Caveat emptor! Nowhere does that phase have more meaning than when buying 1954 Topps Baseball cards on eBay. Sellers offer Gem Mint graded 1954 cards for $25. People offer reprint cards without labeling them as such. Knowledge of what products are available and the value of third-party grading in the key to protect your purchase.
UPDATE April 2009. I haven't been dealing in 1954 Topps lately, but just did so...I wanted to point out the latest selling scam. BGS BCCG listed graded cards. BE AWARE there is a huge DIFFERENCE in the value.
A BCCG graded card with the number 8, IS ONLY EXCELLENT or better. THIS compares to a 5.0 in BGS, vintage or PSA grading. BBCG 7 is a Very Good or better, which is a PSA 3. Please read the listing carefully and don't get stung by this misunderstanding of what is being purchased.
The "real" 1954 Topps Baseball cards were issue and sold in wax packs of 1-5 cards. Those cards measure approximately 2 5/8 inches wide by 3 3/4 inches long. There was NO border at the top and the background color bleeds to the top edge. Any card with a border that is not the same color as the background, is a reprint or Sports Illustrated cut-out. The wax pack cards were print from #1 to #250. The value of these cards depends on the Grade, the Grade, the Grade. If you are not a grading expert, buy a card in a PSA, Beckett (BVG or BGS), SGC or Global slab. My preference is in the order listed. The "book value" of a card is based on NM grade. Some sellers offer creased, worn and disfigured cards and list the NM value as the "book value," when the value of there card is at best 1/10th of that. Be wary of high grade star cards even in graded holders, as there have been documented cases of card switching (a California case at law).
Another issue with the original Topps Baseball cards is the know existence of unopened packs. Some of these were sold in 2006 for some really big bucks. My advise is to buy unopened packs that have been certified by a third party grading specialist as unopened. It would be fairly easy to replicate an unopened pack if you had an original wrapper. Those old Topps packs were held closed by some glue that had a tendency to dry out. I've seen 10-15 year old packs that pretty much naturally open themselves because of the dry glue.
Stay away from the Christmas Rack Packs as well. Even if they are really unopened and original, they rarely contained any good cards. I used to buy those when I was a kid and they were put together by companies other than Topps. Hardly any of those packs ever had a star in it.
The second type of 1954 Topps "Baseball Card" that is encountered on eBay is the "Sports Illustrated" issue. The first and second issues of that magazine featured an insert of 27 pictures of cards, printed on paper stock, not baseball card stock. All of the first issue pictures were in color. Some, if not all of the second issue pictures were black and white. Inventive sellers have cut the pictures into cards and offer them for sale on eBay, as original items.
When cut, these pictures are much same than real baseball cards. They were indeed printed in 1954, but are cut out pictures really Baseball cards? Sellers then have them slabbed by a second or third tier grading company to enhance the marketability. The bigger issue that I have with these "cards" is the value. Some sellers list the "book value" at the same level of the regular issue.
I don't know what book they are using. My personal belief is that there is little agreement on what these things are worth. A mint condition 1st issue of Sports Illustrated (SI) sells for roughly $200. That would mean to me that the individual pictures at maximum could be worth $5-10.
The 1994 Topps product called 1954 Topps
Archives was a reprint of the original set.
These cards measure 2 1/2 inches wide by 3 1/2 inches long. They have a white border all the way around the front of the card. The were printed on glossy firm paper stock and have a "UV coating." On the reverse, at the bottom, the identification states, "*Topps Baseball Archives*The Ultimate Series". This set of 256 cards was numbered 2-258 and did not have either #1 or #250 Ted Williams, because he was under exclusive contract with Upper Deck. (Those two cards were later printed by Upper Deck in the same Topps style). Cards 251 to 258 were newly printed cards of players not in the original set, Clemente, Virdon, Howard and others.
I have seen people bid orginal card prices for these cards, when the seller doesn't label them as reprints. PLEASE BE AWARE THAT ANY TOPPS PRODUCT THAT IS CALLED ARCHIVES IS A REPRINT. This issue was sold in packs of 12 and 20 with one or two parallel "gold signature" cards inserted per pack. This set general sells on eBay for $45 to $60. The Williams cards sell for $25 to $30. A #259 Mickey Mantle (never originally printed, because his 1954 contract was with Bowman) was issued by Upper Deck at the same time as the Williams cards. The Mantle typically sells for $40-$60 on eBay. The parallel gold signature set generally commands $120-$160 on eBay.
Topps issued a Brooklyn Dodger Archives set in 1995. This set has reprints of 1952-1956 Dodger cards. All of the 1954 Dodger Archives are numbered 260 and higher. None of those cards actually were part of the original set, but are technically 1995 cards printed to look like 1954, i.e. not technically reprints, when none of them were printed in 1954.
I hope this helps explain some of the issues with 1954 Topps Baseball Cards.