Monday, March 18, 2019

Joy of a purchased complete set: 1976 SSPC

A small number of cards of the 1976 SSPC set have entered my collection over the years. I always thought they were kinda neat vintage oddballs, but only recently did I decide to go after the set, inspired by the love it gets from fellow bloggers such as Night Owl. (Full disclosure, I haven't read N.O.'s Beckett Vintage article.) I ended up buying a complete set on eBay a week or two ago. It's the first time I've bought a complete vintage set rather than build it, but since this set was never released in packs (only via mail order as a complete set or team sets), it seemed to be the way to go.

A large percentage of the photos in this set are from Shea Stadium. Apparently, the photographer didn't have any stadium credentials, but he was a former Mets bat boy who was friendly with the security guards, so they let him sneak in and I guess he was able to talk his way into having many players pose for him. The Yankees also played at Shea in 1975, as Yankee Stadium was being renovated, so the photographer was able to shoot players from both leagues there.

The set was not licensed by either MLB or the players union.

There are a handful of candid shots, like Johnny Bench in the batting cage.

But the majority are posed.

You might be thinking these cards would look great signed. But many of the featured players were upset they were never compensated for their inclusion in the set, and so they will often refuse to sign these cards.

The vast majority of the cards are vertical, but there's this nutty horizontal one (plus some combo card checklists near the end).

This Bill Buckner features one of the very few in-game photos.

Among the favorites are an early George Brett card and the only sunset card Harmon Killebrew got, as Topps never acknowledged his short-term-stop swan song in KC.

This set reminds me of another favorite of mine, 1957 Topps, with its "non design" letting the photo take over the full card. They nicknamed it the "Pure Card" set.

Though really, the lineage can be traced back to 1953 Bowman. Maybe someday down the line I'll go after '53 Bowman and attempt to complete the trifecta.

SSPC stands for Sports Stars Publishing Co.

It's an offshoot of TCMA.

Topps sued them over this set, and then it was back to doing minor league sets and occasional all-time great sets.

Lots of 70s hair.

Bullpen cart?!

Infamous 7 consecutive Orioles cards featuring mops.

There's some confusion over the date of this set because the cards are copyrighted 1975 on the back, though they actually came out in early 1976, and were always officially referred to as a 1976 set by the company. The back of the Fred Lynn card, for instance, mentions he won the AL ROY and MVP for the 1975 season.

This Tim Blackwell rookie was among the most exciting new cards for me to add to my collection. He didn't get his first Topps card until the 1978 set.

The backs don't have stat boxes, but feature solid write-ups, notably by Keith Olbermann, a teenager at the time. I remember that tidbit kinda blew my mind the first time I learned it.

This set kinda breaks your heart that Topps had such a monopoly back then. At least this set came out, but damn it, there should have been many more along these lines in the years post-Bowman and pre-Donruss/Fleer.

As far as condition, the photos have some printing-flaw specks here and there. The backs sometimes brown a bit. It's rare that a card has perfect centering. The set I bought was just fine for my purposes. A few less-than-mint corners, but only two commons compelled me to snag replacements on COMC due to creases.

Almost wish the set didn't come together until a few months later so that we may have gotten Reggie as an Oriole.

Eckersley is the only "HOF RC" in the set, a fact that-- coupled with it being unauthorized-- generally keeps the cost of the set among the cheapest major baseball card sets from the 70s.

Funky fresh!

These checklists are great!

Interesting note here: The negatives for the set were stolen and led to a bootlegged "illegal reprint" set popping up a few years later. You can tell the difference because the original pressing has "Nolan" on card 593, whereas the bootlegged set has "Noland" instead, an error that was caught and corrected on the original printing plates, but snuck by in the stolen negatives. So neither print run of the set was authorized, but the latter was even less authorized! I thought about tracking down the error variation, but after learning the backstory of it not being an original part of the set, I probably won't bother unless I find it cheap. Hell, I could just print a custom of it if I wanted.. I'd just be making a bootleg of a bootleg, what's the difference. LOL.

So there are a few highlights. Fun set!
Thanks for reading.


  1. That looks like a cool set Gavin. I need to track down a copy of that Harmon Killebrew card for my collection since it's his only Royals card.

  2. Yup, lot of the stuff you mentioned was in my article. Give it a read! Consider it a companion piece to your complete set.

  3. I’ve always liked this set. I also purchased set complete. You gotta read N.O. article

  4. Gotta get a copy of that Beckett. Didn't know about that error being a bootleg. I finished my set with the corrected version. Had the error early.

  5. It is a great set. I have to upgrade my #167 George Brett card to NM. Never even thought about it on ComC. Shame on me, it's been on my once card needs section of my front (wants) page for 5/6 years now. Thanks for the Tip/reminder.

  6. I love this set. But now I wonder if my cards are legit or bootlegs. I mostly have commons, but probably have about 100 of them. Never knew about the stolen negatives. Thanks for the info.

  7. that's a great set. i always like the hank aaron card.

  8. Interesting... I never knew they never had either of the licenses.

  9. Copycat! :)
    I had never seen either of those articles you had linked too, very interesting stuff.

  10. I didn't know the bat boy photographer story or the Keith Olbermann story. Very cool!

  11. Love this set. I did what you did, buy the complete set. As you said, it seemed like the most appropriate way to do it.

  12. Love this set! I've got 2/3rds of a set, but I continue to wonder if it might be easier and cheaper to just go and buy a complete set rather than complete the one I've got.

    BTW, I think Woody Fryman is in a grounds crew cart.

    1. Ah, that'd be slightly less cool, but still cool!

    2. When I was 16 ( that was in 1976) I purchased this set by mail. My goal was to get as many autographs as I can and ended up with about 40 players to sign. my father would drop us off after the game and we would wait until the players came out. I especially remember getting an autograph from a player named Terry Whitfield. His whole family came to the game and they were so excited that he was on a baseball card that he was more than happy to sign it. I always hoped that the value would go up because of the history. My son was watching one flew over the cuckoo nest and in the movie the name Al Downing came up. I told my son that I have a card that Al signed. It is part of my set.

  13. i've been putting it off but may have to cave and buy a set. the 70s are my decade. this set and all its quirks fit me. I never tire of seeing it on the blogs.

  14. I have a complete mint set. What is the value?

  15. I send cards for autos through the mail, and I just picked up a couple hundred 1978 TCMA cards. I've now had 2 players who sent them back unsigned because they are "illegal." I had no idea until I read this.

  16. I actually just bought a George Brett #167 card off ebay. Had never heard of these cards, but while looking for Topps Brett rookie cards this card popped up. Thought it looked nice and clean so picked it up. Love it! But now I wonder if it's bootleg? Anyone know any other way to tell the difference?