One of the most classic baseball card sets ever produced is 50 years old this year and, needless to say, the set has not lost a bit of its luster since it was first issued back in 1955. The 1955 Topps baseball card set debuted during a historically important time in American history, the lively and vibrant appearance reflected the flair and flamboyance of the era. The set emerged during a time when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President, the United States population was 166 million, gas was 23 cents a gallon, the average life expectancy was 70 years, a U.S. postal stamp cost 3 cents, a new car cost $1,950, a new home $22,000, and the average income was $4,137!
The year also saw the introduction of a new kind of music called "Rock N Roll" with Bill Haley and The Comets topping the charts with Rock's first big hit that Summer, Rock Around The Clock, easily dislodging The Ballad of Davy Crockett from the top spot! Ray Kroc opened his first McDonalds restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois; Walt Disney's Disneyland opened in California while Gunsmoke, The Honeymooners, Captain Kangaroo, and the Mickey Mouse Club all made their television debuts. At the movies, the year's best actor was Ernest Borgnine while best actress was Anna Magnani. Popular movies were Marty, which was awarded best picture, On The Waterfront, Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden. The last two featured James Dean, who would tragically die in a car crash on September 30th. Besides collecting baseball cards, the kids of that time had two new toys to play with, the Frisbee and Play-Doh.
In sports, the Brooklyn Dodgers would start the season with ten straight wins, launching them to their one and only championship in Brooklyn by finally defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series four games to three after a number of near misses. Right before the 1955 baseball season started, the Brooklyn Bulletin newspaper asked Dodger fans not to call their team "bums," which may have been all they needed to win it all amusingly enough! During the regular season, Mickey Mantle hit three consecutive home runs of 463 feet or more in one game and, four days earlier, he hit a 550-foot shot!
Yogi Berra was named the American League Most Valuable Player for the third time in five years and Roy Campanella won the National League Most Valuable Player award for the second time in three years. Herb Score of the Cleveland Indians was the American League Rookie of The Year and Bill Virdon of the St. Louis Cardinals was the National League winner. There were two major changes in the American League with the move of the Philadelphia Athletics to Kansas City and the St.Louis Browns to Baltimore becoming the Orioles. Honus Wagner and Cy Young would pas away that year but, to honor Young, the Cy Young Award was created the following year and presented to baseball's best pitcher.
The Cleveland Browns would beat the Los Angeles Rams in the NFL title game 38 to 14, Syracuse claimed the NBA title by defeating the Ft. Wayne Pistons, and the Detroit Red Wings topped the Montreal Canadians for the NHL crown. In college sports, Georgia Tech ended Kentucky's 130 game home basketball win streak, San Francisco defeated LaSalle for the NCAA basketball title, and Oklahoma was the NCAA football champion with a perfect 11-0 record. Needless to say a lot was going on back in 1955 with many new and exciting happenings.
The atmosphere in the baseball card world was still one of competitiveness between Topps and Bowman with each company retaining the rights to a number of players, however, Topps would soon be the sole player in the market the following year after buying out Bowman. What did this mean in 1955? It meant a much smaller Topps baseball card set. In fact, it was the smallest regular issued baseball card set ever for the card manufacturer to this day with the exception of its 1951 Red and Blue Back releases, which were actually issued as a baseball game. The 1955 Bowman baseball card set was larger at 320 cards while the 1955 Topps baseball card set contains 206 cards but is numbered to 210. It is believed the four cards missing were pulled from the set at the last moment as a result of contractual issues with the involved players.
During the 2005 National Sports Card Convention in Chicago, Topps issued a special fiftieth anniversary four card set of the missing players which they claimed would have been #175 Stan Musial, #186 Whitey Ford, #203 Bob Feller, and #209 Herb Score. If you were fortunate to attend the National Convention and acquire these attractive four missing cards, your set fifty years later is now complete! To make up for the missing four cards, Topps double printed cards #170 Jim Pearce, #172 Frank Baumholtz, #184 Harry Perkowski, and #188 Charlie Silvera. Topps also released their Double Headers cards, which were designed after the T201 Mecca Double Folders series and issued in penny packs with a piece of gum. All 66 cards in the set appear in the 1955 Topps regular issue low number series and it is believed that may be why the regular Topps set was stopped at 206 cards. The two sets combined represent an adequate number of baseball cards and the Double Headers resulted in another source of revenue for Topps.
The 1955 Topps baseball card set was issued in two different series, the low number series (1-160) and the more difficult to find high number series, (161-210). Cards 151 to 160 are valued slightly higher than the other low series cards. Cards could be purchased in one of three ways, in 15-card cello packs, six-card nickel packs, and one-card penny packs. The wax wrappers themselves bring a high premium today and came either dated or undated. The one-cent wrappers are light green, red, and white with the words Topps, Bubble Gum, 1 cent, and Baseball across the front. The sides of the wrapper say "Buy Bazooka the Chew of Champions" on one side with advertising information on the other side. The five-cent wrappers have the same colors as the one-cent wrapper with the words Topps, 5-cent, Bubble Gum, Baseball, and Picture Card on the front. The back or sides of the five-cent wrapper say "Atom Bazooka, Big Chews Biggest Bubble Gum" and "Save Bazooka Comics for Free Prizes".
It is also important to note that scarce salesman example panels do exist that were used to present and promote the 1955 Topps baseball regular issue and Topps Double Header cards. One known example includes Jackie Robinson, Bill Taylor, and Curt Roberts on one panel depicting the 1955 Topps regular issue and Danny Schell, Jake Thies, and Howie Pollet on the other panel depicting the Topps Double Header cards.
