On the shoulders of Giants: To collect the 1964 Topps set or not collect it?

I have talked plenty here before about how, in my card collecting hobby, I’m drawn to beautiful, interesting cards that aren’t necessarily what everyone else is collecting (and therefore aren’t as pricey as what everyone else is collecting). This is definitely more a decision on the collecting side of things rather than the “investing” side, because this purchasing strategy is NOT a money-maker, generally.

On the subject of beautiful cards that aren’t necessarily what everyone else is collecting, with my first purchase of cards from someone’s personal collection (courtesy of my friend and former co-worker Brian, which I wrote about here), I fell hard for the 1964 Topps Giants oversized baseball card set. It was love at first sight for me, seeing those cards laid out on the table, almost twice as large as a standard card, with big, beautiful color portraits; a minimalist name-on-front design; a newspaper-page-inspired card back design … it’s all just so right up my alley, aesthetically.

And 1964 was a pretty decent moment in baseball: Names like Mantle, Aaron, Koufax, Mays, Gibson, and Clemente were at or near their peaks. This set features all of those stars and more in a tidy, compact 60-card package. And what’s more, it was something of an historic set, being the first Topps cards in this oversized format. Bowman’s old cards had been just slightly larger than the standard size that Topps established in the 1950s, but Topps pushed the format to near-postcard size with this set.

And my friend Brian had a stack of these cards that included all the legendary Hall of Fame names I just mentioned plus some. That first go-round, I only purchased the Mantle and Aaron, but I recently reached out to ask if he’d found his way to selling the rest yet. He said he hadn’t, and that I should go ahead and make him an offer for those cards as well as the rest of his small collection, including cards of a fair number of ’60s and ’70s stars.

I had started collecting more of the Giants since that first purchase, and I figured buying the rest of his stack would put me over a third of the way to the whole set (and would mean I have pretty much all the Hall of Famers in the set). Because I wasn’t as familiar with what was in the rest of his collection aside from a few cards I remembered from our first meeting, I tried to extrapolate from the value of the Giants and make a fair offer for the whole kit and kaboodle. He accepted my offer, and now suddenly I’ve got a lot of the 1964 Topps Giants cards, including a couple of doubles. (I’ll write more about a few of the other cards in the collection at a later date; some stuff I’ve never seen or heard of.)

So back to the matter at hand: Do I pursue the whole set at this point? Even though it’s a beautiful set, and a relatively affordable/attainable one, I must admit I’m a bit torn. I already have pretty much all the cards I would actually want as a collector from the set. I think the only HOFer in the set I don’t have at this point is Joe Torre, and that’s kind of a technicality, because he’s in the hall as a manager, not a player. So now it’s just the commons — the players I don’t know much or anything about — that I’d have to spend money to track down.

This would represent a new phase of my collecting: The set by piecemeal. I’ve never done that before. The only sets I own currently are ones I bought complete. I could buy many of the cards I still need for the set for a couple bucks a piece, maybe even less if I find any lots of commons, but there are a few pesky short-print, not-so-common common cards, like the #60 card, Moose Skowron, that is tough to find for less than $30 even in mid-grade ungraded condition. Thirty bucks is kind of a lot for me to spend on a card of a player I care not a whit for, simply to complete a set.

Or there’s the Galen Cisco short-print common, which is available for about $30 ungraded, or, befuddlingly, $40 graded and signed. Having a card signed and graded usually increases its value by orders of magnitude, so such a small price difference is weird, to say the least. But such is the world of tracking down oddball singles of unheralded players in less-sought-after sets, I suppose.

So yeah, it’d probably cost me another couple hundred dollars in total to complete the set. I’m not fully convinced that’s the way I want to go, but then I look over at my shelf and see Juan Marichal’s smiling face looking back at me and think: What other set of this age, with this kind of historical importance, could I have a shot at putting together any time soon? And it’s not like the cards are going anywhere: In the 1970s, a card dealer discovered a truckload of these things still in packs, so they have been creeping out into collections and dealer tables in relatively nice condition for several years now.

Even my wife, who has no real interest in sports cards, said I should go for it. So I think for now I’ll consider myself technically in set collection mode, but I’ll be slow-pedaling it for a little bit here, maybe wait until the baseball season is over to see if prices dip at all before I make any further purchases. If I see values spike, I might not be able to resist the temptation to make some of my “investment” back, but assuming things hold steady market-wise, I should be able to finish this minor collecting milestone.

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