15 Highly Collectible Facts About Topps

slgckc via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
slgckc via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded as a gum manufacturer in 1938 by the Shorin family of Brooklyn to remedy their ailing tobacco interests, the Topps Company—named for their desire to be “tops” in sales—has become synonymous with sports collecting. From pioneering the modern baseball card to inciting controversy with the Garbage Pail Kids, the company has rarely seen a dull moment. Here’s everything you need to know about some of the most expensive cardboard around.

1. Early Topps cards wanted you to add water. 


After spending most of their first decade devoted to chewing gum—including their legendary Bazooka bubblegum—Topps decided to offer more incentive for customers to pass up competition like Dubble Bubble. In 1949, they began to package gum with trading cards dubbed Hocus Focus that appeared blank. When kids lightly moistened the surface with water and pressed it against the “blue magic paper," images of baseball greats like Jackie Robinson and actors like Clark Gable would appear. A single card and gum piece was priced at one penny; six pieces of gum and six cards cost a nickel.

2. The Topps gum was hard for a reason. 

While the highly elastic, block-shaped Bazooka bubblegum proved to be a delicious hit with consumers, the rigid sticks of gum inserted into early trading card packs proved largely unappealing to developing jaws. The reason? Owing to the manufacturing process, the sticks had to be hard enough to be mechanically injected into the card packs without breaking. In 1992, the company finally discontinued the insert after collectors complained it left a residue on their cards.

3. Topps made a board game. 

Before growing to dominate the baseball card scene, Topps was eager to try out different marketing efforts that could expand the brand beyond gum. In 1948, Topps commissioned a private mint to manufacture a series of metal coins featuring all the presidents up to Truman. The coins were not popular sellers, so Topps used their remaining stock to populate a board game titled Meet the Presidents. Released in 1953, the game consisted of trivia questions that players could use to accumulate the coins.

4. Topps invented the modern baseball card. 

Until Topps employee Sy Berger got his hands on them, baseball cards were little more than simple monochrome portraits that had been largely unchanged since their debut in the 19th century. Berger, a card designer, tweaked the template to include a color border, a faux autograph, team logos, and biographical and statistical information on the card back beginning in 1951 and 1952. In 2004, Topps honored Berger with his own card.

5. Unfortunately, the first Topps baseball card was a disaster.

Before Berger perfected the baseball card, the company’s first attempt was not a hit with fans. With smaller photos framed by different baseball plays, collectors could use them as playing cards to simulate a game. While innovative, kids weren’t interested; the taffy that replaced the gum—to avoid legal issues with a rival, Bowman, who claimed to have exclusivity in gum sets—absorbed the card varnish, leaving a disgusting aftertaste. After ironing out the wrinkles, Berger’s 1952 set was a hit. The company bought Bowman in 1956, and enjoyed decades of card domination.

6. Topps dumped priceless cards into the ocean. 

While Topps’s foray into baseball was a success, the company still had leftover stock from its 1952 series that immediately became outdated once the season was over. After printing a second run, Berger decided to scuttle more than two million cards by hiring garbage trucks to load the cards onto a barge and dump them into the Atlantic Ocean off New York Bay. Among the castoffs: Mickey Mantle’s 1952 "rookie" card (his actual rookie card was a Bowman from the year before). Owing to their scarcity, a Mantle in pristine condition can go for well over $1 million.

7. Mars Attacks! got Topps in big trouble.

Topps had long supplemented its sport card efforts with entertainment offerings, but a 1962 series about an alien invasion proved to be too ambitious for its time. Mars Attacks! was a hand-painted collection by artist Norman Saunders depicting Martians skewering human forces in a hostile Earth takeover. Owing to the violent content, a Connecticut district attorney phoned Topps cautioning them against distributing the material in his state. Fearing wider negative publicity, they stopped producing the cards. (A 50th anniversary set was issued in 2012.)

