Monday, February 28, 2011

The Lesser Known 1972 Cubs Variation

The Topps 1972 set is well known as the most flamboyant of all Topps set. As a kid, I really didn't like it all that much. To me, it didn't look like what baseball cards were supposed to look like. The cards looks more like the Jackson 5 or Osmond Brothers cartoon shows on Saturday morning (check them out on Youtube and see what I mean). I was used to the gray of 1970 and the black of 1971. What was all of this color in 1972?

But over time, I've come to really dig (how's that for '72 lingo!!) the '72 design and putting my 1972 set together was probably the most fun I had as a collector.

The funky colors played a unique part on four Cubs cards from the first series of the set.

The standard design for the Cubs cards looked like this.

The color of the word "CUBS" was yellow with a little green along the sides of each letter. But there were four cards in the first series that added some green to the bottom of the C and S. This error was corrected, so cards are available in both versions. The Standard Catalog has both versions listed in its 1972 checklist. Here are the four cards side by side.

The error is pretty well know among collectors. Thorzul made mention of it recently, and even had a couple more of the cards a few days later.

But there is another card is the set that had a similar problem with the green, and it's not as well know. The card with the variation is #534, Jim Hickman.

This is what the card was supposed to look like....

....and this is the variation card. Notice that there is no green at all on the variation card. None in the lettering of CUBS and none in the center of the stars either. And oddly, this variation is not listed in the Standard Catalog.

Curious about the catalog omission, I sent an email to the editor, Bob Lemke (and if you don't read his blog, you should!). He was kind enough to answer right away.

Here is his response: The Hickman card has been brought to my attention in the past, but it is not a variation in the sense as the Pizzaro, Beckert, etc.. That is, the lack of dark green shading in the letters on some Hickman cards is the result of less blue ink than is typically seen. On the "real" Cubs variations, the errant green ink appears at the very bottom of the letters C and S, and is a true dark green. Most collectors feel this under-inked version of the Hickman card is merely a printing defect, rather than a design variation.

Because its a printing error and not a design error, it's not in the catalog. What I don't understand, though, is that if there was less blue ink, why does the blue on the photo appear to be just fine? And if there was less blue ink on the Hickman card, wouldn't there be others on the sheet with the same lack of green. Are there other cards like the Hickman?

I'm not a printer, so I really don't know how all of this works. If anyone out there can explain it to me, fire away!


  1. My guess is that the frame was done on a different pass. Back then, printing photos was a pretty complicated process so it's possible that the frame and lettering were done on one pass and the photo itself on another. If anyone had an image of one of the plates used for this set (Topps Vault maybe?), we could solve the mystery. Either way, I never knew those variations existed at all so thanks for showing them side by side! -Andy

  2. Can't help you with the yellow Hickman, but just wanted to say thanks for showing the green variations. I've heard and read about those variations for years and never knew what they were talking about.

  3. CG...I never thought about the Topps Vault. I'll keep my eyes out for that.

    Night Owl....You're welcome! Just doing my part!