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Monday, April 13, 2009

Topps Card Numbers - 1951-1954

I will be going on a bit of a vintage kick in the next couple of weeks and I'm going to start it off with something slightly bizarre. A review of the card numbering from every single Topps base set. This is what the internet is for folks, overly detailed accounts of obscure minutia of interest to maybe two or three people. I'll make those people happy, and that's what counts. I've had a mild obsession with poorly designed card numbers for a whole now, but this post by Night Owl spurred me to take action. One of the big flaws in the 2009 Topps set is the tiny, unreadable card numbers. Instead of writing a tirade about the lousy number design (black numbers on dark blue??) I'm just going to show off all the number designs from Topps to show you all how it used to be done and let you judge for yourselves. Let's begin at the beginning, shall we?

1951 Topps

This is the only Topps set to have the card number on the front, rather than the back. Of course it was an oddball card game, so it wouldn't work too well to have the number on the back as you'd be playing with a marked deck.

Considering the unorthodox layout for today's standards, The number is fairly easy to read and has the added bonus including the total number of cards in the set, helpful information for the 1951 era set completer. The placing is a bit awkward though, numbering the bottom right of the card isn't terribly optimal when you're sorting through cards. There's only fifty-two in the set and the cards are smaller than normal so it's not that bad. Considering they didn't release their first 'real' set until a year later, Topps did ok on this one.

1952 Topps

Everyone should be well familiar with this number, Topps has only used the design about two dozen times in the past decade. Topps began a remarkably consistent run of excallent numbering design in the fifties with their inaugural set. The number is put right in the middle of a baseball. Simple, good looking and best of all very readable. The black number on the white ball inside a red background has great contrast and you don't need to squint to know what card this is. It looks best on the cards with white card stock, but is still readable on the other variations.

The number still pops out on the all-black backed cards as you can see. Best of all, it is located in the top left corner of the card. This is my favorite place for the number as it's easy to see when you are sorting through a large pile of cards. Hold the cards in both hands, slide the top card a bit with your right thumb, and there's your number. This works great for right handed people, do lefties find it easier to sort when the number is on the right side? I would guess so, but I'm not sure there's an orthodox method for shuffling through cards. I know one thing though - I hate when the number is on the bottom of the card or in the middle. It screws my shuffling all up.

Here's an example of the number on a card with the gray stock. As you can see it doesn't pop out quite as much as on the white stock but it's still very readable.

1953 Topps

This is in my opinion the greatest card number of all time. The number is huge. The baseball it resides in is almost an inch in size. Legally blind people can make out these numbers if they squint a bit. I also love the rad font they used for TOPPS.

Again, the number is on the top left corner of the card. Unlike this year's set, Topps usually put the number in this spot. I think the number is one of the reasons why I love the '53 set so much. I have a history of abysmal eyesight in my family, and once I become blind as a bat I'll still be able to enjoy the backs of these cards.

1954 Topps

Once again, we have the baseball. It's smaller than the '53 set, but still has the TOPPS logo above the number. It's not as eye-popping as the previous two sets, but the red number and green stitches have some great contrast. There's one big problem I have with this set though. On the sheets the '54s were printed on, the cards were aligned like this:

This is how they did the color bleeding off the top. This was a neat idea, but the back of the sheet looked like this:

Obviously these two cards were probably never neighbors on a sheet, but you get the point. To make it easier to print and look good if slightly miscut, the green stat portion of the card also lined up. I assume that the neighboring cards were flipped as well so there would be alternating bands of green and white on the back of the sheets. Again, a neat way to incorporate full bleed color on the cards but when you put the set together in sheets it looks like this:

I will admit right now that I have a little OCD streak in me. I kind of have to have it a bit to be so concerned with card numbers. I don't have it full blown like Jack Nicholson is As Good As It Gets or anything, but stuff like this drives me absolutely nuts. As a result, I've never likes this set as much as I probably should have. The set si gorgeous, but when you are trying to sort a few and half the cards are upside down... well, someone out there will understand. Once I'm finished with this I'm going to put up a poll of the best and worst card numbers. I'll pick the best and worst example from each post and you guys can vote on them at the end. My picks for this round:

Best - 1953 Topps
Worst - 1954 Topps

If you vehemently disagree, speak up in the comments or forever hold your peace.

Up soon - 1955-1959 Topps.



Very good thoughts. The numbering on a lot of newer sets is really poorly designed. Sometimes you can hardly find the number let alone read it. I agree with '54 being the worst. The '53 is bit too large for me though. (even at my age).Personally, I like the 1952.

Anonymous said...

I am left-handed and I shuffle through a pile of cards the same way a lefty would. Its an interesting thought, I wonder if other lefties do the same. I just find it easier because of the placement of the number. I collected a lot of the 52 topps rookies from 07 and 06, so it made it easier for me.

madding said...

When I think of poor card numbering design, I think of '88 Score.

crackinwax said...



night owl said...

Well, you've got a reader for all of your card number posts, that's for sure. I've thought of this very thing a number of times.

The numbers on '53 Topps are freakishly huge. Can you imagine if they did that with a present-day set?

I'm a lefty, and I've never thought about the number position when shuffling cards. I suppose it would be easier on the right side. But being a lefty in a right-handed world, you learn to adjust automatically, without even thinking whether it is inconvenient or not.

AdamE said...

53 is to big. I like the 52 better.

deal said...

I will go with 52 over 53.

On the Lefty Righty thing (I am a Righty) I think the numbers on L works better because it is always at the top of the card when flipped. This is an issue with 08 Topps when you flip over a Portrait style card and the back is Landscape if the number is on the R it is on the bottom.

The 09 Topps having the itty bitty numbers on that background is a collosal F-Up. especially when 20 years ago one of the things UD specifically pointed out was hey we have a readable number.

Looking fwd to any vintage series on Minutia. Numbers, Colors, borders, cartoons, middle names, facsimile sigs, you name it _ I am likely interested.

PunkRockPaint said...

I have always loved the '53 set. Great pick as the best. There really isn't a bad one... I abstain.

My mom always said, "If you don't have anything bad to say, you aren't trying hard enough."

Anonymous said...

I just love the fact that you did such an extensive post on CARD NUMBERS! This is great. Keep up the good blogging!