Sunday, March 18, 2018

C.A.: 1957 Topps Clem Labine

(Good evening. How's your bracket doing? OK, now TELL IT TO SOMEONE WHO CARES. It's time for Cardboard Appreciation. This is the 269th in a series):

An important anniversary in the trading card world came and went last year without a mention.

Last year was the 60th anniversary of Topps first issuing trading cards in what is now the standard 2.5-by-3.5-inch format.

Prior to 1957, Topps' main set each year was 2-5/8 by 3-3/4. And there were all kinds of other measurements from other card publishers. Bowman came to match Topps' 2-5/8-by-3-3/4 model by 1953 but prior to that, it was issuing 2-by-just-a-shade-over-3-inch jobbies. And before that, Bowman cards were 2-by-2 1/2. Play Ball made 2-1/2-by-3-1/8 cards.

But when Topps downsized its set to 2 1/2-by-3 1/2, the whole hobby fell into line.

It leads me to conclude that it's the perfect size.

How could I not think that? For 60 years, nothing has changed. The flagship set and just about every other set is issued in the same 2 1/2-by-3 1/2 format each and every year. Oh sure, there are minis and some odd-shaped cards that are often one-off tributes to some distant pre-1957 set. But the vast majority of card sets, no matter the sport, no matter the company, are issued 2.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches long.

In this age of constant tinkering -- move back the 3-point line, start a pitch clock, put runners on second base in extra innings, make 200 more rules for what determines an NFL catch -- it is astonishing that the size of your basic trading card has not changed in 60 years.

Much of that is because we've all become accustomed to thinking that's what the size of card should be. Nine-pocket pages are that size. Most top-loaders and penny sleeves are that size.

But beyond that, I think that size card fits perfectly in one's hand, no matter how large or small the collector's mitts are.

I was thinking about this very topic this afternoon.

I've been trying to get my cards in order from the massive 1990 Target Dodgers set, which totals nearly 1,100 cards. It's taken me a long time, due to the sheer size of the set, but also because I have full 15-card panels of the set and also a bunch of cards that have been de-perforated from the panels. There's been a whole bunch of cross-referencing and double-backing. The final stage was shuffling all the cards into alphabetical order.

Do you know difficult it is to shuffle these flimsy, irregulars into alphabetical order?

They are 2-by-3-inches and printed on index-card-like stock. I spent the entire exercise (while flipping between spring training baseball and the Syracuse-Michigan State game) wishing that those cards were regulation size!!!!

Topps really touched off a revolution 61 years ago.

A tinker-proof card size.

In this tinker-happy world.

It makes me look at the 1957 Topps set in a whole new light.


  1. I've wondered at times if there's an ISO standard for 2.5"x3.5" cards.

  2. With all of the excessive parallels and boring insert sets, it's nice to reflect on some of the good things Topps has done over the years.

  3. It's hard to overstate what a great card that is. I bought one two weeks ago at the card show. I'm just a sucker for those Dodger 57s that show Ebbets Field.

  4. I really do think it's the perfect size. I get hand cramps whenever I try to hold a stack of oversized '50s Topps cards (or god forbid '89 Bowman), and smaller ones always manage to slide out of a pile and/or slip through my fingertips. The debut of the standard 2.5 x 3.5 dimensions are one of the many reasons '57 Topps remains a favorite Flagship set of mine.

  5. ...but instead they ran 1987 into the ground.

    I still say there should be a product that is made up of standard size cards in groups of nine so when they're put together in a nine-pocket page they make a big picture. Topps & Ultra Pro could co-sponsor.

  6. Thanks for highlighting the 57 set. One of my favorites. Because of the size, which I agree is perfect, I don't collect any cards that are older. I have the Dodgers starting lineup in 57 cards.....okay, I cheated, Campanella is a reprint. Not willing to pay that much for his card. Maybe someday.