well with the white background here, but the edges go every which way.

The back is lighter in color, but still features the familiar inventory system of scribbles and lines.

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.


  1. Topps had "team checklist" inserts in 1974. They had facsimile player autographs on the fronts and the checklist on the back. The team cards had the team's all time records. I think this was the best way to do it. Topps did this in 1973 too, but I didn't start collecting until '74 so I don't know whether these checklist cards were inserted in all of the series.

    My team checklist cards from this era are also pretty hammered. The team card was always on the front of a team stack, and I marked up my checklists.

  2. thank goodness these checklists aren't tests! you couldn't stay colored within the box! ;)

    BTW, my 70's checklists are pristine. I didn't start collecting until 1981 and when I went to obtain sets going back to my birthyear, I bought whole sets in NRMT/MT condition or starter lots and completed them so the checklists were unmarked.

  3. I think this type of interaction with our cards is lacking these days. We've lost something. I'm sad now.

  4. I too have those checked box checklist cards. Too bad we can't return to those innocent times and really enjoy collecting the way it was meant to be!

  5. It's funny that you bring this up. My 9 year old has been carrying his 2010 Rangers team set around in his school back pack. Wrapped with rubber band. I started to tell him not to do that. When he started playing baseball this spring, he took some old junk wax cards I had given him and started practicing his autograhph on them. So he has nice autographed 1990 Donruss nobody card with his name scribbled across it. It might be my favorite auto'd card.

  6. Nice post!

    "I cut up his card to create mini cards of Moates and the three other guys on the card."

    Hey, I did that too with my '67 and '68 rookie cards! A few months ago, I came across the George Spriggs half of a card.

  7. I used the team checklists too. That was really the thing to do in the 70s. It was great because it provided little milestones in completing the sets. We'd track how many teams we'd completed during the year.

    People talk about "the last card I needed to complete the xyz set." The card seems special to people. In the 70s we got that special-ness 26 times (after the appearance of the Blue Jays and the Marine-ers). It was kind of cool to get just as excited over pulling a Bombo Rivera as it was pulling a Rod Carew.

  8. I still fill in my checklists, both for old cards and even new ones, like the thin stock ones that come from Topps.

    The days of filling out checklists are only "gone" if you want them to be.

  9. I guess I'm too young to remember actually using the checklists as checklists. I do find it odd that newer checklists do not have boxes in which to place that check (or random color ink scribble). They are less "checklists" and more "lists of cards that appear in this set".

    Great post, by the way.