Player Cards and Yellow Headers: The 1971 Topps Baseball Rack Packs

There are so many nuances to collecting vintage unopened products that you need to be aware of if you don’t want to waste a ton of money on fakes, and another one that has been brought to my attention lately. Unfortunately, I don’t have any hands-on experience with this one, which has to do with 1971 Topps baseball rack packs. You see, some versions have yellow header cards, and some have an actual 1971 Topps baseball card as a header that got punched through to place on a ‘rack.’ 

The Big Picture

There’s been a lot of debate in the hobby about how the packs with player headers were distributed. Sadly, there are no records from Topps, and experienced vintage unopened collectors have been unable to reach a consensus. Steve Hart, who runs the Baseball Card Exchange and authenticates packs for PSA, didn’t always authenticate/wrap 1971 rack packs with player headers, but he does now. I read that a few years ago, a collector opened one that followed standard sequencing and contained two Pete Rose cards, so we know that at least some of them are likely to be a Topps product, but there are a ton of fake 1971 rack packs with player headers. So, if you’re interested in one, you should probably stick to a BBCE-authenticated one so you know that other factors have been inspected (card series collation, cell spacing, material, etc.).

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Packs With Player Header Cards

As I said, rack packs with player headers are much easier to find; how many are legitimate is another question. But a few have been authenticated by BBCE, which should give some peace of mind on multi-thousand dollar purchases, but know Steve doesn’t have perfect knowledge either.

Robert Edward Auctions sold this 1971 Topps First Series Unopened Rack Pack with Reggie Jackson on top for $9600 in April 2023. The pack has 54 cards plus the additional header that was punched out at the top for hanging.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Jackson on Top

In October 2018, REA sold another player header pack with Blyleven on top for $3000. Notice that this one, like the previous one, has a circular punch hole in the header card. Also, like the Reggie Jackson rack, it’s a 1st Series pack.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Blyleven on Top

REA has also sold a handful of GAI-authenticated 1971 Topps baseball rack packs with player headers. Interestingly, none of them has a circular punch hole – that doesn’t mean they’re fake, but it’s curious. This first one is a Series 5 rack that sold for $1920 in October 2017. It also had a serial number starting with 103, and that’s where you need to be more careful with GAI-graded packs.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – GAI Series 5

Next is the following pair of racks, which were auctioned off in April 2014 for $1540. I can’t make out the serial numbers, and one of them is a 5th-series rack.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – GAI Pair

Last is another 103 serial numbered rack from the first series. It sold for $3480.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – GAI First Series

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Packs With Yellow Header Cards

Now, let’s shift to packs with yellow header cards. These are tougher to find and tend to carry a premium. With the yellow headers, you’ll find that Topps used the larger circular punch hole in the header card until the 4th Series, when they switched to a cross-hatch punch hole. Also, 1971 header cards in the early series were typically one-sided with graphics.

Here’s an example of a first-series rack pack with a yellow header that only has graphics on one side and a large circular punch hole. Morphy Auctions sold the BBCE-wrapped rack pack for $6600 in August 2023.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Morphy Auctions

And here are two more 1971 rack packs with the same particulars but sold by REA. The one with the A.L Home Run Leaders card on top sold for $10800 in August 2021, and the one with the Ted Simmons rookie on top and Pete Rose on the back sold for $8100 in April 2021 (1685).

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – AL HR Leaders
1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Pete Rose Back

In April 2021, REA also sold a mixed series rack pack, with cards from the first and third series, featuring Jim Hunter on top for $4920. Notice the circular cut-out and blank-backed header.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Jim Hunter on Top

Next is a mixed series rack with third and fifth series cards. Notice the header has graphics on both sides and has a cross-hatch punch hole. It sold for $7500 in April 2020.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Third and Fifth Series

Last is a BBCE-authenticated rack pack sold by Memory Lane Inc. with Musnon’s classic card in the last cell. Interestingly, the pack’s header has graphics on both sides. So perhaps that’s not an exclusive situation for each series. The pack sold for $10742 in May 2023.

1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack – Munson on Top

A Bit More

Here’s a bit more that I’ve gathered about 1971 Topps rack packs. First, cards in a cell are always from the same series. Next, a similar header card was used for football packs, which came out later in the year, but this one’s serial number ends in -1 instead of -0 (the packs were more expensive by 10 cents.)

1971 Topps Football Rack Pack

Next, what can we say after looking at all of these packs and comparing the player header to the yellow header packs? Well, first, we must acknowledge that there will always be some risk when it comes to the vintage unopened market. However, educating ourselves and discussing packs with other collectors can minimize the chances of buying a bogus pack. A few years ago, there was an interesting conversation about 1971 Topps racks on a forum instigated by the following item.

Suspect 1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack

It started with one collector saying that assumptions cannot be made about anything to do with player header racks (that is, if the circular hole was the only one used) because, theoretically, there shouldn’t be 1st series player header card racks, Topps didn’t run out of yellow headers since they were used in 1972 and 1973 as well (unless there was a timing issue at some packing plants). But, he noted that there are both kinds of headers in just about all of the series. 

Of course, this is a debate about a pack with a star showing – does this ever happen with unopened with only commons? This pack is more suspect because of the seam width between rack pack cells. There tend to be several red flags regarding bad vintage unopened packs.

Bottom line, one collector wrote that we do not know if the player header packs for each series were made at the same time in 1971 as the yellow header packs of the same series OR if the player header packs for each series were all produced at a later time in 1971 than when their corresponding yellow header packs for the same series were produced OR if some were produced at the same time as their same series yellow header pack counterparts were made in 1971 and others for that series were also produced later in 1971. He said that given those possibilities, he didn’t want to say that the punch hole vs. cross-hatch punch is or is not, by itself, a characteristic that can be used (exclusively) to determine whether a pack is good or bad.

Let me know if you have more details to shine some light on these packs. That said, since I’m generally very cautious when purchasing vintage unopened, I’d just be sticking to yellow headers if looking to buy a 1971 Topps Baseball Rack Pack. But if I couldn’t get my hands on one, I’d try to find one with a player header with a circular punch.

Wrap Up

Vintage unopened is a challenging hobby segment to be in; you need a lot of knowledge and a lot of money! I’ll probably never have one of these rack packs, but I find the details fascinating, and if you’re looking for one, hopefully, this helps you out.

Here are a few similar topics you might be interested in:

Happy collecting!

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