Sunday, October 2, 2022

A Year of Topps Designs: 1987

1987 was a big year for Topps mostly on the strength of the baseball set, an instant classic and probably the most popular set other than 1952. I've been thinking about the staying power of that set - those who started collecting well before the mid-1980s often seem mystified as to why that set was so popular. The wood style is a knockoff of 1962 (though young collectors like myself did not know that), and there is nothing else about it that would indicate to someone picking up a card why it remained so popular.

I think it has to do with it being the best set of it's era, and that era being the one where baseball card collecting reached the peak of it's mainstream popularity. The '87 set, with it's wood borders, cartoony font, and interesting backs (packed with statistics, unusual facts about the player and a baseball history blurb). The same collectors also bought just as much in '86, '88, '89, etc. But none of those sets had quite the same charm. I still remember feeling a touch of disappointment the first time I opened a Topps pack in 1988, with the fronts looking a lot more boring, and the orange back looking kind of goofy to me. That didn't stop me from buying lots of packs, of course. But I think the reason that set is so popular today is that it is by far the most memorable set in the era which spawned the most collectors, starting in the mid-1980s (say, 1984/1985), and really ending with the advent of Upper Deck in 1989, ushering in an era where cards became primarily evaluated on how "premium" they were.

The baseball set certainly is more memorable than the rather simple football set Topps issued that year. Pennants of some kind were used in many football and baseball sets, and there is little that stands out about this one.

Hockey used the tried-and-true stick-and-puck combination. Like football, Topps was going the safe route here.

One other "sports" set in 1987, and it was a big one, with the highly-patriotic WWF set.

Topps didn't do great in the TV and Movie department in 1987. Neither the content nor the designs were particularly memorable. Who Framed Roger Rabbit is probably the most memorable from a pop-culture perspective, but Topps used a completely generic design that could be used for literally any movie set. Still, black-bordered sets do always have a certain way of grabbing your attention.

The 21 Jump Street design has a lot more going on, with the brick wall and graffiti giving it a very 1980s vibe.

For ALF, Topps couldn't come up with anything more creative than a yellow border and a drawing of ALF. Once again, taking the safe route.
Harry and the Hendersons got almost the same design, with only the addition of some vines.
By far the most unusual set, from a content perspective was the set for Home and Away. What the heck was Home and Away? It was an Australian soap opera - and I have no idea how or why Topps ended up being the ones to put out a card set for it. From this article from the UK website, it appears the show was an instant teen hit when it was aired in Britain in the late 1980s. Topps did some UK cards (mostly soccer) so I guess that is how they ended up printing these cards, which I guess were a hit for a short while in England.


  1. Pretty sure I have a factory set of Home and Away sitting in a box somewhere. Never heard of the show until I after I purchased the set.

  2. 1987 is probably my favorite year of all-time, for everything ... except the baseball cards Topps made.

  3. '87 Topps may have been the very first packs that I ever opened, but even so, I have little to affinity for the set; or the design. I love the non-sport set from that year though, as well as the Wrestlemania III set, that was a big one for me as a kid.

  4. I've mentioned in other blogs' comments that I don't think I would be collecting if I started in 1986 or 1988.