The 1978 Topps Baseball Set: A Comprehensive Guide to the Classic Collection

The 1978 Topps Baseball set, much like other ’70s releases when Topps didn’t really have any competition, suffered from quality control issues, but took off in popularity in the early 80s when the rookie-card hobby craze boomed for its inclusion of Eddie Murray, Jack Morris and the multi-player rookie prospect gem featuring Paul Molitor and Alan Trammell, among others. Along with the 1975 and 1971 releases, 1978 Topps remains one of the most popular sets of the decade today. In the following sections, I’ll provide:

  • A set profile
  • Production details
  • Advertising examples
  • A distribution summary
  • An overview of the key rookie cards and Hall of Fame stars
  • And some key set sales for the 1978 Topps baseball set

This article also kicks off a series exploring some accompanying sets to the 1978 Topps baseball flagship. In the coming weeks, I’ll share articles about the 1978 Topps Burger King cards, 1978 Topps Team Checklists distributed via a wrapper redemption, 1978 Topps Zest Soap cards, and 1978 Topps Dynamite Magazine Panels. But before highlighting these companion sets’ distinctive qualities, let’s explore the base set’s place in the broader hobby.

1978 Topps Baseball Set Profile

The 1978 Topps baseball set has 726 standard-sized (2-1/2″ by 3-1/2″) cards, up from 660 the year before; and the largest since 1972 or since Topps transitioned to single series printing in 1974. However, since Topps printed the cards on 132-card sheets, 66 were double-printed, including Jack Morris, Pete Rose, and Tony Perez (one row of cards per sheet). 726/132 is 5.5, so Topps needed to fill all six sheets with extra cards.

Topps included quite a few interesting subsets.

They kicked off the set with seven record breakers cards.

1978 Topps #4 Brooks Robinson Record Breaker

Topps included League Leaders cards that historically lead off their sets on cards 201-208.

1978 Topps #202 Home Run Leaders

They highlighted the league playoffs and World Series on cards 411-413.

1978 Topps #413 World Series Reggie Jackson

And eleven Multi-player Rookie Prospect cards were included as cards 701-711, including one that included Lou Whitaker, one of Joe Posnaski’s most underrated players ever.

1978 Topps #704 Rookie 2nd Baseman

Topps also included a few other subset-esque series in their 1978 base set. First, they had six checklists, the first starting at #74. Here’s an example for cards 243-363.

1978 Topps #289 Checklist 243-363

The 1978 Topps set also included Team Cards, distributed out of packs, with all the player’s cards from that team checklisted on the back.

1978 Topps #66 White Sox Team

And lastly, Topps included manager cards highlighting the coach as a player and manager. I highlighted this Tom Lasorda card in a previous Post War Cards Newsletter.

1978 Topps #189 Tom Lasorda

The front of the base cards used a slightly larger photo than previous Topps card releases. The player’s name and team were printed along the bottom. Each card’s upper right-hand corner had a small white baseball with the player’s position printed within it, but starters from the All-Star game from 1977 had a red, white, and blue shield instead.

1978 Topps #20 Pete Rose – Front

The back of 1978 Topps baseball cards had typical player vitals and statistics – some of the cards also included a paragraph of biographic information. Six hundred and ten cards in the set also had “Play Ball” outcomes printed on them so two kids could play a game if they had enough cards; the rules are printed on 30 of the 726 cards. Check out this article on SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee blog for more.

1978 Topps #20 Pete Rose – Reverse

As I wrote in the introduction, Topps didn’t have any real completion in the baseball card market beyond a few oddballs, so they didn’t take quality control very seriously, leading to a pretty condition-sensitive set, particularly from a centering perspective. Don’t let PSA’s population report lead you astray; yes, of the nearly 200k cards they’ve graded from the set, the most common grades returned are a 9, followed by 8s and then 10s. However, most common player’s cards aren’t worth submitting unless they’re a 9/10. Since a lot of 8s sale prices don’t even cover grading costs.

The Trading Card Database shares two errors/variations; one for Bump Wills’ card 23 with and without a black circle, and another for Jose Morales’ card 374, one with black overprint on red stitching and one with red stitching on the position baseball that’s in the upper right corner of the front of the card; the “Red Stitching on Position Ball” is the scarcer copy.

1978 Topps Baseball Card Production and Distribution

Before the 1978 Topps baseball cards were put in packs for the market, they had to be printed. And Topps printed the set on six sheets of 132 cards each. As I wrote in the overview, this meant that 66 cards had to be double-printed. Again, the set had 726 cards, which would only fill 5.5 sheets or over six sheets, with 121 cards on each sheet. So Topps filled the remaining 11 cards (an entire row) on each sheet with duplicates. 121*6 = 726, plus the 66 double-prints gives us 792 total printed cards over six 132-card sheets. Each sheet is assigned a letter designation (A, B, C, D, E, or F), and each card bears the same letter designation as the sheet it was printed on, appearing on the back of the card.

