While there are baseball players in the 1948 Topps Magic set, most collectors consider the 1952 set as their first ‘standard’ issue. The company was new to the baseball card world and quickly competed with Bowman for top billing in the industry.
Topps quickly won that battle, ultimately buying Bowman. As they navigated the new landscape of post-war bubble gum cards, the New York-based company tried a multitude of products. Most collectors are familiar with the base Topps sets of the 1950s. But the reality is that the company marketed many types of other cards early in its history.
Before the 1952 Topps set, collectors were first treated to a few offerings.
In 1951, for example, Topps issued card photos of nine teams, including the Red Sox, Dodgers, White Sox, Reds, Giants, Athletics, Phillies, Cardinals, and Senators. The photos pictured 1950 teams. While this is generally referred to as one set, there are actually two. Both sets have the same picture but one type merely has the team name printed while the other has the team name and ‘1950’ preceding it. All photos have a yellow border and the players on the team printed on the backs.
1951 also saw the issuance of Topps’ Blue Backs and Red Backs cards. These miniature cards were approximately 2″ wide by 2 5/8″ tall, and were much smaller than the 1952 baseball cards they would issue the following season. They have a playing card style design and the blue back variation cards are significantly rarer. Prices for these cards vary by player and condition but the blue backs are more expensive with decent commons starting around $15-$20 on eBay.
The company was busy in 1951 and that included their production of two, rare 11-card sets of All-Stars.
One was a set known simply as the Topps Major League All-Stars and included cards of current players. A second was the Topps Connie Mack All-Stars. These cards instead featured Mack along with ten former players, including the likes of Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, and Honus Wagner. Somewhat curiously, the set does not include Ty Cobb, who some believed was the best all around player of all time. The cards have a similar look with the Connie Mack All-Stars cards bearing his name in a banner at the bottom. Expect to pay $150 to well into the thousands for most of the cards in these sets.
Somewhat popular 1950s Topps issues were the company’s 1955 and 1956 Hocus Focus sets. These miniature cards featured a player’s picture on the front and a trivia question on the back. The player on the front was not initially known as collectors had to develop the card to reveal the picture. The cards are similar to the 1948 Topps Magic Stars set. Two in the 1955 set, Hal Smith and Mel Parnell (shown here) were only recently discovered in 2011. That sort of speaks to the rarity of them.
Two of the more unique sets of non-card collectibles issued by Topps in the 1950s were team felts. Distributed in 1956 and 1958, these felts included team names and logos, and are difficult to come by today. The 1958 set was only slightly different with those bearing the Bazooka and Blony names. While those names are present on the later set, these were still distributed by Topps. The felts are rare and even though they don’t feature player names on them, they still are somewhat valuable. Typically, these sell for about $50-$100. Also in 1956 aside from traditional cards, Topps produced a somewhat rare set of baseball pins.
Baseball wasn’t the only thing Topps was focusing on in the decade. And they also found a way to mix baseball into some other non-sports sets in the 1950s.
One example of that was the 1952 Topps Look and See set. The Look and See set featured popular people and is mostly a non-sports issue. But the set also includes a card of Babe Ruth, which is easily the key to the set. The Ruth card starts around $150-$200 in decent shape and is one reason sports collectors know about this set.
The 1954 Topps Scoops set is another example of that. Like the Look and See set, the 156-card Topps Scoop release is mostly non-sports. The set’s theme is a look back at major historical events and among those are four baseball cards. One features Bob Feller’s strikeout record (pictured here) while another touts Ruth’s home run record. A third covers the Braves’ move from Boston to Milwaukee. The fourth card features a 1920 game between Brooklyn and Boston that resulted in a 1-1 tie through 26 innings of play. Most are pretty inexpensive and easily found on eBay.
Topps harkened back to the old Mecca Double Folders set with its “Doubleheaders” issue of 1955. Printed on rectangular paper stock, they jammed player highlights and stats on limited space while utilizing rather crude drawings of players. Nevertheless, they’ve always been popular with “golden age” card collectors.
They aren’t “cards” but Topps also produced a set of pinback buttons in 1956 that utilize photos from its card set. The 60-player checklist is full of superstars and also includes three short prints. Prices vary depending on condition and player. You can usually find a good supply for sale and auction. Surviving examples of the little box they came in, with Ted Williams on the front, are rare.
Topps’ base sets from the 1950s are the ones that are more common and will seemingly be collected forever. But the company produced some other noteworthy baseball cards of the 1950s and are an interesting ‘aside’ from their more mainstream releases.