The 1978 Topps Zest Soap Set: A Refreshing Twist on Baseball Cards

In this article, I’m continuing my series through the world of 1978 Topps baseball cards with a look at the unique little oddball set Topps released in partnership with Zest Soap. The set was limited to just five cards; they look nearly identical to the regular Topps base cards and remain popular with a small group of collectors. In this article, I’ll explore the 1978 Topps Zest Soap promotion details, distribution, packaging, printing, and the current market for these intriguing cards.

Before we get started, though, here are the previous three articles in the 1978 Topps baseball series:

1978 Topps Zest Soap Set Overview

Topps produced this set of five standard-sized cards featuring Hispanic baseball stars as a promotion for Proctor & Gamble in 1978. The five players included were:

  • #1 – Joaquin Andújar
  • #2 – Bert Campaneris
  • #3 – Ed Figueroa
  • #4 – Willie Montanez
  • #5 – Manny Mota

A hobbyist on the Collectors Universe Message Boards wrote, “Proctor & Gamble targeted Zest Soap towards Latin American men because of its unique pH formula for Dry Skin. Looking for an incentive to get Latino men to try Zest, P&G coupled with Topps to produce the Zest Baseball Card Set. The Latin American women already had Camay Soap and the Latin American Children had Ivory Soap.”

The cards have the same design as the base 1978 Topps cards, and except for Willie Montanez, who was traded from the Braves to the Mets, the fronts use the same images too.

1978 Topps Zest Soap and 1978 Topps Willie Montanez – Fronts

The backs are a little different. First, they’re bilingual (Spanish & English). Second, the 1978 Topps Zest cards don’t have the play ball game on the back; it’s been replaced by MLB and MLBPA logos. And third, the card numbers are different. It’s funny that Zest isn’t mentioned anywhere on the cards.

1978 Topps Zest Soap and 1978 Topps Joaquin Andujar – Backs

The five cards were issued as complete sets in a cello package issued via a mail-in promotion requiring two zest soap wrappers and a certificate. And while the set is tough to find, they’re not expensive, perhaps due to the player selection.

1978 Topps Zest Soap Cello Pack

1978 Topps Zest Soap Promotion, Distribution, and Packaging

We have one key advertising product that explains how the 1978 Topps Zest promotion worked. In their Spring 2018 catalog, Robert Edward Auctions sold this 1978 Topps Zest Soap Store Advertising Display and a complete set in its original packaging for $270.

1978 Topps Zest Soap Advertising Display

Here’s how they described the lot, “Enormous point-of-sale advertising display for 1978 Topps “Zest Soap” Baseball Trading Cards, accompanied by a complete set of five cards still in their original package as issued. This extremely rare advertising display is designed with all five giant-versions of the issued cards from the set pictured at the top and the text printed in Spanish. This is the first example of this advertising display that we have ever offered or seen! Due to its size and shape, as expected, the display (24 x 39 inches at its widest points) has some obvious flaws including creases and edge wear. Overall in remarkable condition, especially for a store advertising display of this type, the piece presents as Excellent and is perfect for display, as intended. The original mail-order slips are still intact. This is an outstanding example of this seldom-seen advertising display, and one that would be at home in any advanced baseball-advertising collection.”

The top of the display translates (I used Google Translate) to Zest Baseball Stars with the word free below it; then, we have the pictures of the five cards. Next to the two bars of soap, the following terms say, “5 baseball cards with the purchase of 2 “bath size” zests.” The ad then explained that you could get a Cesar Cedeno poster by mail with the purchase of 8 “bath size” Zest soaps. The fine printed said to see the required certificate for complete details, that the offer was good from August 1, 1978, to November 1, 1978, and that there was a limit of 2 posters per name or address.

The same Collectors Universe Forum Thread that explained why P&G targeted Zest Soap towards Latin American men also had the following scans of the mail-in card for the set, which is written entirely in Spanish. 

1978 Topps Zest Soap Mail-In Card

It explained to send two full-size Zest bath-size wrappers for each set of five cards and that the certificate was required to be included with the order. The additional details along the bottom mentioned that the offer was only valid in 27 states, that the offer was limited to two sets of five cards per name or address, and that you’d get the cards in about 6-8 weeks. The back also showed that the offer card was printed in May 1978, long after the base set was released, helping explain how Topps could update the Montanez image in this set.

In terms of the pack that was sent, almost every 1978 Topps Zest cello pack I’ve seen has Manny Mota on top and Montanez on the bottom, but I have seen a single example with Andujar showing.

1978 Topps Zest Soap Cello Pack Lot of 4 – Mota on Top
1978 Topps Zest Soap Cello Pack Lot of 4 – Montanez on Bottom
1978 Topps Zest Soap Cello Pack – Mota Top & Montanez Bottom
1978 Topps Zest Soap Cello Pack – Mota Top & Montanez Bottom
1978 Topps Zest Soap Cello Pack – Andujar Top

I’m unsure if some cards got flipped in packaging, but you can see on this YouTube break of a pack that had Mota face up on top and Montanez on the back that each card was face up in the pack. After Mota, you had Figueroa, but it was upside down. Campaneris came next, positioned in the same direction as Figueroa, followed by Andujar, upside down, then Montanez on the bottom, upside down once again.

