In 1954 and 1955, when kids were ripping packs of Topps baseball cards, many were undoubtedly disappointed when they learned that they wouldn’t be pulling a Mickey Mantle card. And the reason why is simple, Topps never printed them. This article will explain why and show a few of my favorite custom 1954 Topps and 1955 Topps Mickey Mantle cards and the versions Topps has shared.
Topps didn’t print a Mantle card as part of its 1954 or 1955 baseball sets because they legally couldn’t. Bowman and Topps had such a fierce rivalry in the early post-war era that they each tried to sign exclusive agreements with the most popular players to differentiate their products. And in 1954 and 1955, Bowman managed to sign Mantle. In 1956, Topps purchased Bowman, which I’ve discussed briefly on the blog, so Topps sets were more “complete” from that point forward.
However, even though Topps didn’t print a Mantle card in 1954, it didn’t stop them from publishing an example of what one would have looked like on paper stock. They partnered with Sports Illustrated Magazine in 1954 and printed a black & white Mantle “card.”
Sports Illustrated wanted to boost its magazine sales and included 27 paper-thin cards in its first two editions. The first edition included stars like Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Duke Snider, and Eddie Mathews. The second edition was exclusively Yankees, and the 27 printed cards included a 1954 Topps style Mickey Mantle card.
Topps also, many years later, gave us an example of a 1955 Topps Mickey Mantle card. Topps was printing their own magazine during the peak of the junk-wax era, and in their third edition, released in the summer of 1990, they had a special on “Mantle Mania,” and the center-fold included a 1955 Topps Mickey Mantle style card.
Many other collectors and hobbyists have produced custom 1954 and 1955 Topps cards, but my favorites come from hobby pioneer Bob Lemke, who unfortunately passed away in 2017. On his blog, you can read about his custom efforts: “Ho-Hum … another 1954 Topps-style Mantle. But mine has a story” and “My ’55 Mantle completes Topps-style customs.” I think it’s fantastic that he re-used the portrait that he put on the 1954 custom on his 1955 Mantle, too, just as Topps often did back then.
I’m sure that many Mantle collectors are bummed that Bowman had the exclusive contract to print his cards in 1954 and 1955. But their pocketbooks must be thankful; can you imagine how pricey those Topps cards would be now? Leave your price estimates down in the comments, and happy collecting!