1955 Topps Baseball Cards Go Horizontal
by Dean Hanley
Founder and Owner, Dean's Cards
Topps kept its cards fresh in 1955 by introducing a horizontal layout on the front of their cards for the first time. While the 1952 Topps cards featured horizontal backs, Topps never attempted a horizontal front until 1955. Fortunately for Topps, the company had learned so much about what card consumers wanted since 1951, that there was enough interesting material to fill the large card canvas.
As in 1954, the 1955 Topps baseball cards have two different pictures of the players on each card -- a close-up portrait and an action shot set further away, which was an improvement on the idea formulated in 1954. Topps also incorporated a facsimile autograph as the company did in its 1954 set. Topps continued the use of the Major League logos, which had become a unique signature of its sets. This was a concept that Bowman never adopted. The 1955 Topps can be distinguished by the panel at the bottom, which features the players’ name, position, and team.
Losing the Contract Battle -- but Winning the War
The entire 1955 Topps baseball card set consists of only 206 cards. Although Bowman was losing the gum card war in terms of sales, Bowman was actually winning the battle for exclusive contracts with the players. As a result, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Bob Feller are conspicuously absent from the 1955 Topps set.
By 1955, the battle lines in the Great Baseball Card Gum War were stabilizing and, as a result, only 41 players appeared in both the Topps and Bowman baseball card sets. Only 144 players appeared exclusively on the 1955 Topps cards, while a record 210 players appeared exclusively in the Bowman set. Topps had already printed cards for some players who signed with Bowman in the 1955 set, just as Topps had previously done in 1953. As a result, four numbers from the 1955 Topps set were never issued: Cards numbered 175, 186, 203 and 209.
There are no major variations in the 1955 Topps set, making it somewhat easier to collect. However, the 1955 Topps set does include a high number series (#161-210) that is more expensive than the low number series. Duke Snider (#210) is particularly difficult to find; it was the very last card issued by Topps in 1955 and is known to have centering and condition issues.
Topps Again Has Better Rookie Cards
Another reason the 1955 Topps set is popular with today’s collectors is the three rookie cards of future Hall-of-Fame players that can be found in this set: Sandy Koufax (#123), Roberto Clemente (#164) and Harmon Killebrew (#124). Unlike the Topps Rookie Class of the previous year, the performance of these rookies would not be a factor in card sales in 1955. The reason was that none of these three players were considered any more than prospects with raw potential in 1955 and none would become stars for at least another four years.
Results: Topps Outsells Bowman -- Again
Although Bowman still laid claim to the most famous player of the day, Mickey Mantle, Topps made up for his absence in its 1955 set by issuing a solid first series that included: Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Warren Spahn, Al Kaline, and Ernie Banks. This dealt a heavy blow to the Bowman Gum Company. Topps issued its final series late in the summer, filling it with the likes of Willie Mays, Duke Snider, and Yogi Berra.
The result was that collectors again preferred the exciting and attractive 1955 Topps cards over the Bowman issue, and Topps sold more cards for the fourth consecutive year. Although few collectors realized it at the time Bowman had lost money each of those years and their losses had reached a critical point.
Dean Hanley, founder and owner of DeansCards.com, is considered one of the foremost experts on the subject of vintage baseball cards, other sports and non-sports cards and has a regular column in the Sports Collectors Digest and publishes articles on his blog. Dean has also written two books on vintage sports cards: The Bubble Gum Card War: The Great Bowman & Topps Sets from 1948 to 1955 and Before There Was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards.