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1956 Topps Baseball Set: Last of the Oversize Concept

Considered one of the best large card sets ever produced by Topps, the 1956 baseball set was the last one to feature hand-colored drawings. During 1956, Topps was to hire a professional photographer to take photos for the next year’s collection, which was to be the first to use color images. The ’56 set become tremendously popular immediately after its launch, partly because of the design and partly because Topps had just bought its rival Bowman the year before and thus became the dominant sports cards maker for the next 25 years. Evoking a golden age for baseball through charming cards of legendary players, and including, for the first time, team cards, the 1956 Topps Baseball set is considered one of the best ever made.

Set Features

The ‘56 Topps baseball card set was issued in 1¢ card packs and six-card nickel packs. Besides the stick of gum, the packs contained2 5/8’’ x 3 3/4’’ cards. It would be the final year Topps opted for the larger size product.

In total there were 340 cards, which were released in four series. The first of the series included cards 1-100, the second 101-180, the third 181-260, and the fourth 261-340.

Card backs on #1-180 were printed with on both white and gray cardboard.  Some believe the gray backs between #1-100 and the white backs from #101-180 are harder to find than their counterparts.  #181-340 are printed in gray.

There are several variation cards throughout, especially on the team cards which can be found with differences in the centering of the team name and a date/no date version.

Cards #181-340 carry a slight premium throughout the set.

1956 Topps was the first to feature team cards and two unnumbered checklists, the first containing series 1 and 3, the second series 2 and 4. The checklists were not much valued at that time and often checked or abused, hence they have become extremely hard to find today. The few in high grade are expensive, and it’s almost impossible to find unmarked checklists in top grade. Because of this, collectors have come to consider the 1956 Topps baseball card set complete without the checklists.

Player and Team Cards

PSA 10 1956 Topps Mickey MantleThe set includes most of the big stars of the game at that time, with most images being drawn from photos that had been used in the Topps baseball card collections in the previous two years.  The big tickets in this set are #135 Mickey Mantle, #130 Willie Mays, #5 Ted Williams, #31 Hank Aaron, #75 Sandy Koufax and #33 Roberto Clemente.

For Mantle, it was his first appearance on a Topps card since 1953.  He spent ’54 and ’55 as a Bowman exclusive.  Topps’ timing couldn’t have been better.  Mantle won the Triple Crown in ’56 and cemented his status as a baseball icon.  A PSA 10-graded 1956 Mantle card sold for $115,000 earlier this summer in a Memory Lane Inc. auction and has steadily increased in value over the last few years.  Even nice VG-EX copies often sell for $400-500.  Sadly, the 1956 set does not include a Stan Musial card – as his lack of a contract with the New York company kept young Cardinals fans guessing as pack after pack was opened.

In total there are 16 team cards with the #251 New York Yankees and #166 Brooklyn Dodgers among the most sought after.

Other Cards

The set features 13 rookie cards, including the popular #292 Luis Aparicio, who was later to be introduced into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Also making their way into the card set are American League President William Harridge who got card #1 and National League President Warren Giles, who got card #2. These two cards, though valuable today, had reportedly been in 1956 the cause of great disappointment for baseball enthusiasts who would spend their cents eagerly on one-card packs hoping that the next one will be the lucky one that will feature #130 Willie Mays or #135 Mickey Mantle or #251 New York Yankees, only to discover card #2 with graybeard Warren Giles.

 Action Shots

The ‘56 Topps baseball card set features some amazing player portraits, but many collectors like even more the action shots of their favorite stars on the vivid green field. And remember than back in 1956–before color TV–these cards were for many boys the only accessible color images of their idols. Ernie Banks shaking hands after a home run and Willie Mays sliding are only two of the many wonderful action shots in the set.

The Set Today

Fifty-five years after its original release, ‘56 Topps baseball card set still remains one of the most charming and popular sets every made by Topps. The cards are worth collecting not only because they evoke a nostalgic era, but also because they’re the last vestige of Topps’ early art.

 5 Tips For Collectors

✔     The official set designation is R4114-11.

✔     The oversize cards are susceptible to corner wear.

✔     There are 20 double prints in the first series that are easier to find and should be cheaper.

✔     League president cards have never been popular, though #1 William Harridge has become somewhat valuable for being the first card in the set.

Click here to see ’56 Topps cards ending soon on eBay.

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].

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