While the 1952 Topps set is arguably the company’s most iconic issue, a pair of 1951 sets have garnered a lot of interest from vintage collectors.
About the 1951 Topps Sets
In 1951, Topps printed two types of cards – one with red back and another with blue backs. The cards were actually more than mere trading cards. Rather, they were used to play a baseball game and were designed like traditional trading cards with rounded corners. While the size of them is significantly smaller than regular playing cards, the layout is somewhat similar.
Distributed two cards for a penny in packs marked “Doubles”, the 1951 Topps Red and Blue backs represent the dawn of Topps’ entry into the world of baseball card sets. The Red Backs were also sold as a pre-packaged set with a foldout paper game board at a cost of 29 cents.
The cards featured a portrait of a player along with a specific game action on one side. The other had a traditional playing card style with a baseball diamond design. Collectors will find all sorts of stars in both sets.
Players seen include some of the game’s biggest stars of the time. The set features players such as Yogi Berra, Bob Feller, Warren Spahn, Phil Rizzuto, Johnny Mize, and plenty of other Hall of Famers and stars. Fronts also included a short bio of the player in question as well as a specific game action (i.e. single, double, etc.). The red back cards were printed first and are called Series A. Blue cards came shortly after those and were called Series B.
Rarity and Population Reports
While the two 1951 Topps card sets are similar in design, notably, the blue-backed cards that are much rarer than the red-back issues. We know that not only because collectors have said as much over the years in trying to find them, but also because of population reports from grading companies.
SGC has not graded as many of them as PSA but still shows that they have graded more than twice as many red-backed cards than the blue ones. PSA tells a similar story. They’ve graded nearly 14,000 red back cards to fewer than 7,000 blue ones.
So what gives? Well, that’s difficult to say. Several theories have been mentioned in the past but nothing concrete has really been established. However, there is a bit of information with regards to the imbalance in population between the two sets.
A PSA article mentions that a large find of 1951 Topps packages with red-backed cards was made in or around Philadelphia at some point in the 1980s. How many were found exactly is not cited. However, that seemingly added to the population of the red back cards by quite a bit.
Additionally, those cards were in great condition and, as a result, produced a large number of high-grade cards. Interestingly enough, though, that doesn’t mean there is a significantly higher percentage of high-grade red cards vs. the blue ones. In fact, the percentage of high-grade PSA red cards is actually lower than the percentage of high-grade blue back cards known. To date, about 45% of the blue-backed cards PSA has graded have been 8, 9, or 10 (including qualifiers). That’s compared to about 43% high-grade red cards. If anything, the large find of high-grade red-backed cards only helped that issue catch up to the blue backs.
As stated, the blue-backed cards are much rarer and, as a result, a little more expensive. Common red backs in decent shape can be found starting around $10 but lesser grade lots are often available for much less. The #1 ranked PSA Blue Back set sold for nearly $6,300 two years ago via Mile High Card Company.
Despite the fact that blue backs are much harder to find, there isn’t a large premium for them, really. Decent looking ones usually start around $15. Click here to see 1951 Red and Blue backs on eBay.