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Friday, April 16, 2010

The 1956 Topps Baseball Card Set

The 1956 Topps baseball card set marked both the end of one era and the beginning of the next.  Topps had just purchased the Bowman Gum Company the year before and had now begun a quarter of a century monopoly of the sports cards market.

The 1956 Topps baseball cards were the last of the larger-sized vintage cards and the last to use hand-colored black & white photos.  These were the same old photos of most of the players that Topps used in the 1954 and 1955 sets.  At least they were decent photos, but the disadvantage of using old photos was that only 10 players had rookie cards.  The only player with a 1956 Topps Rookie card to make the Hall of Fame was #292 Luis Aparicio.

During the 1956 season Topps sent a photographer to take actual color photos of the players that would first appear on the 1957 Topps cards.  That is the reason the 1957 Topps baseball card set contains so many great rookie cards.

The visual backgrounds on the 1956 Topps cards are a beautiful complement to the large portrait in the foreground.  The most stunning part of the cards (and my favorite innovation ever) is the action shots of the players running and sliding in the background surrounded by lots of green, green grass and dirt with chalk lines.

1956 Topps baseball card set was the best horizontal set that Topps ever produced. Some of my favorite 1956 Topps cards include: Willie Mays sliding into home, Ted Williams watching his dinger sail into the right field bleachers and Ernie Banks crossing the plate and shaking hands after a Home Run.  What makes 1956 Topps even more incredible is when you realize that these were probably the only color pictures that the kids of the day would see of their heroes.

The 1956 Topps baseball card set was the first to feature checklist cards.  Unfortunately, there was not enough printed. To make matters worse for collectors many of the 1956 Topps checklist cards were written on or discarded.

Today the checklist cards are very expensive and hard to find.   So much so, that the 1956 Topps set is considered “complete” without the checklists.  Most collectors can rationalize paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars for a superstar player, but not a checklist.  Topps would further evolve the idea of checklist in future years and eventually solve the problem.

The best innovation of 1956 was the team cards.  The team card idea was a keeper and has been used in every vintage Topps set since – except for 1969.  All 16 teams were represented in the 1956 Topps set, but the six team cards that were printed in the first series each have three common variations.

Another oddity with the 1956 Topps baseball cards set is that the cards numbered #1 to #`180 were printed on both white and grey card stock.  Collectors generally ignore this difference and it is not officially considered a variation.  In the years that Dean’s Cards has been around, I can only recall one guy who was collecting those 180 cards in both the white and grey backs.

Please step back in time with me for a just moment.  It is the spring of 1956.  You are are a kid.  You ride your trusty bike several miles to the dime store and park it on the sidewalk in front of the store.  You patiently wait in line while some lady buys shampoo.  When it is your turn, you eagerly hand the cashier your last copper coin and ask for a Topps baseball card penny pack.

You pull the wrapper open at the seam of the back of the pack and cram the big piece of pink gum in your mouth, you take a big bite and begin to chew.  The anticipation grows.  The gum is hard, so you continue to chew until it moistens a bit.  You wonder, “What card will I get?  Will it be Mantle, Banks, Mays or maybe Ted Williams?”   You put the rest of the gum in your mouth.

The gum is starting to get soft.  You get the sweet taste of the sugar in your mouth.  You pull the wrapper back just a bit more.  You can now see the back of the card. Wait for it.  Here it comes!  It’s the BIG moment.  It is a card of … of … of …  “Who is this old geezer with grey hair?” That’s not Mantle…  it’s Warren Giles???….  #@*^%!

I am not quite sure what Topps was thinking when they devoted the first two cards of the set to William Harridge and Warren Giles.  Topps must have been kissing up for future favors from the commissioners.   Topps even double printed the Giles card!  What a waste of good cardboard.

A few years ago, a 1956 Topps uncut sheet from the first series was discovered.  We now know that at least 10 of the 1956 Topps cards were “double printed”.  These DP’s included Hall-of-Fame players Ernie Banks, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron and the wonderful Warren Giles.

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1956 Topps Baseball Card Set facts:
  • Issued by: Topps Gum Company
  • Pack Size:  Issued in 1 card penny packs or 6 card nickel packs.  Each pack had a stick of gum.
  • ACC#: R414-11
  • Size: 2 5/8” x  3 3/4”
  • 340 cards.  Issued in 4 series.
  • Best Innovation: Team Cards
  • Mediocre Innovation:  Checklist Cards
  • Worst Innovation: League President Cards
  • # of Rookie Cards: 10
  • Most Expensive Card: #135 Mickey Mantle
  • Dumbest #1 Card Ever: #1 Will Harridge
  • Rookie Cards of Hall-of-Famers: #292 Luis Aparicio, #8 Walter Alston, #1 Will Harridge and #2 Warren Giles.
  • Hall-of-Fame Players: 34
  • HOF Player’s best card: #130 Willie Mays
  • Missing Player: Stan Musial.... again.