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Topps baseball cards were a part of growing up in America for millions of kids. No matter what decade you grew up in, chances are if you cared anything about sports, you opened a pack of Topps.
The gum was the big attraction for many kids of the 1950s and 60s. A big, wide stick of pink bubble gum sat atop every pack. For collectors and baseball fans, though, the cards were what kept you coming back for more.
The Topps company’s first major set was issued in 1952, in a size that was about three times what youngsters had been used to with Bowman, Leaf and other manufacturers. It made a big splash with kids who saw their heroes as larger than life anyway. Late in the season, though, Topps baseball cards were a tough sell to kids who were going back to school and turned their attention to football. Inside that last series of cards was the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. It would become the most iconic baseball card of the post-War era.
Topps continued its oversized cards through the 1956 season. In ’54, they produced the Hank Aaron rookie card and also the first-ever card of Ernie Banks. In ’55, collectors see the rookie cards of Sandy Koufax, Roberto Clemente and Harmon Killebrew. 1957 Topps cards saw the company move to the size we see on today’s products.
Topps baseball card sets continued to expand in size as the decade turned to the 1960s and by 1969, expansion in Major League Baseball forced the company to produce a 660-card set for the first time. Notable rookie cards in the 60s included Pete Rose (1963), Nolan Ryan and Johnny Bench (1968) and Reggie Jackson (1969).
Throughout the 1970s, Topps continued to produce an annual set that was virtually the same in terms of printing stock and overalll approach. Only the design changed from year-to-year but few cared. It was, and still is, an annual rite of spring to see what the new cards will look like.
While Fleer tried to end the Topps monopoly in the early 60s, Topps’ virtual strangehold on the industry continued until 1981 when a court case finally opened the baseball card market to competition. The arrival of Upper Deck in 1989 took things to a new level and the companies battled fiercely for market share. Only in 2010 did Topps finally convince Major League Baseball to sign an exclusive partnership agreement. Other companies were free to produce cards, but none would be allowed to carry “official card” status.
Throughout the last few years, the Topps company has tried to draw on its history of producing some of the most popular and memorable baseball cards of all-time by tying in promotions and creating replica cards from years gone by. In 2010, however, they’ve taken it to the next level.
Topps’ “Million Card Giveaway” includes winning game pieces inside packs. A code on the back sends collectors to a special website where they can ‘unlock’ the code and see what card from a past Topps set they have won. The cards go back to 1952 and three Mickey Mantle cards were scheduled to be given away.
There have been hundreds of thousands produced over the years and vintage baseball cards maintain a huge following. The Sports Collectors Store offers more information on collecting Topps baseball cards and an opportunity to see other sportscards produced by the Topps company.