Sports Collectors

Hoops Unicorn: 1969-70 Topps Basketball Box Coming to Auction

Topps had been out of the basketball card business for 12 years when a phone call between the company and the league office led to a revival.  They hadn’t sold all that well in 1957-58, but the arrival of Lew Alcindor apparently made it worth another shot.  Just about every 24-pack wax box was opened at some point, but there’s one high quality survivor that’s about to return to the auction block for the first time in eight years. 

Unless you’re a big fan of George Mikan and the late 1940s NBA, it’s the holy grail of vintage basketball card boxes…possibly the only one that still exists.

Heritage Auctions will offer the box in its Summer Platinum Night catalog that’s set to open July 30.  It’s the same one the company had placed up for bids back in August of 2012, but a $60,000 reserve price wasn’t met. 

This time, the box carries a pre-sale estimate of $500,000 and considering the current market and the appetite for vintage unopened, it will almost certainly sell and it wouldn’t be a shock to see it surpass that much more sizeable figure.

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Hoops Unicorn: 1969-70 Topps Basketball Box Coming to Auction

The box was authenticated many years ago by GAI, which at the time was the lone examiner of unopened material in the hobby.  Highly respected BBCE authenticator Steve Hart has since added his written seal of approval, calling it “the cleanest box I have ever seen.  The packs appear ‘factory fresh’ and untouched.”

Hoops Unicorn: 1969-70 Topps Basketball Box Coming to Auction

Most of the packs carry strong grades.  Two have John Havlicek rookie cards visible through the front of the wax wrapper (with the checklist card and Walt Frazier rookie on the backs).  Another pack has Earl Monroe on the front and Wilt Chamberlain on the back.

Six packs carry perfect 10 grades while 7 are rated 9.5 and seven others are graded Mint 9.

The 1969-70 set marked the first in what would become a long line of Topps sets that stretched into the next millennium. The cards were created to mirror the dimensions of basketball players—tall and lean. Just 99 cards make up the set, but with the long gap between NBA sets, there are numerous rookie cards in it beyond Lew Alcindor’s highly desirable #25.  Havlicek, Monroe, Bill Bradley and Dave DeBusschere are just a few

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However, it’s the scarcity of the box itself that will drive the value.  Even the limited number of surviving empty boxes often sell for $1,000 or more.

Each pack contains ten cards for a total of 240 cards inside the box.  With decent collation, there should be at least two high-grade Alcindor/Abdul-Jabbar rookie cards inside.

The auction is slated to close over a two-day period, August 21 and 22.

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