1955 Topps All-American

Topps 1955 All-American Football set consists of 100 cards, each measuring 2-5/8" by 3-5/8". To circumvent pro footballers’ contractual conflicts with Bowman, Topps created a card set focusing on Heisman Trophy winners and Hall of Famers - some of whom had played their last down several decades ago as well as some who had recently retired. Topps utilized attractive border hues to complement each player's color-enhanced photographic image, with a black-and-white "action" photo as a backdrop and a rendering of his respective alma mater's symbol occupying one corner of every card's obverse. (A red-and-white "All American" logo, at another corner, balanced the design). The set is anchored by Olympian Jim Thorpe, 1920s superstars "Red" Grange, "Turk" Edwards, "Fats" Henry and Beattie Feathers; Heisman winners Jay Berwanger (the first Heisman Trophy recipient) and Nile Kinnick; and legendary coaches Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg. The list continued with recently retired gridiron stars such as Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Leo Nomellini and Alex Wojciechiwicz.

The set was printed on sheets that held 110 designs, resulting in 25 “Short-Prints” including Berwanger, Nomellini, Tom Harmon, Ace Parker, Mel Hein and all #s 93 through 100 (including #97 Don Hutson and #100 Henry). The scarcest “Short Print” celebrates Notre Dame’s Four Horsemen (#68). Variations include Gaynell Tinsley (#14) and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice "Whizzer" White (#21), both of which can be found with or without the back of the other man's card. Stagg's collectible is also known with an error in place. In all of these cases, the proper, "corrected" version is much more widely available. Although no true "rarities" exist within the All-American's composition, the unremitting effects of "demand scarcity" (brought on by the issue's star power), "short printing," and general condition-sensitivity ensure that gathering "only" a hundred different cards isn't easy.

Background- One fact was clear going into the 1955 season, Bowman Gum was king of the football card market. The Philadelphia-based manufacturer had solidified its hold on the attention of gridiron enthusiasts through a well-conceived, black and white photo production in 1948, and followed that milestone with increasingly alluring full-color releases in each succeeding year from 1950 through 1954. It was presumed by all observers that Bowman's 1955 offering would be comparable in style and quality - and degree of success - to its immediate predecessors.

The Topps Company, meanwhile, was seeking to perpetuate the aggressive posture it had demonstrated through the first half of the decade. Its determined pursuit of candy counter market share had yielded considerable reward with the baseball theme, and the company was responsible during this period for dozens of non-sports productions covering a mind-boggling variety of topics. Not yet known was the fact that this same, proactive stance on the part of Topps toward its gum card business would result in a takeover of Bowman by the end of 1955.

It must have been frustrating for Topps during the early 1950s, as the company no doubt sensed there was a real market for football cards, but felt powerless to engage it. Bowman held an iron grip on the NFL's contract rights - and what was Topps to do? Its attempts to enter the category had been limited to a gimmicky series of tiny, part-cloth collectibles in 1950 and an equally problematic, scratch-off effort in 1951. Both of those issues featured then-current collegiate players, and the company's retrospective assessment of that very limited talent pool apparently led to a boardroom revelation as the 1955 season dawned.

"How about college players from the past? We'll find loads of big-name players if we look into the college game's history!" Having articulated a concept in this imaginary and possibly oversimplified fashion, Topps proceeded to create one of the most attractive and generally appealing card sets that's ever been associated with the football collecting specialty.

Heisman Trophy winners and Hall of Famers - some of whom had played their last down several decades ago as well as some who had recently retired - shone from the ranks of the 1955 Topps series' lineup. The set, christened "All-American," brought great college coaches to the modern public's attention, gave quite a few powerhouse college programs a moment in the sun, and showcased numerous legends who had never before appeared on a football card.

A noticeable aspect to the gallery was found in the fact that none of the players' professional teams were mentioned in any way; to avoid contractual conflicts, the athletes' illustrations, captions and referenced highlights noted only their onetime college affiliations. (This feature, far from acting as a negative, actually came to be seen as an element of "purity," and as rather charming.)

Composition - The 1955 Topps All-American set contains 100 cards. Its spectacular player selection confirms that this relatively short span of numbers is a suitable one, and it was probably just right for a year-ending sports season that wasn't as lengthy as baseball's. Into this group of 100 subjects, Topps stuffed what is arguably more "greatness," card for card, than any other production seen to date.

The college-only framework opened plenty of avenues, turning a vast group of stars into "fair game" for inclusion. Olympian Jim Thorpe, 1920s superstars "Red" Grange, "Turk" Edwards, "Fats" Henry and Beattie Feathers; standout Heisman winners who never reached the pros such as Jay Berwanger (the first Heisman Trophy recipient) and Nile Kinnick; plus greatest-ever coaches Knute Rockne and Amos Alonzo Stagg, are all represented in the special 1955 Topps array. Players who until a couple of years prior could be found in Bowman's annual regular issues included Otto Graham, Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Leo Nomellini and Alex Wojciechiwicz.

Key Features and Rarities - Topps' 100-card set was printed on press sheets that held 110 designs. Under this formula, clearly some cards would be produced in lesser quantities than others. "All-American" is home to more than 25 "Short Prints" ("SPs") who are tougher to obtain than their set-mates. Among these particularly difficult entries are Tom Harmon, Ace Parker, Mel Hein, Berwanger, Nomellini, and all of the numbers from 93 through 100 (including #97 Don Hutson and #100 Henry). The most hungered-for "SP" of all is #68, which features an especially popular depiction of all four of the players who comprised Notre Dame's 1924 backfield combo: The Four Horsemen.

All of the series' entries received "star treatment" in aesthetic terms. The prevailing-standard card dimensions of 2 5/8" by 3 5/8" were employed - none of that oddball small stuff, which Topps had tried before - and attractive border hues were used to complement each player's color-enhanced photographic image. A black and white "action" photo was placed as a tasteful backdrop to each man's likeness, and a picturesque rendering of his respective alma mater's symbol occupied one corner of every card's obverse. (A red-and-white "All American" logo, at another corner, afforded balance in design.) The cards' backs, printed in black against a two-tone blue color scheme, revealed collegiate career highlights in a paragraph of text, and a cartoon/trivia item also was featured.

There are tempting pieces for variation collectors in this set, too. The cards of Gaynell Tinsley (#14) and future U.S. Supreme Court Justice "Whizzer" White (#21) can be found with or without the back of the other man's card. A.A. Stagg's collectible is also known with an error in place. In all of these cases, the proper, "corrected" version is much more widely available.

Although no true "rarities" exist within the All-American's composition, the unremitting effects of "demand scarcity" (brought on by the issue's star power), "short printing," and general condition-sensitivity ensure that the gathering of "only" a hundred different cards isn't quite as easy as one might assume!

Bottom Line - Here's a wonderful product, which must have emerged out of the blue. 1955 Topps All-Americans form a timeless, enduring effort showcasing football history in its most exciting and favorable light. The following year would see Topps take over where Bowman would leave off, as the growing confectioner became the new leader in football card production. Though its maker quickly and pragmatically abandoned their concept, these "All-Americans" were left behind as a marvelous and indisputably "all-time" level, one-year effort.

SET LIST

# CARD NAME
1 Herman Hickman
2 John Kimbrough
3 Ed Weir
4 Erny Pinckert
5 Bobby Grayson
6 Niles Kinnick
6 Tom Hamilton (Wrong Back)
7 Andy Bershak
8 George Cafego
9 Tom Hamilton
10 Bill Dudley
11 Bobby Dodd
12 Otto Graham
13 Aaron Rosenberg
14 Gaynell Tinsley (Correct Bio)
14 Gaynell Tinsley (Whizzer White Bio)
15 Ed Kaw
15 Ed Kaw (Wrong Back)
16 Knute Rockne
17 Bob Reynolds
18 Pudge Heffelfinger
19 Bruce Smith
19 Bruce Smith (Wrong Back)
20 Sammy Baugh
21 Whizzer White (Correct Bio)
21 Whizzer White (Gaynell Tinsley Bio)
22 Brick Muller
23 Dick Kazmaier
24 Ken Strong
25 Casimir Myslinski
26 Larry Kelley
27 Red Grange
28 Mel Hein
29 Leo Nomellini
30 Wes E. Fesler
31 George Sauer Sr
32 Hank Foldberg
33 Bob Higgins
34 Davey O'Brien
35 Tom Harmon
36 Turk Edwards
37 Jim Thorpe
38 Amos Alonzo Stagg
39 Jerome Holland
40 Don Moomaw
41 Joseph Alexander
42 J. Edward Tryon
43 George Savitsky
44 Ed Garbisch
45 Elmer Oliphant
46 Arnie Lassman (Alfred "Al" Lassman)
47 Bo McMillan
48 Ed Widseth
49 Don Zimmerman
50 Ken Kavanaugh
51 Duane Purvis
52 John Lujack
53 John F. Green
54 Edwin Dooley
55 Frank Merritt
56 Ernie Nevers
56 Ernie Nevers (Wrong Back)
57 Vic Hanson
58 Ed Franco
59 Doc Blanchard
60 Dan Hill
61 Charles Brickley
62 Harry Newman
63 Charlie Justice
64 Benny Friedman
65 Joe Donchess
66 Bruiser Kinard
67 Frankie Albert
68 The Four Horsemen
69 Frank Sinkwich
70 Bill Daddio
71 Bob Wilson
72 Chub Peabody
73 Paul Governali
74 Gene McEver
75 Hugh Gallarneau
76 Angelo Bertelli
77 Bowden Wyatt
78 Jay Berwanger
79 Pug Lund
80 Bennie Oosterbaan
81 Cotton Warburton
82 Alex Wojciechowicz
83 Ted Coy
84 Ace Parker
84 Ace Parker (Wrong Back)
85 Sid Luckman
86 Albie Booth
87 Adolph Schulz
88 Ralph Kercheval
89 Marshall Goldberg
90 Charley O'Rourke
91 Bob Odell
92 Biggie Munn
93 Willie Heston
94 Chuck Bernard
95 Chris Cagle
96 Bill Hollenback
97 Don Hutson
98 Beattie Feathers
99 Don Whitmire
100 Fats Henry
100 Fats Henry (Wrong Back)