Knowing that sheet designation is the low-hanging fruit in cello and rack pack validation, but this part of the hobby can get pretty complicated when you look at the card placement (front/back on cellos and Panel on rack packs), packing material, product code, and card appearance. I’ll write more about this later when I discuss the 1978 Topps baseball unopened material.

In May 2015, Heritage Auctions sold a 1978 Topps baseball complete set in uncut sheets for $1314.50. 

1978 Topps Complete Set on 6 Uncut Sheets Fronts – Heritage
1978 Topps Complete Set on 6 Uncut Sheets Backs – Heritage

A few years later, in October 2018, Robert Edward Auctions (REA) sold a complete set on six uncut sheets for $3900.

1978 Topps Complete Set on 6 Uncut Sheets – REA

However, before the final sheets were printed for cutting and distribution, many proofs were made as the set was finalized and the printing process was verified and validated. And many of these proof sheets and cards that were held in the Topps Vault have made their way into the hobby.

For example, in April 2015, REA sold a pair of uncut sheets from the 1978 Topps baseball set; for $1080, one was an early-stage production proof, and the other was a final-issue sheet.

1978 Topps Production Proof Sheet – Front
1978 Topps Production Proof Sheet – Reverse

The production proof was described as noteworthy because “it features pitcher Mike Torrez with the New York Yankees in the top row of the sheet while the final-issue sheet depicts Torrez with the Boston Red Sox. The New York Yankees version was never issued as Torrez signed a free-agent contract with the Boston Red Sox during the 1977 offseason, and Topps was able to update his trading card prior to releasing the 1978 Topps set.” The production proof has five rows of eleven cards and has a stamp on the back that says “August 1989 Topps Auction NYC,” which means it was sold as part of the 1989 Guernsey’s auction. The final issue sheet has 66 cards in six rows of eleven cards (half of a 132-card sheet).

1978 Topps Final Issue Sheet – Front
1978 Topps Final Issue Sheet – Reverse

There are also a bunch of interesting individual proof cards that collectors can get their hands on.

First, REA sold this Andre Dawson blank back proof in July 2019 for $450. They noted that while the card appears to be “just” a blank-back proof, it’s actually a bit more interesting because the proof card is missing the Topps All-Star Rookie trophy that you can see on the final-issue card. The card is encased in a Topps Vault holder.

1978 Topps Andre Dawson Proof and Regular Issue
1978 Topps Andre Dawson Proof – Front
1978 Topps Andre Dawson Proof – Reverse

Another couple of interesting proofs I’ve run across are this 1978 Topps 4-Color Film Positive Proof of Willie McCovey’s card and a pair of color separation proofs of the Red Sox team card – both from the Topps Vault with Certificates of Authenticity.

1978 Topps 4-Color Film Positive Proof – Willie McCovey
1978 Topps 4-Color Film Positive Proof COA – Willie McCovey
1978 Topps Red Sox Team Color Separation Proofs

Topps also had to proof and produce original artwork for their 1978 Topps baseball wax box. This display box side-panel artwork was sold for $1860 in REA’s Fall 2020 catalog. The piece is 5.5 x 4.25 inches and used for both side panels of the wax box.

1978 Topps Wax Box Side-Panel Artwork – Front
1978 Topps Wax Box Side-Panel
1978 Topps Wax Box Side-Panel Artwork – Reverse

1978 Topps Baseball Packs and Boxes / Distribution 

This wax box side-panel art piece leads us perfectly into discussing the 1978 Topps baseball product distribution. Topps made the 1978 baseball cards available to collectors in quite a few different forms, but the most significant change they made from 1977 was to the standard wax pack, the number of cards went from 10 to 14 per pack, but the price went from 15 to 20 cents. Here’s a quick overview of all the products, which you can see in greater detail on the set’s page on the Unopened Archive:

1978 Topps Baseball Wax Pack
  • Wax: 14 cards per $0.20 pack that came with 36 packs per box
  • Cello: 21 cards per $0.30 pack that came with 24 packs per box
  • Rack: 39 cards per $0.59 pack that came with 24 packs per box
  • Wax Trays: 3 wax pack trays often meant for grocery stores.
  • Vending: 500 cards per box meant for insertion into vending machines

PSA authenticates and slabs both wax and cello products, and they’ve encapsulated quite a few 1978 Topps baseball products; 646 wax packs and 821 cello packs.

