Einstein had his own baseball card ... as did Shakespeare, Hamilton and 132 other luminaries
Topps' special 1952 'Look N See' set can now fetch in the thousands at sports conventions.
When you think of Albert Einstein you normally conjure up images of science and space – not hits and home runs. But in 1952, the baseball card manufacturer Topps released a special "Look N See" set of playing cards featuring the world's favorite genius. Einstein had his own baseball card. Among the myriad menageries of people painted were Galileo, Shakespeare and Lincoln. The set, which had a total of 135 trading cards featuring artists and other luminaries, is celebrating its 65th anniversary this year.
"Trading cards have been a way for people to connect with sports, entertainment and pop culture," Topps' Susan Lulgjuraj told From The Grapevine. "It’s also a great way to record moments and celebrities from throughout history. So it’s been neat looking back through Topps’ archives to see the types of sets created and those that resonated with collectors."
The Look N See collection was one of the first non-sports sets from Topps when it came out. Novelties like 3D movies and X-ray vision glasses were all the rage at the time, so the baseball card company created a special decoder sheet that would answer trivia questions about the people on the card. (An Einstein factoid featured his penchant for going sockless.)
Jason Schwartz is a Chicago-area dad who blogs about his baseball card collection. "My entire childhood was an obsessive love affair with Topps baseball cards, something I always assumed I would someday pass along to my son," he told From The Grapevine. "Instead, I found myself with a son who could name more physicists and astronomers than Dodgers and Yankees, hence had exactly zero interest in my collection. Common ground came by way of the 1952 Topps Look N See set."
Peter Calderon, who works in the sports department at Dallas-based Heritage Auctions, said that the cards have since become collector's items. "The artwork is really high-quality," he told us. The two most popular cards from the set are Babe Ruth – since he was the only baseball player included – and Rembrandt, because cards featuring the Dutch painter are harder to find.
Calderon recently spotted a partial box of unopened packs of the "Look N See" set at a sports memorabilia convention in Chicago. He said those were worth about $500 each. An entire set, depending on the condition, could fetch in the thousands.
Einstein's visage is a big draw for the collection. “Einstein's face is the most recognizable face worldwide,” said Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Albert Einstein archives at Hebrew University in Israel, a school the physicist helped establish. "If one can say anything about this, the interest in Einstein increases with time. It's greater now."
Topps repeated the historical angle in 1966 with a "Who Am I?" set. "That had that lottery material where you scratch the tickets," Calderon explained. "So it kind of looked like a disguise, and kids could guess who it was. And then they scratched it off and it revealed who the name and face was."
For the most part, though, Topps' special sets have focused on characters from TV shows and movies. "One of the most popular non-sports that we make are our Star Wars cards," Lulgjuraj told us. (For the record, Einstein would've loved Star Wars.)
"We have been making Star Wars cards since 1977 and are the longest continuous licensee of Star Wars – as we still create Star Wars trading cards today," she added. "They have evolved over the years from owning a piece of cardboard with an image on it to now being able to get cards that are autographed by some of the most famous stars of the movies. It allows fans a way to get closer to the things that they love."
MORE FROM THE GRAPEVINE: