1950 Topps Felt Backs: It’s worth noting here that Topps’ entrance into the sports card market was actually the 1950 Topps Felt Back Football Card set, which consists of 100 cards and exclusively features collegiate players to prevent infringing on Bowman’s pro football contractual rights. The unnumbered cards measure in at just 7/8″x7/16.” Player images are depicted in black and white against a color background. 25 cards in the set were made with either a brown or yellow background on the front with the latter being the rarest. The key card in the set is Joe Paterno, which is considered the Penn State head coach’s rookie card. To view the current eBay auctions for 1950 Topps Felt Backs, click here.
For this exercise, we’re going to compare the general consensus of what people feel is the first Topps baseball set: 1951 Topps Red and Blue Backs, or 1952 Topps.
Before we dig into the survey results, let’s review each of these two sets.
1951 Topps Red and Blue Backs
These cards have rounded corners, have playing-card style backs, and are a bit smaller than the standard size. The Red Backs are Set A (52 cards), while the rarer Blue Backs are Set B (52 cards). The cards were sold in 2-card packs with a piece of caramel candy and used for a game in which you shuffle the cards and pull one at random.
To see what’s currently on eBay from 1951 Topps Red and Blue Backs, click here.
This 407-card set features the classic multi-series, stat-backed roster with dimensions a little bigger than the standard card (size became standardized in 1957). This is considered Topps’ first major set and features the most iconic post-war sports card of all time – the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle.
To see what’s currently on eBay from 1952 Topps, click here.
In my experience, I’ve learned that some collectors discount the 1951 Topps Red and Blue Back sets as not being official releases due to their game nature, while other collectors didn’t even know these sets existed. Sure, these sets aren’t not nearly as popular as the 1952 Topps release but they’re still a product of Topps from the year prior, which by their vary design makes them the first Topps sets.
In an effort to know what collectors think is the first official Topps release, I posed the following question in a single-question survey:
Between the 1951 Topps Red & Blue Back, and the 1952 Topps base set, which do you feel is the first Topps set?
- Ran from March 21-23, 2019
- Marketed on Twitter, Facebook Groups, and Community Forums
- Collected 50 Responses
The data shows that 70% of collectors surveyed feel the 1951 Topps Red and Blue Back sets are the first official Topps sets.
I was surprised to see 30% of collectors surveyed indicate that they felt the 1952 Topps set was the first release. I always just assumed that if you’re presented with two options with stated origin dates and asked to select which came first, you’d select the older one by default. The results of this survey, however, falsifies that assumption.
The results show that some collectors feel that Topps began producing sets in 1952. The 1952 Topps set was the first set to showcase the classic multi-series, stat-backed roster of cards, which has become a staple of Topps’ brand essence even in the modern era. That said, there are purist collectors who believe this to be why they feel Topps officially began in 1952.
For those collectors who, like me, take the first issue of anything to be the beginning of the associated thing, we’ll automatically choose the 1951 Topps Red and Blue Backs as being the first Topps sets. Like them or not, here are some other famous firsts:
- 1988 Score is the first Pinnacle set
- Mickey Mantle’s one and only rookie card comes from 1951 Bowman
- Delino DeShields’ one and only rookie card comes from 1988 O-Pee-Chee
- Pedro Martinez’ one and only rookie card comes from 1991 Upper Deck Final Edition
Which of these do you feel is the first Topps set?