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Vintage Spotlight: The Best Cards From 1970 Topps And 1971 Topps — Rookies And Stars That Have Stood The Test Of Time

1970 & 1971 Topps

The 1970s were a transformative decade in US history, and that extended to the baseball diamond. The Big Red Machine Reds. Great Yankees, Dodgers, Orioles, and A’s teams. Fisk’s home run. It was the last decade of Topps baseball card monopoly.

Topps produced some classic sets in the 1970s, with some amazing rookie cards. Less modern production and quality assurance processes and time have made some of these cards challenging and valuable in top condition.

In this series, we’ll look at the top cards for each set, including key rookie cards and other valuable cards, with info on their PSA populations and recent values. Come hop in the way back machine and relive the glory that was 1970s Topps baseball.

We’ll look today at the 1970 and 1971 Topps sets.

1970 Topps

At 720 cards, 1970 Topps was the largest Topps set ever upon its release. It was released in seven series throughout the season.

PSA has graded 225,804 1970 Topps cards, with only 3,481 graded PSA 10 copies (1.5%).

1970 Topps Wax Wrapper

1970 Topps key rookie cards

There are no Hall of Fame rookie cards in the 1970 Topps set, making it the only set from the 1970s without a Hall of Famers first card.

The key first-year card is Yankees legend Thurman Munson 1970 Topps. He appears on card #189 in the set, “Yankees Rookie Stars”. Many folks believe that Munson belongs in the Hall of Fame, and he may get there someday. If not for a tragic plane crash when he was only 32, it’s likely he’d have played a number of years longer and been in the Hall of Fame long ago.

The other key rookie card actually features TWO players who have their Hall of Fame advocated. That is card #21 in the set, Athletics Rookie Stars, featuring SP Vida Blue and catcher Gene Tenace.

Two more rookie cards worth mentioning are #279 Bill Lee and #286 Bill Buckner. Neither are Hall of Famers, but both remain famous over 50 years after their debuts.

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
1970 Topps Thurman Munson #1895,350PSA 8 = 794PSA 8 = $600-700
1970 Topps Vida Blue/Gene Tenace #21741PSA 8 = 170PSA 8 = $200
1970 Topps Bill Lee #279212PSA 8 = 116PSA 8 = $75
1970 Topps Bill Buckner #2861,035PSA 8 = 566PSA 8 = $40-60

1970 Topps: Nolan Ryan, Hank Aaron and others

While the 1970 Topps rookie class doesn’t include any current Hall of Famers, the set is full of classic vintage cards of some of the greats of the game.

The 1970 Topps Nolan Ryan, who appears in the 7th and rarest series, leads the way value-wise. Despite a fairly high population, the card sells strongly in almost every grade.

Other valuable cards in the set read like a roster of all-time greats: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, and Johnny Bench.

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
1970 Topps Roberto Clemente #3504,411PSA 8 = 653PSA 8 = $550-700
1970 Topps Hank Aaron #5003,301PSA 8 = 508PSA 8 = $525-625
1970 Topps Willie Mays #6002,930PSA 8 = 693PSA 8 = $400-600
1970 Topps Johnny Bench #6602,468PSA 8 = 654PSA 8 = $400-500
1970 Topps Nolan Ryan #7125,315PSA 8 = 881PSA 8 = $1,250-1,500

1971 Topps

Featuring 752 cards released across seven series, 1971 is one of the most distinctive card sets in history. With black borders, centering issues, and over 50 years of elapsed time combining to make these cards very difficult to find in top condition.

PSA has graded 315,170 1971 Topps cards, with a shockingly low 242 graded PSA 10 copies (0.00076%).

1971 Topps Wax Wrapper

1971 Topps key rookies

The 1971 Topps set shared 1970 Topps “No HOF Rookie Cards” status for decades after its release.

It wasn’t until Bert Blyleven had played 22 seasons, waited 5 years to become eligible for the Hall of Fame, then 14 years on the ballot that the BBWAA realized he was a Hall of Famer in 2011. 40 years after its release, 1971 Topps had its first HOF rookie card.

In 2020, Ted Simmons was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee, joining Blyleven as Hall of Famers with rookie cards in 1971.

I expect that group to eventually grow larger. Time and advances in statistical analysis continue to enlighten us about the value some players brought to the game that wasn’t always clear during their playing careers.

