I have wanted the Frank Thomas 1990 Topps NNOF (No Name of Front) for many years. I discovered this card’s existence in the mid 1990s and never saw one in person until I acquired my copy in March of 2013. In recent years, this card has really climbed the charts in terms of value. It has moved up even more since Frank Thomas achieved baseball Hall of Fame status on January 8th, 2014. I can’t say, however, that this is one of the rarest Frank Thomas cards because I see these hit eBay pretty routinely. I will say this, however, hadn’t there been an eBay, this card would indeed be one of the scarcest Frank Thomas cards.
Let’s work a statistical analysis on this card. Let’s consider some assumptions and look at the population reports from the two major grading companies for the Frank Thomas 1990 Topps No Name on Front (NNOF). BGS, and PSA. Also, to keep our math clear we'll assume these numbers don't account for examples that have been cracked out of their slabs and resubmitted since there's no way to track that. That said as I write this, the following numbers have been recorded.
- BGS: 77
- PSA: 158
Combined, 235 examples have been graded and as such have been confirmed to exist. Let’s assume that there are 50 more examples to account for those graded by other grading companies, and raw examples. That brings us to a total of 285 examples.
Now, let’s look at total production numbers for 1990 Topps baseball. These cards were released in a number of different fashions i.e., cello, rack, vending, and wax. For convenience, we’ll use numbers associated with the 1990 Topps wax pack.
- 16 cards, and one stick of gum per pack
- 36 packs per box
- 20 boxes per case
- Cards per box: (16 * 36) = 576
- Packs per case: (36 * 20) = 720
- Cards per case: (16 * 36 * 20) = 11,520
For this study, I’m going to benchmark with the 125,000 case production run that Upper Deck produced for its inaugural 1989 release. This number was indicated on page 131 of the book, Card Sharks: How Upper Deck Turned a Child's Hobby into a High-Stakes, Billion-Dollar Business, which is an insanely good read. With that number, let’s continue crunching.
- 11,520 cards per case
- 125,000 cases produced
- Total number of packs produced: (36 * 20 * 125,000) = 90,000,000
- Total number of cards produced: (11,520 * 125,000) = 1,440,000,000
Now that we have a total production run, and an estimated number of NNOFs, we can calculate the total production percentage for the NNOF.
- Production percentage for NNOF: (285 / 1,440,000,000) = 1.979 e -7, or .0000001979, which is almost 1 billionth of total production yield
To calculate odds of pulling a Frank Thomas 1990 Topps No Name on Front (NNOF) in a pack, let’s use the following equation. Number of cards per pack * (number of desired cards exist / number of cards exist), which looks like this:
- 16 * (285 / 1,440,000,000) = 3.166 e -6, or .000003166
Next, we need to solve for X in the following equation, where X is the total number of packs you’d have to open, and Y is the odds of pulling the card.
- X * Y = 1
- X * (.000003166) = 1
- X = 1 / (.000003166)
- X = 315,855.9697 ≈ 315,856
So far, we've established that to guarantee a pull of the Frank Thomas 1990 Topps No Name on Front (NNOF), we'd have to purchase 315,856 packs, which equates to roughly 8,773 boxes, or 439 cases. At the time of this writing, a case of 1990 Topps wax boxes sells for ≈ $250.
- Amount of money you’d have to spend to pull the NNOF: (439 * 250) = $109,750
Let’s say it takes you 20 minutes to open a single 1990 Topps wax box.
- Amount of time required to open 8,773 wax boxes of 1990 Topps: (8,773 * 20) = 175,460 minutes, or 2,924 hours, or 121.84 days
Let’s make an adjustment to this equation so that we divide 2,924 by 8 to account for a realistic full work day. Our equation comes to 365.5 ≈ 366.
To pull the Frank Thomas 1990 Topps No Name on Front (NNOF), you would have to open wax packs of 1990 Topps for 8 hours a day, without any vacation or holiday breaks for 366 days straight, which equates to 1 year, and 1 day.
Based on my constraints, to pull the Frank Thomas 1990 Topps NNOF, you’d have to spend $109,750 on 315,856 wax packs (439 cases) of 1990 Topps, which would take you 1 year, and 1 day straight to open if you dedicated 8 hours a day.
Frank Thomas isn’t the only player whose ’90 Topps card can be found missing black ink. There are several other cards from the early print run that suffered similar fates. With an ambitious pursuit of knowledge about how these errors were created, advanced collector and hobby researcher, Ross Clark of BigHurtHOF.com has crafted a theoretical analysis of the origin of these legendary blackless errors.