There is surprisingly little information found on the web today regarding the numerous "oddball" card sets released over the past 40 or so years. Thousands of different sets have been printed during this time, featuring every imaginable sport from bowling to jai alai. We will shine our spotlight on random sets we pull from our shoebox... Who knows which cards will be next? Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or comments!
Consider yourself a hardcore football collector if you own a set of these. Consider yourself a hopeless collector if you're trying to acquire all of the color variations that were printed for these cards.
Here are the basics: In 1986, Dairy Pak, the company responsible for manufacturing and printing the waxy cartons for countless milk and orange juice companies, released a set of 24 current football player cards. These cards were printed in two colors and were found on the sides of the cartons. Each measures 3 1/4 inches by 4 7/16 inches and is bordered by a dashed line to help interested collectors cut the card off of the carton.
If someone cares to own a complete set, all they need to do is obtain each of the 24 different player cards and call it a day. Where it starts to get difficult is when a player or set collector decides to go for all the different color variations -- and let it be known that some of these said variations are very elusive. For starters, ten different colors were used for the "SUPERSTARS SERIES" title found across the tops of the cards: black, brown, purple, green, lavender, aqua, orange, red, light blue and dark blue. But in addition to this, there are three variations for the color used to print the players' photos: black, red and blue.
In the photo provided here you can see ten different Eric Dickerson variations, with one of the cards featuring the Hall of Fame running back's photo in red. From what I have personally seen, cards with the player photos in red or blue are much harder to find than the black. As far as I can tell, cards with red photos always have blue Superstar Series titles, and vice-versa... If my theory is true, that brings the total amount of variations up to twelve per player.
These variations exist because of the assorted color schemes used on the packaging of the different brands. I'm sure that certain colors are harder to find than others (as mentioned with the blue or red player photos), but these findings have never been published.
The cards can be found one of four ways. They are most commonly found cut off of a carton, hopefully with the dashed border lines still intact. The second way to find these are with the partial or full side panel still intact (a special offer is mentioned below the card, either for a poster or set of four superstar cups). Finally, you may be able to find a used carton that has been left fully intact, or an unfolded and unused carton. Used cartons are scarce because of the amount of space they occupy, and unfolded cartons are maybe the rarest of all, as they apparently didn't survive in any meaningful quantities.
The James Lofton card was short printed due to some off-field troubles that were happening at the time. Lofton's scarcity puts him in the top-five valuable cards of the set, along with Joe Montana, Walter Payton, Dan Marino and John Elway.
The value of a nice complete set, cut with full borders and no creases, starts around $40. A set of four cups from the special offer is worth in the $30 to $40 range. I can't recall the last time I found one of the posters for sale, but I'd be willing to pay around $25 for a nice one.
Random Fact: Lions quarterback Eric Hipple is found on card number six, but doesn't really qualify for "superstar" status. Through the 1985 season Hipple had 25 wins versus 21 losses, along with 46 touchdown passes versus 56 interceptions. As far as the 1985 Lions roster is concerned, Hipple was still probably the best choice if a Detroit player had to be included in the '86 Dairy Pak set.
The United States Forest Service has sponsored many sharp-looking sports themed oddball sets over the years. One particularly striking design was used for several sets in the late 1980s, of which one is the 1988 St. Louis Cardinals Smokey Bear set.
The majority of Smokey sets issued during this time were larger in size than standard cards, with the '88 Cardinals cards measuring 5 inches tall by three inches wide. Most of these card fronts feature player action photos which lack traditional heavy borders; a white pinstripe is found near the card edges and frames the photo subject quite nicely. The player's name and position is located at the bottom right of each card front, along with small Cardinals and Smokey logos.
Card backs are printed in black and give a few additional player facts along the tops. The middle of card backs feature safety tips and now-classic Smokey artwork. The U.S. Forest Service and National Association of State Foresters logos appear at the bottom left.
A complete set consists of 25 cards, which is roughly the same amount of Cardinals cards found in each of the nationally distributed sets from 1988 (Topps, Donruss, Fleer and Score). One advantage the Smokey set has over the other issues is the addition of newly-acquired players; names like Tom Brunansky, Bob Horner and Luis Alicea were not pictured as Cardinals in the national sets. In addition, the beauty of the Smokey set's photos cannot be understated, and Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith's best-looking card of the 1980s is arguably found here (Smith is pictured attempting to put a midair tag on a sliding Gary Gaetti at second). Newcomer Score entered the baseball card ring in 1988 and quickly provided the best looking national set of the year, but I'd still give this '88 Cardinals Smokey set the edge, both in photo quality and design.