I’ve also seen another peculiarity: the Topps Archives mentions that the cards were unavailable with the product in stores. But in my research, I encountered a set shrink-wrapped around three bars of soap. This offer is slightly different since it came with a three-pack of soap, while the mail-in offer only required two wrappers. If you know more about this example, please get in touch with me or leave a comment.

Zest Soap Three Pack with 1978 Topps Zest Set – Image 1
Zest Soap Three Pack with 1978 Topps Zest Set – Image 2

1978 Topps Zest Soap Printing and Today’s Availability

Lelands offered two 110-card full-production uncut sheets featuring the five different 1978 Topps Zest players in an auction in December 2003.

1978 Topps Zest Soap Uncut Production Sheets

Lelands paired the two Zest sheets with a 1974 Topps Traded Baseball Uncut Sheet, and it appears the auction’s reserve wasn’t met. The odd thing about the 1978 Topps Zest sheets is that while most uncut sheets have 132 cards, these only have 110. It’s like they’re missing two extra rows of 11 cards. However, they do look complete from a bordering perspective.

As I wrote earlier, the promotion only lasted a few months, from August to November 1978, so the distribution was limited. Hence, the cards are a little challenging to come by today. PSA-graded copies are also scarce, with only 54 total examples across the five-card set.

1978 Topps Zest Soap PSA Population Report

1978 Topps Zest Soap Cards and Sales

While the cards are scarce, they’re not that pricey. In 2019, the following five PSA-graded cards were sold on eBay for $129.99 included a PSA 9 (OC) Andujar, A PSA 9 Campaneris, a PSA 9 Figueroa, a PSA 9 Montanez, and a PSA 6 Mota. From a raw perspective, complete sets sell for between $10 and $25.

1978 Topps Zest Soap 2019 PSA-Graded Set Sale

PFP Cards have the highest graded set on the registry, with all five cards being PSA 9s.

PFP Cards 1978 Topps Zest Soap Set – First Four Cards
PFP Cards 1978 Topps Zest Soap Set – Manny Mota

Now I’ll share more details about each 1978 Topps Zest Soap card and show the player’s base 1978 Topps card.

1978 Topps Zest Soap #1 Joaquin Andujar

1978 Topps Zest Soap #1 Joaquin Andujar
1978 Topps #158 Joaquin Andjujar

PSA has graded 12 Joaquin Andújar cards, including a single PSA 10 example, listed on eBay lately for $699.99 as a Buy it Now item in the summer of 2023. 

Eight of the other graded Andujar cards are PSA 9s. But they haven’t sold for much historically. One 9 sold for $8.49 in August 2020. And one of the two PSA 8s sold for $10.99 in August 2017.

Another PSA 9 Andujar has been listed for sale recently on eBay with an asking price of $60. A few raw copies have also been available for just a few dollars.

1978 Topps Zest Soap #2 Bert Campaneris

1978 Topps Zest Soap #2 Bert Campaneris
1978 Topps #260 Bert Campaneris

PSA has graded 11 Zest Soap Campaneris cards, including four PSA 9s and five PSA 8s. One of the 9s sold for $75 in June 2020, an 8 sold for $4.99 in August 2020, and another 8 sold for $10.99 in December 2017.

Recently, a PSA 8 Campaneris was listed on eBay for $40 and a raw copy for $11.74.

1978 Topps Zest Soap #3 Ed Figueroa

1978 Topps Zest Soap #3 Ed Figueroa
1978 Topps #365 Ed Figueroa

PSA has graded 9 Figueroa Topps Zest Soap cards with a pair of 9s and three 8s. No examples show up on the auction prices realized page for the card.

1978 Topps Zest Soap #3 Ed Figueroa PSA 8

Raw Ed Figueroa cards have been listed on eBay for between $.90 and $12.99 in the last few months.

1978 Topps Zest Soap #4 Willie Montanez

1978 Topps Zest Soap #4 Willie Montanez
1978 Topps #38 Willie Montanez

There are nine PSA-graded Montanez Zest Soap cards, including four 9s and a pair of 8s. An 8 sold for $4.99 in August 2020, another 8 sold for $22.99 in April 2020, and a 9 sold for $13.5 in September 2016.

1978 Topps Zest Soap #5 Manny Mota

1978 Topps Zest Soap #5 Manny Mota
1978 Topps #228 Manny Mota

Mota is the most graded player in the set, with 13 examples, including a single 10, three 9s, and eight 8s. But one of those 8s sold for just $1.36 in September 2020.

A raw Mota was listed for sale recently with an asking price of $23.24.

1978 Topps Zest Soap Wrap Up

I’m surprised this set hasn’t become more popular, given the larger number of Hispanic players in the majors and collectors in the hobby today, along with the uniqueness of the set. I guess it’s just not mainstream enough for most collectors; however, if you’re looking for a nice post-war set that would be affordable and display well with an unopened pack, this is a great set to go after.

I first wrote about this set in Newsletter #40, so be sure to subscribe for a few shorter hobby tidbits I share each Thursday.

For some related reading, you’ve got a few options:

Happy Collecting!

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