The year 1950 was the start of Topps production of football cards packaged with bubble gum. Although Topps experimented with a crude, self-developing issue two years earlier, 1950 marked the first year that Topps Chewing Gum produced a card set dedicated exclusively to one sport.
The 1950 Topps Felt Backs, with a size of only 7/8" by 1 7/16", comprise the smallest regular issue that Topps ever produced. These cards were issued with a similar size piece of gum, both of which were wrapped in foil and surrounded by a slide paper wrapper announcing the product. Because of their diminutive size, it is likely that the vast majority of these cards were discarded during the years following their production and release.
Each card consists of a black and white upper-body photograph of a star college player. Underneath this picture is a short white on black biographical marquee indicating the player's name, collegiate affiliation and position with a related adjective (e.g. Dave Rakestraw, Hefty Tackle, University of Tulsa). Each image is set against a background color of blue, red, green, brown or yellow.
The back of each card contains a felt pennant representing the school of the player pictured. The pennant is set against a colored background, surrounded by a white border. The pennant lettering is either white or the color of the school. In the cases where the pennant lettering is the color of the school, the background is also the same color.
Officially there are 100 different players in the set. However, including color variations, a total of 125 different cards can be accounted for. The base set includes twenty-five cards of each color, but the players pictured on brown backgrounds are also available on yellow backgrounds. Presumably, each of the 100 players was produced in equal quantities. If this is true, then the total production of both the yellow and brown is equal to that of any of the other three colors. I believe that since a yellow is roughly twice as scarce as a brown obverse, the corresponding ratio of scarcity is 1:2:3 (yellow:brown:red, blue or green). Most of the advanced collectors' want-lists that we receive show a need for either brown or yellow fronts and rarely any other color.
The cards were oriented in rows and columns of five (25 total) on production sheets. Some of these sheets are still encountered in the market place. Although blue, red, green and brown sheets have all been documented, I have yet to talk to a collector or dealer who claims to have seen or owned an uncut yellow sheet. Any such existence would be unprecedented! The 1950 Topps set contains four future NFL Hall of Famers: Lou Creekmur, Leo Nomellini, Ernie Stautner, and Doak Walker. In addition, Heisman Trophy winner Leon Hart (Notre Dame), two-sport star Jackie Jensen, Oklahoma coaching legend Darrell Royal, and NFL greats Charlie Justice and Deacon Dan Towler are included in the set. However, the most desirable card in the set is that of Pennsylvania State coach Joe Paterno. In 1950, Paterno was an Ivy League back playing for Brown University and his card is unquestionably one of the most important and rarest of all football issues. To date, no 1950 Topps Felt Back Joe Paterno has been graded by PSA (Summer PSA Population Reports).
Another scarce Topps College Football Issue was produced in 1951. This time, Topps increased the size of the cards to 2 1/16" by 2 15/16". However, the number of cards in the set was reduced to only 75-perhaps as some sort of ironic compensation. The cards were issued in gum packs as well as connected in two card strips. Poor cutting by some of America's youth resulted in some odd sized and unusually shaped cards. And, interestingly enough, I have yet to speak with anyone who recalls eating 1951 Topps Magic Football Card Gum.
The obverse of the 1951 Topps issue is a color photograph of a college football player. Below the player is a small black marquee with white lettering stipulating the player's name, position and college nickname. (e.g. Marion Campbell, Tackle, Bulldogs). The back of the card is divided into two sections. The top section includes the card number, player name, black and white team logo, player biographical information and a quiz (asking the reader to identity the school by the nickname). The bottom section of the card is presumably the magic part of the card. In order to find out what school the player was from, the metallic gray coating covering a picture (and name of the corresponding school) could be removed with a coin. This lottery type "magic" no doubt thrilled many a college football fan in 1951, the same way that scratching off a lottery game-piece thrills the gamblers of today.
The best cards in the set are those of former NFL greats Billy Wade, Babe Parilli, Marion Campbell and Bert Rechichar. Two of the most interesting cards are those of George Young and Vic Janowicz. In 1951 George Young was a defensive tackle for the Bucknell Bison, but would later make his name in the NFL as General Manager of the New York Giants. Vic Janowicz was the most celebrated college football player of the day as he won the 1951 Heisman Trophy while playing in the backfield for the Ohio State Buckeyes. Janowicz would later play NFL football for the Washington Redskins and Major League Baseball for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Additionally, many of the other players in the set would go on to further careers in sports, politics and car sales.
The obverse of each 1951 Topps football card is make of spongy and porous cardboard, while the reverse is coated with a slick, glossy laminate that cracks easily. There is a significant premium (at least 2X for commons and 3X for stars) for any card that has not had the reverse "metallic" coating removed. To date, only four 1951 Topps Magic have been graded by PSA, including a NM-MT Janowicz!
Both the 1950 Topps and 1951 Topps Football cards are quite rare by 1950s card standards. However, many of these cards are available, and it is hoped, they will eventually be graded so that the collecting community can learn more about these issues.