Sixty years ago baseball was in the midst of its golden age with players such as Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays emerging as superstars, while legends like Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson continued to shine. 1954 was a season that saw the end of an unprecedented streak of Yankees World Series appearances, and saw Mays make what is widely regarded as the greatest catch in the long history of the game. It's also the year of the 1954 Topps Baseball card set, considered one of the most popular and important of all time.
When collectors today look back at Topps issues in the 1950s the player they most often associate with the brand is Mickey Mantle, but in 1954 the company turned to Ted Williams to market their product. During this era Topps and their rival, Bowman, routinely negotiated for exclusive contracts with the game's great stars.
While Williams was featured on Topps box art and had two cards issued (the coveted first and last card in the set), Mantle was nowhere to be found thanks to an exclusive deal with Bowman. Both Mantle and Williams were originally part of Bowman packs that year, but early in the printing process, the company was forced to replace their Williams card with that of teammate Jimmy Piersall after Topps garnered its Williams exclusivity.
1954 Topps features 20 Hall of Famers covering a wide era of the game. The great New York teams of the era are well-represented with cards of Mays, Robinson, Monte Irvin, Phil Rizzuto, Duke Snider, Hoyt Wilhelm, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and Tom Lasorda. Legends from the game's earlier days are represented as managers and coaches such as Billy Herman, Earle Combs, and Heinie Manush. Cards of Braves legends Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews were also issued that year, and Phillies slugger Richie Ashburn is also in the set.
Rookie cards were plentiful in 1954 Topps as well and features a trio of key Hall of Fame entries. Its battles with Bowman over player contracts forced Topps to rely on prospects and today, it's looked upon as quite a shrewd decision.
Al Kaline, who would go on to be a fixture of the Tigers outfield for more than 20 years and chalk up 3000+ hits, made his debut. Ernie Banks, whose youthful exuberance for the game embodied by his famous "let's play two!" would go on to make him the most popular player in Cubs franchise history, also had his first card set. And a 20-year-old from Mobile, Alabama who quietly hit 13 home runs for the Milwaukee Braves was featured on one of the most popular cards of the decade: Henry Aaron, who would become known as Hammerin' Hank on his way to a then-record 755 home runs.
Today, 1954 Topps is one of the most popular issues among set collectors, with 185 listings on the PSA Set Registry, with the current and all-time finest being held by collector John Branca. The set is very accessible to collectors with no rarities or variations of note, and the omission of Mantle - while a disappointment - does result in a cheaper set price. The most expensive card in the set is the Aaron rookie, which routinely sells in the $3,000 range in PSA 7. Next comes the Banks rookie, which recently sold on eBay for $2,500. Willie Mays and Ted Williams can be had for between $700 and $900, Jackie Robinson for below $500, with near mint copies of lesser Hall of Famers being obtainable for under $100.
See 1954 Topps on eBay here.