We continue our series on classic sports card sets with an overview of the Topps 1954 Set Cards. This is a landmark release. It is mainly known for the three Hall-Of-Fame rookies in the set. The presence of an Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, and above all, Hank Aaron rookie make up for Mickey Mantle’s glaring exclusion from the set.
The set is star-studded, as it is full of hall of fame rookies. However, it does not have the biggest star of all. While Topps and their then-rival, Bowman, were fighting to secure exclusive contracts with the players, Bowman was able to hold on to Mantle, thus his absence in the series.
However, Topps did manage to pull off a massive feat by signing the legendary Ted Williams. The “Splendid Splinter” was coming off his tenure in the Marines during the Korean War.
This was especially important because Williams wasn’t just the fans’ favorite. He was also one of the greatest players in baseball history. Therefore, adding him to the 1954 Topps set was a coup for the appeal of the set.
The 1954 Topps isn’t your typical painting artistic design of 1953 and 1952, featuring baseball stars in colored photo portraits. That is the first time a Topps set would include two photographs. A larger color one and a smaller black and white snap. In addition, the front background comes colors. It is an excellent design though not quite as iconic as the 1951 and 1952 sets.
The 1954 Topps set has all the trappings of a successful baseball card. Loaded with the rookie cards for some hall of fame talents such as Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, and Ernie Banks. It is a unique blend of rookie and star power, number #3 on the All-Vintage rating of Topps.
Therefore, the cards are valuable, and the buy-in is significant. So, where should you start when planning to invest in the series?
Top on the list is the rookie card of Hank Aaron (nicknamed Hammer or Hammerin’ Hank). It is one of the most sought-after cards in the collection of baseball cards. Hank has long been an icon, but his role in the sport has appreciated demonstrably since Aaron’s death in 2021.
The card itself is pretty appealing to the eye, with its background in orange and a fabulous image of the young slugger. A recent PSA 7 of the card went for about $26,745.
Ernie Banks (nicknamed Mr. Cubs or Mr. Sunshine) was a household favorite and the face of one of the most loved franchises in sports.
If not for Hank Aaron, the 14 times All-Star and Chicago Cubs legend Banks would have been the star of the set. Despite this, the card is highly desirable and valuable.
A PSA 7 of this rookie card went for $10,054 on eBay recently.
Williams was one of the baseball icons, and getting him on the Topps team was no easy feat. He had always been a Bowman before Topps signed him in a 5-year contract.
To celebrate getting the big star, Topps placed him at both ends of the set (#1 and #250). Since kids had the unfortunate habit of keeping their sets together with rubber bands, the first and last cards tend to take a beating. Therefore, getting a Ted Ballgame in decent condition is quite the feat.
A PSA 7 of this card recently sold for $3,150 on eBay.
Jackie Robinson has to be one of the most important and impressive icons in baseball history. His original cards are always quite valuable. However, this card came late in his career, somewhat diminishing the value. The yellow background of the card gives just the right angle to his smile and his black and white contrast.
The most recent PSA 7 sale was a $2,550 transaction on eBay.
Mays was absent from the baseball scene all of 1952 and 1953 because he was busy rendering his services during the Korean war. So you’d expect his return to the game in 1954 to be musty. But luckily, he spent most of his service playing exhibition games. So the “Say Hey Kid” was in fine form when he returned to civilian life, winning the batting title and the MVP. Indeed, 1954 was the year that set him on the path to immortal greatness.
This card had a recent PSA 7 sale of $2,280 on Heritage Auctions.
The first and last cards of a set are usually prone to damage from exposure to wear and tear. In addition, the rarity of finding them in top condition and the iconic nature of the featured star makes it a pricey one.
Here’s the other version of the 1954 set that sold on eBay recently for $2,220 on Heritage Auctions.
Al Kaline, just like Banks, was also nicknamed after his team’s moniker. He was one of the few players to hold that honor, known as “Mr. Tiger” after his team, of course. The 50s produced so many iconic Hall-Of-Famers that Al is sometimes unjustly forgotten. But keep in mind that he is a member of the elite 3,000 hit club and 18-time All-Star.
A PSA 7 of this card recently went for $1,955 on eBay.
This close-up shot of Yogi Berra posing as a catcher beside his portrait presents a realistic picture of the star. Unfortunately, there are few cards of Yogi in action behind the plate. This fact is surprising, considering that he is one of the most legendary backstops in the game’s history.
A PSA 7 most recently sold for $370 on eBay.