Here are the current market prices for 1978 Topps baseball unopened products: 

  • Wax Packs: PSA 8 (the most common grade) packs sell for ~$170 (without stars showing)
  • Cello Packs: PSA 9 (the most common grade) cello packs sell for closer to $200. 
  • Rack Packs: BBCE-authenticated rack packs sell for between $200 and $250 if they have non-premium stars showing (Carlton or Niekro, for example). 
  • Wax Trays: BBCE-authenticated 1978 Topps Baseball wax trays sell for ~$500.
  • Vending Boxes: BBCE-authenticated boxes from a sealed case (the only boxes they wrap) sell for between $2500 and $3k.
  • Cello Boxes: BBCE-authenticated 1978 Topps baseball cello boxes sell for ~$3k.
  • Rack Boxes: BBCE-authenticated 1978 Topps baseball rack boxes, from a sealed case, sell for around $6k.
  • Wax Boxes: BBCE-authenticated 1978 Topps baseball wax boxes are drying up a bit the past few years after a bit of a surge in availability, so they now command prices between $2500 and $4k.
1978 Topps Baseball Wax Box

Unfortunately, quite a few known fakes regarding 1978 Topps baseball unopened products exist. As I wrote earlier, card placement is the low-hanging fruit, at least when it comes to cello and rack pack authentication. In 1978, Topps only put cards with a D, E, or F notation on the top of cello packs. And for rack packs, Topps put cards from sheets A and B in the section closest to the header, sheets C and D in the middle section, and sheets E and F in the end sections. This article shows the proper placement of some key 1978 Topps baseball stars. Again, card placement is just the low-hanging fruit when it comes to pack authentication; there’s a lot more to be aware of.

1978 Topps Baseball Advertising

Topps didn’t have the internet to drum up interest in their products, so they distributed sell sheets to dealers and local retailers to promote their products. They’re printed flyers showcasing the product and informing dealers about the cost of upcoming releases.

Dealer sell sheets for 1978 Topps baseball are surprisingly scarce, particularly compared to those from the following year’s release, but I have managed to track down three variations. What’s funny is none of them showcase the card’s design.

This first one has “Topps 1978 Baseball” printed along the top with five player action photos. The ad copy reads, “Like the players they idolize, millions of youngsters are gearing up for another exciting season of Major League Baseball. And that means the beginning of another super selling season for Topps Baseball Picture Cards…selling right on through the summer months! So be sure you’re ready for the ‘counter action’ by keeping plenty of Topps ’78 Baseball Cards in stock.” This sheet has an advertisement for 24-pack cello boxes. The text is hard to make out along the bottom, but it points out each pack has 21 cards. And it looks like the cost was $4.32 per box ($64.80 per 15-box case).

1978 Topps Baseball Dealer Sell Sheet – Cello Details

This next 1978 Topps dealer sell sheet has the same basic information along the top, but the terms and details appear to be for rack pack products.

1978 Topps Baseball Dealer Sell Sheet – Rack Details

And this final 1978 Topps dealer sell sheet doesn’t have any product specifics printed along the bottom, but the photo is of a cello box, and the sentence refers to 30-cent cello packs coming 24 per display box. The #372-78 product code is printed on 1978 Topps Cello Cases.

1978 Topps Baseball Dealer Sell Sheet – Cello No Details

1978 Topps Baseball Key Rookie Cards

The 1978 Topps set was known for its hoard of rookies, some already performing and some still with high expectations during the rookie-crazed hobby boom of the early and mid-’80s. Today, the set is still known for its excellent rookie card class, including Eddie Murray and Detroit Tigers stars Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, and Alan Trammell, who shared a card with Hall of Fame Paul Molitor. Dale Murphy also found his way onto a rookie prospect card, despite his true rookie card coming out the year before. Here’s a basic rundown of the Hall of Fame rookies.

1978 Topps #36 Eddie Murray

1978 Topps #36 Eddie Murray

Eddie Murray got a dedicated card in the 1978 Topps baseball set after a strong performance with the Baltimore Orioles in 1977, during which he hit .283, smacked 27 home runs, and drove in 88 runs. PSA has slabbed almost 13k of these cards, with eighteen graded Gem Mint 10s. There are also 680 PSA 9s and 3542 8s in the Pop Report. The Gem Mint 10 pictured above sold for $50400 in February 2023. PSA 9s sell for around $1100, and 8s sell for around $150.

1978 Topps #703 Rookie Pitchers Jack Morris

1978 Topps #703 Rookie Pitchers Jack Morris

Jack Morris shares his rookie card with Larry Andersen, Tim Jones, and Mickey Mahler, all of whom were high draft picks, but Morris would be the only one to make the Hall of Fame after finishing his career with 254 wins, a 3.90 earned run average, and 2478 strikeouts, Morris also won four World Series Titles and made 5 All-Star Games. PSA has graded just over 5k Rookie Pitchers cards, with 109 slabbed as Gem Mint 10s, 1058 as 9s, and 1947 as 8s. The pictured 10 sold for $1110 in June 2023, 9s sell for around $90, and 8s sell for around $30.

