The 1955 Topps All-American set, 100 cards picturing college All-Americans through 1955, is probably the most popular vintage football card set. The key to its popularity is its player selection: it includes seventeen hall-of-famers, including six rookie cards; eleven Heisman trophy winners, including five rookie cards; Notre Dame legends Knute Rockne and the Four Horsemen; and even a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Byron “Whizzer” White. It is also an attractive set, with a color picture of the player in the foreground and a black-and-white action picture in the background. The PSA Set Registry provides evidence of its popularity: at the time of this writing, collectors had registered 85 sets of All-Americans, far more than any other vintage set.
Prior to 1955, Topps had printed two other sets of cards of college players, 1950 Felt Backs and 1951 Magic cards, but those sets were limited to current players of the time, and they are not as attractive as the 1955 set. The 1950 Felt Backs are downright homely, but the set does include the rookie cards of Joe Paterno, Darrell Royal, and a couple of pro football hall-of-famers. The 1951 Topps Magic cards are more attractive, but the set holds only one significant rookie card: Heisman winner Vic Janowicz. In 1955, Topps played catch-up, including stars from decades earlier who had never appeared on cards before. The result: lots of rookie cards of famous players.
The 1955 All-American set began a run of annual Topps football sets that continues to this day. Topps dominated the football card market until 1989, when Score and ProSet introduced superior products. From 1968 to 1988, Topps had practically no competition in the market, and it showed: most of the cards they printed in the 1970’s and 1980’s were dull and nondescript compared to their early offerings.
A page by Mark Sullivan, a reference librarian at the Boston College Law School, provides other interesting facts about the 1955 Topps All-Americans: detailed descriptions of the cards, errors, and players who went on to fame outside of football. Check out that page, as well.