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Why Are There So Many Vintage Checklist Variations?

I’ve written about baseball card errors quite a few times on this site. More modern cards like the 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken FF Error and the 1990 Topps Frank Thomas NNOF have gained incredible popularity recently. And there are countless vintage printing mistakes across all sports commanding huge prices in the hobby. But a quote from a recent Sports Collectors Digest article titled Updating Catalogs for Variation Discoveries is a Challenge had a quote that piqued my interest. They said that “The 1961 through 1973 sets had variations in format or information just about any time a checklist was printed.” Reading through a standard catalog or a master set checklist, you can see that there are loads of checklist variants from that era, but why?

1970 Topps 3rd Series Checklist Brown Bat Variation
1970 Topps 3rd Series Checklist Red Bat Variation

One of the big reasons checklist errors occurred was straightforward, and it’s related to uncut sheets, marketing, and multi-series releases.

Let’s use 1970 Topps as an example.

For the last few 1970 Topps series, blocks of 44 cards were printed (44*3=132). Topps added one card to each series, and that was a checklist (series of 87 cards plus an extra checklist equals 88, a multiple of 44) which Topps also printed with the preceding series as a form of advertising. These 44 card blocks were how Topps printed series of 87/88 cards.

Below is the 4th Series checklist. It covers cards 373-459. But this 4th Series checklist is card 343 and is part of the 3rd series and was printed on both 3rd and 4th series sheets. The 4th series checklist was printed as part of the 3rd series to advertise the 4th series. And printed as part of the 4th series, so collectors had a checklist to track their progress.

1970 Topps 4th Series Checklist Front
1970 Topps 4th Series Checklist Reverse

The following image of a 4th series 1970 Topps uncut half-sheet shows a pair of checklists (4th and 5th series). You can see three 44 card blocks in this half-sheet of 132 total cards, as described above. The other half sheet would have 44 card blocks of the other cards printed 3 times. Remember that an actual uncut sheet is 264 cards (two 132 card half sheets). 

1970 Topps 4th Series Uncut Half Sheet of 132 Cards

Now, take the 3rd series of 109 different cards. They were printed as groups of 110 by adding the 4th series checklist (the 4th series checklist is on the right side of the sheet, and the 3rd series is on the left side). A half-sheet was designed in 2 blocks of 5 rows (11 cards across) with two rows repeated at the bottom (22 cards), 10*11 + 22 = 132. And this was the general rule for card series that were 109/110 cards. The other half-sheet would have blocks of the other 55 cards.

1970 Topps 3rd Series Uncut Half Sheet of 132 Cards

I haven’t gone super in-depth, but the principle seems to apply to other years in this era. You can see a few examples of uncut sheets that follow, and each has multiple series of checklists on them.

This 1967 Topps 4th Series half sheet features both 4th and 5th Series checklists.

1967 Topps 4th Series Uncut Half Sheet of 132 Cards

This 1969 Topps 5th Series half sheet features both 5th and 6th Series checklists.

1969 Topps 5th Series Uncut Half Sheet of 132 Cards

And this 1971 Topps 5th Series full sheet features both 5th and 6th Series checklists.

1971 Topps 5th Series Uncut Full Sheet of 264 Cards

Ultimately, this is why there are so many checklists from 1961-1973 that have variations. Topps printed them early, with the previous series to market the following series (starting in 1974, Topps cards were released all at once). Before they started to print the next series, they would make some corrections, or the templates/negatives/processes were different, making a print variation (ink, for example). This makes sense in the 1970 Topps example; since the 2nd through 7th series checklists all have variations, the first series didn’t have a preceding series to have different print formats (other Topps sets from 1961-1973 do have 1st series checklist errors, though). So if you are a master set collector, sheet size and advertising for multi-series sets are why you have the challenge of tracking down so many checklists.

Do you agree or disagree with this checklist variation theory? Let me know down in the comments or over on Twitter.

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