Topps Baseball Cards: A History
Topps Baseball Cards are undeniably one of the biggest names in the collectible baseball card hobby, but how did they come to be known as the best in the business?
The company was started in 1938 as Topps Chewing Gum, Inc. producing candy in Brooklyn as WW2 raged across the majority of the globe.
11 years later, they produced the first Topps baseball cards, with 19 greats, including Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby, and Cy Young. However, their first true sets were actually released in 1951, in the form of the Blue Backs and the Red Backs.
The sets offered 52 cards each and were originally designed to allow children to play a game of card-baseball, in the style of Pokemon.
Unfortunately, the cards were poorly received compared to the 1951 Bowman set, as the latter were an obvious improvement in terms of quality. It makes sense, as Bowman was the only gum card game in town from 1948-1951, so they had experience and time on their side.
Topps doubled down in 1952 and managed to release a set that is seen as the pinnacle of post-war collectibles. The 1952 Topps set revolutionized the collecting hobby as it had 407 cards in total, which needed to be staggered into six separate releases.
The pick of the bunch is undoubtedly Mickey Mantle, otherwise known as “The Holy Grail” of collectible baseball cards. Mantle featured for Topps in ’52 and ’53; then Bowman for the next two seasons, highlighting their constant battle for supremacy.
Topps eventually bought out Bowman after the 1955 season, consolidating their position as the number one brand as they ended “the bubblegum war”. Thanks to the competition between Topps and Bowman, the collectible hobby really began to take off during the 1960s, as kids started to collect and swap the cards, with the gum widely ignored.
Through the 1970s, Topps released their first ‘Traded’ series, while rookie cards were beginning to be noticed by collectors and investors. These RCs had the best potential for profit, and Topps obliged by producing a ridiculous number of baseball cards.
A decade on and the ‘junk wax era’ between the 1980s and ’90s saw Topps and other manufacturers overproduce almost every card they released, making the majority worthless. Set prices continued to rise, while card values fell rapidly.
One plus point is that Topps resurrected the Bowman brand in 1989, rereleasing the cards with a modern twist. These became the popular Bowman cards which are still some of the most important RCs released today.
Another major change came in 1992, as the company made the decision to remove the bubblegum which kickstarted their business back in the late ‘30s. After all, the gum and wax was largely becoming a byproduct, and could easily damage the cards.
Meanwhile, the 1994-95 MLB lockout was the longest seen in North American professional sports history at the time, with a total of 948 games canceled, including the World Series. It caused the collectible bubble to burst, which thankfully saw the end of the junk wax era.
It was a major blow for baseball, as well as the overall popularity of trading cards, but the market eventually recovered over the next decade or so.
By the turn of the new millennium, the rise of online auction sites helped to raise the collectible baseball hobby to new heights, while Topps added interesting relic cards to their sets.
Topps continued to consolidate their position at the top in the 2010s with a flurry of releases, including a trio of smartphone apps that aimed to capitalize on digital trends. They’ve been relatively successful in doing so, especially with younger fans.
Best Topps Baseball Cards Sets of All-Time
Here are our favorite Topps Baseball card sets/hobby boxes ever created.
The list was based on a number of high-end cards of value in the set, rarity, and card design (i.e. how easy the card is on the eyes).
Topps Baseball Cards 1952 (buy on eBay)
407 cards in total measuring 2.625 x 3.750.
Called “The Father of Modern Baseball Cards”
Key Cards: Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Andy Pafko
Topps Baseball Cards 1954 (buy on eBay)
250 cards in total measuring 2.625 x 3.750.
Key Cards: Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron
Topps Baseball Cards 1955 (buy on eBay)
206 cards in total measuring 3.750 x 2.625.
Key Cards: Ted Williams, Roberto Clemente
Topps Baseball Cards 1963 (buy on eBay)
576 cards in total measuring 2.5 x 3.5.
