The best that I can figure -- keep in mind I barely dipped a toe into the hobby from 1994 to 2004 -- Topps stripped the checklist of any remaining dignity in 2000. That's the first time I noticed the no-numbered checklists.
For years, each checklist carried a number on the back of its card, just like every other card in the set. If you were collecting the set, you had to collect the checklist -- because it was a numbered part of the set -- no matter how boring the checklist was. And the checklist was issued in the same quantity as other cards in the set. You wouldn't find a checklist in every third pack, like you do today.
Perhaps that was the reason Topps finally stopped numbering checklists. Some collectors were probably relieved that they didn't have to chase a checklist to complete a set. But the move hasn't set well with me.
I kind of liked the checklists. I looked forward to seeing what kind of new design Topps would come up with as a backdrop for all those players' names. And since it was numbered, you were forced to appreciate the card at least a little. It wasn't a throw-away item like it is today.
What I'd like to see happen is what they previously did with checklist cards. They used to feature popular players of the day on the front. As recently as the 1990s -- 1993 to be exact -- Upper Deck featured checklists in which the list of names were printed over the top of a muted photo of players like Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr. And there are several other '90s examples.
But an even better example is this:
This is from the 1969 Topps set, and it's probably the only card of Mickey Mantle that I own that actually has some value (all those cards that Topps has published of Mantle in the last 10 years are the very definition of the word "overproduced"). Putting a star at the top of the checklist made the card much more collectible, not to mention the fact that it is No. 412 in the set, and you couldn't have a complete set without No. 412.
It'd be nice if Topps returned to this format, and featured Ryan Howard, David Wright and Evan Longoria atop its numbered checklists. Then, finally, the checklist would reclaim some of its dignity.
Because as it stands now, we're using the checklist for all kinds of tasks for which it wasn't intended. I received a box of cards a week or so ago complete with nearly 70 Topps 2000 checklists, but not because I wanted all those checklists. They were used as packing material.
Useful, yes. But now what do I do with them?