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The Topps Company, Inc. Based in New York City Topps is best known as a leading producer of basketball cardsfootball cardsbaseball cardshockey cardsand other sports and non-sports themed trading cards. It is currently the only baseball card manufacturer with a contract with Major League Baseball. Topps itself was founded in but the company can trace its roots back to an earlier firm, American Leaf Tobacco. American Leaf Tobacco encountered difficulties during World War I, as it was cut off from Turkish supplies of tobacco, and later as a result of the Great Depression.
Shorin's sons, Abram, Ira, Philip, and Joseph, decided to focus on a new product but take advantage of the company's existing distribution channels. To do this, they relaunched the company as Topps, with the name meant to indicate that it would be "tops" in its field.
The chosen field was the manufacture of chewing gumselected after going into the produce business was considered and rejected. At the time, chewing gum was still a relative novelty sold in individual pieces. Starting inthe company decided to try increasing gum sales by packaging them together with trading cards featuring Western character Hopalong Cassidy William Boyd ; at the time Boyd, as one of the biggest stars of early television, was featured in newspaper articles and on magazine covers, along with a significant amount of "Hoppy" merchandising.
When Topps next introduced baseball cards as a product, the cards immediately became its primary emphasis. The "father of the modern baseball card" was Sy Berger. The basic design is still in use today. Berger would work for Topps for 50 years —97 and serve as a consultant for another five, becoming a well-known figure on the baseball scene, and the face of Topps to major league baseball players, whom he signed up annually and paid in merchandise, like refrigerators and carpeting.
The Shorins, in recognition of his negotiation abilities, sent Sy to London in to negotiate the rights for Topps to produce Beatles trading cards. Berger hired a garbage boat to remove leftover boxes of baseball cards stored in their warehouse, and rode with them as a tugboat pulled them off the New Jersey shore. The cards were then dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. No one at the time, of course, knew the collector's value the cards would one day attain.
SinceTopps began creating digital sports cards, starting with the Topps Bunt baseball card downloadable app. The company began its existence as Topps Chewing Gum, Inc.
It later incorporated under New York law in The entire company originally operated at the Bush Terminal in Brooklynbut production facilities were moved to a plant in Duryea, Pennsylvaniain Corporate offices remained at 36th Street in Brooklyn, a location in the waterfront district by the Gowanus Expressway.
Inthe headquarters relocated to One Whitehall Street in lower Manhattan. The new ownership group again made Topps into a publicly traded company innow renamed to The Topps Company, Inc. In this incarnation, the company was incorporated in Delaware for legal reasons, but company headquarters remained in New York. Management was left in the hands of the Shorin family throughout all of these maneuverings. This division also co-ordinates products launches across the many other international markets including the Far East, Australia, and South Africa.
In Merlin acquired the Premier League license allowing the company to exclusively publish the only official Premier League sticker and album collection in the UK. The initial success of the Premier League stickers and album collection was so great that it took even Merlin by surprise, with reprint after reprint being produced. InThe Topps Company Inc. Topps Europe Limited continues to produce a wide and varied range of sports and entertainment collectables across Europe.
Its range of products now includes stickers, albums, cards and binders, magazines, stationery, and temporary tattoos. Topps Europe Ltd has continued to launch hugely successful products across Europe. Premier League stickers and albums are now in their 18th year. Match Attaxthe official Premier League trading card game, is the biggest selling boys collectable in the UK two years running.
Being sold across the globe in a number of countries, the collection also holds the title of the biggest selling sports collectable in the world. It is estimated that around 1. Bundesliga Match Attax was launched in January and is now available in over 40, stockists. The collection is the first of its kind in Germany and has become one of the biggest selling collections in the country.
As of February Topps Match Attax dominated the secondary UK card trading market occupying two out of the top three spots on the www. InTopps produced its first baseball cards in two different sets known today as Red Backs and Blue Backs. Each set contained 52 cards, like a deck of playing cardsand in fact the cards could be used to play a game that would simulate the events of a baseball game. Also like playing cards, the cards had rounded corners and were blank on one side, which was colored either red or blue hence the names given to these sets.
The other side featured the portrait of a player within a baseball diamond in the center, and in opposite corners a picture of a baseball together with the event for that card, such as " fly out " or " single. Topps changed its approach inthis time creating a much larger total set of baseball cards and packaging them with its signature product, bubblegum. The cards now had a color portrait on one side, with statistical and biographical information on the other. This set became a landmark in the baseball card industry, and today the company considers this its first true baseball card set.
Many of the oil paintings for the sets were rendered by artist Gerry Dvorak, who also worked as an animator for Famous Studios. The cards were released in several series over the course of the baseball season, a practice Topps would continue with its baseball cards until However, the last series of each year did not sell as well, as the baseball season wore on and popular attention began to turn towards football.
Thus cards from the last series are much scarcer and are typically more valuable even commons than earlier series of the same year. Topps was left with a substantial amount of surplus stock inwhich it largely disposed of by dumping many cards into the Atlantic.
