The 1988 card calendar saw Topps releasing a new major set for the first time since 1981, when it had introduced its Traded and Stickers sets. Unlike those sets, which were standard (Traded) and smaller than standard-sized (Stickers), this new release took on a different shape, as well as a different look and feel.
1988 Topps Big #107 Steve Trout
Paying homage to the 1956 Topps set, Topps Big was considered the first ‘Premium’ set the company produced. Featuring bright white card stock and a high gloss finish, Big was the first all-horizontal set since the iconic ’56 set was released thirty-two years earlier (the 1960 set was primarily horizontal, but did have a few cards with vertical layouts).
Like the vintage ’56 Topps set, Big came in at 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4″, larger than the standard 2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″ size that was introduced in 1957. This increase in the size of the cardboard hurt the set’s popularity among collectors, who found the cards too difficult to store.
1989 Topps Big #38 Mickey Brantley
One of the only shortcomings of the 1956 set is that, other than Luis Aparicio, there is a conspicuous absence of key rookie cards. This is also a problem with each of the three Big offerings. In fact, there are no rookie cards in the ’88, ’89, or ’90 sets. Because of the smaller number of cards on the checklists, Topps reserved space for only established players. As a Mariners fan and collector, I can’t help but think how much I would like to have a Big Junior rookie card in my collection.
1990 Topps Big #266 Dave Valle
Now that we’ve pointed out a couple of negatives things about the set, let’s look at what’s praise worthy.
By the time Big was release, the fun-element had been slowly phased out of the hobby. Tamper-proof packaging and counterfeit-proof cards were being introduced, signaling that this was no longer a kids pastime. You don’t get that with Big. No inserts. No high price points. No short prints. What you do get is a small, affordable set with plenty of color, cartoons that hearken back to Topps’ earlier days and simplicity that has sadly disappeared from the industry.
One final nod to vintage cards: distribution. Like its predecessors, Big came in multiple series. Remember, the flagship product at this time was released in one 792-card set, but this new set was released in three different series. For its Big debut, Topps offered three series, each featuring 88 cards. The card giant offered larger sets for the ’89 and ’90 sets, with 110 cards in each of the three series.
As far as my collection of the Big team sets, I have just eleven of the 34 Mariners cards issued between the three seasons.