A couple of weeks ago, I shared a few tweets and an update in Newsletter #29, highlighting some cool empty cases that Collect Auctions sold in their March 2023 Spring Auction. The Topps Archives, an extraordinary hobby blog, also featured some of these cases in a pair of articles titled “Shipping Out” and “Highly Anticipated.” These articles provide insights into Topps’ product distribution and packaging by sharing the date the cases were stamped. The author mentioned using the “Cummins Method” to decipher the codes. It’s worth noting that Lonnie Cummins, a non-sport trading card collector, and researcher, uncovered many mysteries behind Topps trading cards. Although I haven’t found any direct text from Lonnie about identifying Topps case codes, I’ll summarize the process and give a few examples in this post.
Topps stamped a six-digit code on their cases.
The first digit represents the quarter:
- 1 = The 1st Quarter, or January/February/March
- 2 = The 2nd Quarter, or April/May/June
- 3 = The 3rd Quarter, or July/August/September
- 4 = The 4th Quarter, or October/November/December
The second digit is the month in that quarter. So a ‘1’ would be the first month in that quarter, a ‘2’ is the second month, and a ‘3’ would be the third month.
The next two digits are the day of the month, i.e., 29 for the 29th.
The next digit is the year, so a ‘7’ would be 1977, for example.
The last digit, I believe, is the shift number at the Duryea, Pennsylvania, plant that day.
So, to summarize, the first number would be the quarter, the second number is the month of that quarter, the third and fourth digits are the day, the fifth digit is the year, and the sixth digit is the shift number.
Also, as I wrote in last week’s 1982 Topps Cello Case article, Topps cases were stamped not at the moment of production but more likely on the loading dock; i.e., they were stamped as an order was filled and ready to be sent out.
Here are a slew of examples:
Topps Baseball Cases
1975 Topps Baseball Wax Case – 121951
1st Quarter, 2nd Month, 19th Day, 1975, 1st Shift – February 19th, 1975
1976 Topps Baseball Wax Case – 122461
1st Quarter, 2nd Month, 24th Day, 1976, 1st Shift – February 24th, 1976
1979 Topps Baseball Cello Case – 131691
1st Quarter, 3rd Month, 16th Day, 1979, 1st Shift – March 16th, 1979
Topps Basketball Cases
1972 Topps Basketball Wax Case – 422121
4th Quarter, 2nd Month, 21st Day, 1972, 1st Shift – November 21st, 1972
1978 Topps Basketball Wax Case – 332881
3rd Quarter, 3rd Month, 28th Day, 1978, 1st Shift – September 28th, 1978
Topps Football Cases
1970 Topps Super Football Wax Case – 331603
3rd Quarter, 3rd Month, 16th Day, 1970, 3rd Shift – September 16th, 1970
1975 Topps Football Cello Case – 410752
4th Quarter, 1st Month, 7th Day, 1975, 2nd Shift – October 7th, 1975
1976 Topps Football Wax Case – 410862
4th Quarter, 1st Month, 8th Day, 1976, 2nd Shift – October 8th, 1976
1978 Topps Football Cello Case – 322182
3rd Quarter, 2nd Month, 21st Day, 1978, 2nd Shift – August 21st, 1978
Topps Hockey Cases
1977 Topps Hockey Wax Case – 411271
4th Quarter, 1st Month, 12th day, 1977, 1st Shift – October 12th, 1977
1979 Topps Hockey Wax Case – 411991
4th Quarter, 1st Month, 19th Day, 1979, 1st Shift – October 19th, 1979
Topps Non-Sport Cases
1978 Topps Star Wars 5th Series Wax Case – 320281
3rd Quarter, 2nd Month, 2nd day, 1978, 1st Shift – August 2nd, 1978
Topps case stamps provide a valuable tool for collectors to understand product distribution and packaging. The six-digit codes reveal the year, month, and even week of distribution for Topps trading cards and help reveal important information today about the cards that were found inside. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or just starting out, understanding these codes can add a new level of depth to your appreciation of Topps’ rich history. Happy collecting, and don’t forget to check out The Post War Cards Newsletter.