Back in the 80s and 90s, a factory set was a factory set: each set came in a special sealed cardboard box, direct from Topps, and contained all of the cards from that year’s Series 1 and Series 2 flagship Topps set.
For the last few years, however, the sets contain different twists depending on where they are purchased from. Most commonly, the sets have tended to include image variation cards for 5 or 10 top rookies. The early 2000s has some sets with Mickey Mantle relic cards. In some years, sets were made regionally for certain teams and contained set-exclusive cards of that team. In the last decade, sets have evolved to include things like exclusive manufactured relic cards, gold chrome cards, and foilboard cards. All of these bonuses varied depending on the vendor — for example, while a Target set might contain a manufactured relic, a Walmart set might contain a chrome card, while a hobby set might come with a pack of foilboard cards.
This year, Topps introduced new features to the sets. In all cases, the boxes contain the 700-card set made up of Series 1 and Series 2. But depending on the color of the box, there are other surprises in store as well.
The most basic factory set out there comes in a blue box. In theory, it should be fairly easy to find this set, as it is most years. It’s a retail set, and should be able to be found at locations like Walmart, Target, Meijer, and so on. Even this set doesn’t come without a bonus — the usual 5-card rookie image variation pack, which has been a staple the last few years, is in this box. If you keep the blue set sealed, you’ll always know exactly what’s in it.
That isn’t so with the other colors of factory set. All other boxes also contain the 5-card rookie image variation pack, but come with an additional bonus.
The next most common set is the red box set. This is a hobby-only format, so it’s only available at your local card shop. In addition to the complete set and rookie variations, this box has a 5-card pack of foilboard parallels, each serially numbered to 229. Unlike the rookie image variation pack, which contains the same 5 cards throughout every type of box, the 5 foilboard cards could be any of the 700 in the set. So, the only way to know what you have is to open the box — and the pack.
At Target, you may be able to find a purple box set. These sets have the requisite 700 card complete set and the rookie image variations, but also contain one Chrome rookie image variation.
Walmart is the belle of the ball this year, though. Exclusive to Walmart is the green box factory set. Similar to the red hobby-only box, the Walmart set has a pack of 5 foilboard cards, but they have a different pattern than the hobby foilboard cards and are serially numbered to 264, not 229. But the real chase is that the green factory sets offer a chance at parallel sets — boxes where every card is a parallel. These most commonly include a gold star design, which is not numbered and occurs 1 in every 3 boxes. There are also blue border sets, in which every card is numbered to 299, and orange border sets, with cards numbered to 99. Finally, there is a chance at a 1-of-1 set.
All of this can be super confusing, even to seasoned collectors. The box exterior should make the contents of each box clear, but with so many options, buying a factory set could get overwhelming. Hopefully this guide is of assistance should you decide to purchase a set.