Ben Wade making the list ahead of Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, and Duke Snider puts quite a twist to this set. Wade was a typical journeyman player, moving through the Cubs, Dodgers, Cardinals, and Pirates.
He made more of a mark as a scout for the Dodgers. Wade helped secure the pipeline of talent for the Dodgers in their best years and was instrumental in getting 16 National League titles and 4 World Series Championships. This alone is enough to have him on the top spot in the set.
This card is a prime example of rarity, setting the standard for the price rather than how big a name the player had in the game. This Wade card had a recent PSA 7 sale of $296 on eBay.
Larry Doby made history by becoming the first black player to play in the American League on the 5th of July 1947. This came nearly four months after Jackie Robinson had his historic debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Dobby was a 7-time All-Star from 1949 through 1955, as a member of the Cleveland Indians.
Comps for Doby cards are all over the place. However, a PSA 7 recently went for $318, and that is probably a fair price.
Before investing in any card, it is always good to know what the population reports are.
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Sure, we could try to be iconoclastic and pick another card. But it would just be for show. The Hank Aaron rookie card is one of the most iconic rookie cards in the entire hobby. The combination of a player who is routinely ranked among the top 5 all-time performers and the gorgeous iconic look of the card is inarguable.
Keep in mind that now is not the time to invest in Hank Aaron. The average sale price for a PSA 7 went up from an average of $12,000 in late 2020 to a current average of $20,686. The cause is Aaron’s death in January 2021. There are signs that the price is starting to go down. We would wait until 2022 or 2023 before investing in this spectacular card.
The Topps 1954 baseball cards pack quite a punch in star power and vital rookie cards, although they are slightly larger in size. The contrasting image of a colored portrait and a full-body black and white action picture stand this series out as one of the best of the vintage era.
Finally, it is safe to say all the factors involved have been explained for the best cards in the set. But, of course, having Mantle on the set would have made it an absolute delight too. Either way, It is still in the top echelons of the Topps series and worth an investment.
The 1953 Topps set is considered one of the absolute best sets ever released in hobby history. For example, All-Vintage Cards rates the #2 Topps set of all time (after the 1952 Topps set). So is the set overrated, or does it live up to the expectations? Let’s take a look at the Topps 1953 Set cards and find out.
The designs of Woody Gelman and Sy Berger in those early Topps sets have a unique aesthetic sensibility. The mystique of those early days in Brooklyn, designing masterpiece cards at the kitchen table, continues to inspire generations of collectors.
In their early years, Topps was involved in an all-out struggle with Bowman for dominance over the market. In addition, Bowman had exclusive contracts with some of the players. Therefore, Topps hoped to avoid a lawsuit by using paintings of the players instead of photos.
Artists like Gary Dvorak painted lifelike images of the players. Gelman and Berger took quality control very seriously and reportedly rejected many paintings, demanding better ones. The results are nothing short of gorgeous. However, they are also uneven. Some images capture the essence of their subjects and are visually stunning.
Meanwhile, others are just so-so. However, Topps certainly got their value for money. Each painting cost them $25.
The most valuable cards in the series are not always the ones you would expect. 1953 was a strange year, with few notable rookies. However, the set is highly coveted for its artwork and historical importance. Therefore, many collectors want a complete set. This places a premium on cards with low populations.
This card is not the famous 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, nor is it the 1951 Bowman card (the actual Mantle rookie). Still, it is the most valuable card in the set and one of the most iconic cards of the Yankee’s center fielder.
The most recent price for a PSA 8 of this card is $101,110 on eBay.
Like Mickey, Willie had already appeared in the 1952 set (and 1951 Bowman). So this card ranks a bit lower in terms of “Say Hey Kid” folklore. I vastly prefer this forlorn and artistic card to the more straightforward Mantle design. But maybe that is a matter of personal taste.
The most recent non-OC PSA 8 sale of the 1953 Mays was $32,400 on Robert Edwards Auctions.
In what is a bit of a repeated mantra in this article, Jackie appeared in the previous Topps series as well. Unfortunately, there is also something lacking in this card. The artwork doesn’t capture the essence of the fierce competitiveness of No. 42.
However, aside from being a top-notch Hall-Of-Famer, the second baseman’s cultural importance increases all the time. Therefore, any of his early cards are an excellent investment.
A PSA 8 of this card recently sold for $26,400 at Goldin Auctions.
