Every once in awhile in the way-back hobby days before Fleer and Donruss crashed their party, Topps would unleash a test set to spice up cardboard life for the few collectors lucky enough to stumble on them.
And these things took on a mythos of their own in those pre-internet years. Someone would see something — or think they did — and tell a friend about it, and then the whispers would trickle through the hobby.
Did Topps really release a dice game set in 1961?
And were there four-in-one versions of 1969 Topps cards?
And what of minis, deckle edges, punch-outs, comic?
Even later on, there was disagreement about whether Topps really shipped some of their 1983 cards in Mylar packages (they did — the so-called “Michigan” test issue).
Many, maybe even most, of these limited and oddball sets have been verified to some degree by this point, but that doesn’t mean they hold any less intrigue and mystique for collectors.
One of the scarcest Topps test issues also just so happens to be one of its most visually striking — the 1968 Topps 3-D set. These cards are a harbinger of the Kellogg’s sets that collectors would pull from boxes of cereal through most of the 1970s, only bigger and with more dramatic photography (says me).
I mean, take a look at “Bob” Clemente or Curt Flood sometime — crystal clear closeups with blurred crowds in the background that make you feel like the player is taking a spinning selfie in a bustling ballpark.
Check for 1968 Topps 3-D cards on eBay (affiliate link)
Some estimate the total print run of the 12-card set to be just several thousand, which has helped to push values into heady territory, even with an overall lack of superstar power.
Here’s the checklist:
- Roberto Clemente, Pittsburgh Pirates
- Willie Davis, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Ron Fairly, Los Angeles Dodgers
- Curt Flood, St. Louis Cardinals
- Jim Lonborg, Boston Red Sox
- Jim Maloney, Cincinnati Reds
- Tony Perez, Cincinnati Reds
- Boog Powell, Baltimore Orioles
- Bill Robinson, New York Yankees
- Rusty Staub, Houston Astros
- Mel Stottlemyre, New York Yankees
- Ron Swoboda, New York Mets
So … a couple Hall of Famers, some longtime solid performers (by 1968), some All-Stars, a baseball pioneer, some twenty-game winners, … and Bill Robinson.
If ever there was a “Yankee” effect in effect, it may have been with this selection.
Now, Robinson went on to a long and solid Major League career, racking up 166 home runs among his 1100+ hits over a 16-year run.
But coming into 1968, he had appeared in 122 games with the Bombers, managing a sickly .198 batting average and .545 OPS. And it wasn’t like he had a couple of Gold Gloves under his belt to offset that rough hitting line.
So, why did Topps include Robinson in their 1968 3-D test issue?
The best I got is that he played for the Yankees and Topps was based not far away in Brooklyn, and pretty much everyone knew Mickey Mantle would never really return to the Yanks’ outfield.
Why not take a chance on a young fly chaser, then?
Why not indeed.
A few (very few) collectors even got a pretty cool card out of the deal.
And … you can buy it!
I mean, if you don’t mind spending a $1500 or so for a beautiful old baseball card that sort of helped set some standards for what was to come. As of this writing, there are two 1968 Topps 3-D Bill Robinson cards available on eBay — this one (affiliate link) and this one (affiliate link). Each one is graded in PSA 8 condition, each is gorgeous … and each is expensive (but not necessarily out of line).