1953 Topps Fighting Marines: Semper Fidelis

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One way to describe 1953 Topps Fighting Marines is through the retrospective view the card maker offered 60 years after the cards were produced. “In total, this is a comprehensive history of the Marine Corps,” is how Topps views the 96-cards arranged in five subsets in 1953. That unique retrospective is the focus of a mini card in the pop culture set that, in 2013, celebrated Topps’ 75 years in the non-sport business.

That description is as on target as one of the Corps’ sharp-shooters. That wasn’t always the case with this anniversary retro set. Sometimes Topps slanted the info a bit to mask an uncomfortable situation, like with the 1948 Magic Photos’ promise that a “special solution” could develop the images on the tiny cards. In reality, the solution wasn’t either special or magic. It was spittle. Or the Hit Stars claim that James Dean was the only star on more than one card in the set. In reality, six others celebrities are on two cards each in the 88-card series that promised 98 stars but came up way short.

Thems Fightin’ Words

The 1953 Topps Fighting Marines cards use a mix of official Corps photos and original paintings to show the Marines training, fighting in the Pacific during World War II and saluting special heroes, along with a chronological review of its major battles, and a sampling of its uniforms from the 1775 Revolutionary War through 1918 World War I. That’s history as comprehensive as one of the Corps’ basic training manuals.

First, though, let’s settle an issue about the set’s name. The cards themselves, as well as most price guides, label the set Fighting Marines. However, wrappers and display boxes change the label slightly to Fightin’ Marines, replacing the ending “g” with an apostrophe. It’s likely that version originated in a series of comic books first published in 1951, and someone at Topps simply borrowed it. Little matter, despite early confusion.

Most of the training subset fronts are horizontal, and all have official Corps photos. Most of the other cards feature colorful original paintings and there’s a mix of vertical and horizontal formats. All are framed in patriotic red, white and blue borders. The backs are horizontal, feature brief descriptions of what’s on the card fronts, card numbers and tiny logos that identify the card’s proper subset.

Last Card Lament

At least three things impact card conditions and/or scarcity in 1953 Topps Fighting Marines. First, cards were packaged in two ways, singly and as two-card panels. The latter, when separated, leave the cards with nasty nubs where they were joined. Second, there are four short prints, numbers 23, 44, 74, and 96. The latter card is further endangered because it’s the last card in the set, which, along with card #1, is often damaged as cards are stored numerically. Finally, many cards have stains from the gum packaged with them.

The original paintings are well done but certainly not up to standards set by some other Topps sets like Mars Attacks. Card number 43, Iwo Jima, is special to any collection. It shows the dramatic and now-familiar image of six Marines raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi a er long and bloody battles to reach the summit. e original photo won a Pulitzer Prize and became a symbol of American victory. Rather than reproduce that historic photo, Topps substituted a painted version of that dramatic scene.

For collectors satisfied with raw, lower condition cards, it’s not all that difficult to build a set. And not all that expensive either since most ungraded cards can be had in the $3 to $10 range, with short prints slightly higher. Graded cards get more expensive, significantly so for those in top condition.

It’s likely that many of the cards are being collected by Marines themselves, so devoted are they to the Corps. So, leathernecks—Semper Fi, and thank you for your service!

Corps Commemoration

Several other card sets commemorate the U.S. Marines topped by another Topps series produced just a year after the Fighting set. For card number 36 in its Scoop set, Topps simply recycled the Iwo Jima artwork from the earlier collection. The difference is on the reverse. The Scoop issue was designed like a newspaper front page during an era when newspapers really did compete and getting a big story first was called a “scoop.” Then, as now, war makes the news as 40 of Scoopʼs 156 cards are war related.

The official Marine Memorial statue is modeled after the Iwo Jima flag raising and several card sets use that to commemorate the Corps. Card #11 in the 1982 Club Pro Set series was the first. Topps American Pie sets in 2002 and 2011 followed.

Cardz produced an image of the Marinesʼ eagle-globe-and anchor logo in 1994. Topps took a different route in 2008 and 2009 by including Marines-related cards in two football-related sets. Card #19 in a 25-card Americaʼs Fighting Forces is dedicated to the Marines and Topps 1991 Desert Storm has The Fighting Marines headline on card #40 and The Marines Land in Series 2 on card #151.

1953 Topps Fighting Marines Checklist

96 cards.

Buy on:

1 Firing The Howitzer
2 On The March
3 Landing A Tank
4 Riding The Tank
5 Bayonet Practice
6 Firing Instructions
7 Night Combat
8 Obstacle Course
9 Flame Thrower
10 Storming Ashore
11 House To House Combat
12 Clashing Steel
13 Into The Surf!
14 Bazooka!
15 Communications Personnel
16 Woman Marine
17 Careful Aim
18 Mortar Sight
19 Automatic Rifle
20 Set For Action
21 Howitzer Crew
22 Throw That Grenade
23 Light Machine Guns SP
24 Final Instructions
25 Take Off!
26 Scouting The Beach SP
27 Officer In Action
28 Pushing Forward
29 Get That Plane
30 Paratrooper
31 Jungle Wire
32 Wash Day
33 Rescue At Sea
34 Landing Signal
35 Rush For The Gun
36 Hit The Beach
37 Gunnery Sergeant
38 Supplies For Battle
39 Down They Go SP
40 Battle For Tarawa
41 Into The Night
42 General A.A. Vandergrift
43 Iwo Jima
44 Marine Fighter SP
45 Target Ahead!
46 Attack From The Skies
47 Back From The Front
48 Lowering A Bomb
49 The Last Moment
50 In The Face Of Death

51 Forcing An Entrance
52 Dangerous Landing
53 Riding The Tail
54 Flying Leathernecks
55 Raging Sea
56 Into The Flames
57 Marine Engineers
58 Staying With A Pal
59 Bare-Handed Attack SP
60 Under Fire
61 Iwo Jima Hero
62 Single-Handed Battle
63 Life Saver!
64 Dead Shot! SP
65 Fearless Leader!
66 Exposed To Fire
67 Dodging Bullets
68 Grenade Attack!
69 Rear Guard
70 Saving The Wounded
71 From The Halls Of Montezuma
72 Against The Indians SP
73 World War I
74 Boxer Rebellion SP
75 Raiding The Bahamas
76 Into Korea
77 To The Shores Of Tripoli
78 Civil War
79 First Marine Aviation
80 Spanish American War
81 Belleau Wood
82 In The Philippines
83 In The Caribbean SP
84 Sumatra SP
85 Wake Island
86 Solomon Islands
87 Iceland
88 Inchon
89 Pusan
90 Wonsan
91 The Revolutionary War
92 The War In Tripoli
93 The Mexican War
94 The Cival War
95 The Spanish American War
96 World War I SP