PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1955 Topps All-American Football Card Set
A Collegiate Classic
by Kevin Glew
It was the final "sack" that Bowman would endure.
That might be the best way to describe the impact of Topps' colorful, large-sized, 1955 All-American Football cards on its trading card competitor.
In 1955, with its baseball card sales already trailing Topps, Bowman still owned exclusive rights to manufacture NFL cards, so Topps had to be creative to attract gridiron collectors. After releasing two little-talked-about, early 1950s issues that showcased current college players, Topps unveiled its dazzling 100-card, 1955 issue that showcased past and present collegiate stars. The set offered the first cards of legends like Don Hutson and Mel Hein, as well as desirable singles of Jim Thorpe, Knute Rockne, Red Grange and the Four Horsemen.
"Topps was smart enough to create a set that featured all of the great collegiate players before 1955," explained Jim Nahigian, who, along with a friend, has built the No. 1, 1955 Topps All-American Football Master Set on the PSA Set Registry. "A lot of young people today don't realize that college football was tenfold as popular as pro football at that time. It was a brilliant move by Topps. And they included names like Thorpe and Grange and other great collegiate players that had never been on a football card."
Bill Miller, owner of the registry's No. 5 Current Finest, 1955 Topps All-American Football set, also praises its player selection.
"It's just a set with so many Hall of Famers, and it traces almost the entire history of football," he said. "You get so many of the greatest players of all time, all in one set."
And not only does this set deliver pasteboards of a vast number of legends, but it also presents these greats on large-sized cards that flaunt a detailed and colorful design. Measuring 2-5/8" by 3-5/8", the 1955 Topps All-American cards exhibit vivid color images of the players in front of a black-and-white action photo. The quality and color of the images are so striking that in many cases, it looks like the players are about to jump out of the card and tackle you. The Casimir Myslinski (#25) is a classic example of this. It looks like the fierce-looking Army center is about to leap out and haul us down.
"The images on these cards are extraordinary," said Nahigian. "You can see the emotion in some of the expressions on the players' faces. The images are really what puts this set over the top."
Nahigian also notes that the black-and-white background photos are pro football images, many of which were taken at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
There's also a colored frame surrounding the photos, as well as a college logo on one of the top corners. The player's name, position and a red, white and blue All-American logo can be found at the bottom. The majority of the cards boast a horizontal orientation on the front, but there are five cards - Bob Reynolds (#17), Thorpe (#37), Ken Kavanaugh (#50), Paul Governali (#73) and Gene McEver (#74) - that are vertical.
The card backs display black text on a blue background. The card number is featured inside a football design on the top corner to the left of the player's full name, position and college. Biographical information can be found below on the left side. This generally outlines the player's collegiate accomplishments, but some cards also document their professional achievements. In a few cases, the player's military service is mentioned. For example, Nile Kinnick's single (#6) notes that "he crashed while piloting a U.S. Navy Plane on a mission" during the war.
The right portion of the back flaunts a cartoon which illustrates a trivia question or a query about football rules. The illustrations are often light-hearted and designed to amuse. For example, the question on Bobby Grayson's card (#5) asks if a player can hide the ball. And the accompanying cartoon shows a player running with the ball tucked into the back of his jersey.
The words "All-American" are emblazoned in large capital letters at the bottom of the backs.
Players and coaches from close to 50 colleges are included. With eight representatives, the Army has the most cards, followed by the University of Michigan (7) and the University of Tennessee (6).
The 1955 Topps All-American cards were distributed in one series in one-card, penny packs, as well as in nine-card, nickel packs. They were also available in 22-card, 10-cent cellos. Nahigian and a lifelong friend uncovered a substantial number of cello boxes in his friend's father's closet around 1986, but they didn't begin opening them and selling some of them until 2008. His father's friend had been a wholesale toy dealer in Los Angeles.
Largely through the high-grade cards pulled from these packs, Nahigian has helped his friend assemble the No. 1, 1955 Topps All-American set on the registry. This set boasts an incredible 9.34 GPA and was inducted into the PSA Set Registry Hall of Fame in 2009.
Nahigian says that in his experience, only about half of the set's cards are in the cello packs.
"It's interesting; we only found 50 out of the 100 cards in the cello packs," he shared. "The good news is that these cello packs had about 98 percent of the star power cards. The one major card that did not come in a cello pack was the Thorpe card."
He also notes that only about half of the cards out of the cello packs are properly centered.
"Also, the way the cello packs are packaged, some of the corners get tugged from the tightness of the packaging, especially on the top and bottom cards," said Nahigian.
Over the years, a varying number of short prints have been reported for the 1955 Topps All-American set. Some publications have reported as many as 34. But a partial sheet that surfaced for auction in 2008 cast doubt on this. Mike Thomas notes on his excellent website www.footballcardgallery.com that traditionally short-printed cards appear in the same rows on sheets. But many of the alleged 1955 Topps All-American short-prints were scattered all over the partial sheet that was auctioned.
Furthermore, the prevailing belief in the hobby is that this 100-card set was printed on a 220-card full sheet - or two, connecting 110-card half sheets. Each 110-card half sheet has 11 rows of 10 cards. So if the set's 100 cards were printed on each of the 110-card half sheets, that would account for 200 cards, leaving one row (or 10 cards) on each half-sheet that would seemingly feature double-printed cards, ultimately making for 20 double-printed cards.