Key cards: Pete Rose, Bob Gibson, Yogi Bera
Topps Baseball Cards 1975 (buy on eBay)
660 cards in total measuring 2.5 x 3.5.
Key Cards: George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount
1989 Topps Traded Baseball Cards (buy on eBay)
132 cards in total measuring 2.5 x 3.5.
Key Cards: Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson
Topps Baseball Cards 1990 (buy on eBay)
792 cards in total measuring 2.5 × 3.5.
Topps Baseball Cards 2011 (buy on eBay)
330 total cards in the base set.
2011 Topps Baseball Parallels: Platinum Diamond Anniversary, Gold /2011, Black Border /60, Platinum 1/1, Canary Diamond Anniversary 1/1, and Printing Plates 1/1.
Key Cards: Mike Trout, Jose Altuve, Paul Goldschmidt, J.D. Martinez
Topps Series 2 Baseball Cards 2019 (buy on eBay)
350 cards in the base set.
Base Parallels: Rainbow Foil, Gold /2,019, Vintage Stock /99, Independence Day /76, Black /67, Mother’s Day Pink /50, Father’s Day Blue /50, Memorial Day Camo /25, Platinum 1/1 and Printing Plates 1/1.
Key Cards: Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. No Number Error Card
Best Topps Baseball Cards By Year
Below we will pick the best Topps baseball card via year… for example, our top pick in 2011 is the 2011 Mike Trout Topps Update Card… no brainer there right? 🙂
Please note in a few years we had to list 2 or even 3 players as it was just impossible to only list one… for example, how could we pick between the Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays cards in the 1952 Topps Baseball Card Set.
Please note part 2… in some years (i.e. junk wax era) we were forced to provide an N/A as we could not find a card worthy to make the list.
- 1951: Yogi Berra #1
- 1952: Mickey Mantle #311 & Willie Mays #261
- 1953: Jackie Robinson #1 & Mickey Mantle #82
- 1954: Hank Aaron #128
- 1955: Ted Williams #2 & Sandy Koufax #123 & Roberto Clemente #164
- 1956: Mickey Mantle #135
- 1957: Frank Robinson #35
- 1958: Roger Maris #47
- 1959: Bob Gibson #514
- 1960 Topps Baseball: Carl Yastrzemski #148
- 1961: Juan Marichal #417
- 1962: Lou Brock #387
- 1963: Pete Rose #537
- 1964: Tommy John #146
- 1965: Mickey Mantle #350
- 1966: Gaylord Perry #598
- 1967: Rod Carew #569 & Tom Seaver #581
- 1968: Nolan Ryan #177
- 1969: Mickey Mantle White Letter Mantle #500
- 1970 Vida Blue #21
- 1971: Thurman Munson #5
- 1972: Carlton Fisk #79
- 1973: Mike Schmidt #615
- 1974: Dave Winfield #456
- 1975 Topps Baseball Cards: Robin Yount #223 & George Brett #228
- 1976: Dennis Eckersley #98
- 1977: Bruce Sutter #144
- 1978: Eddie Murray #36
- 1979: Ozzie Smith #116
- 1980 Topps Baseball: Rickey Henderson #482
- 1981: Kirk Gibson #315
- 1982: Cal Ripken Topps Traded #98T
- 1983: Tony Gwynn Topps #482
- 1984: Dwight Gooden Topps Traded #42T
- 1985: Mark McGwire Team USA Topps #401
- 1986: Barry Bonds Topps Tiffany #11T
- 1987: Barry Bonds Topps Tiffany #320
- 1988: Tom Glavine Topps Tiffany #779
- 1989: Ken Griffey Jr. Topps Traded Tiffany #41T
- 1990: Frank Thomas Topps Tiffany #414
- 1991: Chipper Jones Topps Tiffany #333
- 1992: N/A
- 1993: Derek Jeter Topps Gold #98
- 1994: Ken Griffey Jr. Topps Finest Refractor #232
- 1995: Nomar Garciaparra Topps #587
- 1996: Derek Jeter Topps #219
- 1997: N/A
- 1998: N/A
- 1999: N/A
- 2000: Miguel Cabrera Topps Traded Certified #TTA40
- 2001: Ichiro Suzuki Topps #726
- 2002: N/A
- 2003: N/A
- 2004: Yadier Molina Topps Chrome #219
