The 1955 Topps Doubleheaders set is the first sidebar/supplement set sold by Topps and was the first of a long line of similar products. But why, in 1955, did Topps decide to start developing alternatives to their base products? In this article, I’ll run down a few possibilities:
- Due to their new sheet set size, they had to augment the smaller 1955 Topps base set to please collectors.
- They just wanted to crush Bowman.
- They wanted more products to sell to make money.
But before I get into the “Why a supplement?” question, I want to provide some historical perspective and set basics. Topps must have had the 1955 Doubleheaders set on its planning sheet early in the season because the checklist only has players issued in the first part of the base 1955 set. That’s why Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays, and Duke Snider aren’t in the set. The Doubleheaders are almost exclusively in the first 148 cards of the base set with two exceptions (Jim Owens and John Hetki). The art used on the fronts of opened doubleheaders was also mostly (56 of 66 are matches) taken from secondary artwork on the front of the base cards.
The set itself has 66 cards (representing 132 total players), each measuring 2-1/16″ by 4-7/8″, and are very similar to the 1911 T201 Mecca Double Folders. PSA describes the set as follows:
The cards are perforated through the middle, allowing them to be folded. When opened, there is a colorful painting of a player set against a stadium background, and when folded display an alternative player and ballpark setting. Placed side by side in reverse numerical order, the backgrounds form a continuous stadium scene. Each unnumbered card is designed so that each athlete shares the same lower legs and feet, and each reverse carries a brief career history and statistical data of the respective athlete.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of the set, why did Topps plan a second set for release in 1955? The first prevailing theory is because the base set was so small. 1955 was Topps smallest ever issued baseball card set at 206 cards (numbered to 210, but a few cards were not released, presumably due to licensing issues). The reason for the small base set may have been that they retooled their printing sheets to a larger 110-card half and 220-card full sheet this year. And perhaps it was cheaper to make a second set than add cards to the base set based on the new sheet sizes? Topps may have also known that Bowman would have a larger 320 card set and needed more cards to please collectors, which leads to the second possible reason to release an additional set.
Since 1955 was perhaps Bowman’s last chance to compete in the market (due to high fees for legal battles between the companies, printing technology R&D, and a change in ownership), maybe Topps generated a second set to crush their competition. While Bowman had more marquee players under contract, Topps cards were considered more attractive, and the Doubleheader set can certainly be seen as way more fun. Topps outsold Bowman heavily in 1954 (about 5 to 3) and advertised its two 1955 sets together. Topps flooded the market with cards popularizing its brand even further.
The salesman sample below has a Doubleheader card on the back of a strip of 3 base 1955 Topps cards. The fact that Topps advertised the two sets together shows a planned marketing approach that was certainly financially driven to induce shops to sell both sets. And since the Doubleheader card had two players on it, it could be seen as extra value for the money and sway collectors to focus on buying more Topps cards instead of Bowman cards.
Ultimately, we won’t ever know the specific reasons why Topps planned an extra release to their baseball card offerings in 1955. But I think the three reasons discussed are all plausible. The Doubleheaders must have helped Topps achieve their company goals, though, as 1955 was the last year Bowman released a set.
By the way, if you’re a fan of the 1955 Topps Doubleheaders set, check out the Unopened Archive entry for the set, and happy collecting!
Bowman did create a 1956 prototype set to gauge consumer demand before Topps bought them out in 1956 for $200k (the buyout included player contracts). Bowman’s new owners saw cards as a low-profit drain on company margins and saw they were losing market share to Topps while paying substantial legal fees (even though Bowman had a more robust legal claim at the time) and wanted to divest the product. When Connelly Container sold the Bowman brand to Topps, they even signed a 5-year non-compete.