From BR Bullpen
Topps is the most popular maker of baseball cards. The company can trace its roots back to 1890. The Topps name goes back to 1938.
In 1951, the chewing gum company Topps produced their first trading cards. They produced two sets of 52 cards, one with red backs and one with blue backs. The cards were meant to play a simulated baseball game. These cards were relatively unpopular and were not produced again.
The following year, Topps produced a more popular set. The set was on a thicker stock and featured 407 player cards over three series. These cards were larger than the 1951 cards at 2 5/8" by 3 5/8". The cards featured realistic drawings of the players. The most valuable card Topps has ever produced was in the 1952 set, #311 featured Mickey Mantle. Typically, the sets were issued in series at different times of the season; the lower numbers would be released earlier and in greater numbers, as they would not be withdrawn when the next series was released. The later series would become more valuable as they were on the market for a shorter period and, as result, were bought in smaller numbers. Mantle's card was part of the series which had a shorter sales run; in this case, it was a much smaller print run, given Topps was still establishing its business model. Most of the buyers were kids whose objective was not necessarily to keep the cards in pristine condition for future re-sale, but to "trade, play or flip" them, thus ensuring that they would become well-worn, or thrown away (typically, as the cliché goes, when the now grown teenager moved out of the house and his mother would throw away the shoebox in which he kept his cards. Topps played on this cliché for its 60th anniversary, introducing a series of commemorative cards reproducing its old designs in its 2011 set, which it called "the cards your mother threw away"). It would be a few years before adult collectors appeared on the market in significant numbers, but that initial set had already become singularly valuable by then.
Mantle's card also gained extra value for being his first appearance on any card. Collectors have tended to assign extra value to these "rookie" cards, for reasons that are not entirely rational.
The Mantle card has sold for more than $100,000 at auction. Rumors have circulated that thousands of cases of 1952 Topps cards went unsold and were dumped into the Atlantic Ocean to clear warehouse space for 1953.
In 1957, Topps reduced the size of their cards by an eighth of an inch. The 2 1/2" by 3 1/2" size has become standard for baseball cards. This was also the first time career statistics appeared on the backs of Topps cards.
Since 1959, Topps has selected a Topps All-Star Rookie Team.
From the purchase of the Bowman brand in 1956 until 1980, Topps produced the only regular set of cards save the 1963 Fleer set. Their popularity waned however, in the early 1990s with the emergence of Upper Deck. In 1992, Topps dropped gum from its regular series cards.
Topps continues to produce several sets of cards for many sports.