Markusen: The 65th anniversary of Topps cards

From SABR member Bruce Markusen at The Hardball Times on February 8, 2016:

For some of us baseball fans, it has become a joyful rite of winter. By the time those winter months start giving way to longer days and at least slightly warmer weather, we naturally begin to think about the early days of spring training—and the nearly coinciding release of the newest set of Topps baseball cards.

For six and a half decades, Topps and baseball cards have been synonymous, so intertwined that it’s hard to imagine a time when Topps did not produce the wonderful images on the small pieces of cardboard that help us attach faces to the names of major league players.

Baseball cards have existed since 1869, when the Peck and Snyder sporting goods company issued the first card, featuring the Cincinnati Red Stockings. Then came the tobacco cards from companies like Allen & Ginter and Old Judge; those cards were issued with various tobacco products, including cigarettes, which created some controversy because they targeted children as customers. As we moved into the 20th century, the Cracker Jack Company became involved, leading to an association between candy snacks and cards. Then came the gum cards of the 1920s and ’30s, first produced by Fleer and then by Goudey.

Topps did not begin its association with baseball cards until later, years after the forays by Fleer and Goudey. The year was 1951, or 65 years ago (as the title of this piece notes). The timing was just right, in part because of the baby boom, which commenced at the end of World War II, producing more children to buy the baseball cards and bubble gum products Topps produced. Also, baseball itself enjoyed a boom in popularity during the 1950s. Some historians have called it the “Golden Era” of baseball, though I suppose that label could stir its own level of debate.

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Originally published: February 8, 2016. Last Updated: February 8, 2016.