8. Topps once issued an x-rated Star Wars card. 

In the late 1970s, there was no hotter film license than Star Wars, and Topps was fortunate enough to secure the licensing for a trading card series before the film became a blockbuster. In an attempt to flesh out multiple releases, Topps employees combed through every available still image in the Lucasfilm archives. When they found a photo of C-3PO, no one appeared to notice that the droid appeared to sport robot genitalia--a likely result of a costume malfunction. An untold number of the cards made it into circulation. Once the mistake was discovered, Topps airbrushed the offending portion out.

9. Topps marketed some disgusting candy. 

Long before Topps’s Garbage Pail Kids sent parents into hysterics, the company had struck a nerve in the 1970s with Garbage Can-Dy, a plastic trash pail filled with Pez-type treats shaped like rotting fish and dirty socks. They also marketed Barfo, a repulsive dispenser with a human head and an accordion-shaped body that vomited out gelatinous goop.

10. Topps offered Helen Keller's autograph. 

Collectors have long been enticed into buying packs of cards with the promise of happening upon a “chase,” or limited-edition, card with an athlete’s autograph or game-used uniform swatch. In 2009, Topps expanded that notion to include historical figures, including the blind and deaf disabilities advocate Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, and Kurt Vonnegut.

11. Topps printed the world's largest baseball card. 


In a 2013 promotional stunt, Topps unveiled a 60-foot-by-90-foot card of Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder near the team’s spring training center in Lakeland, Florida.

12. Buzz Aldrin once sued Topps.

Topps thought it was honoring astronaut Buzz Aldrin when it included a photograph of his moon walk—Aldrin, however, was annoyed rather than flattered. A fierce protector of his likeness, he sued Topps in 2010 for using his image without permission. According to the Los Angeles Times, Topps countered that the First Amendment protected them from retaliation when including Aldrin in a series called "American Heritage: Heroes Edition." The court agreed in 2011, ruling that trading cards are “expressive works.” Aldrin dropped his appeal in exchange for not being sent a bill for the company’s legal fees.  

13. Topps also got into comics. 


The comic book explosion of the 1990s was not lost on Topps, who felt that the impressive distribution system they already had in place from their card business would give them an advantage over the competition. In 1992, they announced the debut of Topps Comics, a line featuring licensed adaptations (The X-Files, Friday the 13th) and concepts introduced by legendary artist Jack Kirby. The line folded in 1998.  

14. Topps sold cards that buyers didn't want to actually touch.

Eager to capitalize on the speculative market, in 2001 Topps offered consumers the option of purchasing cards via their website as “Initial Player Offerings,” or IPOs. Modeled after stocks, a buyer could choose to let Topps keep the card in storage so they could be traded or sold with other collectors at a later date. Barry Bonds “opened” at $9.50 and shot up to $28.90. While novel, the company ended the strategy in 2012.

15. Topps will print you a custom card. 

Part of the fun of becoming a professional athlete is getting your likeness emblazoned on a trading card. Unfortunately, that kind of talent is hard to come by. If you’re a weekend warrior, Topps is willing to fabricate a card with your photo, name, and statistics and print it on acid-free, laminated card stock. They’ll even accommodate mass quantities. If you order too many, remember: There’s always the Atlantic Ocean.

10 Thoughtful Gifts for Your Wedding Party

Here's a list of 10 thoughtful and quirky gifts for your groomsmen and bridal party.
Here's a list of 10 thoughtful and quirky gifts for your groomsmen and bridal party.

When buying a gift for your bridesmaids and groomsmen for your wedding, it's important to show that you appreciate all their hard work. And one way to do that is to get them a creative gift with a personal touch. You know your wedding party better than we do, but if you’re struggling to come up with something, here are some fun options ranging personalized socks to Pokemon bath bombs.

