Tuesday, July 15, 2008

1956 Topps Baseball #5, Ted Williams

Any talk of classic vintage cards includes 1956 Topps and its 340 high-quality cards replete with star power (Jackie, Mantle, Aaron, Mays, Clemente, Ted Williams, etc.). Most cards feature in-game action shots and eye-popping colors as on this #5.

This Ted belongs in any quality collection, not just a type set of #5s. My only nit to pick is the photo, where Ted's looking way up in the air. Is that just a lazy fly to right off the bat of the greatest hitter who ever lived? Harumph.

It's tough for sets of any era to match 1956's design and I love how it looks in 8-count pages.

Topps designed their 1956 set with serious competition in mind, given their pitched 1952-55 rivalry with Bowman. Details like the portrait halo, on-card autograph, and varied nameplate colors no doubt took extra time to assemble and still look great today. They also integrated team cards into its checklist for the first time, after test-marketing standalone team photos in 1951 (gallery at PSA).

1956 proved a swan song for serious competition when Bowman waved a white flag early that year before releasing a set, shuttering baseball production and selling all player contracts to Topps. I argue that card-as-art ended with this set, seeing how Topps themselves moved to color photos in 1957 and back cartoons shrunk in favor of larger player stat blocks.

While Ted's great, my first 1956 card was #30 Jackie Robinson, spotted atop a stock of vintage consignments in a Seattle shop back in 1998. It transported me. My collection contained no Jackie cards at the time--but here was one from when he played, with a great portrait, and an action shot of sliding into home! Who can resist that combo?

The original photo is a fair match for how Topps used it on the card.

That's Jackie stealing home against the Cardinals on August 29, 1955. Johnny Podres (45) watches catcher Bill Sarni try to handle the ball with HOF umpire Jocko Conlon behind the plate. I wonder if modern baseball fields would kick up that much dust? A great moment either way.

Value: Even low-grade Williams cards can cost $100+ these days and often much more.

Fakes / reprints: The 1956 Topps design is so classic, it's been reprinted and repurposed repeatedly. Ted also gets faked from time-to-time, so I recommend buying a common as your 1956 type card. If you decide to get an ungraded #5, familiarize yourself with the feel and look of authentic cards from the set first, so you feel confident in a purchase.

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