1968 Topps All Star Baseball Plaks

November 18, 2008 - From the perspective of a standard-issue company set collector, 1968 was not a great year for The Topps Company. More PSA 10s have surfaced from the lackluster 1968 Topps Baseball set, for example, than from every other Topps Baseball issue of the entire 1960s combined. Frankly, they're just not that tough, and toughness is the defining characteritic of a sustainable collectible. But don't disparage the Topps gang for taking it too easy in 1968.

That year, true to the zeitgeist of the times, Topps set into motion a wide-ranging series of experiments unlike anything they'd ever attempted before, with production ranging from Deckle Edge Proofs to Color Player Posters, from 3-Dimentional Tests to Topps Discs, to game cards, tip books, and stickers. Just as other American industries responded to the rampant turmoil of 1968 with an unprecedented level of "countercultural" productions, it was clearly a creative time at Topps.

Among the most experimental Topps test issues of 1968 were the "All Star Baseball Plaks." Virtually unknown to most collectors today, Topps Plaks are bronze-colored plastic busts of two dozen stars of the late '60s issued in three-player sprues, like model airplane parts, along with one of two checklists and two sticks of bubblegum in a ten-cent wax pack. The checklist cards feature photos of the 24 players presumed to have been included in the set, and they are far easier to locate today than the actual Plaks. In fact, so scarce are the plastic busts that no one has yet been able to confirm the existence of all 24 checklisted players.

Until now.

Acting on a phone call from a couple outside of Scranton, Pennsylvania, Brian Drent, founder and President of Mile High Card Company, recently traveled to The Topps Company's former hometown to examine what he'd been told was a pile of plastic baseball parts produced sometime in the late '60s. The owner's mother had worked at the Topps factory for a number of years and would occasionally treat the neighborhood kids to free candy and miscut cards. She also had permission to take home any of the failed test issues, as she did with an armful of Topps Plaks wax packs. She quickly learned, however, what Topps management had already concluded, that what kids wanted most was cards and candy, that you couldn't really flip a plastic bust, and that they had no negotiable street value. So she put them in a bucket on a shelf in her garage where they sat for the next forty years.

Mile High Card Company is now pleased to announce a public offering of what is arguable the most significant Topps find since Alan Rosen's discovery of 6,000 1952 Topps high number in 1986, which included 75 Mickey Mantles. What separates Drent's Plaks from Rosen's find, however, is a matter of numbers. Whereas Rosen needed a few boxes to haul away his treasure, Drent swears he could have stuffed the Plaks, every last one of them, into the admittedly spacious confines of his winter coat pockets. Several players, in fact, are represented by as few as just four examples, all of which may be the only four to exist.

The Mile High Plak find is significant for a number of reasons, but primarily because it helps to clear up several questions concerning the checklist. From the 24 players slated for production, no collector with whom we've spoken has ever seen a single example of Aaron, Drysdale, Mays, Peters, or Frank Robinson, and it is our belief that they were simply never produced. As far as we can tell, every player in the set can be found in two separate three-player sprues, save for Pete Rose, who only appears in one sprue arrangement, and another five players-Davis, Hunter, Killebrew, Longborg, and Wynn-who all appear on three different sprues. We believe that these five players, for whatever reason, took the place of the notorious five whose existence, after weeks of telephone calls to the hobby's most prolific collectors, we still cannot confirm.

The checklist to the 1968 Topps "All Star Baseball Plaks" test issue is therefore more likely complete at (19):

1. Max Alvis 2. Dean Chance 3. Jim Fregosi 4. Frank Howard 5. Jim Hunter 6. Al Kaline 7. Harmon Killebrew 8. Jim Longborg 9. Mickey Mantle 10. Carl Yastrzemski 12. Orlando Cepeda 13. Roberto Clemente 14. Tommy Davis 15. Tim McCarver 16. Ron Santo 17. Rusty Staub 18. Pete Rose 19. Jim Wynn

Since acquiring the Plaks, the staff at Mile High has been diligently scouring every major auction catalog in our research library and has been unable to locate a single record of a 1968 Topps Plaks sale. We've also spoken with numerous collectors, two of whom identified themselves as experts on this scarce issue. Together, we determined that the only known examples to come to market within the last decade occurred earlier in 2008 when Kit Young Cards auctioned off (8) common single players on eBay in separate lots, averaging $1000 per sale. Testing the market, Mile High also released (7) singles on eBay in late October of this year, and the results were the same. In short, we believe the Topps Plaks to be the second or third scarcest, non-proof, Topps test issue ever produced, behind only to the 1961 Topps Dice Game and, debatedly, the 1967 Topps Stand-Ups, which, in an uncanny way, are quite similar to the Plaks.

One final note of interest that potential collectors should bear in mind concerns one of the key issues from the set, Mickey Mantle. Upon sorting our small find and attempting to understand the mysterious absence of the five aforementioned players, we discovered that, while the bust for each player is consistent in shape and size, there exist two distinct Mantle variations. The first displays a slanted, interlocking "NY" on Mick's cap, as opposed to a perfectly square logo on the second. Mick's lips, nose and ear are also of noticeably larger proportions on the first, and the placement of his right eye and the width of his collar also vary to a degree well outside the bounds of manufacturing error. No doubt, they came from distinct molds. So, while a very good question to ask an advanced Topps collector may be: do you own a Mantle Plak? - a better question would now be: do you own, or have you ever even seen, a Mantle Plak variation, or more precisely, the "Big Nose" variation.

The 1968 Topps Plaks Mickey Mantle "Big Nose" variation, left shows considerable enough variation to assume that it came from a distinct mold before Topps decided to scrap the project. Confirming the scarcity of this test issue, such variation suggests that the Topps gang had yet to finalize the design before terminating the project.

Below is a list of Mile High's 1968 Topps Plaks available for sale, in both single player form, as well as in three-player sprues.

Single Player Form

Max Alvis $750

Dean Chance $750

Jim Fregosi $1000

Frank Howard $850

Jim Hunter $1500

Al Kaline $1500

Harmon Killebrew $1500

Jim Longborg $850

Mickey Mantle $6250

Carl Yastrzemski $2500

Richie Allen $850

Orlando Cepeda $1350

Roberto Clemente $4500

Tommy Davis $750

Tim McCarver $850

Ron Santo $1000

Rusty Staub $1000

Pete Rose $2500

JimWynn $750

Three Player Sprues

Yaz, Killebrew, Clemente $8500

Killebrew, Longborg, Davis $3000

Mantle, Hunter, Longborh (Big Nose) $15,000

Allen, Fregosi, Mantle (Small Nose) $15,000

Wynn, Clemente, Santo $6500

Killebrew, Cepeda, Howard $3800

Alvis, Chance, McCarver $2000

Santo, McCarver, Staub $2300

Hunter, Wynn, Kaline $3800

Hunter, Rose, Kaline $6000

Davis, Wynn, Allen $2000