Sunday, February 13, 2011

Collecting the 1956 Topps Set

1956 Topps #255
I had started to put together a post summarizing the 1957 Topps Phillies baseball cards.  But then I decided to first dedicate one more post to the best baseball card set of all time.  This is the story of how my Dad and I started collecting the 1956 Topps set.

I think it was either the summer of 1983 or 1984 when a shoebox of vintage baseball cards, football cards and a few non-sports cards arrived into my world. The box contained about a hundred cards dating between 1950 and 1956, and for the most part, they were all in excellent shape. A friend of the family was in the process of cleaning up and moving into her new house when she found the old shoebox and she wondered if the only kid she knew who collected baseball cards (me) would be interested in looking through it – maybe even taking the box off her hands.

1956 Topps #155
She dropped the box off to my parents and asked them to have me look through the box and take what I was interested in. Turns out, I was interested in everything. Up to that point, the oldest cards in my collection were cards from the early '70s I had obtained through trades or cards that my Dad had picked up for me at yard sales or small baseball card shows. (My Dad had given me a few dog-earred ’59 Topps cards – Juan Pizzaro and Jim Busby – a few years prior, and I completely forget how or why he had purchased these cards for me.)

My parents asked me to pick out a few cards from the box, and then we’d return the rest to the family friend. Problem was, I wanted them all. I really wanted them all.  I diligently and meticulously went through one of my price guides and determined the “value” of the treasure chest. I probably used my Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide No. 4, edited by Dr. James Beckett, and I had no way to value the football or non-sports cards.  My memory is fuzzy, and I can't find the original tally, but I think I came up with the box being worth somewhere in the neighborhood of $300 to $400, which I knew my parents definitely did not have in their discretionary spending budget. But they could tell how much I wanted those cards, as I lovingly studied each and every one and handled each as if it were some long-lost artifact.

1956 Topps #168
I don’t know the exact details, but I believe my Dad went back to the friend and told her we’d take the whole box, but only if she let him give her some money for it. I believe she was genuinely shocked that the box of old cardboard pictures had some value, and that someone was willing to give her cash for it. My Dad shared the list I had created showing the “book value” of the cards and he mentioned how it was going to be close to impossible to get me to pick and choose which ones I wanted. When all was said and done, the family friend, who had absolutely no intention of making money on this endeavor, walked away with (I think) something in the neighborhood of $100 for the whole lot.

Within the spoils were 44 cards from the 1956 Topps set – by far the most cards from any one set. I studied them, I sorted them, and I pretty much memorized every detail of those 44 cards.  There were no Phillies cards in the Original 44, but I've selected players with Phillie ties from the lot to display here.  (See my explanations at the bottom of this post.)
1956 Topps #222

And so a few years later, in the summer of 1987 while on a family vacation, I was giddy with excitement when we came across a few ’56 Topps cards in the Walker Gallery on the main drag in Cooperstown, New York. My Dad and I studied the cards for sale and he casually asked me the question, “Why don’t we try to put together the whole set?” We bought four cards that day for $9.25.  Those cards, along with the 44 from the magic shoebox, became the basis for our 1956 Topps set.

No Phillies:  There were no Phillies in the Original 44, but there were a few players with Phillie ties.  Hall of Famer Bob Lemon was the team's pitching coach in 1961.  Harvey Kuenn finished up his 15-year career in the Majors by playing in 86 games for the 1966 Phillies and hitting .296.  Dave Philley was with the Phillies from 1958 to 1960.  He hit an even .300 in 204 games.  Sammy White served as the team's back-up catcher in 1962, making it into 41 games and hitting .216.


night owl said...

I love stories like this. My father never collected baseball cards with me (I think he thought that was for kids and that's where it stayed), but I could tell he enjoyed my collecting when I was kid.

Kevin said...

This is awesome...I think this set is screaming out for a blog of its own, as most of these players are long gone, even out of the coaching and managing ranks by now and would be interesting reading. A 25 year old player in the 1956 season, would be almost 80 now.

Jim said...

I'd love to do a 1956 Topps blog, and I honestly think I will someday.

Night Owl - Once I find the time to put this together, I'd mirror the format you're using for the '75 Topps blog.

Pastor Chris said...

Great story. I am writing a book on baseball card collecting. I would love to see a 56 topps blog as well!

Jim said...

Looking forward to reading the book!