New York, NY—Two signs of the nearness of the 2015 MLB season will take place this month. Pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in two weeks. The other pre-season activity, which took place this week, was the announcement of series 1 of the 2015 Topps set of next season’s baseball cards going on sale.
Trading cards have been of interest to children and adults in this country since the 19th century. Sports personalities have been the major subject of these collectibles. They were produced for adults in the 1800’s. Many were connected to tobacco products. The very rare T206 Honus Wagner card has been sold for several million dollars.
Topps reflected a change of focus toward youngsters as its consumers in the middle of the 20th century by producing wax packs, each of which contained a stick of gum and several cardboard cards. The company began in 1938 as a producer of chewing gum and candy. More than ¾ of a century has passed since the company began, but Topps is still producing Bazooka gum and other confectionary products.
During the decades of the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s, children were the primary purchasers of packs of baseball cards, with Topps the major brand. Its main competitor, Bowman, was purchased by Topps, which still puts out cards under that brand.
Since those years, card collecting has become an investment opportunity for many purchasers. Rather than buying individual packs and rushing to open them as was done in the past, complete sets are bought and the box is never open before being re-sold for a large profit. In the 1990’s, gum was no longer put in the wax packs as they could damage a valuable card located next to the stick of gum. In more recent years, a very rare T206 Honus Wagner card was sold for several million dollars.
It would be wrong to write an article on baseball cards or Topps without mentioning the name of Sy Berger. He worked for Topps for more than a half-century. He co-designed in 1952 the Topps set that proved to be the prototype of the modern baseball card. Yearly and lifetime statistics on the reverse, the facsimile autograph and action photos are among his innovations that are still being used. The “father of the baseball card” passed away in December 2014 at the age of 91.
Members of the media were invited to an unveiling of the 2015 set at Topps’ offices in New York at One Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan. Clay Luraschi, vice president of product development at Topps explained what to expect in this year’ set, “This year’s series 1 set…has something for everyone, from the casual fan to the passionate collector with many surprises as well. It is a reflection of what we have seen in recent years, fans wanting a good mix of the present and the past with a little pop culture sprinkled in.”
Very appropriately to many fans, card #1 of the 350 card base set is Derek Jeter’s final regular season card that includes his lifetime statistics. Luraschi spoke on this choice of beginning next season’s card set with a player who retired after the 2014 season, “Usually card #1 is designated for somebody very special. Being a New York company and being that Derek was the captain of the New York Yankees, we felt that card # 1 should be Derek Jeter this year.”
Fans of the New York Mets should be pleased to know that the first Topps card of Jacob deGrom, listed as a Future Star, is also in this set.
There are also several subsets that have interest beyond the 2015 season and beyond the sport of baseball. There are 10 cards each dedicated to the important life and career of a baseball immortal, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. “Highlights”, which begins with the first day of Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game streak. “Archetypes”, whose cards include baseball greats such as Hank Aaron. “First Pitch”, including cards with such non-baseball as Jeff Bridges, 50 Cent, Eddie Vedder and 105 year old Agnes McKee throwing out a first pitch in 2014.
There are autographs and game used memorabilia in addition to the great variety of cards included in a small number of packs.
Looking back at my childhood of collecting cards, I believe they were a tool for improving reading, bettering my facility in math through the statistics listed and an encouragement to learning the history of people and events before my birth.