These cards were distributed as complete sets at the home game versus the Dodgers on July 19, 1988. Even though 34,606 fans attended the game, a Cardinals representative at the time estimated that between 8,000 to 9,000 sets were given away (to fans 15 years of age and younger). The same team rep went on to say that any remaining cards were slated to be given to the players for use when answering fan mail. Regarding the current value, my estimate for a complete set is in the $6 to $10 range. These cards aren't everywhere, but can certainly be found online with minimal effort.
Random Fact: Three catchers are included in the set. Veteran Tony Pena was the starter, appearing in 149 games (142 games at catcher) with 546 plate appearances. Rookie Tom Pagnozzi followed second, with 81 games (28 games at catcher) and 209 plate appearances. Rounding out the trio is Steve Lake, who took part in 36 games and had 59 plate appearances.
The modern era of football "police cards" began with sets released by the Cowboys, Chiefs and Seahawks during the 1979 season. These early sets were typically given away by local law enforcement officials, who often released one or two new cards a week. Over time it became clear that this type of distribution wasn't a practical way to get cards into the hands of kids, and by the late 1980s few departments were still releasing cards in this manner (most police sets eventually became stadium giveaways).
The Miami Dolphins issued their first police set in 1980, and would go on to produce yearly sets through the 1987 season. Looking very similar to the '79 sets from the three teams mentioned above, the cards feature large, color action photos on the fronts. The player's name, uniform number, position,college, height and weight are found across the bottom, as well as a Kiwanis logo at the bottom right. Card backs were printed in two colors (black and aqua blue), and feature a couple of "Miami Dolphins Tips." The sponsors listed on the card backs are the Local Kiwanis Club, Law Enforcement Agency and the Miami Dolphins. Cards are not numbered except for the player's uniform numbers.
A complete '80 Fins set features sixteen cards, the most valuable of which features Hall of Fame lineman Larry Little. Calling it quits after the fifth game of the 1980 season, Little's card was withdrawn from distribution and is considerably harder to find than the rest of the set. Fellow Hall of Famer Bob Greise also has a card in the set, and this would be his lone police card as he retired before the 1981 season began. Miami's best players were included in the set, meaning most of them were well-represented in the yearly Topps football sets of the era. Running back Tony Nathan is featured a year before his Topps rookie card, and legendary coach Don Shula makes his first showing on a card since appearing on the Colts team card in the 1965 Philadelphia football set.
This set provides an interesting blend of the outgoing old guard (Little, Greise and Foley, each a member of the perfect '72 club), as well as several players who would still be around to see Super Bowls at the ends of the 1982 and 1984 seasons. The action photos found on most of the cards were a trademark of police sets, with action (and helmet logos) being conspicuously absent from the Topps sets of the day.
Of the eight Dolphins police sets released during the 1980s, this inaugural issue is by far the hardest to find today; accordingly, it's also the most valuable. A complete sixteen-card set, with the short-printed Little, is currently valued in the $40 to $60 range. A set without the Little card is closer to the $25 to $40 range.
"Junk wax" was happening in 1988, and that year's Donruss Major League All-Star cards fit the bill quite nicely (as most of you know, the junk wax era of card collecting was roughly between 1987 and 1993, when baseball cards were waaaay overproduced). More on that later.
I have always liked Donruss, even though their unusual 1988 baseball design wasn't one of my personal favorites... Well, that design was simplified a bit and became the basis of the '88 Donruss Major League All-Stars set. Exactly as the name implies, the set features 64 cards and is loaded with the prior year's All-Star players and managers. There's even a card for the Oakland Coliseum, where the game was played on July 14, 1987. Pretty much everyone associated with the 1987 All-Star Game is included, from future Hall of Famers like Cal Ripken Jr., Mike Schmidt and Ozzie Smith to lesser known hometown favorites like Bruce Hurst, Bo Diaz and Ozzie Virgil.
The cards were issued in wax boxes that contained 48 packs. Each pack held five regular set cards, an All-Star "pop up" card, and a three-piece puzzle card. There are twenty different pop-ups in a set, and a total of 21 puzzle cards will make the exact same Stan Musial puzzle that was issued with the regular 1988 Donruss baseball boxes and factory sets.
Unlike Donruss' five prior All-Star sets, which had cards that were a larger postcard size, the decision was made to downsize to the standard card size of 2 1/2" by 3 1/2" in 1988. The pop-up cards, which are flat until unfolded, are also the size of a standard card.
