If you are a collector with fine tastes, you no doubt have (or at least want) a Hank Aaron card in your collection. Of course, for many of us, the Hammer is like a Lay’s potato chip or Billy Idol’s take on MTV, and more is definitely better.
An absolute highlight of my collection is my 1954-1976 run of Hank Aaron’s base cards, give or take various other vintage from Bowman, Hostess, Nu-cards, etc. Over the years, even as I’ve continued to add Aaron cards, I’ve also determined that I’ll never finish his master set (i.e., all cards from his playing career). Here are the five cards that most Hank Aaron collectors can only admire from afar.
1974 Topps Deckle Edge
One of the most affordable vintage sets on the planet for first ballot HOFers like Mays and Clemente is the 1969 Topps Deckle Edge issue. You can literally take your pick of top stars for around $5, assuming you’re not looking for pristine condition. But fast forward five years, and you’re totally f%@#ed. Unlike its predecessor, the 1974 Topps Deckle Edge set was a very scarce test issue limited to distribution in Massachusetts.
Along with Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench, the Hammer is one of the most sought after cards from this set. I have seen only two of these Aaron cards on eBay in the last three years, and prices were nearly on part with Hank’s 1954 Topps RC. Paying RC prices for a 1974 card just feels nuts to me, but as if I needed a tiebreaker this oversized issue is also too large to fit in my Pennzoni frame.
UPDATE: All rationalizations aside, I went ahead and got one!
1973 Topps Pin-ups
Similar to the 1974 Topps Deckle Edge, the 1973 Topps Pin-ups set was another test issue, but there was one very notable difference. It was never actually issued.
As I type this, a PSA 6 is on eBay for $3250 OBO, and a PSA 8.5 is at $7500 OBO. We’re not just talking Hank Aaron RC-level money here; you could buy a VERY NICE 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth for this kind of money–sharp corners, good centering, the whole enchilada. (Of course you wouldn’t have the Home Run King, but still…)
1969 Topps Super
Topps produced it’s “Super” set from 1969-1971, and–as with 1974 Deckle Edge–the Supers provide budget collectors with outstanding ways to get beautiful cards of the game’s greatest stars. At least that’s the case with the latter two sets. Unfortunately the 1969 set is a huge exception to the rule. Once again, you may need to shell out near-RC level dollars to add the Aaron to your collection. Though rarity is the main factor in play, I also suspect the rounded corners and thicker card stock make the card harder to damage, leading to a prevalence of high-grade (hence high-priced) examples. (I get it that laws of economics should reduce the condition premium for a card that skews toward NM, but I can’t say I’ve seen that in the actual prices.
1960 Lakes to Lakes Dairy
I would LOVE to have this card of the Hammer, as my favorite cards of his are from his Milwaukee playing days. But again, you guessed it, these cards aren’t cheap! Take the card pictured here, rip it, and then take a hole puncher to it, and you still had better have $300+ laying around.
Unless you had some connections at Lakes to Lakes headquarters, this card would only come your way in 1960 stapled to a milk carton. What’s more, the backs of these cards invited boys and girls to send in the cards for awesome prizes like pens and pencils. (Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’d rather have the baseball card. But it was actually the best of both worlds in that your card was also returned to you…just with a giant hole punched through it!)
1959 American Motors “Home Run Derby”
Most collectors and fans know Home Run Derby as a televised home run hitting competition. Fewer know there was also a set of baseball cards to go with it. Perhaps the main reason these cards are under the radar is due to their scarcity. For as many years as I’ve been following these cards I have yet to see one in any grade for less than $200. If you want anything but a beater, you’re easily looking at $400 and up with “mid-grades” like PSA 5 selling in the ballpark of $2000!
Admittedly these are great cards, and the set is loaded with big names beyond Aaron. Backs are blank, cards are oversized, and images are black and white. But still…
One caution, particularly for buyers of raw cards. A reprint set was made in 1988 that at least to me looks pretty darn close to the real thing. This is definitely a card where if the deal looks too good to be true it almost certainly is. If you don’t really know who you’re dealing with and exactly what you’re doing, you will want to avoid buying raw on this one. So yes, it sucks. I’m pretty much saying you’ll never own a real one of these, even in crappy shape, without paying an arm and a leg.
1954 Johnston Cookies (aka the “cookie rookie”)
Okay, so the title promised five cards, but let’s go with one more. Like the Lakes to Lakes Dairy card, the 1954 Johnston Cookies card is a regional food issue, which adds to its scarcity. In addition, the Aaron card is more scarce than most of the other cards in the set in that his card was added as a replacement for Bobby Thomson, whose spring training injury gave the Hammer his first big break.
Adding to the coolness factor here, cards in this set were numbered according to the player’s uniform number. You might assume then that Aaron’s card would be #44 in the set. However, the Hammer wore #5 throughout his rookie season, so this card is #5 as well. Though his uniform number doesn’t show in the picture, the card still reflects that small piece of Aaron history in a way none of his other cards do.
What? No 1954 Topps RC?
Here’s the thing. Yes, Aaron’s Topps rookie is expensive. But it’s also his Topps rookie. I don’t know too many collectors looking to spend nearly a grand on an oddball issue most people have never heard of, but I do know folks who might at least consider it for THE essential Hank Aaron card and one of the three best Topps cards of all time.
So there you have it…five (okay, six!) Hank Aaron cards you will probably never own, no matter how much you love the Hammer. But wait, what’s that? You say you’re gonna chase ’em all. I wish you luck, my friend, but even then I don’t know that you’ll ever manage to get ALL of the Hammer’s vintage cardboard. I wasn’t planning on going there, but since you made me…
“What’s this?” you say. Oh, just a 1952 Indianapolis Clowns Hank Aaron, that’s all. It may well have been the best deal on the page–it “only” sold for $6000–but good luck finding one. I believe this is the ONLY one ever to surface and its owner didn’t just have a nice Hank Aaron card but at one time had Hank Aaron himself. He was Syd Pollock, owner of the Clowns.