I always think of a "Base Topps Set" as 792 cards. I am well aware that Topps hasn't had a card set that number for 20 years, but the 792-era, from 1982 to 1992, coincides perfectly with my childhood set building. Before that it was 726 for a few years and most vintage sets are some random number pulled out the last series' butt and now, 660 rules the roost (or 990, depending what you think of the third "update" series), but the aforementioned eleven year run seared that magic number permanently on my brain.
The great thing about 792 card set was it was divisible by nine - 88 pages held a whole set. You bought a box of 100 pages and you could house the whole Topps set and have a dozen leftover to play with as you wanted. In my numerology-oriented brain, this is a big deal. I am far far more likely to put a set into binders if the total set is divisible by nine. In my world, 100 card sets are the devil, 90 card sets are perfection.
Let's look at the phenomena with two small oddball sets from 1992. First up is the Donruss Coca Cola Nolan Ryan set. Most people don't like the 1992 Donruss set and I don't blame them; it is very plain looking and poorly executed. The Nolan Ryan set, though, added gold borders which made the baby blue headers pop and practically looks like a different set because of it.
The set itself celebrates Ryan's career with a year-by-year synopsis, one card per year. It came a single card at a time in specially marked Coca Cola products, specifically in the soda can 12 packs, along with 3 regular 1992 Donruss cards. You may wonder why these cards look a little odd...it is because they are still in the original cellophane they came in:
Useless trivia alert! Andre Dawson's middle name is Nolan, and so is Nolan Ryan's...his actual first name is Lynn.
Ryan was everywhere in the early 90's. His 5,000 strikeouts were a huge deal and his throwing a couple more no hitters in his 40's made him a Paul Bunyon-esque folk hero. I fell hook, line, and sinker for the hype and became a big Ryan collector. The fact that he was one of the many Mets-that-got-away also made him intriguing to me.
Ryan really loved to play up that cowboy angle; I am pretty sure I have more cards of him wearing a 10-gallon hat than a Mets cap. The great tragedy of this set (other than the fact that, since this set is 20 years old, that dog is long dead) is that it is 26 cards. So close, yet so far - I mean, look at that sad last empty pocket. This set stayed in my collection because of my love for Ryan and the novelty factor of having it still in its original packaging. Make no mistake, that empty space bugs the living hell out of me.
The other set we'll look at is the Upper Deck Fanfest All Star Heroes set. It was given away at the 1992 Fan Fest in San Diego and was made specifically for that event. It features mostly full bleed photography, which was pretty new for the time, and a simple border on the bottom. The set starts off with 10 "Future Stars" and later on, the set ends with 10 all time type players, an early example of nostalgia driven player selection. Since it is not a big set, so let's look at the whole thing all at once:
The set has some good looking pictures, it is chock full of stars of the time (many of which are now or soon will be Hall of Famers), and it is a somewhat scarce regional oddball issue. On the other hand, it is hardly a seminal achievement or anything. So what was the factor that put it over the top in making me keep it in my collection? At 54 cards, the set fits perfectly into six nine-card pages.
Post Script: The 1992 Fanfest set also has a rare gold parallel that was randomly given out as well. The gold set was one per case (about 1 in 30) and the sealed box is indistinguishable from the regular one so it is quite rare. I used to have the whole gold set as well, but sold it off on eBay as single cards years ago. I did keep a page of the gold cards, yet for the life of me, I cannot remember why these particular cards were kept:
Were they ones that didn't sell? Was I going for a mix of old and new? Did I just dig the pictures? Was it some combination of the three? Far too many questions to answer on a Sunday morning.