If you were a collector looking for help understanding all the new baseball card choices suddenly available to you in 1981, then Fleer was there, happy to lend a helping hand (ahem).

Although, in hindsight, their “good intentions” likely only added to the confusion.

See, not long after their debut and even before the shine of their newness and the happy glow of OPTIONS (finally!) they brought with them could wear off, Fleer began causing serious consternation in the hobby.

C. Nettles …

Multiple cards of the same player, backs often flipflopped with each other …

Small hand on back.

And, if those first two were somewhat obvious, the third became a part of early-boom hobby lore.

Alternately referred to as “hand cards” or “finger cards” or “loop cards,” the goof-ups that would eventually become known — mostly — as “small hand on back” caused a lot of rifts between collectors, dealers, and kids on the playground.

There were a few who swore up and down that the variations existed, and some who even claimed to have seen one.

But, though reports of the funny cards began surfacing early during Fleer’s initial release, finding an actual card that exhibited said hand or finger or loop was no easy feat.

By the time I came into the hobby full-force in 1983, the “small hand on back” pasteboards were still whispered about here and there, still typed about in passing in hobby publications of the day but a) no one I knew had one or had seen one and b) none of the dealers I asked knew anything about them.

In fact, it took many years and the advent of the internet before I ever saw a 1981 Fleer card, or a even a picture of said same, with a small hand on the back.

So, just what is this mythical creature?

Well, it turns out to be pretty much what it sounds like, if you squint and hold out a bit of imagination for the thing.

Here, take a gander at one of those extremities:

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So, yeah, that “on back” bit is not always accurate — some of the affected cards have the squiggle/hand/finger in back, but SOME of them, like Rick Dempsey, have “small hand on front.”

In all, there are six cards known to exist with and without “small hand on *something*”:

  • Davey Lopes (#114)
  • Ron Cey (#126)
  • Rick Dempsey (#177)
  • Bill Bonham (#215)
  • Gary Matthews (#251)
  • Britt Burns (#342)

Since the finger cards were corrected fairly early on, it’s not surprising to find that the “error” version is harder to come by today, at least according to the PSA Population Report … and continued anecdotal evidence, of course.

Even so, the small hands don’t command much of a premium these days, generally selling for less than $20 even in nice graded condition on the rare occasion they do make their way to market.

And, in a way that’s a sad development for an old collector like me, watching another myth of my youth slide into the sunset, right there alongside the Game-Winning RBI.

Steve Rogers Signed 1981 Fleer #143 Card Montreal Expos Auto Autograph

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1981 Fleer Steve Carlton Philadelphia Phillies #660

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1981 Fleer #418 Dan Ainge Rookie RC

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1981 Fleer #346 Harold Baines Rookie RC Lot C

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