Baseball fans hate players who loaf — unless those players were part of the 1947 Tip Top Bread card set.
At 163 cards, this set was one of the largest to come out of the early post-World War II era — and in fact, it was one of the largest sets in many years. But that number is deceiving, because the ’47 Tip Top set actually was made up of a group of regional issues. The Boston Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tiger regional sets appear to be the toughest to assemble.
1947 Tip Top Bread Roster
This set’s appeal comes from its star power. Future Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto and Warren Spahn made their card debuts in 1947 Tip Top, before their first cards appeared in national sets. Those are the pricier cards, and cards of well-known names like Hugh Casey, Frank Crosetti, Joe Garagiola, George Kell, Charlie Keller, Ralph Kiner, Ernie Lombardi, Marty Marion and Enos Slaughter also are sprinkled throughout. There’s even a Honus Wagner, which is one of the set’s more expensive cards. Wagner was a Pirates coach at the time.
However, this product is distinctive because of its obscure players. You have to be a good baseball historian to rattle off some of these names, which were familiar for fans following the game during World War II’s lean era: Bill Bevens, Leon Culberson, Denny Galehouse, Clint Hartung, Harry “Cookie” Lavagetto, Carroll “Whitey” Lockman, Phil Masi, Eddie Miksis, Rip Sewell and Sibby Sisti.
Cards measured 2¼ inches by 3 inches and were borderless at the top and sides. The player’s black-and-white photo has a white strip under it that contains his name, position and team. The card back is basically an advertisement for Tip-Top Bread and encourages youngsters with duplicates to “trade cards until you have the complete set.”
Tip-Top and Baseball
Tip-Top and baseball go back more than a century. The company’s first set debuted in 1910 with a 25-card set of the defending World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1939 Tip-Top issued a pin featuring Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio. And after the 1947 set, Tip-Top issued a final series in 1952 featuring players on bread labels from the end of loaves.
Tip-Top also had a professional baseball presence. When the Federal League attempted to become a major league in 1914, the Brooklyn franchise was named the Tip Tops in deference to team owner (and owner of Ward Bakery, the manufacturer of Tip Top) Robert Boyd Ward. While originally reluctant to get involved with a baseball franchise, Ward nevertheless was an enthusiastic supporter of the Federal League. His death from heart disease at age 63 on October 18, 1915, was a crushing blow to the upstart league, which did not operate in 1916 and was locked in litigation for years. The federal antitrust lawsuit that resulted, Federal Baseball Club v. National League, went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that the Sherman Antitrust Act did not apply to Major League Baseball. MLB has taken advantage of that 1922 ruling ever since.
By 1947, the Ward Bakery was advertising Tip Top as the “HEP” bread—“H-E stands for Healthful Energy and P stands for Pep,” trumpeted a March 1947 advertisement in the Syracuse Post-Standard. It also was known as “the better bread in the red, star end wrapper.”
A reprint of the set was released several years ago, and scammers have caught unsuspecting collectors in the past with bogus Tip Top cards. In March 1995, Russell Williams of East Aurora, New York, pleaded guilty to mail fraud after he was caught passing off reprint Tip Top cards as originals. Williams bilked collectors out of more than $7,000 before he was caught, The Associated Press reported. It’s rather easy to distinguish a reprint set from the original. In many cases the typeface is different and there is gloss on the card front. Plus, the paper stock is different. As with any purchase, vetting for accuracy is the most prudent course of action.
Finding high grade versions of the 1947 Tip Top set can be tough. Of the 729 cards submitted to PSA, the highest graded card has been an 8— and there are only two of them. There are 15 that have graded as high as PSA 7.
There are many cards available on eBay, but be sure to read the fine print and don’t bid on a reprint.
The 1947 Tip Top set helped usher in a new era for baseball cards. There would be better and larger sets, with more stars and with better designs. No matter how you slice it, this was an interesting set.