1978 Topps #707 Rookie Shortstops Paul Molitor and Alan Trammell

1978 Topps #707 Rookie Shortstops Paul Molitor and Alan Trammell

The 1978 Topps Rookie Shortstops card is the hobby’s crown jewel of multi-player rookie cards. Molitor was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004, finishing his career with a .306 batting average and 3319 hits. Trammell joined Molitor in the Hall of Fame in 2018, finishing his career with a .285 batting average and 2365 hits. Trammell also won 4 Golf Gloves. Their 1978 Topps rookie card has been graded around 8500 times with 30 Gem Mint 10s, 431 PSA 9s, and 2151 PSA 8s—the Gem Mint 10 example above sold for $66k in January 2023. PSA 9s have risen in price lately, selling for between $1100 and $1500, while 8s are more affordable between $150 and $180.

1978 Topps Baseball Key Cards

1978 Topps baseball isn’t just about its fabulous crop of Hall of Fame rookie cards. A lot of the base cards are hobby classics as well. There are great cards for Pete Rose, Carl Yastrzemski, Thurman Munson, Robin Yount, Mike Schmidt, Dave Winfield, and Rod Carew, along with a slew of expensive and rare high-grade commons that set chasers covet. But the big three base cards in the set belong to Hall of Famers George Brett, Reggie Jackson, and Nolan Ryan, who all got key numbered cards in the set, 100, 200, and 400.

1978 Topps #100 George Brett

1978 Topps #100 George Brett

George Brett’s 1978 Topps card doesn’t include the most exciting photo of the Hall of Famer, but it still attracts high prices. The PSA 10 pictured sold for $12600 in February 2023. It’s a pop 10 card in the grade. It’s a condition-sensitive card, probably a result of being card 100 and kids handling it a lot, but of the 2400 graded examples, there are also only 205 PSA 9s meaning less than 10% of the cards are in that ultra-high grade 9/10 range. However, there are 989 PSA 8s. The 9s tend to sell for around $450, and the 8s are far more affordable, around $45.

1978 Topps #200 Reggie Jackson

1978 Topps #200 Reggie Jackson

Unlike Brett’s image, Topps included a more exciting shot of Reggie Jackson on his 1978 base card. And, as you saw in the sell sheet section, Topps featured Jackson on the set’s advertising. It’s been graded over 2200 times with twenty PSA 10s, 342 9s, and 907 8s. The pictured 10 sold for $3550 in September 2017, and today, 9s sell for between $250 and $300, while 8s sell for around $70.

1978 Topps $400 Nolan Ryan

1978 Topps $400 Nolan Ryan

Nolan Ryan’s 1978 Topps base card is the toughest Gem Mint 10 star card in the set, with just three examples on the market. The pictured 10 sold for $14899 in April 2019. However, there are 127 PSA 9s and 1281 PSA 8s. The 9s sell for a little over $2k, while the 8s sell for between $150 and $200. Perhaps the lack of 10s is due to Ryan’s card being printed in the first column of a sheet, the second from the top.

1978 Topps Baseball Set Sales

With many key cards selling for thousands of dollars in high-grade, it’s no surprise that high-grade complete sets sell for quite a bit. REA sold a complete set in April 2015, which at the time was #3 on the PSA Set Registry and included 602 PSA 10s for $48k.

Cards From 1978 Topps PSA-Graded Set

However, I mentioned in the introduction that the cards suffered from quality control issues during the printing process, and Topps produced a ton of cards; I mean, nearly 200k have been graded. So if you want to pick up a low-grade complete set, they’re pretty widely available and not that expensive. Really nice raw sets (Nr-Mt/Mt) can push $1k from auction houses that command premium dollars, but you can pick up Vg or VgEx sets on eBay for under $200, like the following example.

1978 Topps Baseball Complete Set

The 1978 Topps Baseball set holds an important place in the hobby, standing alongside other popular releases from the ’70s. The set gained popularity in the early ’80s due to its inclusion of notable rookie cards for Eddie Murray, Jack Morris, Paul Molitor, and Alan Trammell. Today, it remains one of the most sought-after sets of the decade. 

But that’s not all. In 1978, Topps teamed up with other companies for additional promotions to complement their flagship baseball collection. Follow along on the blog for details about four other 1978 Topps baseball sets and partnerships I’ll highlight in the coming weeks.

I linked to quite a few other articles from within this post, but here are a few more you might be interested in checking out:

  • First, if you’re into unopened items, there are a few 1978 Topps Baseball Vending Boxes out there that were wrapped by The Baseball Card Kid.
  • Second, speaking of The Baseball Card Kid (Mark Murphy), this article shares an advertisement from 1997 that included some 1978 Topps Baseball cello packs.
  • And last, from the first Post War Cards Newsletter, I highlighted the most poorly airbrushed baseball card in the hobby, the 1978 Topps Greg Minton card.

Happy collecting!

Leave a Reply