These Donruss All-Star sets were never very popular during their seven-year run, which lasted from 1983 to 1989. Players were rarely featured during their rookie card seasons, and the larger postcard-sized cards from 1983 through 1987 were a turn-off for many collectors. With more and more oddball sets to choose from every new year, these All-Star cards failed to gain much market share.
To Donruss' credit, these cards were never intended to be an investment. They were intended to be fun, and indeed, fun they are. Collectors and speculators who were on the hunt for the hot rookies of the day (Mark Grace, Chris Sabo and Roberto Alomar) could pick up an '88 Donruss Rookies boxed set to satisfy those cravings.
These cards have the distinction of being both an oddball set and a junk wax product. Because the cards were issued in packs, and were grossly overproduced, they certainly qualify for junk wax status. While they may be a little scarcer than the regular 1988 Donruss baseball cards, that's not saying much. Lack of demand and lots of boxes equals cheap fun for the oddball collector.
It may be difficult to find a buyer, but if you do the value of the All-Star set is around $3 to $5. A pop-up set is worth around $2, and the Stan Musial puzzle should probably be thrown into the deal for free. An unopened box can usually be found for $5 to $8, and they are pretty fun to open. The collation of the cards within unopened boxes is fair at best, but you can usually eek out a compete 64 card set from the 240 cards you'll get from the box. The 48 packs found in a wax box give you 48 chances to complete the 20 card pop-ups set, but you may wind up a card or two short thanks to the seven Terry Kennedys you'll inevitably get.
Oddball football collectors love this type of issue, which was released at a time when Topps still had a monopoly on releasing a nationally-distributed yearly NFL football set (Fleer did release yearly sets during this time, but were only licensed to show action photos without mentioning player names).
One problem with the yearly Topps sets is that they were not large enough to include much depth within the rosters they chose for any given team; frankly, most casual collectors probably liked it that way. In Topps' 1985 football set, for example, only twelve cards were used to represent the Eagles, including their team card that featured an action shot of running back Wilbert Montgomery... And speaking of action shots, that team card is the only card out of twelve that features one. All of the eleven Eagles player cards feature tightly-cropped sideline shots. As a fourteen year old lad at the time, it was frustrating to see these boring cards endlessly come out of the wax packs I opened.
The Philadelphia Eagles themselves released a welcome alternative to Topps early in the 1985 season. Of course, as a young teen who lived in Deer Park, Texas, I didn't know the cards existed until several years later. These days, I'm thrilled to have a set in my collection. Consisting of a whopping 53 cards to make a complete set, there's room for just about anyone who did or didn't make the team that season. The cards are sized a generous 3 -7/8 inches tall by 2-17/18 inches wide, give or take 1/16th of an inch or so (the cards in my set vary quite a bit within that range). Medium-weight, semi-glossy cardstock was used. The vast majority of the fronts are occupied by large, color action shots with the player's name, position and uniform number printed across the bottom. Backs feature a fairly lengthy bio of the the player, and most cards include one or more obscure personal facts (did you know that Mark Dennard worked during the off-seasons as a loan officer at the First National Bank in Bryan, Texas?) The cards are not numbered except for player uniform numbers.
Of the 53 cards, 48 of them feature Eagles players. Quarterback Ron "Jaws" Jaworski, wide receiver Mike Quick, safety Wes Hopkins and running back Wilbert Montgomery are featured as expected. For the hardcore Eagles collectors, they may be just as excited to find cards of quarterbacks Dean May and Jeff Christensen, who were both cut before the 1985 season even began (May tossed exactly one pass in 1984 during his Eagles stint, while Christensen did absolutely nothing). Cornerback Andre Waters and linebacker Mike Reichenbach are featured two years before their Topps rookie cards were printed.
The five non-player cards in the set include a helmet/header card, 1985 schedule card, Eagles logo card, and cards featuring team president Norman Braman and head coach Marion Campbell. The downside to this set is that no cards were made for two promising rookies -- quarterback Randall Cunningham and defensive end Reggie White. As the set was probably produced before the season even started, I'm guessing that no photos were available for these new players. Of the fourteen rookies who made the Eagles roster in 1985, not a single one is featured in this set. I can tell you firsthand that this set ain't easy to find. I'm not sure how the Eagles originally distributed the cards, but there don't seem to be many of them floating around. My estimate for a current, fair market value would be in the $50 to $75 range.