1987 Topps: A Great Set, or the Greatest Set?

Today I want to talk about what might just be the crown jewel of the junk wax Era.

1987 Topps

This is a set that is hated by some, but loved by many.  On the 25th anniversary of their first wood grain bordered set, Topps brought back the lumber for the 1987 release. 


This was a bold move at the time.  The vast majority of baseball card designs throughout the 80s had plain  white borders.  A handful of releases included some solid colors, but the last set with a patterned border was 1968 with the popular burlap  design.  This was also the first time since 1972 the player’s position would not be displayed on the front of the card.

Many collectors became big fans of the interesting player facts Topps included on the card backs.  There are several blogs I’ve come across over the years which bring attention to some of the things we learned from these cards.  While looking through the cards in my own collection I came across these gems:

…loves Willie Nelson!

…loves Willie Nelson!

Mike worked at a Grain Elevator!

Mike worked at a Grain Elevator!

Rib Eating Champion!

Rib Eating Champion!

My first year collecting was 1986, and while that set had its share of star veterans, it was a bit lacking in rookies.  That would change in 1987. This set was loaded with rookies who would go on to drive the hobby forward over the coming decade.  That rookie class, going into what was becoming a period of “peak cardboard”, drove the availability of baseball cards into drug stores, department stores, ice cream trucks, and gas stations all across America.

Let’s take a look at some of those rookies as well as some other interesting cards from the set.

First up is a group of players who debuted in the 1986 Topps Traded set, but had their official rookie card in this 1987 release.

My favorite, Bo Jackson, Topps the list.  The iconic, multi-colored future stars logo on this card still brings back memories of the excitement I had every time I pulled one of these cards from a pack.


Jose Canseco also made his flagship debut in this set, and brings an example of the Topps All-Star Rookie Cup.  I had the opportunity to meet Jose this summer when he played on our local minor league team,  and I was fortunate enough to get my copy autographed by the legend himself.

His fellow bash brother Mark McGwire also had his first card as a member of an MLB team in this set.  As you probably know, his first Topps card was in the 1985 set while a a member of Team USA.  

The Killer B’s Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla  were two more players who graduated from the ‘86 Topps Traded set to flagship in 1987.  Bonds would go on to set the homerun record, and Bonilla is actually still being paid by the New York Mets in what is one of the strangest contracts in MLB history. 

Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell, Wally Joyner, Barry Larkin, and Rafael Palmeiro are a few of the other notable rookies in this set.

I’m also a fan of some the subsets.  It starts off with seven ‘86 Record Breakers which highlight some of the key performances from the 1986 season.  Another subset I’m a fan of is the Team Leader card.  A vignette photo for each team is on the front of the card, and the back lists the team leader for a variety of categories.  

Cards 311-315 Turned Back the Clock to celebrate some players and moments from past seasons, and finally the dedicated All-Star cards which ranged from 595-616 are real and they’re spectacular.

One of my friends runs a hobby shop called Busted Wax which specializes in junk wax era cards, and I can’t help but get excited when he stocks up on sealed packs from this set.  Wax Packs contained 17 cards and retailed for 40c each in their prime.  Cello packs had 31 cards for 69c, and a 48 card rack pack retailed for somewhere around $1 and had a glossy All-Star insert as well.

The sheer volume of this print run unfairly taints the perceptions of this set in my opinion.  The design, rookie class, and outstanding veteran checklist make this one of my favorite sets.  Although nobody is getting rich of these cards, they continue to fly out of my quarter and dollar boxes at the local shows I set up at.  Singles, sealed packs, sealed boxes, sets, and even cases still have consistent sales on EBay.  With so many people disregarding this set as junk,  there may be opportunity to profit if you can pick it up cheap. 

Love it or hate it, 1987 Topps is an iconic set from the 80s.  I think it will ultimately go down as one of the most popular Topps sets of all time.  Yes, I’m a bit biased as it brings back the nostalgia from my youth, but print run aside, it’s hard to match the combination of design, stars, and rookies found inside.

What do you think?  Do you dream of finding a storage unit full of sealed boxes?  I do.

I also recorded a video version of this post. You can view it below. Let me know what you think!