Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but when it comes to the best looking baseball card sets of all-time, there’s somewhat of a consensus among collectors who know all of the hobby's various eras. These are the sets that have proven very popular over time, not just for player selection but for aesthetic reasons as well. Of course, you may have your own favorites but here's our list of most attractive vintage issues. Click the links inside the story to see cards from these sets on eBay.
Early Baseball Card Sets
The N162 1888 Goodwin’s Champions cards are magnificent works of art from the early days of professional baseball. Actually part of a much larger set of athletes, eight baseball players comprise the most popular subset. Measuring 1-1/2” x 2-5/8”, the cards were distributed inside packages of Gypsy Queen and Old Judge cigarettes and feature bold, detailed paintings of some of the game’s earliest stars.
The T206 set arrived near the end of the ‘tobacco card era’. Considered the most popular pre-War set, T206 is a huge set featuring brightly colored artwork. The set is striking and along with its cousin, T205 gold border, herald the 20th century game with stars like Ty Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Tris Speaker, Walter Johnson and yes, the ultra-scarce Honus Wagner. Fortunately for collectors who love old cards, there are tons of them in circulation and common cards in average condition can usually be found on eBay for less than $25.
Post War Baseball Sets
While some would cast a ballot for the 1933 Goudey series, we believe the set is trumped by the 1952 Topps set. The first of what would be a five-year run of large cards for Topps also featured a great effort in making all the players seem larger than life. And some of the really cool or even iconic poses such as the Topps Mickey Mantle card or a smiling Jackie Robinson, made this a really neat set to collect.
Even most of the everyday players had nice poses and the whole set is raft with a good mix of photos on the front with biographical information, text and stats on the back. The high numbers are a killer, but if you have decent disposable income, putting the 1952 Topps set together is a lot of fun.
The 1950s is probably the most popular decade of all-time for card collecting and both Topps and Bowman scored winners because our list is populated by several sets from the era.
In fact, the baseball card wars that saw Topps jump ahead in 1952, were being fought tooth-and-nail in 1953. Topps produced another winning set with some great images but the 1953 Bowman baseball issue was something completely new and original. The cards had no text on the front, but rather pure, high quality photographs and a simple white border. 1953 Bowman included the first of the multi-player cards with a Mantle, Berra and Hank Bauer among the best of the those cards. The Pee Wee Reese card, a posed action shot from second base, shot is a major classic to this day and the image of a smiling, relaxed Yogi Berra in his pinstripes could be the centerpiece in any card collection.
In 1956, Topps wrapped up the two-year run of horizontal designs by including a background action photo and some great-looking portrait shots. The design is busy, but uncluttered. While there are few choice rookies, the Mickey Mantle card from his Triple Crown season is a classic.
Then in 1957, Topps in their first effort in what is now the standard-card size, produced a near picture-perfect set with great photography and well designed colors on the front. We like all the cards and even the Hank Aaron reversed negative looks kind of cool. Roberto Clemente’s photograph appears to have been taken with a sunset illuminating his face while the background of many of the cards showcases some of the great stadiums of the era.
The 1960's had mostly decent designs but we always liked the 1967 set as our favorite. Again the clean, crisp photography really made this set stand out along with the simple block team name lettering at the bottom. The toughness of the high numbers makes this set quite a challenge to complete. But if you enjoy the 1967 set as a work of art, then that is our favorite set of the 1960's.
Perhaps the second best set of the 1960's was the 1960 Topps set itself which was unusual for its horizontal layout. Kind of an interesting experiment and makes you wonder why Topps did not use that more often in its 1960s baseball issues.
Topps’ design team created something unique and very memorable in 1971. Using lower case text and black borders make the ’71 set instantly identifiable. The black borders really stand out and while they show wear more than most issues, there is nothing quite as striking in that decade as a high-grade, sharp cornered 1971 Topps card.
There are dozens of others that could have been elected among the best looking baseball card sets for one reason or another and certainly some newer issues, with the use of computer graphics, uniform swatches, gold ink and other design elements, are worthy. However, collectors realize that in a pre-computer era, making a classic set with a fresh design was a major challenge and these older sets--and their designers--are worthy of our respect.