Complete Visual History of Topps Football Card Designs: 1951 to 2012

Complete Visual History of Topps Football Card Designs: 1951 to 2012

It the six-plus decades that Topps has been producing football cards, a lot has changed. For many of the early years, cards focused on the players. Portraits and head shots were used more often than action shots. And even many of those look posed. Another big change in Topps football card designs has been the transition from painted pictures to photographs. The biggest difference, though, has to be in the feel of the cards themselves. Hold something a Topps football card from the 1950s or 1960s and there's a distinct cardboard texture that runs through your fingers. Modern technology has given way to something smoother, something shinier.

1951 Topps Magic Football was the company's first foray into the sport. From there, it wasn't until the college-themed 1955 Topps All American Football that they tried again. Beginning in 1956 and every year since, Topps has produced cards for the NFL.

Topps football card designs have varied widely over the years. Early on, they changed greatly with each new set. Looking at the first NFL sets from 1956 to 1959, they share little in common. 1956 Topps Football had a vertical design that was dominted by a player photo and a colorful background. The next year, the layout used two photos on a horizontal design. From there, photos were placed inside an oval border. Finally, 1959 Topps Football reverted back to something similar to 1956, but with even more color.

Perhaps the biggest jump in Topps football card designs came in 1965. While the cards themselves look fairly traditional in their layout, the 'tall boys' are larger than normal. Measuring 2 1/2" by 4 11/16", it was a one-time deviation.

Designs got a modern boost in the early 1990s. Standard card stock gave way to glossy cards. Foil enhancements also became common. Some may argue that these advances take away from the nostalgia of collecting, but they have also led to sharper photos and better quality control.

Below you will find samples of all flagship Topps football card designs from 1951 to 2012. While this doesn't include off-shoot brands, we did include the 1984 Topps USFL and 1985 Topps USFL sets.

What set is your favorite? Feel free to answer in the comments section below.

Visual Guide to Topps Football Card Designs 1951 to 2012

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Ryan Cracknell

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Ryan is a former member of The Cardboard Connection Writing Staff. His collecting origins began with winter bike rides to the corner store, tossing a couple of quarters onto the counter and peddling home with a couple packs of O-Pee-Chee hockey in his pocket. Today, he continues to build sets, go after inserts with cool technologies, chase Montreal Expos and finish off his John Jaha master collection.

User Comments

  1. The ’90s cards definitely suffered thanks to the advent of easier-to-use layout software and far too many choices for designers. Never liked the purely “square” looks (’71, ’72, ’74). The late ’80s sets seemed a bit uninspired, as well. 1977 and ’79 are favorites of ours, and the ’08 set looks sharp. The 1957-’59 sets are true classics.

  2. I like all of Topps football card sets.

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