For a company that used to give short shrift to its heritage, seeing the transformation of the Topps mentality over the past 25 years has been nothing short of refreshing.
Ours is a hobby based on yesterday; Topps was quite reasonably a business based on today and maybe tomorrow. Back in the late 1980s, I used to be startled that inquiring to Topps officials about their vintage stuff used to elicit a kind of bemused indifference. While nobody said so explicitly, the message was that they were in the business of selling that year’s product – and maybe planning next year’s. It wasn’t active antipathy to the hobby, but merely an acknowledgement of differing priorities.
The first blip of a change of course came in 1983 with the reprinting of the 1952 Topps set, then it stepped up in the early 1990s with other reprintings. By the time we got to this nifty new millennium, Topps had fully embraced its often glorious past, most lustily with the Heritage Series that has celebrated its early card designs by reviving them in ever-improving detail and nuance.
And so this year’s Topps National Convention VIP cards (shown here) look like winners once again, with five gems in the 1959 Topps design. I think the Mantle left- and right-handed versions are supposed to be a fun nod to the 1957 Topps Hank Aaron flipped negative, plus there are cards of Roger Maris as a Yankee, Roy Campanella as an honorary Dodgers coach and Jackie Robinson as a New York Giant. That’s just cool all the way around.
The Campy card looks to me like one of those flexichromes from back then, the colorized black-and-white photographs that looked odd at the time. Robinson as a Giant may give a few people a bit of acid indigestion (he retired rather than accept a trade uptown), but the Maris is just terrific.
Roger wasn’t a Yankee in 1959; he didn’t arrive in the Bronx until 1960, but it’s fun to imagine if the addition of his name to the lineup card in 1959 might have been enough to propel the Yankees to the pennant that year (probably a stretch, since they ended up 15 game in back of the White Sox). A 1959 pennant would have made it 10 in a row and 15 in 16 years.
Who knew celebrating yesterday could be so much fun?