All-Star cards have been a staple of Topps baseball card sets intermittently since 1951. And while later products incorporated them within its main sets, the 1951 Major League All-Stars, Topps’ first foray into contemporary All-Star recognition, is one of the most difficult to collect.
There are 11 cards in the set, and only eight were actually issued in packs for mainstream consumption. It was a great set that included a Yogi (Berra), a Brat (Eddie Stanky), a Scooter (Phil Rizzuto) and a Hoot (Walter “Hoot” Evers).
Other stars included future Hall of Famers Larry Doby, George Kell, Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon and Robin Roberts. The non-Hall of Famers included Walt Dropo and Jim Konstanty, the palm ball specialist who was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1950 when he led the “Whiz Kid” Phillies to the pennant.
The three short prints included Konstanty, Stanky and Robin Roberts. Why Topps did not include these cards in mass production is hard to explain. Key All-Stars like Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Bob Feller are missing, along with Joe DiMaggio. The easy answer might be the fierce competition that was emerging between and Bowman — or perhaps, some players simply didn’t like the numbers a very young Topps Company was throwing their way.
Or, since Topps was just starting to invest in the baseball card scene and had issued five small novelty sets (the two All-Star offerings, Topps Teams, and the Red Back and Blue Backs), perhaps the future viability of the company in the baseball card market was open to skepticism.
That’s hindsight, of course. Topps went on to begin full base set production in 1952, crushed Bowman in the process, and the rest is history.
The 1951 Major League All-Star set is a tough one to complete. And expensive? On a recent listing on eBay, one seller was offering eight graded cards (all but the short prints), in conditions ranging from PSA-2 (Kiner) to PSA-5 (several). The seller has listed these cards, which make up the third best set on the PSA Registry, for $16,850; so far no takers. The same set sold in an REA auction just a few months ago for $12,000.
Of the 118 cards certified by PSA, only one graded at NMT-MT (PSA-8). That was a Rizzuto card. Four graded out at PSA-7 and nine at PSA-6 (plus one at 6.5). The bulk of the cards certified were in the VG-EX to EX range, while 27 graded out at PSA-2.
The Major League All-Stars set was very similar to another offering by Topps in 1951: the 11-card Connie Mack All-Stars set, one that is much easier to obtain. All 11 of those cards depicted Hall of Famers. The cards in both sets measured 2 1/16 inches by 5 ¼ inches The card fronts for the Major League All-Stars showed a black-and-white photo of each player set against a red backdrop.
The red background had perforations and when folded properly would allow the cards to stand up. At the bottom of each card was a yellow plaque that included a facsimile autograph, some personal information and the player’s full name (Ralph McPherran Kiner? Wow …).
The card backs contained information on how to fold the cards so that kids could have their favorite All-Stars stand up on their dressers, or any other kind of shelf.
The reason these cards are so difficult to find in near-mint condition is simple: kids in the 1950s were adept at following instructions, so these cards were folded and bent — and probably creased. If you are looking for value, then the cards that have the red backgrounds intact would be the preferred cards to have. Especially if they are graded.
After this auspicious start, Topps would wait until 1958 before blending All-Stars into their base sets. But the 1951 set served as a capable test run for Topps’ future All-Star efforts.
You can check out 1951 Topps Major League All-Stars cards on eBay here.
The full checklist includes: