GIANT SIZE ERA AND EARLIER
Some very early Topps wrappers (and a number of retail box bottoms) carry a date and some do not; generally the earliest gum tab packs and five cent packs that held panelized issues such as Magic Photo and Fightin' Marines from 1950-52 carry a copyright date. Here is a five cent Magic Photo pack back with a 1948 copyright in the lower right corner, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Al Richter:
Differences in the three earliest Tatoo issues (1948, 1949, 1953) can be seen in detail here. The 1948 and 1949 series of Magic Photo each have dated penny wrappers and the 1955 penny (small) Hocus Focus cards come in a similar wrapper but carry a 1955 date. Some more on that can be found here. 1949 and 1955 Funny Foldees could have different packaging but nobody knows which is which or even if there is a difference.
The one issue that most collectors don't realize as misdated is the Doubles reissue of the 1951 Red Backs and Blue Backs, which came out in 1952. The Doubles packs had two cards and no candy, while the original issues came in in 1951 under the Baseball Candy rubric. No change in the cards was made but the packaging was different. Here, take a look at this Doubles box bottom showing a 1952 copyright:
There possibly was a Golden Coin reissue in 1952 (originally a 1948-49 release) that may be worth knowing about as the different Golden Coins between the two sets could exhibit some slight differences. The problem is no 1952 issue of the set has been confirmed, although it is highly likely it occurred. More information is here as to why.
World on Wheels has wrappers that reference either 1954 or 1955, the latter containing the higher (and more valuable) numbers. Have a look here.
STANDARD SIZE ERA
Topps went to a standard size of 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" for most of their releases starting with Elvis Presley in late 1956. Dating some issues by the wrapper can be tough but for most it's not a problem as the year and cards are well known. Wrappers from 1957 to mid 1958 can be identified by two different methods.
If there is a Bazooka ad and penny piece graphic on the wrapper,the upper left red triangle of the Bazooka pack will state "The Atom" on these packs. "The Atom" phrasing was part of the Bazooka launch in 1947 so it had a long life! From mid-1958 on Bazooka graphics will state "Topps" in the upper left triangle. Here is a Space Cards wrapper from '57 followed by a Target: Moon wrapper proof from what I now believe to be 1958 showing the different Bazooka packaging:
Here are the two Bazooka graphics, isolated:
If it's a Blony ad (a brand Topps acquired with the Bowman purchase in February 1956 and which dates back to 1930), graphics from sometime in 1957 onward have a rainbow look to them:
Blony would go dormant (or very, very quiet for a time) until being revived as a twist wrap product around 1968 but it was not the well-marketed product that Bazooka was. Bowman had also marketed Blony as a twist but in more of an elongated shape (Topps' had a rounder look to theirs).
For Baseball from 1952-55 Topps did a slight modification of the font for their brand name and briefly had a premium offer on the wrapper in '52:
But by the time Baseball and All American Football arrived in '55, the logo was a blast from the past, mimicing the designs of the 30's and 40's:
Yes, that's a Canadian All-American Football wrapper!
1957 brought changes to Baseball yet again as this scan from www.sportscardradio.com shows the font losing some of it's earlier pizazz:
Side panels will have the Topps (or Bubbles Inc.) address displayed in almost all instances and prior to mid-1963 ZIP codes were not used (they were introduced on July 1 of that year). Some address lines might display the old "Brooklyn 32" style (almost all do not but I haven't seen all of them) but if there is a premium offer you will see it in the relevant text.
The 1957 and 1958 styles would be mixed and matched through the early and mid 60's Here is a 1963 Baseball wrapper that goes back to the '57 design (tight loops on the p's are the giveaway):
In this detail of the indicia, you will see there is no postal or ZIP code:
It;s a little harder to see but the premium offer on the opposite flap has a "B'klyn 32" address:
It is worth noting many (but not all) retail box bottoms from this era are dated and have similar designations as well. The '63 Baseball box clearly shows "Brooklyn 32":
However, the use of "32" on some premium offers went well into 1965 so while a ZIP code is definitely post-1963, a two digit code is not always pre-1963! Still, as there are not too many reissues or anomalies prior to 1966, looking for the plain Topps logos will usually be enough to see what's what.
