Baseball cards outdate the National League, with the first ones popping up in the 1860s. They first became popular in the early 1900s, when tobacco companies started inserting them into packs as a way to boost sales.
The card business gravitated toward bubblegum in the 1930s and exploded as a stand-alone product in 1980.Some key events: 1909: The American Tobacco Company begins inserting cards of major league baseball players into packs of its various brands of cigarettes. The Honus Wagner card is pulled over a licensing dispute.
1930s-50s: Baseball cards become associated with bubblegum and are sold by numerous companies, including Goudy, Leaf and Bowman.
1951: Topps issues its first baseball cards. They are basically game cards with players' pictures on them.
1952: Topps goes full-scale into the baseball card business, producing a set of 407 in seven series. The seventh series, including Mickey Mantle's "rookie card," is issued so late in the season that it competes for shelf space with football cards. Many are returned to Topps and were destroyed.
1956: Topps reaches an agreement with its only competitor, Bowman, and gains a monopoly on the market, as a vast majority of players sign exclusive contracts to appear on Topps cards.
1960: The Frank H. Fleer Co. begins issuing baseball cards - all of Ted Williams. At the same time, the Leaf Co. puts out a set of black-and-white player cards sold with marbles instead of bubblegum. Three years later, Fleer issues a limited set of baseball players not under contract with Topps, and includes a cookie in each pack.
1975: Fleer sues to break Topps' monopoly, eventually wins.
1981: Fleer and Donruss begin marketing MLB trading cards, although Topps is only company allowed to sell them with bubblegum.
1983: Collectors begin going wild over "rookie cards," setting the stage for the collecting boom. Leading the forefront is the 1968 Nolan Ryan rookie card.
1986: The era of overproduction begins as more and more cards are printed to feed the demands of speculators. Investors filled their garages with boxes of 1986 and 1987 cards that they were unable to unload.
1988: Score (later Pinnacle) begins marketing MLB trading cards.
1989: Upper Deck gains a license to market baseball cards and its first set becomes a wild success based on the strength of its Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card.
1990:Donruss resurrects the Leaf brand.
1994: MLB expands to its largest number of licensed manufacturers by adding Pacific.
1998: Pinnacle (parent company of Score) folds, but Donruss acquires the rights to the Score name.
2001: Pacific drops out to reduce the number of card companies to four.
2005: Fleer-Skybox International declares bankruptcy. Upper Deck purchases Fleer's assets and markets under the Fleer brand name.
2006: MLB declines to renew Donruss' license, leaving Topps and Upper Deck as the only card producers.
2009: MLB gives Topps exclusive rights to produce MLB trading cards. Upper Deck can market cards bearing player likenesses, but cannot use team logos. - NEWSDAY STAFF
BASEBALL CARDS COURTESY OF THE TOPPS CO.