The Best Topps Baseball Card Sets of All Time
In our history of baseball cards piece, we discussed at length the history of the Topps baseball card company; from their initial entry with the 1951 Red and Blue Back sets to their acquisition of Bowman in 1956.
In this piece, we wanted to have a little fun and rank all of the Topps sets starting with the ’51 Blue/Red Back issue all the way to the 1980 Topps Baseball card set.
Now of course, we’ve noted that anything produced prior to 1980 is considered to be vintage, but we figured with this piece, we’d keep it to an even thirty years of Topps issues.
Our rankings are based on a few different factors:
1) Overall design of the set
2) Star and rookie card power in the set
3) Collector Demand
4) Investment Potential
I’m sure there will be some that collectors disagree with, so let us know in the comments what you think are the best Topps baseball card sets.
For now, we’ve provided full writeups on the best ten Topps sets of all time. At some point we might expand the writeups for all thirty Topps sets.
#1 - 1952 Topps Baseball
It would be an injustice not to include the 1952 Topps Set as the best Topps set of all time, thus, this was a pretty easy decision. The 1952 Topps set represents the first full set entry for Topps, following the 1951 Red and Blue back issues. The history is remarkable as well, leading to some short prints, mostly due to Topps literally dumping inventory to make way for football cards. From the design, to the beautiful lithographed images, the 1952 Topps set has it all.
'52 Topps Key Rookies:
'52 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1952 Topps Set - Rankings
The ’52 Topps set is a thing of beauty, an iconic design which started what would become the standard format for the modern baseball card. The design included a player’s autograph (taken from their Topps contract), team name and logo on the front.
While many view the '52 Topps Mantle and Mays cards as rookie cards, they are actually not their true rookie cards, since Bowman issued cards for both in the 1951 Bowman set. Still, with Jackie Robinson, Mays, Mantle, Campanella, Berra and more, the set is loaded with star power.
1952 Topps cards remain in high demand with collectors, especially the high profile hall of famers, such as Mantle, Mays, Robinson and Berra. We would expect these star cards to remain popular and solid longer term investments for vintage collectors.
#2 - 1953 Topps Baseball
The 1953 set is another beautiful issue from Topps, filled with a list of the most iconic stars in Baseball history, including Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Bob Feller and Satchell Paige. Note while the Paige card is highly sought after, it is his 1948 Leaf card which is his true rookie card.
'53 Topps Key Rookies:
'53 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1953 Topps Set - Rankings
The 1953 Topps set is full of all of the hall of famers from the day, including Mantle, Mays and Satchel Paige. There is a lack of rookie card power however, thus leading to a slightly lower grade for our overall ranking here.
The Paige, Mantle, Mays and Jackie Robinson cards from the '53 Topps set remain in high demand and should continue remain extremely popular issues into the future. We would consider these star cards to be excellent investments for vintage collectors.
#3 - 1954 Topps Baseball
From my perspective, not the prettiest of the Topps sets, but given the rookie and star power here, the set earns the #3 ranking on our list. The set features the rookie cards of Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron, Al Kaline and Tommy Lasorda. The set marked a change for Topps from the artistic designs of two years previous, and featured a color photo portrait with a black and white action shot next to their face.
'54 Topps Key Rookies:
'54 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1954 Topps Set - Rankings
While not the same sort of artistic feel of the 1952 and 1953 sets, the 54 issue is a big change in design, and while not perfect, it's bright colors and usage of colorful logs makes is a top design in the history of Topps sets.
While Mantle is notoriously missing from the 1954 set, there is a ton of rookie and star power including rookie cards of Aaron and Banks along with key cards of Ted Williams (who has two cards in the set), Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays.
One of the more popular sets with vintage baseball collectors, due to the rookie and star power in the set, the 1954 cards of Banks, Aaron and other stars will likely remain solid vintage investments over the coming years.
#4 - 1955 Topps Baseball
The 1955 Topps set grabs the #4 Ranking as the best Topps set of the first 30 years of Topps cards. Yes, this is the fourth consecutive yearly set from 1952, and this wasn't by design. The design introduces the first horizontal card for Topps and it also features two of the biggest rookie cards of the 1950's - Sandy Koufax and Roberto Clemente.
'55 Topps Key Rookies:
'55 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1955 Topps Set - Rankings
The first horizontal design for Topps, the cards feature a similar sort of look as the 1954 Topps set, although a color action pose replaces the black and white one from the previous year.
Add Clemente, Killebrew and Koufax rookie cards to the star cards of Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays and you have a star filled set. There is of course the notable absence of Mickey Mantle who had a contract dispute with Topps.
The key rookie cards of Clemente and Koufax continue to do well at auction and higher grade cards of Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays are likely to continue to set sales record. This equates to solid investment potential.
#5 - 1957 Topps Baseball
A solid group of rookie cards, supported by the return of 'The Mick' along with an attractive full photo card design make the 1957 Topps sets one of the most coveted sets of the 1950's.
