Usually, I’d document a set like the 1980 Topps Pepsi-Cola All-Star Prototype cards on the oddball archive. But this set is so interesting, so scarce, so expensive (particularly for a set from the 80s), and has such a unique history that I felt it warranted a much more dedicated deep dive.
The 22-card set was produced in tiny numbers as a test issue by Topps and Mike Schechter Associates (MSA) for the Pepsi corporation as a potential promotion. They used the 1980 Topps base set’s format and player images for the prototype cards. However, Mike Schmidt’s Pepsi card used his 1979 Topps card image, and the Ron Guidry photo was reversed.
The most significant design change from the 1980 Topps base set was using a blue/red color scheme to match Pepsi’s logo. The Standard Catalog described the specific changes as follows: “The Pepsi cards share the same format as Topps’ regular 1980 issue, although Pepsi logos have been added on front and back, name and banner colors changed on front and a position circle added.” The note on the back where the base cards have a cartoon reads, “Collect All 22 All-Star Cards.”
The checklist for the Pepsi set is shown below:
- 1 Rod Carew
- 2 Paul Molitor
- 3 George Brett
- 4 Robin Yount
- 5 Reggie Jackson
- 6 Fred Lynn
- 7 Ken Landreaux
- 8 Jim Sundberg
- 9 Ron Guidry
- 10 Jim Palmer
- 11 Rich Gossage
- 12 Keith Hernandez
- 13 Dave Lopes
- 14 Mike Schmidt
- 15 Garry Templeton
- 16 Dave Parker
- 17 George Foster
- 18 Dave Winfield
- 19 Ted Simmons
- 20 Steve Carlton
- 21 J.R. Richard
- 22 Bruce Sutter
Topps gave three sheets to Pepsi (reportedly with complete fronts and backs) during the development process for review. Pepsi later returned two sheets to Topps, with a third being cut up and sold into the hobby when the deal fell through. The notion that a third sheet was cut up and sold to the hobby makes sense when you look at the SGC Population Report.
You can see that each card in the set has a population of four or five. If a full sheet has 132 cards, and there are 22 cards in the set, that means there are no more than six raw copies of each card to be graded. Also, a few years ago, when Robert Edward Auctions sold a Ron Guidry card, they wrote that the consignor told them that the card was cut from that single sheet, which was talked about in hobby publications beginning in 1983 (if you have any of these hobby publication write-ups, please get in touch with me).
Now, why wasn’t the set ever published? No one really knows, but I suspect it has to do with another soda partner that Topps had a retail card promotion with in 1980, Squirt. Squirt issued 3-card cello packs with Topps in 1980 and probably wanted an exclusive partnership (or maybe Pepsi didn’t want to compete with Squirt and terminated the partnership with Topps). I’ll write more about this in a future Post War Cards Newsletter.
In 2005, Topps offered up for sale several individual Topps Pepsi cards and blank-backed progressive proofs on eBay. A collector on a forum shared that he bought 18 of the 22 cards in the set sold by Topps in completed printed form and four blank-backed full-color proofs that were missing the black ink on the front.
At the 2011 National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, Topps held a VIP Exclusive Auction on Wednesday, August 3, from 2:30-4:30 PM. Topps put up ten unique items for sale, one of which was a 1980 Topps/Pepsi Unissued Two-sided Final Uncut Sheet.
The exact item description appeared on the National’s website as a promotion for the show: “The unique 1980 Topps-produced Pepsi baseball card set features many of the era “s greatest diamond stars. In fact, half of the ballplayers incorporated into this 22-card set are enshrined in the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. This prized Topps relic comes professionally matted and framed (12 3/4″ X 33″) and is in tip-top condition. The reverse side of the sheet is also viewable. Some of the more notable subjects include; Rod Carew, Robin Yount, Paul Molitor, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Mike Schmidt, Jim Palmer, Dave Winfield and Steve Carlton. This is the first and only time this seldom-seen and un-catalogued Topps baseball product will be offered in uncut sheet form. Lot is accompanied by a Topps Vault certificate of authenticity.”
In their auctions for single cards from this set, Robert Edward Auctions had surmised that the sheet was blank-backed, but you can see that it is not. I have read that the 2011 VIP Auction’s uncut sheet was one of the uncut sheets that Pepsi returned to Topps, but I can’t be sure about that. Would Topps have given Pepsi a full uncut sheet of 132 cards, as I surmised earlier, and a smaller 22-card sheet? Or could Topps have cut up a returned sheet or had a proof sheet made for themselves? I still have so many questions, especially given the spacing around the Topps Vault sheet.
Given the set’s rarity, the cards sell for quite a pretty penny; here are a few recent examples.
In October 2019, Mile High Card Company sold a complete set of SGC-graded 1980 Topps Pepsi cards for just over $41k. The set was offered in two ways, as a whole and as individual lots, with the final sale being determined by the greater total of the set vs. the sum of the lots. The highest bid on the complete set was $26,203.
In their 2021 Summer Auction, Robert Edward Auctions featured a complete set of 22 SGC-graded cards as individual lots. Combined, the final sales price added up to $38580. The Mike Schmidt pictured below sold for $5040.
A few other proofs (progressive and otherwise) were also sold over the years. Usually, the proofs were blank-backed, but not always. The Reggie Jackson proof card pictured below is currently for sale on eBay for $5k. You can see that the back of the card has a partially printed Pepsi logo.
A progressive proof card of Dave Winfield sold for $480 in the Fall of 2017.
Here are a few more 1980 Topps Pepsi-Cola All-Star proof cards that collectors have shared over the past few years.
In August 2022, a collector who purchased five of the SGC graded examples offered an SGC 8.5 Graded Robin Yount for $2,200, an SGC A Paul Molitor for $1k, an SGC 8 George Foster for $800, A SGC 9.5 Garry Templeton for $1700, and an SGC 9.5 J.R. Richard for $1700 on the Collectors Forums.
If Topps’ deal with Pepsi had gone through, the cards probably would have been overproduced, and sets would be selling for just a few dollars like many other Topps retail promotions from the era do. However, because only a few of the cards trickled out, and since Topps has had a historical propensity to save a few items in their “vault,” we have one of the most interesting and rare modern prototypes that a ton of collectors wish to own, but will never get their hands on. Happy collecting!