Updated: Aug 2
TURNER’S 1954 TOPPS BOX: RIP IT OR FLIP IT?
Among the items making the biggest splash at the National (and rightly so!) was this box of 1954 Topps cards purchased by Collectors CEO Nat Turner. (And if you haven’t heard of Collectors, they own, among other things, grading giant PSA.)
Prior to the box’s Rosemont appearance, it’s probably safe to say most collectors had no idea such an item even existed. After all, it’s almost incomprehensible: 36 unopened packs of 1954 Topps cards, now 69 years old, and in remarkably great shape!
While the sale price was not made public, Hobby consensus seems to place the box’s value somewhere north of a million bucks. Not bad at all for an item that would have cost $1.80 when it hit shelves originally. Of course the magic question isn’t, “What’s it worth?” but “Do you open it?” In other words, should we rip it or flip it?!
Without a doubt, ripping it is the more fun of the two options, if not the single most fun experience any collector could ever have! Can you even imagine the thrill of flipping through a stack of pack-fresh 1954 Topps cards knowing you might just pull a Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, or Ted Williams in mint condition?! Or what about rookie cards of Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks!
Actually, it’s a bit more complicated than that.
First off, we need to keep in mind that 1954 Topps cards were issued in distinct series, meaning not all players were all possible in all packs. For example, the Aaron rookie card (#128) was part of the set’s third series whereas Jackie (#10) was part of the set’s first series. In other words, you might hope for one or the other in a box but not both.
A second wrinkle, as can be seen in the box’s upper right corner, is that this particular box was printed in Canada, hence differs at least in some ways from the standard U.S. issue of Topps that year. Still, for the moment, let’s forget about the Canadian angle. So what’s in the box?
The 1954 Topps set is typically regarded to have been issued in three series: 1-50, 51-75, and 76-250. (And yes, this division of cards does indeed seem bizarre!) Here are the main highlights of each series.
Series One (1-50) - Ted Williams #1, Jackie Robinson #10, Duke Snider #32, Yogi Berra #50
Series Two (51-75) - Larry Doby #70
Series Three (76-250) - Willie Mays #90, Ernie Banks RC #94, Hank Aaron RC #128, Tom Lasorda RC #132, Al Kaline RC #201, Ted Williams #250
With no disrespect to Larry Doby, it’s safe to say most “rippers” would be extremely disappointed if their packs proved to be series two. Truth be told, even series one—Jackie and all—might feel like GI Joe. Though I don’t think we can be certain what Turner ended up with, he did drop us a bread crumb: “Rumor has it another box found at the time was opened and it contained an Ernie Banks RC that became a PSA 10.”
Though Hobby rumors are often the least reliable kind of rumors, particularly when said rumors inflate the value of ones own holdings, the implication here is that we may indeed be looking at series three, the most desirable slice of the set. Hank Aaron PSA 10, here we come, right?
Well, probably not.
First off, even if we are looking at series three, an Aaron is hardly guaranteed. Mathematically, pulling a Hammer from a series three box is roughly a coin flip. The probability in favor comes out to about 56.2%. (On the bright side, there’s about a 1 in 4 chance of pulling two Hammers!) Ditto for Banks, Kaline, Williams, or any other key card in the series.
Now if we were lucky enough to pull an Aaron, what grade would we expect? Turner’s Ernie Banks rumor aside, a 10 here should be damn near impossible, and even a 9 would be shocking. Still, if we did pull a 9, we’d be looking at a $600K card (most recent sale), while an 8 would fetch “only” around $40K. (And yes, it does seem crazy that one little imperfection makes a 15x difference in value.)
So yes, you could pull a card worth six figures, but more than likely a ripper is looking at just a couple of cards in the $10,000-$40,000 range, half a dozen or so other cards between $1,000 and $5,000, and a very, very large stack of commons worth $100-$200 each. For the pulls to top a million dollars, the average card would have to be better than a PSA 8 Al Kaline. To borrow from Al Michaels, do you believe in miracles?
Highest Value Cards, 1954 Topps Series Three (PSA 8)
$40,000 Hank Aaron
$28,800 Ernie Banks
$10,000 Willie Mays
$9,000 Ted Williams #250
$5,800 Al Kaline
$2,200 Ben Wade
$1,800 Roy Sievers
$1,500 Chuck Harmon
$1,200 Tom Lasorda
$1,200 Hank Bauer
Source: PSA website report of most recent sale
Then again, there are other Hobby rumors that certain collectors see favorable grading from PSA, so I suppose if old Nat himself were doing the ripping (and subbing!), miracles might fall from the sky left and right.
This is of course the super un-fun option on the table, but it’s almost certainly the smarter one. Though it might take some time to cobble together, I believe you could assemble a complete set of 1954 Topps in PSA 8 for less than Turner spent on the box. And keep in mind that’s 250 cards, over 100 more than the number found in the box.
From this perspective, flipping makes a lot more sense than ripping, but are we here to make money or are we here to have fun? Personally, I’m here for the latter, so I’m having my buddies over, ordering some pizza, and putting together the greatest pack night in the history of pack nights.
Let the ripping begin, dollars be damned! Packs, after all, are meant to be opened, no matter the value, no matter the regret.