Complete! Take 2.

While I have a previous post on here celebrating the completion of my 1986 Topps set, it turns out that one of the trades fell apart* and left me needing still seven cards to complete the set. Twitter however did its thing last week and a bunch of guys sent me envelopes with cards inside to finish my set.

*It happens. Life, emergencies, moves, etc mean a pile of cards can totally be misplaced. Better a pile of 1986 Topps than somehting valuable or important.

So big thanks goes out to WalkerHOF!! (@Focustheframe), Kurt Humbertson (@FlyinWV79), and 20th Century Baseball Man (@20thBaseball) for finishing off my set. For real this time.

It’s been a fun build. As I stated in my previous post, while 1987 is my first year of collecting, 1986 represents the cards that just were around when I entered the hobby. I didn’t try and get them, they just sort of accumulated as I got cards. As a result, 1986 often represented the oldest card I had of a player and, as the decade went on, depicted a lot of players and managers with different teams than I would get to know them with.

Seeing Tony LaRussa with the White Sox or Dave Stewart on the Phillies was weird. Same as Rick Reuschel on the Pirates or Candy Maldonado on the Dodgers.* Yes I knew players could change teams, but 1986 still felt current to me back then and it was just jarring to be reminded of of how out of date it could be by the time I was a full-fledged fan in 1987.

*Or, heck Harry Spilman on the Astros.

1986 Topps was the tip of the iceberg in introducing me to the fact that collecting cards was a way to time travel into the past and see what the game used to look like. It’s one thing as a kid to fall in love with accumulating the new and shiny,* it’s quite another to be suckered into the world of discovering where the players I was getting to know used to play and seeing what they looked like in older, different uniforms.

*As shiny as wood-panelling can get.

As I’ve come back to the hobby with a more discerning eye to print, design, and photography, I’ve also come to appreciate 1986’s distinctness. Big bright colorful team names in the team colors don’t come around very often. The boldness of the font allows the design to work as a team-color design even though it’s technically just colored text on a black background.

There’s no extra design going on either. The font has enough character to make everything else distinct and Topps wisely steers clear of adding any other design elements aside from the black background that makes the colors pop.

The photography too is somewhat distinct compared to other years of cards. Lots of over-the shoulder candid images and a bunch of great action shots at home plate. A decent amount of in-game candids too such as can be seen on the Evans, Lopes, and Oester cards here. Where modern cards tend to be all action all the time, the in-game candids portray the way baseball is a game of ma(間) where much of the time is spent actionless.

I’ve come to love the 1986 photography and the way that the cards allows the photos to just be in a rectangle with nothing weird going on. It’s become a set I particularly like getting signed as well.

What am I building next? I’m not actually sure. I’m intending to start 1989 Donruss at some point. I should get cracking on 1994 Topps so I can complete the run of Topps sets that cover my complete youth fan years. Watch my set needlist for updates.

I can say that I’m tempted to try building 1985 Topps. Not in the sense that I want a complete set of it but the more I learn about it the more I’m thinking that it’s one of the most interesting sets that Topps has ever released. 1985 appears to mark the true boundary of the junk era, not in terms of production runs but in its design and conception. It neither fits in with the sets that precede it nor those that follow it yet it has a foot in both worlds.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

14 thoughts on “Complete! Take 2.”

  1. Recently finished the set again for the first since 1986. It was a fun set to revisit. I’ve been going back 80-86 this year. Got a load of extra 85’s to get you started, I’d be glad to them send your way.

  2. Congrats. The 1986 Topps set is one of the sets I completed in the first year of blogging, so one of the first sets that my blogging buddies helped me finish.

    For me, ’86 Topps was that mysterious set (tho not as mysterious as ’86 Fleer, which I ignored entirely) issued when I was in college and completely ignoring baseball cards. Who was this dark stranger? I still remember going to a card show years after ’86 Topps came out and thinking the few Dodgers I picked up from that set were so cool.

    Lots of distinctive photos in this set, some of them very … odd. I think it has something in common with ’87 Topps in that way. There seemed to be a shift in photos with more variety after 1985.

    1. Interesting comments on the photoshift. As I’m looking through 86-89 (my peak duplicate years) for players when I’m pulling cards for autographs, I’m finding myself increasingly drawn to the the distinctness of the 1986 photos. Some interesting 88s (Viola and Lasorda come to mind) but in many ways 87-89 feels like it mostly reverted to the standard school of posed baseball photos with action images mixed in.

  3. Next time you’re in San Jose, email me and we’ll meet up. I’ll give you a bunch of 1985 Topps to get you on your way. As for the 1986 set… I wasn’t a fan for the first twenty-something years… but like the 1991 Fleer set… it’s grown on me in recent years. And like you mentioned… the photography plays a role in that. I’ve actually been picking up signed 1986 Topps cards for a few years now. I think the design looks really nice with some black Sharpie scribbled across it.

    1. Definitely like 1986 signed. Would love to meet up in CA some time. Not being able to go last summer has meant I’ve now gone the longest I’ve ever gone away from the Bay Area.

  4. (•̀ᴗ•́)و ̑̑ Internet high five for finishing that one off. Never got a lot of love but I liked that set then, and I like it now.

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