Reusing Vintage Topps Cartoon Illustrations

If you are a real fan of the vintage cards issued by Topps from 1953 to 1981, you know that a little cartoon appeared on the backs of most of the cards during that time span. (If you have spent as much time studying these cards as I have, God bless you because we are part of a small group truly obsessed with this hobby.) The Heritage and Archives sets recently issued by Topps often use the designs of those earlier years, including many of the original cartoon drawings. I often have thought about trying to match up the original drawings with a current version or determining whether someone else has already done this and made the information available on the web. I also suspect that Topps owns the rights to all of these drawings because under current copyright law they are “works for hire.”

Price - Front

Price - Back

My fascination with the reuse of these images was piqued again this year when I started buying packs of Topps Archives with the first hundred cards using the 1960 format. I was certain I recognized the image on David Price’s card number 31, as well as a few others which carried the same image. I pulled out my notebook with 1960s Reds cards and, sure enough, there was the same image on Bob Purkey’s 1960 card number 4.

Purkey - Front

Purkey - Back

The illustrator placed a “C” on the cap of the right-handed pitcher in the cartoon, just like the actual cap you see the righty Purkey wearing in the picture on the front of card number 4. My earlier post on “My Favorite Card” noted that the cartoon on the back of Charley Rabe’s 1958 card did not match the lefty pitcher’s throwing arm. Well, the same thing is true for the reuse of the righty cartoon figure from Purkey’s card number 4 on the 2017 Price card number 31—as we all know, the 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner is a southpaw.

Sherry - Front

Sherry - Back

Topps could have used a different cartoon from the 1960 set so that the illustration on the back of Price’s card matched his lefty throwing motion. For instance, the cartoon on the back of Larry Sherry’s 1960 card number 105 is that of a left-handed pitcher like Price. The observant among you will immediately point out that Sherry threw right-handed, not left-handed, but enough is enough. Anyway, by now, I am sure you have concluded that I have, indeed, spent too much of my life examining the front and backs of baseball cards instead of engaging in activities far more useful to society. While there may be some truth in that suggestion, I do hope that a complete examination of my life’s work will show evidence of some efforts that help to balance the ledger.

My Favorite Card – Charley Rabe

1957 Topps Baseball Card Sale BoxSometime during the spring of 1957, I acquired my first pack of Topps Baseball cards. The specific details are lost to history, but suffice to say that collecting baseball cards became an immediate and, eventually, lifelong pursuit. So, 2017 is an important anniversary for me – 60 years of collecting cards.

My card collection quickly became my most prized possession. It was rarely far from my sight. I soon acquired an old briefcase from my father for the cards. Unlike most other kids, I never used a shoebox; in my mind, the cards were much too valuable for such a flimsy storage container. I alphabetized the cards by players’ last names and kept them in order in the briefcase. For many years the player for whom I had the largest number of unique cards was Hank Aaron. However, it was not until I was an adult that I added the 1957 reverse negative Aaron to my collection. I amassed a pretty good number of 1957 cards during that first year of collecting. I still have many of them, including some of the hard-to-find fourth series cards like Brooks Robinson, Sandy Koufax, and Jim Bunning.

Charley Rabe - 1958Although the 1957 cards will always have a special place in my heart, it was the 1958 set that produced my favorite card as a youngster—#376, Charley Rabe of the Cincinnati Redlegs, my favorite team even now. (For five years in the 1950s, Cincinnati changed its nickname from Reds to Redlegs because of the “Red Scare” in the United States and the connection so often made between communism and the color “red.”) Although the set is often criticized for the strong color backgrounds that replaced the nice stadium shots found in many ‘57 cards, there are still many great players highlighted in the set. In particular, the Sport Magazine All Star Selection cards at

Ed Bailey - 1958 All Star Cardthe very end of the set, including Redlegs Ed Bailey, Frank Robinson, and Johnny Temple. But I preferred Charley Rabe and his card over all others.

