The Ultimate Roberto Clemente Grail Card Isn’t Just His Rookie

Finding a rookie Roberto Clemente from the 1955 Topps baseball card set is one of the so-called “Grail” cards for vintage sports card collectors. The reality is that it’s not all that difficult to find examples even if the card can be rather pricey even in lower grades. Finding a rookie Clemente in high grades without qualifiers is extremely rare because most of these cards were printed without any care for centering.

There is another ultra-scarce Roberto Clemente card that was issued by Topps in 1968 from a small set known as the 1968 Topps 3-D set. This card is scarce in any grade, and a pristine example is now out of reach for 99% of the collector universe.

Heritage Auction just concluded a 1968 Topps 3-D Test Card auction in the perfect PSA 10. The card is traced back to a Topps production team member (so this one may have snuck out the back door). The PSA 10 card may have only taken on 15 bids but the card sold for a whopping $162,000.00 after the buyer’s premium.

Many collectors have not ever seen the 1968 Topps 3-D set. The 1955 Topps set has a large population of graded cards. PSA alone counts 4,714 cards graded without qualifiers. There are another 732 examples with the “+” grades and another 810 with the “Q” grades due to centering and other issues. And there is a rather large phantom population of ungraded examples that have not been graded due to centering, tears and other issues. If you want to add in the SGC population report, SGC counts another 1,754 graded examples in all grades.

As for how rare the base set of 12 cards (16 different listed on PSA population report) is, the PSA population of all graded examples is only 746 cards combined. There are 692 PSA grades without the “+” and “Q” designations. Clemente’s card has 64 base graded examples as the entire PSA population, as well as 2 “+” grades and 1 “Q” designation. And of the 47 base set cards of all cards graded PSA 10, only 6 of those belong to Clemente’s card with the perfect 10 grade. Image below by Heritage Auctions.

1968 Topps 3D Clemente

Here is how the price of this sale compares to 1955 Topps versus the last 3 PSA graded examples of each:

  • PSA 8 — $63,432.00 and $93,000.00 and $81,519.48
  • PSA 8.5 — $186,000.00 and $147,600.00 and $135,300.00 (all back in 2021)
  • PSA 9 — last sale was $1,107,000 in March 2021.

According to Heritage Auctions, the Topps team went for a “trippy” 3-D image and this card was also one of the test proof cards which was never intended for public sale. Heritage said:

Approximately one hundred of these proof cards–including several Clementes–entered the hobby in 1999, sold to a dealer by a member of the original production team. This Gem Mint example of the set’s key entry was, of course, the most significant component thereof. It is one of only six appearing at the pinnacle of the grading hierarchy.

Heritage did list two prior sales of the test set and they were only PSA 8 graded examples with different PSA certification numbers. One sold on 5/14/2022 for $49,200.00 and another sold on 11/20/2021 for $45,600.00.

The last prior sale of a PSA 10 from the base set that sold through Heritage was on 5/10/2021 with a price of $66,000.00 after the buyer’s premium. And prior to that, Heritage sold a different certification number of the base set’s PSA 10 on 8/19/2018 for $40,800.00 after the premium.

This is what the PSA CardFacts site has to say about the allure of the 1955 Topps Clemente’s huge premium:

While the Koufax and Clemente cards offer tremendous visual appeal and are extraordinarily popular, one of the advantages the Clemente rookie has over the Koufax is its difficulty to find in high grade. The card is clearly more elusive in PSA NM-MT 8 or better than the Koufax, and the price for cards of that quality are reflected in the marketplace. There are Clemente cards that possess superior scarcity, but no other card can compete with his official rookie when it comes to demand.

Here is what the PSA CardFacts site has to say about the Topps 3-D set:

They simulate a three-dimensional effect with backgrounds purposely blurred, in front of which is a sharp color player photograph. The outer layer is a thin coating of ribbed plastic. The special process gives the picture the illusion of depth when the card is moved or tilted. Some cards, said to have been the first produced, are stamped on back with a notice from Visual Panographics of New York that reads in part: “This is an experimental XO-GRAPH card produced as a limited edition. Not for public circulation or distribution. Not for resale.”… production and distribution of this then-groundbreaking format were terribly limited, making the cards very tough to find – especially in high grade given their susceptibility to surface cracks due to aging.

Whether or not Clemente collectors and those who collect the cards clouded in scarcity will ever get a chance to own a 1968 Topps 3-D card of Roberto Clemente is one where there simply is not enough supply to meet the demand. While the highest graded and scarce examples of the 1955 best-of-the-best Topps Clemente cards are priced at or above this 1968 Topps 3-D issue or not, the 1968 Topps 3-D Clemente is definitely there is price, demand and scarcity.

Categories: Baseball, Sports

Tagged as: ,