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Monday, November 16, 2009

1957 Topps Football

Set size: 154 plus one unnumbered checklist
Short printed High Series: Cards #89-154
Card Size: Standard 2 1/2" x 3 1/2"
Corrected Errors and Variations: #58 Willard Sherman no team name on front
Best card: Bart Starr RC
Key Rookies: Starr, Johnny Unitas (!!!), Paul Hornung, Raymond Berry, Earl Morrall, Dick "Night Train" Lane
Subsets: None
Gimmick: Cartoon on back
Back ink colors:Red & black
League: NFL
Team Logos? No
Night Owl Style Nickname: The Split Screen set
Teams included in the set: Baltimore Colts, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cardinals, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Washington Redskins
Why I chose this card: Torgy! Also.

Topps followed up their first NFL set with one that had a fairly unusual design. The card is horizontal, but is split into two halves - the left half has a portrait of the player and there is an 'action' shot on the right. The split card somewhat resembles the 1941 Double Play baseball set, only with the same player on both halves of the card. It's almost as if Topps saw the set as two mini cards in one, as the back of the card is also split perfectly down the middle, with stats on the left and a large cartoon on the right. I know for a fact that had I been collecting cards in the '50s, there would be no way I could resist cutting at least a few of these things in half and making little 1950 Bowman sized cards. Other than the odd bifurcation of the card the actual design is extremely similar to the 1956 Topps set. The front is still essentially a picture of the player in front of a solid color background with a box at the bottom with the name. The backs are still red and black with a bio paragraph, stats and a cartoon. Even the card number is on the same top left corner inside a little football.

The first standard sized football card set from Topps also has some of the first really iconic NFL cards. Rookie cards of Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr and Paul Hornung can be found in the '57 Topps high series. I'm sort of assuming that the cards were released in two series, it could simply be that the higher numbers were printed in lesser quantities. At any rate, cards #89-154 will cost you about twice as much as the lower numbers, and of course the three most desirable rookies are in the high numbers. The two keys in the set are Starr and Unitas. Both are rookies, both are legends. Unitas probably has the bigger 'wow' factor of the two cards, but due to a printing quirk Johnny U's card was double printed making the Starr more scarce.

So what do I mean by 'double printed'? Trading cards are printed on large sheets, at least they used to be. I'm not sure what witchcraft goes into printing these newfangled cards nowadays. You may have seen an uncut sheet of cards from a Topps set from the '80s or '90s before. Here's one from 1997. The sheets for the 1957 Topps football set had 88 cards to a sheet. Since there are 66 cards from #89-154 and 88 to a sheet, 22 of the high numbered cards were printed twice on the sheet. Johnny Unitas was one of those 22, making his card a little easier to find than Bart's. Here is the complete list of double printed card numbers:

91 92 93 98 100 103 107 110 111 113 120 122 124 127 129 138 139 140 143 148 149 153

Why those cards were picked, who knows? Johnny U fans were blessed while Packer fans curse Topps to this very day. Topps mostly stuck to set sizes that were some combination of 132 and 88 cards, but they did get a little short print happy in the mid-'60s. More on that later. There are two insanely difficult cards in this set other than the big rookies. The first is one of the very few corrected error cards in an early Topps football set. Card number 58 of Willard Sherman can be found with or without a team name on the front. The variation missing the team name is extremely scarce, although the insane action photo makes the corrected version very desirable as well! The other impossible card is the unnumbered checklist. Like the 1956 set, the checklist is nearly impossible to find in good condition and is easily the most expensive card in the set. Yes, you heard me right, the checklist is more expensive than the Starr and Unitas rookies. A LOT more expensive. To add insult to injury to all the completists out there, the checklist can also be found with a yellow color variation.


Anonymous said...

Never a big fan of the horizontal design but info on the short prints was interesting

nearmint said...

Thanks for the article; it's a nice summary of the set.

You're right, the set was released in two series. I suspect that the sheets were 132 cards, though, not 88. For each series there would have been 2 sheets: one with one set of four rows repeated, and the other with the other set of four rows repeated. It's easier to show than to explain; see this 1959 sheet for an example.

They probably picked the double prints at random. Topps arranged their cards on the sheet seemingly randomly, possibly so that they could put them in packs by row or column and still have the distribution look random.

Anonymous said...

Interesting Article. I have a rare 1957 unmarked checklist in near mint condition. I've had it since my youth. Had no idea of it's real worth. What is the yellow color variation?