America was on a comfortable roll in 1955. Peace and prosperity kept spirits high and, in general, life was good. Into this sanguine environment, with "Baby Boomers" beginning to reach gum-buying age in serious numbers, The Topps Company launched another installment in its increasingly popular run of annual baseball card ventures.
The biggest change in Topps' products for 1955 was the switch to a horizontal orientation in its player depictions, with both front and back sides now aligned in a pleasing landscape-style mode. If Topps regarded that modification as a means of setting the company's offering apart from that of its old rival, it must have been chagrined to see that Bowman, too, adopted a horizontal motif for 1955. (Unbeknownst to collectors at the time was the fact that Bowman was finally on the ropes, and it would be acquired by Topps within a few months of both companies' 1955 baseball cards hitting shelves.)
Virtually all of Topps' most widely accepted innovations from prior years were perpetuated in its 1955 release. Two images of each athlete - a portrait and an action illustration - shared cardfront space just as they did in 1954. (Actually, a number of the 1955 images were reused ones, holdovers from 1954.) A colorful team logo occupied a top-edge corner of each card and the entire tableau benefited from shimmering background color and a generous measure of surface gloss.
On the cards' backs, all the good stuff remained. Personal information about the players, a two-line chart containing statistics about the athlete's past-year and career performance, short texts describing the subject's on-field accomplishments, and a cartoon/trivia quiz box occupied the 3 ¾" by 2 5/8 ' surface. All of this information was artfully arranged, and capped by the familiar card number within a baseball graphic at the upper left.
Composition - Although originally projected at 210 cards, just 206 were released. Because of its relatively short breadth, the 1955 Topps series projects the impression of being filled with stars. Indeed, the middle of the decade witnessed a game that was rich in baseball talent, and the 1955 series showcased the sport's best through collectibles that were bright and highly visual in character.
Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Warren Spahn and Al Kaline were just a few of the high-powered individuals who made their appearance in the first group of 1955 Topps cards. Patient collectors who sought out and grabbed later issues (the "High Numbers") were rewarded by the acquisition of Willie Mays, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider and others of that caliber. Finally, the year's rookie class contained several players - Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, Harmon Killebrew - who have retained must-have status among collectors of every succeeding generation.
And what about Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, and Whitey Ford? Those players, and other conspicuous absentees, were tied up in "that contract thing ' once again, and most of them appeared in Bowman's competing product. To this day, though, enthusiasts tend to enjoy 1955 Topps to such a great extent that its lack of full comprehensiveness is seldom mentioned.
Key Features and Rarities - Once more, the "High Numbers," presumably hitting the market just as the season's new football cards were released, are more scarce than the issue's lower-numbered subjects. In 1955, the "Highs" included #s 161 to 210, and #s 151-160 were a bit tougher, too. So Mays, Berra and Snider are more challenging to locate, but Williams, Robinson and Aaron can readily be found ...not a bad trade-off in comparison to the imbalances in other years.
Among the rookies, only Clemente is meaningfully impacted by the "High Number" stigma, although the first card of Harry Agganis (#152), picturing the young Red Sox standout who passed away suddenly in June of 1955, just prior to achieving true stardom, is typically a bit harder to obtain.
The 1955 Topps set contains no bonafide rarities - just a number of pieces that are condition sensitive - and is more of a pleasure than a chore to assemble today.
Bottom Line - With its 1955 effort, Topps demonstrated that visually inspiring cards were here to stay! After a successful run of dazzlers - the "Giant Size" 1952s, the portrait gallery 1953s, and the kinetic 1954s - the company seemed to be on a winning track, and history would affirm that this was indeed the case. The 1955 Topps set's position on an "all-time" list is assured, not by any type of groundbreaking change or attention-grabbing gimmick, but by its worthy stewardship of a concept that had proven its appeal to the card-buying public. It's a classy and attractive, much-cherished issue, and an absolute favorite among baseball nostalgists!