Topps baseball cards have been a staple of the baseball card industry since the early 1950s. The Topps Company, based in New York City, has had the exclusive license from Major League Baseball to produce cards featuring current MLB players since that time. This has led Topps to become the dominant brand in the industry and build a reputation for quality designs and deep, wide-ranging sets each year.

In the early years of the 20th century, cigarette and candy companies included baseball cards as promotional incentives. In 1951, Topps, then known as the Topps Chewing Gum Company, became the first dedicated sports card manufacturer. That year, they released a 107-card set featuring players and managers from 1950. Each pack cost just a nickel and included a stick of gum along with 5 cards. This early innovation showed Topps understood marketing cards to a youth audience.

The 1952 Topps set expanded to 252 cards and introduced the now-familiar vertical iconic design still used today by Topps and copied across the industry. This design format allowed for more statistical info and photographs on each card. It was also during the 1950s that Topps began including rookie cards of future Hall of Famers like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Sandy Koufax. These early years established Topps as the dominant force in the emerging baseball card market.


Topps has released annual baseball card sets every year since the 1951 inaugural issue. Some of the larger, more renowned sets came in the 1960s as Topps expanded their checklists. The 1965 Topps set featured 660 cards, one of the highest totals of the pre-1980 era. Rookie cards of Reggie Jackson and Joe Morgan were included that year.

The 1970 Topps set is notable for starring position players on the front of all the cards for the first time. icon 1971 and 1972 Topps sets included the first cards featuring player statistics and biographies on the rear. These innovations provided more information for collectors and fans.

As the 1970s progressed, Topps cards became more focused on photography featuring closer uniform shots instead of posed group photos of past years. Higher production values led to sharper images. The 1976 Topps set contained rookie cards of future Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Eddie Murray.


Topps continued producing expansive sets through the 1980s despite increased competition from rival brands Donruss and Fleer. The flagship 1981 Topps checklist reached a then-record 792 cards. Rookie cards in the 1981 series included Future 500 home run club members Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro.

The designs evolved again in the late 1980s with photography covering the entire front of most cards for the first time beginning in 1987. Colorization became more prominent in 1989 with cartoonish borders replaced by a cleaner look. Key rookie cards from the late 80s runs included Ken Griffey Jr., Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine.

The 1990s brought more changes as technology advanced. The 1992 Topps set introduced player autographs and included rookie cards for Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones and Jim Thome. 3D rendering appeared on some cards in 1994. Collectors could also locate rare “Gold foil” parallel versions that year.

After losing its MLB license briefly to rival brand Upper Deck in the early 1990s, Topps regained exclusive rights in 1995 and has held them ever since. Its resurgence was led by sets like the classic 1996 Topps release which featured rookie cards of Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay and Todd Helton among others.


The 2000s saw Topps innovate again with “Photo variations” appearing in the flagship 2001 release that swapped out photos on certain cards. Refractors, another parallel concept, hit the market in 2002 Topps followed by Chrome and Finest releases later that decade. Rays stars like Evan Longoria and David Price debuted in the modern era.

In more recent years, Topps has expanded their brand even further into digital formats. You can now collect virtual cards through smartphone apps and online marketplaces. At the same time, vintage cardboard from the early years remains highly coveted among collectors.

Topps remains king of the baseball card industry because of their deep history, iconic status among fans and consistent innovation. No other brand has maintained such longevity producing high quality cards year after year bearing the sport’s greatest stars. Their premier releases each season cement Topps as the standard that started it all in the 1950s and keeps collectors coming back.

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