1. Custom Face Socks; $24

Customizable Socks on Amazon

Every time your bridesmaids or groomsmen pull out this pair of socks, they’ll remember your special day. Just select a picture you know they'll love, send it to DivvyUp (through Amazon), and they can enjoy these comfy socks adorned with fun memories. You could also put a picture of a cat or dog on the socks, just in case a member of the wedding party would be horrified by their own mug decorating their feet. As an added bonus, they're available in every color of the rainbow.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Carry-On Cocktail Kits; $24

A carry-on cocktail kit

Is anyone in your wedding party flying out to the venue? Make their trip more enjoyable by giving them the gift of mid-air booze. Choose from Old Fashioned, Margarita, Moscow Mule, or Gin and Tonic kits that include almost all the ingredients you need to mix up a refreshing drink on the flight. All your friend needs to do is order the alcohol on the plane to complete the cocktail.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

3. Pokémon Bath Bombs; $17

Pokeball bath bombs
The Island Bath & Body/Amazon

“Gotta drop ‘em all!” Fill your tub with hot water, throw in a Pokeball-shaped bath bomb, and let the relaxation commence. According to the company, these bath bombs can help relieve muscle and joint pain, so they're perfect for helping your wedding party unwind after a night of running around—or dancing in heels. Each bomb unleashes amazing scents while simultaneously bubbling up your water and filling it with fun colors. Oh, and did we mention that the wondrous spheres contain hidden Pokémon toys?

Buy it: Amazon

4. Magnetic Notebook; $33

A magnetic notebook

Give your groomsmen and bridal party the gift of easy organization with this magnetic notebook that allows you to remove pages along the margin without any tearing and place them back in anywhere you'd like. And as an added bonus, when you run out of paper, rather than buying a whole new notebook, you can just purchase additional sheets ($10).

Buy it: Amazon

5. Customizable Flasks; $18–$65

Customizable flask
United Craft Supplies/Amazon

With one of these, your best man or maid of honor will be toasting your wedding long after the party wraps. Tastefully engraved with the recipient’s initials, the durable, pocket-sized flasks come in packs of three and six—or if you prefer, you can order a single one.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Green Herbal Tea Kit; $40

Green tea set

After your big day goes off without a hitch, your wedding party will definitely want to relax. And what better way to unwind than with a hot cup of tea? Each kit makes about 18 pots of tea, and there are 10 disposable teabags included. Inside the beautifully packaged box, you'll find three varieties of green tea from Japan, India, and Sri Lanka.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

7. Converse Wedding Sneakers; Various

Converse Wedding Sneakers.

For anyone who has dreams of a wedding party full of Chuck Taylors, Converse has a line of fully customizable wedding sneakers poised to match almost any dress/tux combo. Available in high-top and low-top, these sneakers sport that classic Chuck look, but with color accents, optional design choices, and custom text for the theme you're going for (you can even make them glittered if that's your thing). You can personalize your wedding to your own style, whether your party wears them during the ceremony, or you just buy them for everyone as a gift.

Buy it: Converse

8. Fujimax Instax Instant Camera; $165

An instant film camera

Leave the smartphones at home. A throwback to a classic film camera, the Fujimax Instax Mini is a cinch to use and prints pictures in just a few minutes. When the pictures are ready, they can be used as creative decorations around the house or office.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Cold Brew Maker and Carafe; $40

Portable cold brew maker

Give your wedding party the gift of fresh cold brew without the café prices. All you need to do is add coarsely ground coffee beans to the filter, pour water into the brewing chamber (2 tablespoons of ground beans for every cup of water), and let it all steep for 12–18 hours. When you're ready, just press the front button to instantly fill the insulated carafe below with fresh cold brew. You can also check out this on-the-go espresso maker ($79).

Buy it: UncommonGoods

10. Interactive AR Moon Phase Mug; $30

Moon phase mug

Stay updated on what phase the moon is in as you sip your morning cup of coffee or tea. Your wedding party can simply scan the QR code at the bottom of the mug and an image of the moon in its current phase will appear on your phone. If you need to step away from your beverage for a minute, simply cover it with the included lid to keep what you're drinking nice and hot.

