TOPPS BASEBALL PICTURE CARDS

The Topps Company, Inc. is an American sports and entertainment products corporation best known for producing entertainment products such as trading cards, bandages, stickers, and other confections. However, Topps is most famous for revolutionizing the hobby of collecting baseball cards starting in the 1950s.

Topps Baseball Picture Cards, commonly called just “baseball cards” were hugely popular collectibles from the mid-20th century onward. While other card companies produced baseball cards before Topps, it was Topps that popularized the modern format of baseball cards that included a color picture of a baseball player on the front and vital statistics and biographical information on the back.

The man behind Topps Baseball cards was Sy Berger, a Brooklyn-born salesman who worked for the Leaf Gum Company. In the late 1940s, Berger realized the potential of including sports cards in packs of gum as a marketing tool. However, Leaf was not interested in the idea, so in 1938 Berger started the Topps Chewing Gum Company and pursued his idea of marketing cards and gum together.

Initially, Topps produced various types of non-sports cards to include in gum packs. But in 1951, Berger negotiated a exclusive deal with the players union to include the likenesses and statistics of Major League Baseball players on cards. This was a landmark deal as it was the first time players had control over the commercial use of their images and stats.

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For the 1951 Topps Baseball Card set, Berger hired Brooklyn-based photographer Ray She pard to take individual pictures of each player against a simple light blue background. Shepard’s distinct portrait style helped make the 1951 Topps set highly sought after and collectible from the start. It was also unprecedented to have a full set of cards featuring every team.

From the beginning, Topps built demand for its baseball cards through carefully timed release of the cards over the course of the season and through distribution exclusively in bubble gum packs rather than loose packages or racks. This scarcity increased their appeal to kids and created a collecting enthusiasm that grew year over year.

In the mid-1950s, Topps cards rose to a new level of quality, attracting top baseball players and photographers. Sets became even more comprehensive, including major and minor league rosters. Color photography was introduced in 1957. Topps also added innovative subsets highlighting All-Stars, rookies and leaders in key stats.

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The 1959 Topps set featured the first card to bear the explicit designation of “Rookie Card” on the front for future Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan. This helped create the pursuit of high value rookie cards that remains a facet of the hobby today. Also in this era, Topps began regularly issuing larger (2-1/2″ x 3-1/2″) high number cards of stars to include in wax packs.

Topps owned over 90% of the baseball card market through the 1950s-60s and produced hugely popular and collectible sets year after year. The 1967 and ’68 Topps sets featured the first true “action shots” on many cards. Color separation techniques greatly enhanced the vividness of these photographs.

During this time, competition arose from Fleer and other companies. But Topps maintained its monopoly through strategic lawsuits until an antitrust case in 1981. This opened the door for competition and innovation from brands like Donruss, Score and Upper Deck in the late 80s-90s.

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Over its history, Topps produced some of the most iconic and visually striking baseball cards of all time. Through the late 90s and 2000s the industry faced challenges from declines in card collecting, rises in production costs and losses of exclusive player contracts. Topps baseball card output dropped off significantly for much of this era.

More recently, Topps has regained momentum through strategic acquisitions, new redemption programs honouring star cards from past decades and renewed releases of retro-style throwback sets mimicking the designs of 1950s-60s issues. Modern technology also allows intricate card variants, autographs and memorabilia cards impossible in the pre-digital ages.

Through ups and downs since the 1950s, Topps has maintained its identity as the innovative originator and long-time leader in the baseball card industry. The company’s iconic products defined card collecting for generations of fans and memorably captured the look and personalities of baseball’s greatest players. Topps Baseball Picture Cards very much established today’s modern sports card collecting landscape.

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