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1953 Topps

The 1953 Topps Baseball set consists of 274 cards, each measuring 2-5/8" by 3-3/4”. The sophomore set was originally slated to total 280 cards, but contractual agreements between six players and rival company Bowman resulted in the cancellation of card #s 253, 261, 267, 268, 271, and 275. Each bears a recognizable artistic depiction of the featured player, a single bottom corner caption area (red for American League and black for National League) relating the player’s name and position, plus his team logo. Represented heroes included Series 1 offerings of Jackie Robinson (#1) and Mickey Mantle (#82), with Series 2 encompassing #s 86 to 165 and the likes of Yogi Berra (#104) and Phil Rizzuto (#114). Willie Mays did not appear until #244, with that piece and fellow high-numbered cards #s 221 to 280 subjected to limited distribution late in the season, with some – like Mays - short printed. Other key players in the 1953 Topps collection include Hall of Famers Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Pee Wee Reese, Satchell Paige (on his sole career-contemporary Topps offering), Warren Spahn, and Early Wynn (with Wynn being among the few “Low Number” short prints. Conspicuous in their absence were depictions of Ted Williams, engaged in his second tour of duty for the US Marine Corps, and contemporaries Gil Hodges, Stan Musial, and Duke Snider, the three of whom were under exclusive contract to Bowman.

Topps' 1953 release emulated the prior year's successful "Giant Size" experiment. For its sophomore-season effort, the company concocted a largely portraitfilled issue, with favorably enticing but still-restrained aesthetic qualities suggesting the maturity of the genre - not bad for what was only its make's second year of involvement in a demanding market!

The 1953 series is distinguished by detailed player portraits on most of its entries - the artistically rendered but still true-to-life illustrations effectively allowed card buyers to - get acquainted - with their heroes, and to recognize their faces. Stylistic enhancements on the cardfronts were limited to single bottom-corner caption areas. There, a viewer would find the featured athlete's name and position, and an in-color version of his team's current cartoon or symbol logo enabled immediate identification of his alliance. The caption areas' background fields were red for American Leaguers, black for National League subjects.

Cardbacks exhibited a busy layout, but it was a creative and effective one. Descriptive text, the preceding year's and career-to-date statistics and personal information had by 1953 become routine elements of the cards' reverse side, and these were retained. Instead of decorating the cards' fronts as in other years, a facsimile autograph was now placed atop a player's biography on the back; the scripting was inked in deep red, to match the theme staged by the backs' other elements. Topps also launched a "Dugout Quiz" trivia question feature to engage readers' interest, that consumed more than one-fourth of the back's available surface. In one form or another, the "Quiz" format would be re-employed in many subsequent seasons' Topps products.

Finally, huge numerals stating a card's number (and situated within a baseball graphic) appeared at the upper left corner of each collectible's reverse side. With that bold sequencing device, not to mention the color and logo-coded fronts, Topps cards must have been a breeze to place in order, in any fashion desired by a young fan during the summer of 1953!

Composition - Jackie Robinson's card stood as the #1 depiction in Topps' 274-piece, 1953 release. Although as initially conceived, 280 cards were foreseen, six numbers - probably casualties of last-minute pullouts owing to contract disputes with rival Bowman - were never made or distributed.

A more-than-adequate representation of the 1953 campaign's star power was included, and this time, unlike in 1952, Mickey Mantle (#82) was front-and-center in the group's low-numbered series. Customers had to wait for Willie Mays, however, as the Giants' popular center fielder (card #244) didn't surface until the issue's final segment. Among the release's other important players were Satchell Paige (on what would turn out to be his only career-contemporary Topps card), Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Ed Mathews, Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Phil Rizzuto, Pee Wee Reese and Warren Spahn. Marine pilot Ted Williams was still half-a-world away from participation in baseball-themed activities and, in order to find a few key stars like Duke Snider, Stan Musial and Gil Hodges ...well... buyers were left to turn to Bowman for those.

Each player was treated very respectfully by the generally unknown artists who were commissioned to adapt portraiture for use in the 1953 Topps set, and this is a pervasive value that is observable while viewing the issue's gallery. These painters seem to have been given just a bit more latitude in stylizing the release's later-numbered entries. Although a number of cards (like Mays') deliver full-length poses, and several - as a delightful exercise of artistic license in showcasing one's employer - reveal fanciful Topps advertising signs on the outfield walls behind the pictured athletes.

Key Features and Rarities - As postwar baseball cards were regularly placed into competition with football issues when the autumn months approached, the final elements of the former sport's productions began to suffer predictable scarcity relative to a given set's early series. Thus, a run of high-number cards (#s 221-280) became 1953 Topps' most challenging segment. Of particular frustration, reminiscent of 1951 Bowman, was Willie Mays' presence in this group.

Furthermore, some of those last 54 pieces (the run was home to the set's aforementioned half-dozen missing numbers that would have brought its total to 60) were "Short Prints." As a result of press-sheet construction, and, refreshingly, not deliberate perfidy on the part of the manufacturer, Mays' card was only half as attainable as Johnny Lindell's. Collectibles of Lou Sleater and John Hetki were produced in twice the respective quantities of those picturing Jim Gilliam and Harvey Haddix. Yes, enthusiasts needed to buy a few more packs than they might otherwise have wanted, but full sets (the six then-unexplained phantom numbers notwithstanding) were nominally attainable.

Oddly, once more a function of press sheet considerations and probably barely noticed as the 1953s hit the shelves, a few lower-series cards were also technically SPs. The weight of the first group's large volume sold must have obscured the relative difficulty of #s 61 Early Wynn and 81 Joe Black (plus three others) among "Low Number" consumers.

Nothing "rare" or especially problematic affects those who wish to construct 1953 Topps. There are a few understandable SP or "High Number" hurdles to face when piecing together the array, but to presage a trend that would last for many years, acquisition of the series' Mantle and Mays cards tends to stand as most fans' top priority.

Bottom Line - A highly encouraging symbol of continuity, Topps' second baseball release seemed to point to a company philosophy that would compel it to conscientiously build upon prior year card sets and still give collectors something new to anticipate with each release. The 1953 Topps issue, an extremely worthy group of collectibles, easily holds its own among other "all-time" classics from its era.

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