When thinking about the history of baseball cards in the post-war era, Topps is the name that will most often come to mind. The company has issued baseball cards for decades and while other companies have joined in, Topps has been the longest-running producer of baseball cards.
While the company’s 1952 Topps set with the iconic Mickey Mantle card is often heralded as its first baseball issue, that’s not really true. In 1948, Topps produced a set of cards that has sometimes been forgotten by collectors. Here’s a closer look at the 1948 Topps Magic Photos set.
1948 Topps Magic Photos Set Basics
The 1948 Topps Magic Photos set is often ignored by collectors when considering the company’s first cards. And given how they match up to today’s cards, that’s somewhat understandable.
Issued in 1948, the massive set includes a total of 252 ‘cards’ consisting of many series’. These were fewer cards and more, as the title indicates, miniature photographs. The cards measured just under an inch wide by only 1 7/16″ tall. That made them only slightly larger than today’s U.S. postage stamps. That size doesn’t really help their collectability and is certainly a reason some shy away from this release. The pictures displayed, too, are not color images. Rather, the pictures have a sepia tone.
The cards were also actually blank to start when collectors acquired them. The reason for that is because these were self-developing photos that wouldn’t show an image until they were exposed to sunlight. Similar to other things like the 19th Century Old Judge cards, collectors typically want cards that have clear images. That is one of the foremost things in determining the value of a specific one with blurry or faded images not commanding as much money. Backs identified the series in which the card was found, offered a card number, and included a brief trivia question about the subject.
The baseball series included a total of 19 cards. They included a mix of former and current players, though, former players were the most prominent in terms of star power.
Among the key cards in the set are the legendary Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Honus Wagner, Lou Gehrig, Cy Young, and Walter Johnson, among others. Despite those being post-career cards of those players, they are still incredibly desirable to collectors of this issue. And, as you might expect, they are among the more valuable ones in the entire release.
More than Baseball
While the 19 baseball cards are the focus for most collectors, the set includes a wide range of subjects and series’. Also included were series’ for football players, basketball players, boxers, wrestlers, track and field stars, and even non-sports subjects.
Several of the other cards aside from baseball are even considered to be pretty popular. Cards for the legendary boxers John Sullivan, Joe Louis, and Jack Johnson, for example, are heavily pursued. The same holds true for Olympic gold medalist Jesse Owens. Those cards can sell on par with many of the baseball issues.
In all, the massive set was broken up into many series’. Here’s a listing of each of those:
- Series A – Boxing Champions
- Series B – All American Basketball
- Series C – All American Football
- Series D – Wrestling Champions
- Series E – Track and Field Champions
- Series F – Stars of Stage and Screen
- Series G – American Dogs
- Series H – General Sports
- Series J – Movie Stars
- Series K – Baseball
- Series L – Aviation Pioneers
- Series M – Famous Landmarks
- Series N – American Inventors
- Series O – American Military Leaders
- Series P – American Explorers
- Series Q – Basketball Thrills
- Series R – Football Thrills
- Series S – Wild West
- Series T – General Sports
The series’ were lettered sequentially but no Series I was offered (possibly due to its similarity to the number 1). The number of cards in each series varied. Each card is known by both its series letter and card number. For example, Ruth’s card is 6K.
1948 Topps Magic Photos Prices
Most 1948 Topps Magic Photos cards are relatively inexpensive and these are some of the cheaper vintage cards around. That is especially true of the non-baseball subjects. Many non-sports cards in the set can be purchased for only a few dollars. Even some of the lesser baseball cards aren’t too hard to find in the $10-$20 range. Again, however — as mentioned, cards with clearer images will command a premium.
You can see 1948 Topps Magic Photos cards on eBay by clicking here.