"I don't think anybody is ever going to know for sure [about the short-prints]," said Nahigian. "All I can say is that based on the cello packs [I have seen], what are known as short-prints are almost double-prints as far as I'm concerned."
The 1955 Topps All-American Football set boasts six Hall of Famer rookies: Mel Hein (#28), Ernie Nevers (#56), Bruiser Kinard (#66), Ace Parker (#84), Don Hutson (#97) and Fats Henry (#100).
Nahigian says the Hutson is the most coveted of these rookies. This is the first card of a player that some consider to be the greatest receiver in NFL history.
"That has one of the greatest images you'll ever see on any card in any sport in my opinion," said Nahigian. "It's an absolutely iconic image of Hutson with his hands stretched out, looking back to catch the pigskin."
The Hutson card is also difficult to find properly centered. Of the 646 submitted, there have been two PSA GEM-MT 10s and 14 PSA MINT 9s. One PSA 9 sold for $5,628.75 in a Robert Edward Auctions sale.
As the last card in the set, the Henry rookie (#100) was often subjected to additional wear and tear at the bottom of collector piles. There has yet to be a PSA 10 and there are just 10 PSA 9s. One PSA 9 commanded $3,671 on eBay in December 2014.
On top of the six Hall of Famer rookie cards in the 1955 Topps All-American set, 11 other players with busts in Canton are also represented: Bill Dudley (#10), Otto Graham (#12), Sammy Baugh (#20), Ken Strong (#24), Red Grange (#27), Leo Nomellini (#29), Turk Edwards (#36), Thorpe (#37), Barney Friedman (#64), Alex Wojciechowicz (#82) and Sid Luckman (#85).
Most would rank the Thorpe (#37) as the key card in the set. This is the only regular issue football card of the man that some rank as the best all-around athlete of the 20th century. This card is regularly hampered by poor centering and print defects. Of the 1,059 submitted, there have been 10 PSA 9s, with nothing higher. One PSA 9 commanded $6,791.33 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2012.
Nahigian has found the Wojciechowicz card (#82) elusive in virtually any grade. He says this card is rarely found with good centering. Just three PSA 9s exist. A PSA NM-MT 8 fetched $285 on eBay in November 2015.
Another highly coveted single is the Four Horseman card (#68). This is the set's only multi-player card, and it features the legendary, early 1920s Notre Dame backfield of Jim Crowley, Elmer Layden, Harry Stuhldreher and Don Miller. This card is also often hampered by poor centering and print defects on its yellow background on the front. The 20 PSA 9s represent the highest graded examples. One PSA 9 fetched $4,000 on eBay in February 2015.
Cards of 11 Heisman Trophy winners are also included in this issue: Kinnick (#6), Bruce Smith (#19), Dick Kazmaier (#23), Larry Kelley (#26), Davey O'Brien (#34), Tom Harmon (#35), John Lujack (#52), Doc Blanchard (#59), Frank Sinkwich (#69), Angelo Bertelli (#76) and Jay Berwanger (#78). All but two of these - Lujack and Smith - are rookie cards.
The Kinnick is one of the most desirable of the Heisman winner cards. If you look closely, you'll notice that his first name is spelled incorrectly (Niles). Of the 491 submitted, there have been just four PSA 9s, one of which sold for $3,299 on eBay in April 2015.
With only one PSA 9, four PSA NM-MT+ 8.5s and 39 PSA NM-MT 8s, the Sinkwich card (#69) is the set's most evasive in PSA 8 or better condition.
"That card is super difficult to find with reasonable centering," said Nahigian. "I've probably seen two or three Sinkwich cards that are reasonably centered in all of these years."
Nahigian says the Elmer Oliphant single (#45) has also been tough to track down in flawless form.
"There's one PSA 9 of that card on the Population Report, and we do not know where that PSA 9 resides," said Nahigian. "That's basically the only card [that would upgrade our set], and we don't know how to get a hold of it."
One of the 51 PSA 8s fetched $165 on eBay in June 2015.
Aside from the misspelling on the Kinnick card (#6), there are two other uncorrected errors in this issue. The Grange single (#27) lists him as a quarterback when he was actually a halfback, while the Bob Odell single (#91) mistakenly features a photo of Howard Odell.
Topps also corrected two cards. The backs of the Gaynell Tinsley (#14) and Whizzer White cards (#21) were reportedly mixed up during the initial print run but were quickly corrected. As a result, the error versions command a significant premium.
These errors add intrigue to this colorful set that made Topps the new leader in football cards and dealt Bowman its final "sack." In February 1956, Bowman was purchased by Topps.
"I think the future of the All-American set will remain strong just because of the tremendous number of Hall of Famers, over a long period, that it has," said Miller.
Nahigian also believes this set has a solid future.
"I think this set will always have a special place with collectors because it's one of the top three football sets of all time," he said. "Obviously, you could make a case for the 1935 National Chicle set and probably the 1952 Bowman Large set, but I think the 1955 Topps All-American set is right up there with them just because it's the set that pushed Bowman out of the card market. It was Topps' first serious football run, and it's widely known by collectors as being one of the iconic, classic designs of not only football card sets but cards in any sport."
For more information on the 1955 Topps All-American football set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/football-cards/1955-topps-all-american/58.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of March 2016.
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