For less than a decade now, the Sports Collectors Digest has listed a major variation within the 1990 Topps set. Just recently, it’s catalog price has jumped up near Frank Thomas NNOF range, funny, considering zero copies have ever come up for sale! In fact, only one or two copies have been confirmed to even exist. Rare right?
I’m talking about card number 454 Jeff King. Yeah, the former #1 overall pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates and later, Kansas City Royals fame. Jeff’s card can be found with a solid, yellow and black cardback, meaning the cardboard colored areas (bio, border design, etc) typical on the reverses of 1990 Topps are inked over in yellow. Below is the only-known pic out there (as of today!) and the only confirmed copy I know of, however, Bob Lemke of SCD stands by them having recieved more than one submitted to them while editor of the big book.
This card, rather it’s catalog-worthy status is irksome to say the least. Collectors, especially those with error and variation focused collections as well as the powers-that-be of the industry, Beckett and SCD, have long held the “rule” that most printing flaws, especially ink-run types, are not considered true variations. This rule of course, has it’s many, many exceptions (Frank Thomas NNOF or 1986 Topps Roger Clemens “Blue Streak” for fresh examples), which is frustrating enough because by cataloging these entries as variations, they become must-have for the completists out there. These books lend a lot of legitimacy to which variations they decide to recognize.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of similar print-flaw variations from all of the overproduction years, from every brand that are even more deserving of catalog space than the Jeff King example,specifically because while they are “flaws” and not design changes, they have shown up in great enough numbers, in several regions of the country and are not near-isolated incidents.
Recurring printing flaws such as:
1987 Topps Davey Lopes Record Breakers card with the various copyright dates on back
1987 Topps Turn Back the Clock subject with yellow dates on front
1988 Topps Angels TL card showing a thick red stripe down Wally Joyner’s arm and it’s subsequent phases of editing
1988 & 1989 Topps – 10% of these sets are full of great examples of recurring print-defect issues that Topps attempted to fix
1989 Topps Lou Brock Turn Back the Clock with a similar, yet narrower stripe
These are just a few that immediately spring to mind but the point is, if these guides are going to catalog these one-off type “excess ink” printing flaws as variations, they need to start tracking and cataloging every incident of this kind. Sounds like an impossible task, right? It certainly would be. The other solution, the realistic one, would be to remove these silly entries, much easier than tracking every Topps ink-spill affected card and thereby maintaining their own guidelines for what constitutes an “error” or “variation.”
The error bibles aren’t exempt of this kind of contradiction either. Dick Gilkeson’s guides, while truly an asset and full of information targeted to this niche within a niche hobby, are full of things like this that for 20 years now, have been considered must-own, legitimate variations that because of their true nature being brief-run printing flaws, few will ever be able to add to their collections. I’m looking at you 1989 Fleer Lance Parrish with circled ‘i.’
And then we have this to consider:
A sharp-eyed collector over at the PSA/Collectors Universe boards spotted this card recently. It should be noted that the same collector was majorly helpful in unraveling the NNOF Thomas / Blackless error puzzle and seems to have the best assortment of 1990 Topps at his disposal! So what about this card? Should it too be cataloged. Certainly there are other 1990 Topps cards that received a yellow ink spill across the back. Obviously, I say “no.” But I love this discovery for the simple reason that it proves that it and the Jeff King are simply the result of spilled/excess ink, rather than a design change by Topps.
There is no doubt that these cards are RARE, no question as to how few are out there and I would flip if I stumbled across any example of this type of thing while breaking a box of 1990 Topps, in fact, I’ve pulled several similar types from other products and it’s one of the best things that can happen when you have a passion for variations! But every “fish eye” type error is just as rare. So are all the weird shaped blotches found on cards that are the result of pooled ink that sometimes look like everyday objects if you get your imagination going (“Witch Hat” Art Howe, anyone?), but rare or not, they are so vast that cataloging them would be silly. Collectors over the years have generally ruled them non-essential to their master sets so why allow this glaring exception? Personally, I love and collect and sell every type of aberrant card I can find, I like my loose definition of the term “error” but I know where to draw the line between what is an impossible, freak-occurance (yes that means more than one example out there) and a recurring abnormality deserving of a catalog entry. My Ongoing Checklist section will be ultimately be an example of that.