For the collector and the fan of America’s most iconic sport, Topps baseball cards have been beloved for more than half a century. Collecting baseball cards is a fun and often lucrative activity for anyone. Created originally to boost sales in bubble gum, the journey of baseball cards through the years shows there was no way to predict how treasured they would be. Browse our selection below to add to your collection.
Both baseball and photography were steadily gaining popularity in the 1850s. The first "trade cards" showed up around this time, and these included both. Trade cards were very much like modern day business cards. Made to share among individuals to advertise a business, these cards often pictured baseball teams or players, though the sport had nothing to do with what was being advertised. The opposite side of the card would give relevant information. What began as a simple method of advertising would prove to become much more than that.
Topps baseball cards have been the leading brand in baseball cards since they were introduced in 1952. Just after World War I, The Topps Company began manufacturing chewing gum. Sales were down, so, in an effort to popularize the gum, the company began including trading cards in the packs. The first of these trading cards featured the Western character Hopalong Cassidy, and one came with each pack of Bazooka bubble gum. This gum came wrapped in comics up until 2011, which also made it stand out. Bazooka was the company's most successful product for many years, and the addition of the Hopalong Cassidy trading card helped push sales in the right direction. When Topps introduced its first baseball card with the gum, however, it became very clear that the baseball cards were what the people wanted. By the early 1950s, baseball cards became the primary emphasis of the company, and the biggest money-maker.
Sy Berger, the "father of the modern baseball card," co-designed the first 1952 Topps baseball card set with Woody Gelman on his kitchen table in Brooklyn. These cards had most of what we would come to know as signature elements of the baseball card. His cards were the first of their kind, setting a precedent for how baseball cards would look for years to come. The cards would include the player's name, a photo, facsimile of an autograph, the player's statistics, biography, team name, and team logo. Over the years, the size of the cards was changed somewhat, becoming larger for a short period, then smaller again in 1957. The size of baseball cards has remained the same since then, becoming the standard we are familiar with today. Many of the baseball card sets made during this time included an oil-painted portrait of the player, rather than a photo.
Topps baseball cards were released several times over the course of a given baseball season. These were very popular, as baseball had become America's favorite pastime. At the end of each baseball season, however, the trading cards would dwindle in popularity. Fans would begin to look toward the upcoming football season. Because of the drop in popularity each year, there was a problem with Topps having many extra baseball cards that no one knew what to do with. In 1952, many of the excess cards were loaded onto garbage boats and dumped into the Atlantic. In the years following, Topps decided to produce fewer of those cards that were released near the end of the baseball season, and many of the cards that remained after were destroyed. For this reason, there are far fewer end of season baseball cards that exist today. As baseball cards became collectors items, these cards were being sought after all over again, and collectors began to pay real money for them. Today, the end of season baseball card's value is much higher than anyone would have dreamed.
The 1952 season, the first year Topps produced a set of baseball cards, ended with the famous Mickey Mantle card. This card today can sell for between $300,000 and $500,000, thanks in part to Mickey Mantle being such a celebrated icon. But its real value lies in the fact that this card is so rare. Who knows how many 1952 Mickey Mantles were dropped into the Atlantic? There are still many cards that can fetch anywhere from $100 to $20,000. And to think, their original cost was the same as a pack of bubble gum! One of the great things about collecting is that many Topps baseball cards' values go up exponentially as time passes, as they become more coveted and more difficult to find. To think of the worth that was thrown into the Atlantic in the fall of 1952... No one would have predicted how sought after these cards would be!
Collecting baseball cards is a great thing for anyone, whether you are a collector of American memorabilia, or an avid lover of the game. Baseball cards can be enjoyed for their monetary value, or they can be passed down through the generations as a treasured heirloom. And Topps baseball cards, considered the original baseball cards, happen to be the most American thing since apple pie, hot dogs, and... baseball! How much more patriotic can you get?