- 2005: Justin Verlander Topps #677
- 2006: Alex Gordon Topps Short Print Error #297
- 2007: Derek Jeter with Mickey Mantle George Bush New York Yankees #40A
- 2008: Clayton Kershaw Topps Update #UH240
- 2009: Mariano Rivera Topps 206 #248
- 2010: Stephen Strasburg Topps #661
- 2011: Mike Trout Topps Update #US250
- 2012: Bryce Harper Topps Update #US299
- 2013: Christian Yelich Topps Update #US290
- 2014: Mookie Betts Topps Update #US26
- 2015: Francisco Lindor Topps Update #US82
- 2016: Mike Trout Topps Heritage Real One Auto Red Ink #MT
- 2017: Cody Bellinger Topps Update US50
- 2018: Ronald Acuna Jr. Topps Update Bat Down #698
- 2019: Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Topps Series 2 No Number
- 2020: Mike Trout Topps Project 2020 by Blake Jamieson #100
BUY/SEARCH ANY OF THE ABOVE CARDS ON EBAY!
Best 5 Topps Baseball Cards for Investment Purposes
Here are our favorite Topps Baseball Cards of all-time in terms of ROI… in other words which cards will increase in value the most from a % viewpoint over the next 5 years.
This was a super hard list to develop as there are some really REALLY good investments here… insanely good investments… but… in no particular order…
1952 Mickey Mantle Topps #311 (buy on eBay)
Good luck getting this one… even low grades will cost a small fortune.
If you are winning enough at life to own this bad boy cheers!
2018 Ronald Acuna Jr. Topps Update Bat Down #698 (buy on eBay)
The Acuna Topps Update Bat Down card has exploded in value over the last few months making it one of the best investments in the hobby… this rise in value should continue for a while as Acuna Jr. enters his prime.
2011 Mike Trout Topps Update #US250 (buy on eBay)
This Mike Trout rookie card has gone from $500 in 2018 to over $2000 in 2020!
Trout is one of the best players of all-time already and this card is a great investment for low-end Trout rookie cards.
1986 Barry Bonds Topps Traded Tiffany #11T (buy on eBay)
We absolutely love, LOVE this Barry Bonds card as a long term investment.
At some point Bonds will make it into the Hall of Fame and when he does this card should explode in value… it is already seeing a nice year over year increase based on thoughts he will make it in sooner rather than later.
Barry Bonds rookie cards are severely undervalued based on where he ranks among the best of all-time.
2019 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Topps Series 2 No Number Error Card #NNO (buy on eBay)
This pick has some risk as Vlad Jr. hasn’t even played a full year yet BUT it could pay off HUGE.
Vlad Jr. came up last year and showed some signs of greatness but didn’t really blow our sox off overall.
If he can live up to his superstar potential this card could be the next Acuna Jr. Bat Down Topps Baseball Card and we all know what that card has done in 2020.
Topps Baseball Cards Value
Let’s take a look at Topps Baseball Cards from a value standpoint.
Here we will review the most valuable Topps sets and cards.
Top 5 Valuable Topps Baseball Card Sets
- 1952 Topps – Contains one of the most if not the most popular Mantle baseball card of all-time… also the Eddie Mathew rookie card
- 1954 Topps – Teddy Ball Game, Al Kaline, Ernie Banks and super slugger Hank Aaron
- 1955 Topps – Super slugger Harmon Killebrew, one of the best pitchers ever Sandy Koufax, and 5-tool wonder Roberto Clemente are the anchors.