Buy it: UncommonGoods

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

11 Questions About Airplane Cabins, Answered

Marcin Kilarski/iStock via Getty Images
Marcin Kilarski/iStock via Getty Images

Of the many uncomfortable places humans can find themselves, the airplane cabin is among the most common—and puzzling. These high-speed cylinders can cross the globe, but the price is stuffy air, peculiar design choices, and strange amenities. If you’ve ever found yourself trapped on a long flight, and curious about why the seats are blue or why cabins are so cold, keep reading.

1. Why don’t airplane seat belts have shoulder straps?

An airplane seat belt is pictured
thawatpong/iStock via Getty Images

We’ll get the more obvious question out of the way: Yes, in the highly unlikely event of a serious plane crash, a seat belt is not likely to make a difference in mortality rates. The belts are really in place to keep passengers from being injured during turbulence, which can cause loosely seated travelers to bump their heads on the overhead compartments or walls. (According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there were 234 accidents involving turbulence from 1980 to 2008, with almost 300 serious injuries and three fatalities. Of the latter, two were not wearing seat belts.)

The bigger mystery is why airplane belts aren’t more like car seat belts, which might prevent people from bumping their head on the seat in front of them. The reason has to do with the environment. For a shoulder harness to work, the belt would have to be secured either to the cabin wall, which is not as sturdy as a car frame, or the seat. If it was attached to the seat, modifications would have to be made that would increase the plane’s overall weight. Planes are also unlikely to experience side collisions, which is where shoulder harnesses would work best.

The belts also have what’s called a lift-lever instead of a button release. That’s in case an object in the cabin falls and accidentally presses the button.

Those old-school buckles have one additional advantage. They’re cheap, saving airlines money—savings they pass on to you, the customer. (Just kidding. They probably don’t do that.)

2. Why are airplane bathrooms so small?

An airplane bathroom is pictured
VVF/iStock via Getty Images

The phone booth-sized lavatories on planes are actually getting smaller. A popular new model dubbed the 737 Advanced Lavatory being installed in nearly half of all new aircraft increases non-pooping cabin space by 7 inches. The push for shrinking bathrooms isn’t actually greed or a need to stuff in more seats. It’s a move by airlines to allow for more leg and reclining room—however sparse—for existing seats. And yes, it could be worse. Early aviators pooped in cardboard boxes.

3. Why are airplane cabins so cold?

A woman is pictured sleeping in an airplane
kasto80/iStock via Getty Images

If you think you’ve gotten as comfortable as you’re likely to get in your seat, you may find a cold front moving in. Following take-off, when air conditioning is turned off to conserve fuel, airplane cabins can become notoriously chilly. Believe it or not, airlines keep it cool for your health. Pressurized cabins combined with warmer temperatures can increase passengers' risk of hypoxia, a condition in which body tissue doesn’t get enough oxygen and fainting can result. (Oxygen is decreased at high altitudes, so cabins are pressurized.) Turning down the thermostat can help prevent passengers from passing out. Passengers are also likely to feel colder because they’re sedentary and can't warm up by moving around.

4. Why is airplane food so bad?

A tray of airplane food is pictured
PJjaruwan/iStock via Getty Images

When you can get better meal options at a gas station, you know something is very wrong with airplane food. The bland concoctions served in cabins are the unfortunate result of preparation, storage, and environmental limitations. Meals are frozen and then thawed in flight. That’s because a cabin pressurized to an altitude of 6000 to 8000 feet above sea level (even when the cruising altitude is about 40,000 feet) makes for a less-than-ideal fresh food preparation space.

But isn’t serving up a mostly frozen menu what fast food restaurants seem to do well? Maybe, but the difference is that airlines need to serve hundreds of hungry customers at once. To keep lingering meals from drying out, they’re often drowning in sauces. Combine that with dry cabin air suppressing our sense of smell and reducing our ability to taste sweet and salty flavors, and you have a recipe for gastronomical disaster.

