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Since 1951 Topps has produced some of the most beautiful baseball cards ever made and as of 2010 it is the only remaining company licensed to produce baseball cards of MLB players. Below is a photo timeline representing some of the key highlights of the baseball card industry and the evolution of the Topps product. Most of these cards are still readily attainable thanks to the help of the Internet, so jump on in and start collecting today!

1951 Topps Red Backs
These cards could actually be used to play a game. They were red on the back, hence the name. There was also a Blue Back set from the same year. These cards were sold with caramel candy instead of gum.


1951 Topps Red Backs
Cards in set: 52
Player: Yogi Berra
Card #1
Card Book Value: $75-125
Card Size: 2 inches by 2 5/8

 

1952 Topps
With a portrait on the front of the card and stats on the back, this set set the tone for the entire industry. This was also the first year that Topps started adding its signature bubble gum to their packs, which became more important than the cards to many of the kids! Notice that Topps increased the size of the card slightly (until 1957 when it shrank to the standard 2 1/2 by 3 1/2).

Although this card is the first Topps card of Mantle, it's not his rookie. That honor belongs to 1951 Bowman. However, this 1952 Topps card is often worth 3 times more than the Bowman.


1952 Topps
Cards in set: 407
Player: Mickey Mantle
Card # 311
Card Book Value: $12-20,000
Card Size: 2 5/8 inches by 3 5/8

1954 Topps
In this set you get two pictures on the front of cards a hand-tinted 'color' close-up photo of the player's head, and the other is a black-and-white full-length pose.


1954 Topps
Cards in set: 250
Player: Jackie Robinson
Card # 10
Card Book Value: $250.00-$400.00

1956 Topps
In the 1956 set, the close-up tinted photo was placed against a tinted full-background 'game-action' photo of the player.


1956 Topps
Cards in set: 340
Player: Luis Aparicio (Rookie)
Card # 292
Card Book Value: $90.00-$150.00

1957 Topps
This is the year that Topps adjusted the size of the baseball card to what would become the industry standard 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 inches.


1957 Topps
Cards in set: 407
Player: Ted Williams
Card # 1
Card Book Value: $350-$600
Card Size: 2 1/2 by 3 1/2

1962 Topps
Photographs did not appear in sharp focus and natural color until 1962.


1962 Topps
Cards in set: 598
Player: Roberto Clemente
Card # 10
Card Book Value: $125-$200

1969 Topps
Once in a while an error card comes along that turns up the excitement level on a particular set. The 1969 Topps Mickey Mantles card #500 is a good example of this. There are actually two versions and both are errors, more specifically they are referred to as uncorrected error cards or UER. Card "A" has the word “Mantle” in yellow and is worth about $75. Card "B" shows the word “Mantle” in white. This slight difference in color, combined with the rarity of the card, has made the white letter card worth much more than the yellow. The white letter card will sometimes fetch as much as $2,000. (Depending on condition)
 


Topps 1969

Player: Mickey Mantle
Card #500A
Card Book Value: $200-$350


Topps 1969
Player: Mickey Mantle
Card # 500B
Card Book Value: $1200.00-$2000.00

1971 Topps
Color photos were included from actual games.


1971 Topps
Cards in set: 752
Player: Nolan Ryan
Card # 513
Card Book Value: $90-$150

1972 Topps
The 1972 set included color photographs for "In Action" (IA) cards of select star players. These IA cards were in addition to their regular cards.


Topps 1972
Cards in set: 787

Player: Johnny Bench
Card # 433
Card Book Value: $12.50-$25.00


Topps 1972
Cards in set: 787

Player: Johnny Bench
Card # 434 (IA)
Card Book Value: $7.50-$15.00

1985 Topps
In the 80's, companies began to compete to create the first card of hot minor league prospects who had not yet played in the majors. Along these same lines, Topps got a license to create cards of the U.S.A. Olympic baseball team. (As of 2006 a player can not have a true rookie card until he has played in at least one major league game.)


Topps 1985
Cards in set: 792

Player: Mark McGwire (Rookie)
Card #401
Card Book Value: $12.50-$30.00

1991 Stadium Club
Due to the growing competition in the baseball card industry, and the need to diversify and add more sets, Stadium Club was Topps answer for creating a "premium" product line. 1991 Stadium Club was the first major baseball card set to feature a glossy UV coating on the front and back of the card. It also had a fancy gold foil stamping on the front along with a borderless Kodak photo. The flip side of the card also displayed an image of the player's first Topps card. This set was a big success at that time with packs often exceeding the $5 mark. All of the manufactures began trying to address each others competition by feverishly creating more and more sets, which ultimately led to a huge glut of cards on the market.


1991 Stadium Club
Cards in set: 600

Player: Roger Clemens
Card #309 (front)
Card Book Value: $1.50-$4.00


1991 Stadium Club
Cards in set: 600

Player: Roger Clemens
Card #309 (back)
Card Book Value: $1.50-$4.00

1993 Topps Finest
With the success of Stadium Club, Topps answered the call from collectors for a "super premium" set by creating Topps Finest. This set pushed the envelope at a whopping $25.00 per pack. (Keep in mind that some super premium packs are now selling for $250.00). This set was hugely successful, containing an array of 4x6 All-star jumbo cards - one per box, and refractors - one per 18 packs. Some of the refractors were fetching upwards of $1000 each since they had been limited in production to 241 per refractor. Although this set was a big success, not all collectors were thrilled with the idea of packs selling for $25.00, concerns started to grow about driving kids out of the hobby.


1993 Topps Finest
Cards in set: 199
Player: Mike Piazza
Card #199
Card Book Value: $6.00-$15.00

2001 Topps Heritage
This nostalgic set feature modern players on cards that looked like the 1952 Topps Set.


1952 Topps
Cards in set: 407

Player: Phil Rizzuto
Card #11
Card Book Value: $250.00-$400.00


2001 Topps Heritage
Cards in set: 407
Player: Derek Jeter
Card #11
Card Book Value: $4.00-10.00

2006 Topps
This year represents an interesting turning point for not only Topps, but the entire baseball card baseball card industry. With Fleer out of business and Donruss not granted an MLB license to produce baseball cards, there are only two manufactures remaining, Upper Deck and Topps. These two companies are diligently trying to police and reinvent the industry by limiting their production thereby increasing demand. This year also marks a significant change in a players rookie card status. A player is allowed to have a rookie card only after they have played in their first MLB game.

The 2006 Topps set is full of fantastic high resolution cards, brilliant action shots, plenty of parallel sets, memorabilia cards, and autographed cards. Included in the set is a parallel set of 10 Mantle cards called The Topps Mantle Collection. Each Mantle card is designed after a Topps set from 1996-2005.


2006 Topps
Cards in set: 660

Player: Albert Pujols
Card #200
Card Book Value: $.40-$1.00


2006 Topps Mantle Collection
Cards in set: 10
Player: Mickey Mantle
Card #2001
Card Book Value: $6.00-15.00

Throughout all of the ups and downs of the baseball card industry Topps has led the way in art, technology, and simply delivering to collectors what makes them happy. As the industry evolves, we can all be thankful that Topps will continued to produce the beautiful product it's been known for from it's inception.

 

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