I was browsing a vintage unopened Facebook group the other day and saw that a collector had listed a gorgeous PSA 8 1951 Topps Baseball Blue Back wax pack for sale. He wrote that the pack “came out of the huge Philadelphia find in the 1990s.” Also, while putting the 1951 Topps baseball page together for the Unopened Archive, I remember finding a lot of “Doubles” packs and boxes for sale (considering their age). So I decided to dig a little deeper and see what I could find out about this 1951 Topps baseball card find.
I started my research by reading PSA’s article about the 1951 Topps baseball card sets; they wrote, “A large find of these packs in the Philadelphia area in the mid-to-late 1980s has resulted in the Red Backs being more plentiful in high grade than the Blue Backs.”
Then I consulted the Standard Catalog of Baseball cards. My 2010 edition said, “Red Backs are more common than the Blue Back by virtue of a 1980s discovery of a large hoard of unopened boxes.”
Next, I visited a few auction houses to see if they had any action item descriptions that talked about the find. If a consigner knows a product’s provenance, auctions tend to share the details.
Robert Edward Auctions sold a box of 1951 Topps Red Backs for $11,162 in their 2008 spring auction. They wrote, “In the 1970s, in the Philadelphia area, a number of unopened boxes surfaced, which apparently were extra stock that had not sold in 1951 but had survived in storage. These boxes were opened up by dealers at the time, as there was no incentive to keep them unopened (incredible as it may seem, at the time they were actually more valuable opened rather than unopened, to make sets) though perhaps a few boxes were saved intact. We have no way of knowing for sure, but we would not be surprised if this full box originates from that legendary find.”
In February 2010, SCP Auctions sold a Lot of 20 1951 Tops Red Back Packs for $1139. They wrote, “These originally were from an unopened 120 count box from the “find” of many years ago.”
In October 2016, Goldin sold a box of Red Backs for $16,800 that “most likely originated from the Philadelphia warehouse find a few decades ago.”
In March 2017, Lelands sold a 1951 Topps Red Backs Unopened Wax Box for $9336. In the description, they wrote, “This unopened box of crisp 120 Red Back packs likely derived from a small find in Philadelphia many years ago.”
So one collector said the find was from the 1990s, the Standard Catalog and PSA say the 1980s, and REA says the 1970s.
A find probably did occur, but I was still struggling to find any specifics. So I visited one of the best vintage sports card blogs, The Topps Archives, which has written about the 1951 set quite a bit, to see if they had any details. Lucky for me, in one of the posts detailing the set’s distribution, the author wrote that they “have unearthed an old SCD column that discusses the big Red Back find and it helps pin down that the 100-box-or-so hoard of Red Back Doubles discovered in the early 80’s was found in a Philadelphia warehouse.”
I reached out to the author and asked if he still had that copy of Sports Collectors Digest, and he did!
In the Collector Q&A section from the July 8, 1983 edition, there was a question that asked, “How come lately so many dealers seem to have 1951 Topps Redbacks for sale in unopened packs? SCD has even had ads for complete boxes.” The editor responded, “Seems a hoard of these cards turned up recently in a Philadelphia warehouse. One collector who called with the tip said as many as 100 boxes or more were found, along with a few Bluebacks. We haven’t been able to get confirmation. Generally in such cases, the finders try to keep these things quiet so as not to depress the market price.”
Given that SCD wrote this in 1983, it seems reasonable we, as a hobby, should reference this 1951 Topps find to the early 1980s. Besides the original pack seller, this was the first source I found referencing Blue Back packs.
A find of as many as 100 boxes makes sense since there are quite a few unopened doubles boxes still on the market, and the PSA Population Report shows they have encapsulated 331 graded 1951 Topps Red Back Wax Packs and 51 Blue Back packs. Also, remember that each doubles pack only had two cards in it if you’re looking at the pop report for individual cards.
When I wrote about Mr. Mint’s Find II, I wrote that a find like this today would likely be kept secret, just like SCD wrote concerning the 1951 Topps find. That was a lot easier to do in the pre-internet days in the 80s, which is why we still don’t know a lot about this discovery. If you have any additional details, please share them in the comments, on Twitter, or reach out to me privately, and happy collecting!