Title For Collectible Model Trains, Cars, Comic Books, Sports Cards, Figurines and Gems




Topps Era
Great football players who played their entire career between the years 1956 and 1988 would
find their images on a Topps sports card. Called the Topps Era, Topps was the sole producer of
football cards during this time, except for the 1960s, and therefore, had a monopoly not only
on whose picture got on a football card, but also all information being transmitted to
collectors about these cards. This information included which cards were to be most coveted,
and by extension, which players were truly the elite of the gridiron.

For most people, sports card collecting started as childhood hobby; and for a good number of
those people the hobby ended with a few dozen largely forgotten cards, bound together with
rubber bands, stuffed in an old shoe box, and left collecting dust in an attic or tossed out on a
curb with the other refuse after a long overdue “spring cleaning” frenzy. Others turn this
“frivolity of childhood” into an adult passion actively pursuing, trading, and acquiring cards;
attending conventions; and dragging friends and family members into their obsession. Still
others enter the realm of sports card collecting as a speculative venture—in the early 1990s
people with more knowledge of bulls, bears, and hedge-funds (rather than balls, strikes, and
homeruns) dove head-first into the “hobby” lured by the prospect of staggeringly high returns
on their “investments”.

Topps Football Cards and Chewing Gum
The hobby, however, had a revival in the middle of the twentieth century, this time as part of
the chewing gum industry. Sports cards became part of the battle between rival companies in
their quest for customers with the Topps Chewing Gum Company (Topps) and the Bowman Gum
Company (Bowman) signing the biggest players in baseball and football. Topps emerged as the
winner of this battle in 1956 when they purchased Bowman. For the next 25 years (1956–
1980) Topps was in complete control of the baseball card industry and had a near monopoly
over football cards from 1956 to 1988. Topps’ baseball card monopoly ended in 1981 after
losing an antitrust suit filed by the Fleer Corporation; the ruling was extended to Topps’
football card monopoly in. Because of Topps’ monopoly, these two time periods 1956–1980
(baseball) and 1956–1988 (football) are known as the “Topps Era” in the card collecting hobby.

Topps Develops A Numbering System That Still Affects Card Value
In the 1950s Topps quietly developed a numbering system for assigning placement of players
in its sport card sets. On the back of every card is a number identifying its placement within
the set, with different numbers having different levels of “prestige.” Theoretically, a sport’s
best players received the most prestigious card numbers or placement in the card set.
Moreover, the prestige or status of the numbers did not follow a simply progression beginning
with number “1” and ending with the last number in the card set. The latent purpose of the

Topps Numbering
System (TNS) was to silently inform collectors about who were the top athletes in
the game. The TNS took a few years to fully develop, but by 1956 it was solidly established as
a system based on merit. The TNS was rather subtle and involved the development of
particular sets of numbers that had varying prestige levels tied to them. Status was assigned
to cards based on the following (descending) order:

1. Card #1 was reserved for the player with the top status in the game;
2. Card #500;
3. All even 100 numbers (e.g., 100, 200, 300, etc.);
4. Card #50;
5. All numbers ending with 50 (e.g., 150, 250, 350, etc.);
6. All numbers that ended in zero, with preference placed within the first nine such
units, leading up to #100; and,
7. Numbers that ended with five, with substantial preference given to numbers that
are multiples of 25.
The placement for all other players in a card set was essentially random.
Topps Sports Cards and Their Important
Numbering System