This Day in Baseball History: February 8th, 1962

Baseball knows nothing about monopolies.

On February 8th, 1962:

The Federal Trade Commission accuses the Topps Company, Inc. of having a monopoly on baseball cards.

The Topps Company was originally a tobacco company, but after World War I disrupted its trade of tobacco with the Middle East (mainly Turkey), it decided to go a different route. That route was chewing gum.

In 1950, the Topps Company decided to start using trading cards to help the sales of its Bazooka Bubble Gum, but the “Hopalong Cassidy” cards were only marginally successful. The following year, Topps decided to use baseball cards instead to package with their gum, and it became an instant success. Sold in two sets (Red Backs and Blue Backs), the cards were mainly used to play a card game with baseball-like rule, and they were blank on the back with a picture on the front. The next year, Topps increased the size of the card and began adding statistical and biographical information to the backs of the card.

This wasn’t the first time a company had done this. Baseball card production began before 1900, and it was packaged with bubble gum and tobacco shortly after. However, during WWI and the Great Depression, the market for baseball cards (as well as for a lot of other products) shrank to almost non-existent levels, but after WWII, production picked back up — the modern baseball card era had begun. Bowman Gum and a few other companies began the process before Topps, but Topps would soon outdistance its competition, bringing the companies into serious competition.

Bowman Gum sued Topps for trademark infringement. Players signed contracts individually to allow companies to reproduce their images, and Bowman said Topps was illegally reproducing images to which they already owned the rights. In the end, Topps bought Bowman, and the issue ended. Topps became the dominant baseball card producer as they now owned the major competition, and the Federal Trade Commission didn’t like it.

Topps began signing players to exclusive contracts, which obviously limits the competition, but Fleer had come out with a new series of cards based on retired players, such as Ted Williams. They, then, supported the FTC’s campaign in 1962 to end Topps’ monopoly. Originally, the arbitrator ruled against Topps, but the Commission reversed course in 1965 and allowed Topps to continue running as before stating that other companies could sell baseball cards with other small products, instead.

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2 Responses to “This Day in Baseball History: February 8th, 1962”

  1. lar Says:

    Good article, Mark. I hadn’t known that about Topps (or, if I had, I had forgotten it). It’s a great, overlooked piece of baseball history. After all, how many of us had baseball cards as a key piece of our childhood?

  2. tHeMARksMiTh Says:

    *hand raised* I used to go to flea markets for the sole purpose of buying baseball cards. I’ve got a bunch more stuff I want to talk about concerning baseball cards, and once I get out of this mountain o’ crap (ie. tests and papers — which should be Wednesday), I should get some more stuff up on it and other stuff.

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