|1952 Topps 3rd Series "Gray Back" cards, popularly known|
as 1952 Topps Canadian cards, can be found with
both gray (left)and white (right) fronts.
There exists in the hobby, Third Series 1952 Topps cards that have a distinctly gray back, rather than the cream-colored card stock normally associated with the series. Because a similar 1954 Topps run with gray backs is known to have originated in Canada, it was presumed by many collectors that the gray-back 1952 Topps #131-190 also traced their origins to Canada.
Not all vintage collectors have bought into that theory.
A most cogent argument against Canadian origins has been advanced by veteran collector John Rumierz.
Rather tha paraphrase his logic, I'll present it to you as he presented it to me in a recent e-mail.
"I will apologize for this long winded piece but . . .
"I have an active wantlist on the 1952 Gray Back 3rd Series since 1970 and I have an almost parental interest in the issue. Back in '70 I was the only guy who pursued them until (another collector's name redacted) followed soon after.
"1.) I have done 20-30 buying trips in Canada from St John's to Vancouver from '72-'96. I saw thousands of '52s with 100s of High Numbers and many Mantles however I NEVER saw ONE gray backed 3rd Series card.
"2) I never talked with any collector who said he got one in Canada.
"3) The "story" back in the early '70s was that the cards came with Kleenex or Doeskin tissues. (Another collector's name redacted) and I have looked unsuccessfully for decades to try to find confirming evidence.
"4) The usual find of these is 1-3 in a large group of 1952s. It's obvious that the entry route was not the same as the standard gum card route.
"5) The inferior picture quality of these cards lends credence to the idea that Topps supplied them to another firm under contract while still assuring the Topps product would look better and be preferable to the "other guy's".
"6) Now the very interesting aspect of the gray backs is that they also come with the standard glossy front. See scans. These apparently resulted late in the run when the white paper ran out. The glossy/grays are even more difficult than the gray/grays. I have 56/60 of the latter and 24/60 of the former.
"7) The Canadian distributor contracted for the same number of cards from Topps from each of the Series 2-6. That's the reason why High Numbers are "common" in Canada. First Series cards are rare/nonexistent in Canada."
Like Rumierz and his fellow researcher, I have long heard hobby tales of some baseball cards having been distributed in the early 1950s by a tissue maker. Also like them, I have never seen any confirming evidence. We do know that 19655 Topps Rails and Sails cards WERE distributed in some fashion by Doeskin tissues. This may be the genesis of the supposition that baseball cards were similarly distributed.
If not a general consumer product in Canada, or a Kleenex-box ridealong, where did the Gray Back 3rd Series 1952s come from? I am not averse to changing the title of this set from 1952 Topps "Canadian" to 1952 Topps 3rd Series Gray Backs if evidence of Canadian origins is not forthcoming.
UPDATE: May 22
Veteran collector Larry Leonard provided his perspective to the issue of 1952 3rd Series Gray Backs after reading the account in SCD. He writes,
"For a ten-year period beginning in the late 1990s, I actively searched for 1952 Topps third series gray backs. I managed to collect the entire third series (131-190) plus many duplicates. Of the approximately 90 gray backs I have had, only about eight or nine have had the glossy front. I must emphasize that I have never found any third series gray back in Canada. The great majority were found in the Midwest, in states such as Indiana (the state in which I reside), Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin. I never had success in finding gray backs in New England or the Southeast U.S.
"Given how baseball cards often change hands, I suppose one might speculate that, somehow, almost all gray backs found their way to the U.S. even though they originated in Canada. However, this speculations seems dubious. For example, I have the entire (1-50) run of 1954 Topps gray backs (and a few duplicates) and I found at least 80% of them in Canada. So, even though some proportion of 1954 gray backs are making their way to the U.S. (especially in the past five years or so), it was certainly easier to find them in Canada when I searched for them, which was during the same era of my search for 1952 third series gray backs."
UPDATE: May 31
Collector John Hall has also been a collector of this anomaly for some time, and offers the following observations and theory.
1) I have never been to Canada looking for gray back cards. I do have contacts who are collectors of gray back cards who live in Canada. I have never received a gray back card from any person who lives in Canada.
2) I know many gray back collectors. As far as I know, none of their gray back cards have come from Canada.
3) The Doeskin tissue theory has never been proven to me.
4) I have found that people have gray back cards have them in bunches. I have gotten 20 from one seller and 16 from another seller. I find that if some accidentally has one, they will have more. I have never gotten one by accident.
5) I believe John's paragraph 5 is a theory with no proof. I have a theory also. I will give you mine at the end of my response.
6) I agree that the cards with white borders and gray backs are more rare than the gray backs with brownish borders.
7) I have no knowledge about the Canadian distributor and how that worked.
In conclusion, I agree with John. The term Canadian is a misnomer.
My theory regarding gray backs is that the gray back 131-190 cards were produced by Topps using the gray back cardboard that they used for series 1 and 2. Most of them should have been rejected because they were miscut, off center, and had printing defects that look like overspray or printing dots. They got out of the factory by mistake. Topps ran out of gray paper. They went to cream or white paper. Then with the 4th series they went back to gray paper.