(This is Day 14 of our series on the “Best Card From” each year, 1960-1989. Read all the entries here.)
Everybody knows that Topps celebrated their 40th anniversary in 1991.with a special “40 Years of Baseball” logo on each card front as well a contest that gave collectors the chance to win vintage cards
Heck, they plastered their special “40 Years of Baseball” logo on each card front and also gave collectors the chance to win vintage cards and other fabulous prizes with each wax pack purchased.
You also know that Topps has issued plenty of Archive and Heritage cards over the last couple of decades, paying homage to their classic designs of yesteryear.
And if you’ve been around the hobby for awhile, you may remember that the first time Topps reprinted one of their sets was in 1983. That’s the year they reissued their classic 1952 Topps set.
But only hobbyists who have really been paying attention know that it’s not true — that 1952 Topps redo was not Topps’ first foray into issuing reproductions of their own creations.
And their original choice for that honor just might tell us something about how the company itself viewed its early sets.
The 1951 Topps sets were not all that inspiring when compared to their competition.
While Bowman was busy cranking out a full issue of hand-painted current players, Topps showed up to the game with two decks of cards — Red Backs and Blue Backs — and two sets of stand-ups — Current All-Stars and Connie Mack All-Stars.
Even though the stand-up issues are scarce and command a lot of attention when they come up for sale, Topps would have been in trouble if their 1952 offerings were a repeat of the ’51s.
Luckily for the company and the collecting public, though, T.C.G. rolled out their legendary behemoth led by the Mickey Mantle “rookie card” that has fueled the hobby for 65 years.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the ’52s were good but not necessarily better than the Bowman issues of the era.
Bigger, for sure, but not an artistic breakthrough.
The 1953 Topps set, though … now that baby was a work of art.
Like, each card was literally a work of art by painter Gary Dvorak. Whether or not boys ripping packs in the moment appreciated the ’53 Topps cards, collectors have certainly developed a loved for them over the decades.
And, apparently, the set hit a sweet spot for Topps themselves.
How can we know that?
Well, for one thing, the ’53 set was the subject of the very first Topps Archives set in 1991.
But more telling was that Topps broke the seal on their reprinting machinery to reprint part of the set way back on 1973, on the 2oth anniversary of Dvorak’s masterpieces.
Obscure but Beautiful
What we do know is that there were eight cards issued, and the design had been pared down from the originals to include just the player painting and the player’s name.
Card backs looked a lot like an early Bowman creation, with a large block of text followed by biographical information at the bottom. At the very top is “BASEBALL STARS” and the card number.
Sources seem to differ on the exact year of issue, with some listing 1972 and others 1973.
Whichever of the two is correct, everyone agrees that Topps got three of the player’s names wrong:
- Vic Janowicz was mislabeled as Clyde McCullough
- Jim Fridley was mislabeled as Al Rosen
- Bill Antonello was mislabeled as Carl Furillo
Those missteps seem to lead credence to the idea that maybe this was a test issue, with some veteran collectors (see forums above) speculating that several hundred of each card was issued.
Simply the Best … 20 Years Later
All the while Topps was semi-celebrating their glorious 1953 set, they were pumping out a so-so 1973 issue.
Given the mundane design of that base issue and some drab photography, it’s a fairly easy call to peg one of the reprints as the best baeball card of 1973.
But which one to choose?
It’s hard to go wrong with any of them, but the winner here is the Hal Newhouser card.
The left-handed follow-through, the old-time advertising on the short outfield wall, the forestry beyond the outfield wall, the high-noon shadowing on the mound.
What a gorgeous card!
Easily worth of the title, “Best of 1973” … even if it was issued in 1972.