- 1963 Topps – Pete Rose rookie card plus high-value Gibson, Mantle, and Koufax cards
- 1975 Topps – No super mega-stars but solid HOFs to include George Brett, Robin Yount, Gary Carter, and Jim Rice
Now, let’s look at the most valuable Topps cards of all-time… man some of these cards are drool-worthy…
Top 10 Valuable Topps Baseball Cards
- 1952 Mickey Mantle – The most popular Yankee ever?
- 1954 Henry Aaron – Former Home Run King (didn’t need super vitamins)
- 1963 Pete Rose – The HIT King
- 1954 Ernie Banks – One of the most underrated players in the history of the game
- 1968 Nolan Ryan – MLB’s all-time strikeout king
- 1952 Willie Mays – “The Say Hey Kid”
- 1969 Reggie Jackson – Nicknamed Mr. October due to his clutch performance in the playoffs
- 1954 Al Kaline – “Mr. Tiger”
- 1960 Carl Yastrzemski – Played all 23 years with the Red Sox
- 1955 Sandy Koufax – The youngest player ever elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
If we made a mistake in regards to the above list please email us firstname.lastname@example.org
Upcoming Topps Baseball Cards Release Dates (2020)
- 6/24 2020 Topps Clearly Authentic Baseball
- 6/26 2020 Topps Series 2 Baseball
- 6/26 2020 Topps Baseball Silver Pack 1985 Chrome Cards
- 7/1/2020 Topps Baseball Complete Factory Set
- 7/22/2020 Topps Sterling Baseball
- 7/29/2020 Topps Museum Collection Baseball
- 8/5/2020 Topps Luminaries Baseball
- 8/7/2020 Topps Chrome Baseball
- 8/12/2020 Topps Heritage High Number Baseball
- 8/19/2020 Topps Archives Baseball
- 8/26/2020 Topps Five Star Baseball
- 9/2/2020 Topps Gold Label Baseball
- 9/2/2020 Topps Stadium Club Baseball
- 9/16/2020 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball
- 9/16/2020 Topps Triple Threads Baseball
- 10/14 2020 Topps Update Series Baseball
- 11/1/2020 Topps Chrome Black Baseball
Where To Buy Topps Baseball Cards
There are literally hundreds of options when purchasing Topps baseball cards.
Topps Baseball Cards Customer Service
If you are looking to contact Topps please see the following methods…
- Online: www.topps.custhelp.com
- Topps Baseball Phone Number: 1-800-489-9149
- Email Topps
- Topps Baseball Facebook Page
- Topps Baseball Card Address: One Whitehall Street New York, New York, United States
- Topps on Twitter: @topps_support
Topps can be reached via phone Monday to Thursday from 9 am to 4 pm EST.
Topps Baseball Card Release Dates
- 9/2/2020 Topps Gold Label Baseball
- 9/2/2020 Topps Stadium Club Baseball
- 9/16/2020 Topps Allen & Ginter Baseball
- 9/16/2020 Topps UFC Striking Signatures
- 9/23/2020 Topps Heritage Minor League Baseball
- 9/23/2020 Topps WWE Undisputed Wrestling
- 9/23/2020 Topps Garbage Pail Kids 35th Anniversary Series 2
- 9/30/2020 Topps Triple Threads Baseball
In recent years, Topps is still seen as the industry leader in the collectible baseball card hobby.
For example, they’re currently the only card company that has a contract with MLB, which makes a major difference for the latest round of prospects and RCs that are so highly valued by enthusiasts and investors. (A licensed card is almost always going to be worth more.)
Almost 80 years after the formation of Topps Chewing Gum, Inc, the company is undoubtedly in a strong position.
Their baseball cards are valued highly, while they have the benefit of brand recognition, a detailed understanding of the market, and the power to crush any upstarts with an eye on the market.
You won’t do better than Topps when it comes to the collectible baseball card hobby.
What’s your favorite Topps card of all time?
For more insights, why not check out the rise and fall and rise again of baseball cards, or take a look through the five most expensive baseball cards ever sold!