They were put on the shelf as America discovered bubble gum....and stayed there...until this year.
It seems impossible. Maybe that's why every card collector with an imagination dreams about the ultimate find: boxes and boxes of decades-old untouched, unopened gum boxes sitting in some long-forgotten place.
It used to happen once in awhile.
A stash of 1950s boxes came out of Tennessee in the 1980s. Every couple of years there would be another, whetting our appetite for the next garage sale. Last year, a 1964 Topps Stand-Ups box entered the hobby in that fashion.
Really old unopened boxes, though, have eluded the hunters. Everything that could be found, had been found.
Or so we thought.
A consignor who recently located and acquired approximately 30 ultra-rare boxes and a number of unopened packs of non-sports and sports cards dating from the late 1920s through the early 40s has placed the find in Robert Edward Auctions' spring catalog sale.
The find includes new additions to old checklists and will even send serious vintage card collectors to their want lists to add some newly discovered issues.
"Many times people contact us with things they've found that sound too good to be true and they usually are," REA president Rob Lifson told Sports Collectors Daily. "Never had anyone written us with something like this, though. It's something that's hard to misrepresent. It really seemed like it was plausible. It just had a good feel to it. Now, after seeing what he had, I'm just speechless."
The majority of the boxes and packs are of the non-sport variety, but there are some baseball issues, including some that have never been seen in unopened form until now. Manufacturer names will ring a bell to both sports and non-sports collectors. They include Goudey, National Chicle, Tattoo Orbit & Gum and Dockman's.
The boxes were originally located in a storeroom of what is being described as a "candy and gum distributor" on the east coast, although Lifson wouldn't divulge exactly where or whether the business was still in operation. He did say the boxes had been stored on large shelves, but pushed further and further back over time, the packs inside remaining untouched for as long as 80 years. At the time, they had been saved as ordering samples. Some of the outer boxes, not surprisingly, show some wear, but Lifson described the contents overall as 'mint'.
"What's special about these is that we finally get a chance to see exactly what they looked like when they were produced and distributed," Lifson said.
The find revealed a box of 1929 Star Player Candy one-card packs which contained four Babe Ruth cards, one Lou Gehrig and what will be a new addition to the checklist, Walter Johnson. The packaging is clear and the card inside is visible, allowing purchasers to see what they were buying--a sort of early cello pack.
The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards places a near mint value on 1929 Star Player Ruth cards at $20,000. The Gehrig is listed at $22,500. Star Player Candy cards were also issued in 1928, with a larger group of known players, but the write-ups and numbers on the back of the cards in the find indicate they are from the '29 issue. Packaged in a "Headliners & Gum" outer box, the set includes newsmakers and sports stars of the day among its checklist. The origin of the set has been a mystery, but the find includes the original box which indicates the cards were made by Dockman's of Baltimore.
One box yielded another profoundly new hobby discovery.
Whiz Bang gum was sold as a sort of kids lottery. Two sticks of bubble gum were sold in each penny pack. The box yields 300 sticks of multi-colored gum, just 30 of which are white. The retailer was told to award the finder of a white piece with one of the circular cards sold as premiums with the box. The cards were described as "boomerangs", perhaps the forerunner of the Frisbee. Three different baseball players joined actors, radio cowboys and Indians in the set. The unopened box REA will offer yielded dozens of the never-before-seen discs. Lefty Grove, Goose Goslin and Gabby Hartnett represented baseball. Gary Cooper was among the actors.
While many collectors have long believed some of the products represented were issued one per pack of gum as is commonly the case, some of the display boxes indicate that the cards and other products were treated as premiums, given out at point of purchase by the retailer rather than packaged with the gum.
The find will also clear up a misconception that the W553 set was strictly a 'strip card' issue. The unopened find includes cards inside wrapped Marble Gum Novelties packs. They are considered among the earliest sports card gum cards ever issued.
Three boxes of Tattoo Orbit gum were among the hoard as well as packs of 1937 Goudey Thum Movies and 1933 Double-Header Baseball Coins.
Non-sport issues include Sky Birds, Dopey Gum, Lone Ranger, National Stamp Club, Thriller, First Column Defenders, Frank Buck and League of Nations. Some of the boxes don't contain cards or other premiums, but are exceedingly rare.
Kids who grew up in the era apparently weren't cheated. Lifson says the gum portion, archaeological as it might now be, puts Wrigley's to shame with its size.
While some vintage sports card collectors might mourn the fact that no 1933 or '34 Goudey or 1935 National Chicle football cards were in the find, the nature and sheer age of the discovery is a memorable chapter in sports and non-sports hobby history.
"If you had a time machine, you would think this was possible," Lifson said. "Otherwise, it's not possible. But it's happened."