Perhaps I have an “old soul,” but I am really partial to designs and styles from several decades back. Certainly that is reflected in my fondness for vintage baseball cards, but it also extends to many other areas. Art deco design is a particular favorite. And the particular style of certain book dust jackets – those with really vivid art that captures an era – really grab me. And when I see books like that it takes my mind back a few decades to a wonderful discovery.
Many, many years ago now one of my elementary school teachers hit a nerve when she introduced a “reading contest” in the winter quarter one schohol year. The rules were simple: the winner was whoever checked out and read the most books from the school library during a certain period of time (which included what was called “Christmas break” in those days). Proof of reading the book was provided by a one page book report.
It sounded easy enough, and I always loved winning contests (and I did win…a ribbon and some free coupons for the school carnival that spring, if I remember correctly).
Combing the old-style card catalog (no computers in schools way back then) I found a listing for some sports books that I had not read. When I got to the right spot on the shelf I became mesmerized. There were a bunch of great looking book covers in bright and bold colors with scenes that I wished I were actually in. I had discovered the Chip Hilton Sports Story books, and they were mine to read.
William “Chip” Hilton was the central character in a series of 24 sports novels for adolescent boys written by 1968 Basketball Hall of Fame inductee, Clair Bee (1896-1983). In addition to Bee’s authorship of the Chip Hilton series, he was also the author of several basketball and coaching technique books. But I didn’t care about that as even then I had a one-track mind for baseball. The Chip Hilton series was published between 1948 and 1965, which meant they were basically new when I found them and devoured them (at least the baseball ones) that winter.
Were they great literature? Not according to most critics. But they were awesome for a ten-year-old in the early 1960s. And the covers – well, they just sort of drew me in and perhaps you can see why from some of the pictures included here.
A word should be inserted here regarding the “re-release” of the series back in 1999 by religious publisher Broadman and Holman. Though released with the permission and help of Bee’s family at that time, the books were updated in some ways for a more modern audience (a buddy who fails an NCAA-administered drug test, a bout of cancer for Chip’s beloved mother, Mary). But, on the whole, the family was pleased as were most fans of the books. However, I still prefer finding the originals from the 1950s and early 1960s.
The original series of 24 Chip Hilton books has become a popular collectible, with the last few books of the series often fetching high prices because of their relatively limited print runs. In fact, several hundred dollars have been paid for fine condition copies of Hungry Hurler (#23), of which apparently only about 12,000 copies were printed. Of the 24 stories, 9 are about baseball, 8 about basketball and 7 about football. And, not all books carry a huge price tag. Many are collector friendly.
For example, many of the books from the series are available on the better known used book web sites. As of this writing, in fact, the second book in the series (“Championship Ball”) and an edition from 1948 of “Touchdown Pass” can be purchased for less than $11 each, including shipping. Of course, neither has the beautiful dust jackets which makes them less desirable to someone like me. A 1960 edition of the football tale “Triple Threat Trouble” with a stained dust jacket was found on the same used book site for around $20.
eBay is also a source for these treasures. In fact, some more common titles can be found in the $25-30 range with decent dust jackets. They may not be first editions, but they are still the original books and not the reprints. Of course, if your budget is higher, first editions and even the rarer titles are available for a price. And many of those covers are still brilliant. Just seeing the covers makes me grin from ear to ear.
In case you would like to consider making this small library a part of your own collection, here is list of the original 23 Chip Hilton book titles and their original date of publication:
1. Touchdown Pass (1948)
2. Championship Ball (1948)
3. Strike Three! (1949)
4. Clutch Hitter (1949)
5. A Pass and a Prayer (1951)
6. Hoop Crazy (1950)
7. Pitchers’ Duel (1950)
8. Dugout Jinx (1952)
9. Freshman Quarterback (1952)
10. Backboard Fever (1953)
11. Fence Busters (1953)
12. Ten Seconds To Play! (1955)
13. Fourth Down Showdown (1956)
14. Tournament Crisis (1957)
15. Hardcourt Upset (1957)
16. Pay-off Pitch (1958)
17. No-Hitter (1959)
18. Triple-Threat Trouble (1960)
19. Backcourt Ace (1961)
20. Buzzer Basket (1962)
21. Comeback Cagers (1963)
22. Home Run Feud (1964)
23. Hungry Hurler (1965)
Click here to see Chip Hilton books on eBay.