The Paige card is an absolute diamond. It is the only Topps card of the legendary pitcher ever released (at least while playing). Part of Paige’s absence from many earlier sets was due to segregation keeping the pitcher out of the Major Leagues. However, in 1948 he became the first African-American pitcher in the American League at age 42.
A PSA 8 sold for $7,500 in June 2021 on eBay.
Milt is not exactly a household name today and probably wasn’t in 1953 either. Though, without a doubt, a good-looking dude, Milt had an uninspiring .241 career average with 19 home runs.
However, the #280 is a rookie short print card and, therefore, surprisingly valuable. Apparently, kids would keep these cards in order and hold them together with rubber bands. You can imagine what this did to the last card, which happened to be Milts.
Therefore, the few PSA 8’s out there go for a good price. The most recent one sold in 2020 for $4,080 on Robert Edward Auctions.
Tommy was a bit of a bust back in the day. His batting average was not great, and he had little power. Today, Glaviano would have been better appreciated for his solid on-base percentage and impressive career 109 OPS+.
However, it is purely population driving the high value of Tommy’s card. It is the last card of his career and not a particularly special-looking card. One of his PSA 8’s recently sold for $3,674 at Memory Lane, Inc. auction house.
Harvey made an excellent case for Rookie of the Year in 1953. Honestly, I can’t see why he lost out. His 20-9 record with a 3.06 ERA was remarkable for anyone, never mind a first entire season.
But the high-point of Haddix’s career came six years later. Baseball historians consider the perfect game Harvey threw against the Braves on May 26, 1959, to be the ultimate pitching performance. First, the southpaw masterfully dominated against Hank Aaron and co. for 12 innings. Then, in the ultimate case of a blown save, Harvey’s Pirates lost in 13.
The most recent PSA 8 sale of a Haddix 1953 card was at Heritage Auctions for $3,120.
Though not a Hall-Of-Famer, Dick was an excellent player. The shortstop was the 1960 MVP and an eight-time All-Star. This super-athlete was even a two-time All-American guard for Duke. However, he did not make the HOF, and his numbers are indeed a bit thin for Cooperstown.
What seems to be driving the high value of the card is more its low pop than the quality of his career. A PSA 8 went for $3,139 this year on eBay.
This is Gilliam’s true MLB rookie card. And what a rookie season it was for Jim. He became an integral part of the legendary Dodger team of the era, winning Rookie of the Year honors and leading the league in triples.
Though Gilliam didn’t fully live up to his promise (he also lost some prime years to segregation), he was a three-time Negro League All-Star, two-time MLB All-Star, and won 4 titles with the Dodgers. His card is also a raving beauty.
A PSA 8 recently sold for $2,760 on Heritage Auctions.
Yogi is one of the most memorable characters in baseball history. Whether you are into witty epithets or three-time MVPs, this catcher is your guy. However, by the time this card came out, he was a grizzled veteran. If you want Yogi’s rookie card, look for the 1948 Bowman.
Nonetheless, this is a great card. A PSA 8 last went for $2,499 on eBay.
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Topps did not release numbers back then, and it still doesn’t. However, several vintage card enthusiasts have tried to figure out the print run of this legendary series.
The cards were printed on two sheets of 100 cards, known as the “A” and “B” sheets. So, naturally, some cards were printed more than others. However, the nomenclature of single-prints and double prints you may hear thrown around is misleading. We don’t know the exact proportions of the prints, and it is improbable that the more common cards were printed anywhere near twice as often.
The best estimate I could find was made by George Vrecheck. His best guess is that Topps printed about 219,200 cards.
This is a remarkably easy call. The Satchel Paige card dwarfs all the others in its historical significance and has the aesthetic beauty to back it up. Willie, Mickey, and Jackie all have better cards out there. Satchel does not.
The story of Paige, one of the greatest pitchers of all time, as a victim of prejudice and segregation will resonate through the generations. Moreover, his MLB rookie card is a poignant reminder of the career that could have, nay should have, been.
Its value will only increase over the years, and they aren’t making new ones. Even President Joe Biden has one, and that man knows a thing or two about the good old days.
In investing terms, putting money into sets like the 1953 Topps set is as close as our hobby gets to blue-chip stock. It will continue to be one of the most coveted complete sets out there. The historical importance of the set means it is unlikely to lose much value in the short term, and it will only appreciate in the long term.
Nonetheless, it doesn’t have any spectacular rookies (aside from Satchel Paige), and its top cards are, therefore, not the most valuable of the era. Nevertheless, Topps 1953 is a solid investment without much prospect of dramatic price changes.