There are 22 Rookies in the 1955 Topps set with the most notable ones being #123 Sandy Koufax, # 124 Harmon Killebrew, and #164 Roberto Clemente. Other key cards include #2 Ted Williams, #4 Al Kaline, #47 Hank Aaron, #50 Jackie Robinson, #194 Willie Mays, #198 Yogi Berra, and # 210 Duke Snider. Four manager and four coaches cards are also included which helped to round out the set. The set is mainly error free with no variations or key errors except card #106 Frank Sullivan that has been seen with and without a large print dot but with no effect on card value. Also card #47 of Hank Aaron has an uncorrected error which has his birth date listed incorrectly. The cards measure 2 5/8" by 3 ¾" and are the first horizontally designed cards ever issued by Topps. What really sets these cards apart from other Topps cards is their obvious eye appeal with rich and attractive colors and a very detailed and informative card back.
The front of the 1955 Topps cards are framed in a white border and inside this white border contains a large color close up head shot and a smaller full body shot of a player, coach, or manager. Across the lower part of the smaller body shot is a black facsimile autograph from that particular player, coach, or manager. There are seven different background color variations used on the card front that start out from the left as a lighter color or white and ends up a darker version of that same color to the right. The color variations are light yellow to dark yellow, light pink to dark red, white blue to light blue, light green to dark green, white green to light green, light blue to dark blue, and light orange to dark orange. In the upper left or upper right corner of the card is where the team logo resides. The final section of the card front is the bottom lower section which has three pieces of information including the player name in white lettering followed by his position or his management or coach designation,then the full team name which are all in black lettering.
The back of the 1955 Topps cards are what really put the icing on the cake for this impressive set. There is a wealth of information for the collector about that particular player, coach, or manager along with some really cool and helpful trivia. You will find a great combination of five different colors on the back of the card which includes white, black, red, light green, and a medium green that totally enhances the attractiveness of the card.
In the upper left-hand portion of the card back is the player's full name in white lettering and his position along with the team name in black lettering against a red background. For the non-player, you will find coach or manager listed instead of position. Below, you will find the card number in bold black inside a baseball with the word Topps and below this is the player bio which includes his height, weight, what he bats and throws or did bat and throw in the case of a coach or manager, along with his hometown and birth date all in fine red lettering. Directly below the bio is the Topps copyright with the words "printed in U.S.A." all in small green lettering. To the right of the bio and below the name section in fine black lettering is a well thought out written blurb about that player, coach, or manager describing the highlights of his career.
The coolest part of the card back is just to the right of the blurb and that is the colorful trivia section with its lively cartoon drawing. There are a number of good questions asked throughout the set, which helps enhance the collector's baseball knowledge. The final section of the card back is the lower section that supplies all the statistical information about that particular player, manager, or coach. Listed is the player's statistics for the previous year and career wether he was in the Minor Leagues or the Major Leagues. There are some players in the set such as Sandy Koufax who have no professional experience listed because they were signed straight out of high school or college and classified as "Bonus Babies".
According to the PSA Population Report at the time of this story, there have been nearly 55,000 1955 Topps baseball cards graded. Of those graded cards, there have been only 16 that have received the grade of PSA 10. The sixteen PSA 10's are #50 Jackie Robinson, #71 Ruben Gomez, #74 Bob Borkowski, #98 Johnny Riddle, #99 Frank Leja, #113 Harry Brecheen, #120 Ted Kluszewski, (2) #123 Sandy Koufax, #124 Harmon Killebrew, #146 Dick Donovan, #151 Fred Kress, #164 Roberto Clemente, #180 Clem Labine, #189 Phil Rizzuto, and #204 Frank Smith round out this scare and valuable group of cards that has survived the past fifty years virtually unblemished.
The breakdown of the remaining graded cards and excluding qualifiers is as follows: 578 PSA 9's or 11% of all graded cards, 11,105 PSA 8's or 20% of all graded cards, 15,507 PSA 7's or 28% of all graded cards, 12,813 PSA 6's or 23% of all graded cards, 6,860 PSA 5's or 13% of all graded cards, 3,899 PSA 3 and 4's combined or 7% of all cards graded, and 709 PSA 1 and 2's combined or 1% of all graded cards. The majority of all graded cards, over 71%, fall in the PSA 8 to PSA 6 range that reflects the quality and durability of the cards themselves. As expected, the most frequently graded card in the set is #123 Sandy Koufax (2,645), followed by #164 Roberto Clemente (1,750), #47 Hank Aaron (1,646), #124 Harmon Killebrew (1,600), #2 Ted Williams (1,438), #50 Jackie Robinson (1,362), #4 Al Kaline (1,010), #28 Ernie Banks (955), #194 Willie Mays (916), and #210 Duke Snider (690). Wondering what the most infrequently graded card in the set is? That would be #58 Jim Rivera (107).
One factor that makes the 1955 Topps baseball card set so appealing is that it is very attainable to complete due to its low card total. There is, however, the challenge of acquiring the Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax rookie cards in top grades. Rough or lesser examples can be purchased at reasonable prices and may be a good alternative until the time comes when you are able to upgrade your set. You can even find the wax wrappers and an occasional vending box up for sale on one of the many auction sites if you really want to round out your 1955 collection. What has remained a constant for the 1955 Topps baseball card set the past fifty years is that it has survived the test of time and remains one of the most attractive and sought after sets Topps ever produced.
Please feel free to contact Jim Churilla at [email protected] with any additional information or comments.
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