I am not sure why this particular card and player became my favorite. It might have been his home of Waxahachie, Texas, although I doubt if I could pronounce the town’s name correctly despite my family connection to Texas (it’s WAWK-sah-HATCH-ee). My mother’s side of the family can trace its history back to the state’s republic period. Furthermore, he was not even the most noted major leaguer from Waxahachie. That honor belonged to player, scout, manager, and team executive Paul Richards. It might have been his confident look or the wavy hair peeking out from under the bill of one of my all-time favorite Reds caps. Or, since like so 1958 Rabe card backmany kids of the era I studied the back of each card with a fanatic’s devotion, maybe it was the cartoon on the back of #376, showing a right-handed pitcher who instructed the ball in his hand that “You go where want,” presumably illustrating Charley’s improved control acquired under the “watchful eye of Lefty O’Doul last year.” I doubt I noted at the time that Rabe was a lefty, but I do remember thinking that his statistics displayed a fair number of walks. Later I would learn more about Lefty O’Doul, who was a noted hitter during his playing career, so I am puzzled about what he taught Charley about pitching. Also, the reference to the Reds farm team in Lawton was another thing that fascinated me about the ODoulbacks of baseball cards—the interesting minor league cities where players toiled before making it to “The Show.” As long as I am talking about the backs of cards, I should mention that I preferred those of the 1957 cards because they provided season-by-season statistics.

Charley (or Charlie as he is listed on appeared in a total of eleven Major League Baseball games with 27 innings pitched. He batted six times, with three strikeouts and no hits. He gave up five home runs—two to Del Crandall, and one each to Hank Aaron, Andy Pafko, and Bill Mazeroski (the only non-Milwaukee player to hammer a Rabe pitch out of the park), that is, two Hall-of-Famers and an eight-time All-Star. He last appeared for the Redlegs on June 4, 1958, and he

1958 Crandallwould not appear on a 1959 card. He was already back in AAA baseball. None of this mattered to a seven-year-old boy in 1958, or for many years after that. Rabe was my favorite! In fact, in 2007, when Topps Heritage issued a Real One Certified Autographed card of Rabe, I quickly snapped one up a few on eBay. I have both red and blue autographed cards. The red ink versions were limited to 57 cards to match the year of the set being honored.

To this day, sixty years after opening my first pack of cards, I still feel a thrill picking up a pack of new cards. In particular, a nice chase card (the limited edition cards meant to drive a collector’s interest in buying more and more packs) is always a welcome addition to the many cards in my collection.


Bowman v. Topps: Winning the Battle and Losing the War

In my first contribution to this outstanding blog, I want to offer this summary of the litigation between Bowman and Topps that ultimately led to Bowman’s departure from the marketplace despite winning a federal circuit court decision over Topps. As an emeritus law professor, I hope to cover legal aspects of the industry as well as my own personal feelings as a collector for sixty years.

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1953 Bowman
1953 Topps

For many of us, the “golden age of baseball cards” started in the decade following the end of World War II with the two primary companies of the era – the Bowman Gum Company and the Topps Chewing Gum Company emerging in the late 1940s to compete head-to-head in the early 1950s. As the fight for sales heated up in drug and candy stores, the two companies squabble over the contractual rights to the use of players’ pictures landed the two in federal court in New York.

The litigation that initially began with Haelen Laboratories, Inc., who acquired Bowman in 1952, suing Topps claiming unfair competition, trademark infringement, and a breach of exclusive contractual rights ultimately established the foundation for a newly named legal right – the right of publicity. Topps won the first round in the Eastern District of New York in a decision rendered by Judge Clarence G. Galston on May 25, 1953, involving a very technical aspect of whether or not Haelen had a “property interest” allowing it to proceed against Topps instead of pursuing a breach of contract actions against individual players for breaching their exclusive contracts.

On appeal to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Jerome Frank noted that Topps was guilty of the tort of causing certain players to breach their exclusive contracts. More importantly for the development of the law, however, Frank went further determining that “We think that, in addition to and independent of that right of privacy . . . a man has a right in the publicity value of his photograph … i.e., the right to grant the exclusive privilege of publishing his picture … This right might be called a “right of publicity.”

Topps filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court. On October 13, 1953, the Court refused to accept the appeal. While legal wrangling continued between the two parties, Haelen was acquired by Connelly Containers, Inc. They had little interest in card and gum business and settled with Topps in early 1956. So, despite their rival gaining the stronger legal claim, Topps ultimately emerged as the business victor in the fight between the two parties.

One of my favorite sets turned out to be Bowman’s last – the 1955 “color television set” cards.



For a detailed discussion of the litigation, I strongly encourage you to read an article by my good friend Gordon Hylton titled “Baseball Cards and the Birth of the Right of Publicity: The Curious Case of Haelen Laboratories v. Topps Chewing Gum” published in volume 12 of the Marquette Sports Law Review available at this link.


Editor’s note:  Ed is a law professor at Notre Dame has written extensively on the intersection of baseball an the law, including in this book.  Follow him at @epedmondsNDLS.