1955 Topps Baseball Card Set - Peace Continues as Topps Wins Baseball Card War
September 30, 2009
by William Szczepanek
Though everyone had problems, 1955 was an idyllic time when hope and great expectations moved an entire country to see better times ahead. People were unmoved by the fact that the Pentagon had announced plans to develop intercontinental ballistic missiles. As long as we were doing it, there were no problems. The U.S. was now the world power and monitored activity everywhere. President Eisenhower sent advisors to South Vietnam to help with some unrest. The United states was in the midst of all out peace, while Topps fought Bowman for the hearts and minds of the baseball card buying kids. People were able to find jobs and Americans were on the move to the suburbs, where families raised children to an improving educational system.
After producing two classic sets in 1953 and 1954, people (kids) waited anxiously for the Topps 1955 baseball card set. Topps was going head to head with Bowman and this called for another trend setting card. So, what did Topps do? They took many of the photos from 1954, turned the cards sideways and added a color action pose to replace the black and white. Now, in fairness, Topps didn't use all of the 1954 head shots, but enough to make it feel like the new card model was just a horizontal replica of the previous year. The 1955 version also had almost exclusive head shots in the foreground, whereas the 1954 style had many head and shoulders images and partial action poses, like holding a bat.
Though, for some reason, the new cards seemed more modern. They had low sleek lines like the new American cars of the later fifties, and more color. The background was not a solid color like 1954. It was a color gradient, or screen that changed horizontally providing a rich background with added depth to the pictures.
Kids were growing up and so was television. The TV western, Gunsmoke, debuted. It was adult western that kids could watch too. Kids watched the gun fights and the adults wondered whether Miss Kitty, proprietor of the Long Branch Saloon, and Marshall Matt Dillon were a thing. Alfred Hitchcock would scare both kids and adults, but Davey Crockett stilled ruled the countryside, after being "Born on a Mountaintop in Tennessee". For youngsters of the time there was much to see and do. Kids also began to go out to eat more as the first McDonald's spread its golden arches in Des Plaines, IL. The Mickey Mouse Club debuted on TV and millions of very young boys fell in love with Annette Funicello, but they didn't love her enough to desert their baseball cards. That show combined with the Disneyland TV show caused kids to pester their parents to control the vacation direction. Disneyland opened in Anaheim, CA and I'm sure it was a kid at the time, not a major league baseball player, who was the first to utter the phrase, "We're going to Disneyland!".
Movies appealed to all ages with Marty, and The Seven Year Itch for adults and Lady and the Tramp pulling in the kids. James Dean gains immortality, but dies in a car crash immediately after filming Rebel Without a Cause.
Much was going on in Washington. The Civil Rights movement began when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. Eisenhower suffered coronary thrombosis and the country wondered if Richard Nixon was capable of handling the job of President. Another Washington point of interest is that the Topps set of 1955 printed the team name, Washington Nationals, on all cards instead of Washington Senators. Were they 50 years ahead the times? No. It was just that the cards were produced before the licensing agreement for the Senators was changed. Bowman issued cards later and therefore had the correct name, Washington Senators, on their cards. This was very confusing to a seven year old who had cards showing the Washington Nationals and no team with that name existing.
The Polio vaccine was deemed safe and I, like many other kids, was convinced that the shot was less painful than the alternative. So, the kids of the day dodged another bullet and had the opportunity to grow up in a more healthy environment.
The first domestic terror bombing occurred on November 1, as a commercial airliner exploded in mid air over Colorado, killing everyone on board. The perpetrator was a man who placed a time bomb on the plan in his mother's luggage as he proceeded to take out insurance on her life. He was executed for the crime.
In business, General Motors would be the first company to earn a billion dollars, making cars all Americans craved. Tim Berners-Lee, English inventor of the World Wide Web, and Bill Gates, American software entrepreneur were born. If they had not been born I could be writing this article on an old Smith Corona and mailing it around the world.
In baseball, Elson Howard became the first African-American to play for the Yankees. Sam Jones was the first African-American to throw a no-hitter. In one game the White Sox scored 29 runs on 29 hits to beat Kansas City Athletics. The Brooklyn Dodgers clinched their 8th straight pennant and finally defeated the Yankees in the World Series behind the pitching of Johnny Podres. Cy Young and Honus Wagner died, and Robin Yount was born.
The world was changing fast as exemplified by the top ten music hits of 1955.
Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado
In the baseball card arena, Bowman had 320 cards in its set from 1955 and captured a number of players with contracts that prevented them from being produced by Topps. Mickey Mantle was the most notable of those missing from the Topps checklist, but the list was very long. Bowman had the very hokey, wood grain television set set (yes, 2 sets). These cards were not very popular with kids, though they did have umpires. The color TV photographs presented images that were not too familiar, since very few people had color sets. Topps only managed to produce 210 cards in 1955, but their cash flow was good and they won the battle by acquiring Bowman before the 1956 season. Card numbers 175, 186, 203 209 were not issued leaving only 206 actual cards. Cards #175 (Stan Musial), 186 (Whitey Ford), 203 (Bob Feller), & 209 (Herb Score) which were never originally issued in 1955, have recently been re-issued by Topps and distributed at the National card show.
Thus, Topps held a monopoly on the baseball card market for the next 30 years. Was that good or bad? Even based on what has happened afterward, with the baseball card becoming a commodity, the argument lives on and so do baseball cards.