In later years, Topps either printed series in smaller quantities late in the season or destroyed excess cards. As a result, cards with higher numbers from this period are rarer than low numbers in the same set, and collectors will pay significantly higher prices for them. The last series in started with card No. The Topps Mantle is often mistakenly referred to as Mickey's rookie card, but that honor belongs to his Bowman card which is worth about a third of the Topps card.
The combination of baseball cards and bubblegum was popular among young boys, and given the mediocre quality of the gum, the cards quickly became the primary attraction.
In fact, the gum eventually became a hindrance because it tended to stain the cards, thus impairing their value to collectors who wanted to keep them in pristine condition. It along with the traditional gray cardboard was finally dropped from baseball card packs inalthough Topps began its Heritage line, which included gum, in the year During this period, baseball card manufacturers generally obtained the rights to depict players on merchandise by signing individual players to contracts for the purpose.
Topps first became active in this process through an agent called Players Enterprises in Julyin preparation for its first set. The later acquisition of rights to additional players allowed Topps to release its second series.
This promptly brought Topps into furious competition with Bowman Gumanother company producing baseball cards. Bowman had become the primary maker of baseball cards and driven out several competitors by signing its players to exclusive contracts. The language of these contracts focused particularly on the rights to sell cards with chewing gumwhich had already been established in the s as a popular product to pair with baseball cards.
To avoid the language of Bowman's existing contracts, Topps sold its cards with caramel candy instead of gum. However, because Bowman had signed many players in to contracts for that year, plus a renewal option for one year, Topps included in its own contracts the rights to sell cards with gum starting in as it ultimately did. Topps also tried to establish exclusive rights through its contracts by having players agree not to grant similar rights to others, or renew existing contracts except where specifically noted in the contract.
Bowman responded by adding chewing gum "or confections" to the exclusivity language of its contracts, and also sued Topps in U. The lawsuit alleged infringement on Bowman's trademarks, unfair competition, and contractual interference. The court rejected Bowman's attempt to claim a trademark on the word "baseball" in connection with the sale of gum, and disposed of the unfair competition claim because Topps had made no attempt to pass its cards off as being made by Bowman. The contract issue proved more difficult because it turned on the dates when a given player signed contracts with each company, and whether the player's contract with one company had an exception for his contract with the other.
As the contract situation was sorted out, several Topps sets during these years had a few "missing" cards, where the numbering of the set skips several numbers because they had been assigned to players whose cards could not legally be distributed.
The competition, both for consumer attention and player contracts, continued untilwhen Topps bought out Bowman. This left Topps as the dominant producer of baseball cards for a number of years. The next company to challenge Topps was Fleeranother gum manufacturer. Fleer signed star Ted Williams to an exclusive contract in and sold a set of cards oriented around him. Williams retired the next year, so Fleer began adding around him other mostly retired players in a Baseball Greats series, which was sold with gum.
Two of these sets were produced before Fleer finally tried a card set of currently active players in However, Topps held onto the rights of most players and the set was not particularly successful. Stymied, Fleer turned its efforts to supporting an administrative complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commissionalleging that Topps was engaging in unfair competition through its aggregation of exclusive contracts. A hearing examiner ruled against Topps inbut the Commission reversed this decision on appeal.
The Commission concluded that because the contracts only covered the sale of cards with gum, competition was still possible by selling cards with other small, low-cost products. The decision gave Topps an effective monopoly of the baseball card market.
That same year, however, Topps faced an attempt to undermine its position from the nascent players' unionthe Major League Baseball Players Association. Struggling to raise funds, the MLBPA discovered that it could generate significant income by pooling the publicity rights of its members and offering companies a group license to use their images on various products. After initially putting players on Coca-Cola bottlecapsthe union concluded that the Topps contracts did not pay players adequately for their rights.
At this time, Topps had every major league player under contract, generally for five years plus renewal options, so Shorin declined. After continued discussions went nowhere, the union before the season asked its members to stop signing renewals on these contracts, and offered Fleer the exclusive rights to market cards of most players with gum starting in As a byproduct of this history, Topps continues to use individual player contracts as the basis for its baseball card sets today.
The difference has occasionally affected whether specific players are included in particular sets. Players who decline to sign individual contracts will not have Topps cards even when the group licensing system allows other manufacturers to produce cards of the player, as happened with Alex Rodriguez early in his career. On the other hand, if a player opts out of group licensing, as Barry Bonds did inthen manufacturers who depend on the MLBPA system will have no way of including him.
Topps, however, can negotiate individually and was belatedly able to create a card of Bonds. In addition, Topps is the only manufacturer able to produce cards of players who worked as replacement players during the baseball strikesince they are barred from union membership and participation in the group licensing program.
A semblance of competition returned to the baseball card market in the s when Kellogg's began producing "3-D" cards and inserting them in boxes of breakfast cereal originally Corn Flakeslater Raisin Bran and other Kellogg's brands. The Kellogg's sets contained fewer cards than Topps sets, and the cards served as an incentive to buy the cereal, rather than being the intended focus of the purchase, as tended to be the case for cards distributed with smaller items like candy or gum.
Topps appears not to have considered the Kellogg's cards a threat and took no action to stop them.