Second baseman Bobby Grich put up 71.0 WAR in his career, 9th all-time among second basemen. Collectors are starting to notice, and Grich’s cards have seen an increase in value over the last few years. If and when he gets elected to the Hall of Fame, expect another increase.

What modern vantage points give, they also can take away. During his playing days, many thought Steve Garvey was destined for a spot in Cooperstown. Now, his election looks far less likely. He still has his advocates, however, and his cards still are in demand.

One other rookie card of note, while it doesn’t feature a Hall of Fame player. The 1971 Topps Rookie Stars Outfielders #709 features both Dusty Baker and Don Baylor, two players who had really strong careers. Baker, of course, also had a long and successful managerial career that continues to this day. As part of the rare high-number series, this card sells for big dollars.

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
1971 Topps Bert Blyleven #262,887PSA 8 = 281PSA 8 = $600-700
1971 Topps Ted Simmons #1171,622PSA 8 = 341PSA 8 = $600-700
1971 Topps Bob Grich #193484PSA 8 = 182PSA 8 = $350-500
1971 Topps Steve Garvey #3412,755PSA 8 = 566PSA 8 = $400
1971 Topps Rookie Stars Outfielders #7091,491PSA 8 = 229PSA 8 = $1,700

1971 Topps: Key cards from Thurman Munson, Nolan Ryan and more

As you would expect, the 1971 Topps contains some classic vintage cards of Hall of Famers. Interestingly enough, one of the most sought-after and valuable cards in the set is of a player who is not in the Hall of Fame, not a high number card, and not a rookie card. Thurman Munson appears on card #5 in the set.

The card, one of the few in the set with a horizontal layout, is simply a classic card of a legendary player whose career was cut too short. A PSA 8 sold recently for over $4,000.

The other all-time greats and Hall of Famers in the set that command the highest prices include Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Hank Aaron, and Nolan Ryan.

CardTotal PSA PopRecent Sale PopRecent Sale Price
1971 Topps Thurman Munson #53,658PSA 8 = 126PSA = $4,000-4,500
1971 Topps Reggie Jackson #202,417PSA 8 = 164PSA = $2,000
1971 Topps Pete Rose #1003,333PSA 7 = 786PSA 7 = $450-400
1971 Topps Johnny Bench #2501,850PSA 7 = 480PSA = $350-425
1971 Topps Hank Aaron #4003,664PSA 8 = 578PSA = $750-1,000
1971 Topps Nolan Ryan #5135,178PSA 8 = 586PSA = $1,400-2,000
1971 Topps Roberto Clemente #6303,612PSA 8 = 439PSA = $2,500

Follow the (League) Leaders

Here at Cardlines, we love vintage Topps League Leader cards, and so should you.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that both 1970 and 1971 Topps contain some classic league leader options.

If Hall of Fame pitchers are your thing, check out 1970 Topps NL ERA Leaders #67, which features three Hall of Famers (Juan Marichal / Steve Carlton / Bob Gibson). If “only” three Hall of Famers isn’t enough, check out 1970 Topps NL Pitching Leaders #69, which features FOUR Hall of Famers (Tom Seaver / Phil Niekro / Fergie Jenkins / Juan Marichal).

Prefer hitters? Check out 1971 Topps NL RBI Leaders #64, which features three Hall of Fame hitters (Johnny Bench / Tony Perez / Billy Williams).

The final word on 1970 and 1971 Topps

The 1970 and 1971 Topps sets are two classic vintage Topps sets. To long-term collectors, it may be a shock to realize these sets are now over 50 years old. To collectors who have started their collecting journey, these sets offer an opportunity to branch out into vintage at a variety of price points, depending on series and condition.

Regardless of whether these sets are new to you or are like an old friend, they contain an interesting mix of Hall of Fame rookie cards, other rookie cards of interest, and classic vintage cards of some of the greatest players of the era.

What are your favorite 1970 and 1971 Topps cards? Let us know at card_lines on Twitter.

Other releases from Topps during the 1970s

Check out our other writeups from 1970s baseball releases from the 1970s

Mike D.

Mike D

Mike D. has collected cards for over 35 years, since he bought his first pack of Topps at the corner store in 1987. His fandom,  collecting interests, and contributions to Cardlines center around baseball in general and the Baseball Hall of Fame specifically.

Mike's collecting focus is centered on graded cards, mostly rookie cards, of Hall of Famers and future Hall of Famers. Lately, he's been enjoying dabbling in graded minor league cards. A collector/investor with a "buy and hold" approach, Mike takes the long-term view with his collection.

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