'57 Topps Key Rookies:
'57 Topps Most Valuable Card:
Mickey Mantle #95
1957 Topps Set - Rankings
The full color photograph front is a first for Topps, and the simple design is a collector favorite. The white and yellow lettering also adds an additional level of color, making the design a winner.
The Frank Robinson rookie card is the key rookie in the set, but also features rookie cards of Hall of Famers Don Drysdale, Bill Mazerowski, Whitey Herzog and Brooks Robinson. The Mickey Mantle card in the set is also highly coveted by vintage collectors.
Rookie cards of both Robinsons (Brooks and Frank) continue to sell well in all grades, albeit maybe slightly underappreciated versus popular rookies in previous year. Higher grade Mantles from the set also remain quite popular and should increase in value over time.
#6 - 1963 Topps Baseball
This is the first Topps set from the 1960's to make the cut, and well for good reason---first there's that cool retro design which exudes simplicity with circles and bright colors. And then, there's that oh so cool rookie card of one Pete Rose, which despite his lack of HOF credentials, remains one of the most sought after rookie cards in the hobby.
'63 Topps Most Valuable Card:
Pete Rose Rookie Stars #537 (RC)
1963 Topps Set - Rankings
Bright colors on the 1963 Topps set and a similar design to the 1953 Topps set (absent the colored portraits) make this set one of the more attractive Topps designs of the 1960's.
Rookie cards of Pete Rose, Willie Stargell are supported by a star studded lineup of stars such as Mickey Mantle, Sandy Koufax, Carl Yastrzemski, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron among others.
The Pete Rose rookie card remains in high demand and for higher grade versions should continue to increase in value. We view the Rose rookie card as one of the better investments in the hobby.
#7 - 1968 Topps Baseball
The second entry from the 1960's Topps issues on our list, the '68 Topps set has classic, clean design with a spotted brown background with white and black borders surrounding the player's image. The rookies of Johnny Bench and Nolan Ryan make this one of the best Topps sets of all time.
'68 Top Rookies
'68 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1968 Topps Set - Rankings
Some don't like it, but I find the 1968 Topps sets among one of the best designs of all the Topps issues. The brown speckled background gives it a sort of vintage look.
Doesn't get much better than this--rookie cards of Nolan Ryan, Johnny Bench along with star cards of Mantle, Mays, Seaver and Aaron.
Nolan Ryan rookie cards should continue to show solid appreciation. Johnny Bench, maybe to a lesser extent but still a high demand card.
#8 - 1975 Topps Baseball
Just a funky vibe with the 1975 Topps set, all kind of crazy color combinations with a design that truly stands out and is one of the best of all the Topps sets. In addition a power packed rookie lineup here make this one of the best Topps sets of all time.
'75 Topps Key Rookies:
'75 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1975 Topps Set - Rankings
A bold design for Topps that embodied the colorful feelings of the worlds at the time of issue. The colors are not loved by everyone, but I find it to be one of the more ambitious designs for Topps
Rookie cards of Yount, Brett, Jim Rice, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Fred Lynn make this one of the best rookie sets in the history of all Topps issues.
There's no ignoring the availability of the cards, so we would advise anyone to buy the cards to try and find the highest grades as possible. We don't think lower grade copies of rookies such as Brett and Yount will do well over time.
#9 - 1956 Topps Baseball
So, let's head back to the 1950's to get the one set from the first six years of the 1950's that hasn't been covered yet. A nice but non optimal design (at least in my eyes) and a bit of a lower end offering of rookies here led to the lower ranking for the 1956 Topps set.
'56 Topps Key Rookies:
'56 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1956 Topps Set - Rankings
Topps change the front of their cards from the 1954 set to feature a full color action background behind the player portrait. While not one of the best designs, certainly not one of the worst either.
A poor rookie card selection is helped out by a ton of star cards, including a return of Mickey Mantle to the set. Cards of Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, and Roberto Clemente are all highly desired cards.
Nothing much to speak of for rookie card investments but the higher graded copies of the top tier hall of famers from the set will likely continue to be good investments over time.
#10 - 1971 Topps Baseball
A great black border design for the 1971 set and a star studded cast of HOF rookies, such as Reggie Jackson make the '71 set one of the more desired sets from the 1970's.
'71 Topps Key Rookies:
'71 Topps Most Valuable Card:
1971 Topps Set - Rankings
A great black border design for the 1971 set is a big change from a Topps design perspective, although the black borders make the '71 cards much harder to find in mint condition. Thus, there are many fewer PSA 10's from the '71 set as compared to any of the other Topps sets from the 70's.
The rookie card of Reggie Jackson is the big draw here, although HOF rookie cards such as Ted Simmons, Bert Blyleven along with star rookies of Steve Garvey and Don Baylor are also sought after cards. Key stars include Tom Seaver, Rod Carew, Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan and Hank Aaron make this a great overall set.
High graded cards from the '71 set are much tougher to come by because of the black borders which chip easily. Thus we think that higher graded copies of Reggie Jackson along with the big stars in the set will continue to be worthy investments over time.