5. Why is tomato juice so popular on flights?

A cup of tomato juice on an airplane serving tray is pictured
Cameris/iStock via Getty Images

In addition to water, soda, and more intoxicating options, cans of tomato juice seem to be a surprisingly popular option on flights. That’s because the same dry air that affects our sense of smell and makes the food taste off can actually improve tomato juice’s flavor. The savory umami of the juice is unaffected by the cabin environment, making the option stand out in an otherwise bland menu.

6. Why are so many airplane seats blue?

Airplane seats are pictured
roibu/iStock via Getty Images

Not all plane seats are blue, but odds are good you’ve encountered more than one blue-colored cabin in your travels. Blame sloppy passengers. Unlike bright or dark colors, blue does a good job of hiding stains, blemishes, and other damage, making it a perfect tone for airlines who don’t want to replace seats on a regular basis. Psychologically, blue is also soothing to passengers who might have a little travel anxiety.

7. Why do airplane windows have those tiny holes?

An airplane window hole is pictured
Cristiano Babini/iStock via Getty Images

We know why airplane windows are round: Squared-off windows tend to take on too much stress in a pressurized cabin, a fact airlines noted in the 1950s following an investigation into several accidents. The design also incorporates three window panes, which is where that tiny little hole comes in. The first pane on the plane’s exterior takes on the structural burden of pressurization. The middle pane is a back-up in case the first pane fails. The third pane closest to the passenger is there to prevent scratches and damage to the middle pane. The hole is in the middle to help regulate the air pressure between the cabin and the outer and middle panes, leaving the full force of the outside pressure to exert itself on the exterior pane only. That way, if the window gives out, you'll still have the middle pane as a back-up. It also wicks out moisture to keep the window free from fogging.

8. Why do some airplane seats have a triangle above them?

A pair of hands is pictured making a triangle shape
Nopphon Pattanasri/iStock via Getty Images

Look around a cabin and you might see a triangle pasted on the wall near a row of seats. No, this is not for members of secret societies. The markers are there to help crew members identify windows where the plane’s wings are the most visible in the event they need to inspect them for damage, ice, or other concerns.

9. What do those chimes over the airplane’s intercom really mean?

An airplane cabin is pictured
triocean/iStock via Getty Images

Ding. Ding. At times being in an airplane can feel like being in an elevator. While some of those chimes are meant to call your attention to seat belt alerts or landing notifications, not all of them are intended for passengers. Airplanes use a kind of code similar to a ring tone to call from one section of the cabin to another—to ask about food supplies, for example. Different chimes can mean different things. A three-note chime might tell flight attendants that turbulence is ahead, alerting them ahead of passengers. The code varies by plane, so try not to read too much into it. If you hear just one note, though, it might be the pilot asking for some coffee.

10. Why do your ears pop during a flight?

A man is pictured holding his ears on an airplane
Kritchanut/iStock via Getty Images

It goes back to cabin pressure. As a plane ascends, lowering the pressure in the cabin, pressure in the inner ear changes. Force is applied to the eardrum and you’ll feel like something is squeezing your head until the Eustachian tubes connecting your ears to your nose and throat relax, letting air in and equalizing the pressure.

11. Why don’t airplane oxygen mask bags inflate?

A flight attendant is pictured demonstrating an oxygen mask
Thinkstock/iStock via Getty Images

The vaunted airplane oxygen mask demonstration always causes some concern over its rather inert plastic bag, which attendants often warn “may not inflate” once the masks descend over the passengers in the event of an emergency. If it doesn’t inflate, what good is it? The masks are continuous-flow, which means oxygen produced by chemicals in the overhead compartment will flow through the mask regardless of the person inhaling or exhaling. Excess oxygen is stored in the bag until it's needed. It also prevents panicky passengers from seeing their bags "deflate" while others appear full.