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1954 Topps

The 1954 Topps Baseball set consists of 250 cards, each measuring 2-5/8" by 3-3/4”, and is often credited for setting the market's design standard. Topps redesigned this issue to feature bright colors with a centralized image with a smaller likeness of the player in action. A larger team logo and facsimile autograph, along with standard player factoids, rounded out the design. Big stars included big stars, including Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Gil Hodges, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn and Ted Williams. (Williams returned to the Big Leagues after fulfilling his military obligation and held the distinction of not only being card #1 in this series, but also card #250, one of the most popular cards in the modern hobby). Rookie entries include Hank Aaron, along with Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, and Tom Lasorda. Even though card #s 51-75 are somewhat difficult to secure, collectors agree that the release lacks any truly elusive numbers. Perhaps the only disappointment to fans is the absence of some stars of previous Topps issuances, most notably Mickey Mantle, a victim of familiar contractual licensing rights.

A developing phenomenon, that would come to be seen as the Topps juggernaut, gathered momentum in 1954. That company, not Bowman, was now in a position to dictate baseball cards' preferred dimensions, and its 2 5/8" by 3 ¾" size had effectively become the market's undisputed standard. Still, there was plenty of opportunity for innovation in design with respect to the features that would adorn the cards' big surfaces in a new year, and Topps took full advantage with the creation of its 1954s.

The 1952 issue had been a trendsetter, and 1953 demonstrated a solid theme, executed with restraint and dignity. But all the stops were pulled in 1954, as the new models were characterized by (for lack of a better word) "activity."

All kinds of visual elements vied for the customer's attention on the front of a 1954 Topps baseball card. A central, color image shared space with a smaller one that showed the same player in a game-action posture. A huge team logo proclaimed the subject's franchise affiliation in no uncertain terms, and each player's facsimile autograph, along with a standard caption showing name, position and (again) team, showcased his identity. A brightly-hued background color, which, unusually extended all the way to the card's top edge, set off the entire arrangement, making each 1954 Topps cardfront look like a collage-piece tribute to the featured athlete.

The horizontally-oriented backs were just as busy, with personal information, descriptive text, statistics and cartoon sequences all filling their respective allowed spaces. The aesthetically appealing cardbacks also revealed full-bleed color, with the deep-green accenting of the design's bottom-half left attractively uncontained.

In short, there was nothing tentative about 1954 Topps' manner of presentation. The cards were easily the most eye-catching collectibles of their kind produced to date, and the fervency with which the market responded to their design left little doubt about the success of the concept.

Composition - Numbering just 250 cards, the 1954 Topps release offered a technically limited but still very potent range of subjects. A satisfying array of big stars, including Berra, Ford, Hodges, Mays, Robinson, Snider, Spahn and Williams, populated its ranks, as well as a small but truly amazing group of rookie players: Ernie Banks, Al Kaline and, most significantly, Hank Aaron.

Although clearly still grappling with contractual licensing rights issues that precluded the appearance of some key players (most notably, Mickey Mantle), Topps wasn't fretting about their absence. Instead, the company capitalized on the grandest marquee name that was featured. Ted Williams - just back from military service and once again settling into his starring Major League role - was granted the illustrious position as the issue's #1 depiction. His card, blessed with all of the series' typical style attributes and set apart by a vibrant orange-colored background, assumed its position as the production's flagship entry. But that wasn't enough - Williams also appeared on the final card in the set. There, his yellow-themed, second portrayal displayed different pictures of Ted, and the back of his card #250, which is one of the most popular cards in the modern hobby, carried a full narrative in cartoon form.

In the realm of design, the 1954 Topps cards demonstrate a quirk only a true enthusiast would notice. If one sorts a stack of the 1954 cards with all of the players facing up, the backs are jumbled if the group is examined from the back. Conversely, if the cards are put in order by number (resulting in a neatly ordered, consecutive group when viewed from the reverse), half of the obverse fronts will be upside-down when the sorted pile is looked at from that perspective. This odd circumstance is a result of the factory press-sheet layout, on which cards were placed top-to-top before cutting (those contiguous tops yielding the aforementioned color border at the northward edges) and the backs were similarly aligned to accommodate the borderless green effect on those sides. This pattern wouldn't be employed again for many years, and in any event brought about little or no consternation among hobbyists.

Key Features and Rarities - The awesome 1954 Topps rookie crop, highlighted by Aaron, Kaline, Banks and Tom Lasorda, stands as a focusof interest among present-day Hall of Fame collectors and speculative card-buyers. One segment of the issue (#s 51-75) is seen as mildly difficult, but there are no profoundly elusive numbers in the release. As is the case when attempting to construct many of the vintage card sets, attaining satisfactory condition poses more of a challenge than the simple location of all of its numbers.

Bottom Line - As if any doubt remained at this point, in just the third year of its baseball card activity, Topps was making its intentions clear as the undisputed superior card company of the hobby during that period. The 1954 Topps productions' dual images, and player autographs, and the association of color and graphics featured on single cards were, nothing less than spectacular for their time. In another campaign that witnessed Topps and Bowman going head to head, Topps emerged as the maker of the year's "all-time" classic effort.

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