Way, way back in time the downtown areas of America’s larger cities were vibrant and alive with offices, business and retail. Many younger people don’t know it and even fewer have experienced it, but it used to be that “going shopping” meant a trip to the downtown of the nearest city. Department stores were multi-floor marvels, and some even had their own restaurants as part of the store. But there were other stores, too. Some of my favorite memories are the very few times that my mother would take me and my siblings to downtown Detroit to go see her sister–my aunt–at the store where she worked. It seemed like such a magical place to a kid with bright lights, amazing inventions, and even smells that were different than the norm.
In particular I remember the smell of the nut and candy counter. Yes, they actually had a ‘nut and candy counter’.
My aunt’s department was right next to the sweet and salty heaven, and more than once a set of pleading eyes and whispered “please” resulted in a small bag of warm, salty nuts. I loved them, and even writing this makes my mouth water.
Of course, by now you may be wondering what this has to do with a baseball collectible. But it really is connected. In fact, it was obtaining a small amount of this collectible and researching it that brought the fresh, roasted nuts to my mind.
Boston was once the center of candy production and distribution in America. The city was home to 140 candy companies in 1950, with sales of $200 million per year. Due to the growth of national candy conglomerates most of the other old-time companies are gone today, leaving only American Nut & Chocolate and a handful of others. And that American Nut & Chocolate Company has a baseball past.
The first batch of nuts ever roasted by American Nut & Chocolate Company was made on Tremont Street in Boston in 1927. Soon after that their business primarily catered to the retail street vendors as well as the wholesale vending trade where a small coin deposited into a glass-globed vending machine yielded a handful of fresh nuts. These machines were found in many drug stores, supermarkets, restaurants, and barber shops throughout New England.
Business was good for the company, and they branched out into several different treat areas. In 1946 American Nut & Chocolate began selling boxes of candy called “Double Play”. Each box came with a 4 inch baseball mini pennant of one of the sixteen major league baseball clubs and a metal pin. The set featured all sixteen different teams plus two color (Giants and White Sox) variations and one logo variation (Cincinnati). Each pennant featured a team name and logo.
Talk about a deal. The buyer got the pin, pennant and candy for 5 cents. Just a few years later, in 1950, a second set of mini-pennants was offered – a set of 22 pennants that featured drawings of individual players to compliment the earlier team pennants. The American Nut and Chocolate pennants have became prized collectibles and though they may be found on eBay or Amazon and a few collecting web sites, many sports collectors have never seen these little pieces of baseball Americana.
But it is the ballplayer set that usually attracts the attention of collectors. It is easy to understand why as eight of the 22 subjects are in the Hall of Fame, and among those who have not been enshrined are long time fan favorites such as Ewell Blackwell, Harry Brecheen, Phil Cavarretta, and Johnny Pesky, among others.
One of the reasons why many collectors and dealers are not too familiar with this set is that there is nothing on the small felt pennants to indentify who made them or from whence they came. However, advertising from the era reveals that the American Nut & Chocolate Co. sold the entire set of 22 player mini pennants for 50 cents. What a deal that was when you consider that today the “common” players fetch $30 or better in great condition today, and the Ted Williams can easily command near ten times that.
Of course, condition is always a key as these little beauties were most often obtained inside the box of chocolate candy (indeed, it is not unusual to still find the pennants with candy stains). American League players were printed in a very dark blue on the white felt, while the National Leaguers were printed in red ink on the white flags. The pennants feature simple line drawings of the players (similar to a comic format) alongside the player’s facsimilie autograph.
Most generally the pennants measure approximately 1 7/8″ by 4.” However, some size variation has been found in a few of the players (most notably Bob Elliott and Warren Spahn), but it is only around a 10% size increase. Additionally, a larger (17″ x 7″) pennant of Ted Williams is known to have been available as a mail-in premium.
The checklist for the set shows pretty clearly that the American Nut & Chocolate Company knew its strongest base was in Boston. Half the set is comprised of players for either the Boston Braves or the Boston Red Sox, as the following checklist reveals.
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – BRAVES
• Bob Elliott
• Tommy Holmes
• Johnny Sain
• Warren Spahn
• Earl Torgeson
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – CARDINALS
• Harry Brecheen
• Whitey Kurowski
• Enos Slaughter
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – CUBS
• Phil Cavarretta
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – DODGERS
• Pee Wee Reese
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – INDIANS
• Joe Gordon
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – PIRATES
• Ralph Kiner
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – RED SOX
• Bobby Doerr
• Boo Ferriss
• Ken Keltner
• Johnny Pesky
• Vern Stephens
• Ted Williams
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – REDS
• Ewell Blackwell
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – TIGERS
• Charles Keller
• Dizzy Trout
1950 American Nut & Chocolate Co. Pennant – YANKEES
• Phil Rizzuto
By the way, although I care more about the baseball aspects more than the business aspects, it is interesting to note that the American Nut & Chocolate Co. continues to service the wholesale food trade as well as retail customers throughout the country. In fact, they claim to “continue to roast the old fashioned way, in small batches, done by hand, using only the highest quality nuts and seeds.” I wonder if I vistied their site if the smell would take me back in time to my aunt?