Penny packs of 1965 Baseball were produced but by the time Football came out, the practice had ended, so you can't have a one cent pack any later than 1965, except for penny tattoo issues, which were much smaller in size at this time anyway than the standard sized issues..
In 1966, roughly coincident with their move of confectionery production, packaging and warehousing facilities from Brooklyn to Duryea, Pennsylvania, Topps created a new, lower case curved "Topps" logo that was the most well known version. 1966 Baseball, the first card/gum set produced in Duryea had this new logo, although the Topps manufacturing address on the packaging would remain as Brooklyn until about the middle of 1969.
The Baseball wrapper in '66 has a weird perspective, so here's a Football that shows off the new design:
This closeup gives a really good look at the logo:
The box bottom for the packs has a little different code but the link is the 490 product code. It starts with 1, meaning wax box I believe. I am still trying to determine if the toys produced in Japan such as Pop Guns had their own system, so stay tuned.The full box code below for Baseball Plaks is 1-490-35-01-7:
The original curved Topps logo started out with no Trademark Registration symbol but it would show up by 1967, below and to the right of the logo normally but it was still a nickel per pack:
It's hard to make out but the registered trademark sign is below and to the right of the Topps logo.
It would move sometimes to above and to the right of the logo as on this 1970 Super Football wrapper:
Topps filed for their new trademark on March 17, 1966 and it was "published for opposition" on March 7, 1967 with an official registration date of May 23, 1967. Topps probably banked on there being no opposition and started using it immediately on their best selling product. Some 1967 issues have the symbol and some don't so it was a transition year.
Five cent wax continued to be produced until late 1969 when ten cent pricing became the norm. (EDIT 7/2/16-I should have stated that certain card and sticker and sets, such as Wacky Packages and Ugly Stickers, would still be sold in 5 cent wax through at least 1976; these would often only have two stickers per pack. Some other offbeat items may also have been sold in five cent packs into the 1970's but for the most part ten cent wax was the norm from 1970 until prices went up again.). Many packs of the period have no pricing on them though, as it was shown on the retail box. Also, in mid 1969 (first on an experimental ten cent cello Baseball pack that mimicked the five cent wax) the manufacturing address finally flipped to Duryea but the changeover was sporadic during this year. By the time Football appeared in the fall, 10 cents and Duryea were the norm:
Then around 1978 Topps would occasionally add a little box around the logo, sometimes with color added, sometimes not:
The curved logo would survive until 1980-81 before it was replaced with this:
Another handy thing to know was where the premium fulfillment warehouses were located. Exterior premium offers began reappearing sporadically in 1959 after a hiatus, prior to that they had been mostly printed on pack inserts. On '59 Baseball pack and for a few years hence on many products, the address is one of a number of PO Boxes in Brooklyn:
But you could still get premiums from Brooklyn at this time; it seemed to depend upon the age of the premium. Older ones came out of Brooklyn while newer ones, such as the famous Exploding Battleship, came from Minnesota. Once Topps got production up and running in Duryea though and shed a lot of their Brooklyn warehouse space, St. Paul became the norm around 1967. By this time the premium fulfillment was likely exclusively contracted to third parties.
Occasionally some special offer would be struck by Topps and a random city would pop up but St. Paul would last until about 1973-74, when Westbury, NY began appearing as the mailing address (and which operation was, unbeknownst to me at the time, housed in an industrial area mere blocks from my childhood home). You can see it on this 1974 Wacky Packages wrapper:
Westbury would remain through the end of the decade and beyond. I'll stop here as post-1981 packaging is well-documented elsewhere and my focus also ends at the end of the 70's.
As always with Topps, there are exceptions to the rule but what I have outlined above is a handy, quick guide to identifying issues where you can't fully inspect the packaging up close or only a part is visible. At some point I will delve into the intricacies of the Production Codes but that is a truly epic project. Meanwhile, know that you can use the code (geez, I sound like Dexter Morgan) for dating --as long as it's visible-- to easily decipher Topps dates in addition to the less obvious clues on the wrappers.