Occasionally, we try to go back into the hobby's past to give new life to articles that were once printed in some of the hobby's print publications, most of which disappeared long ago. This story originally appeared in The Trader Speaks, a popular outlet that was available by subscription from he late 1960s to early 1980s.
by Bud Tompkins
Since my involvement in collecting sports card wrappers I have had many people ask me how to identify the Topps wrapper they have or any other wrapper that may be in their possession. The answer is not always that easy. It is my intention to look at the period of baseball card distribution from 1933 to present. Before this period wrappers are almost virtually unknown and I have little data to share on the "Dark Ages" of baseball wrappers. I will approach this subject in a three part series. Chronologically these periods are 1933-1941, 1948-1963 and 1964 to present.
First, a look at the exciting and grand period when the bubble gum card first arrived at the corner drug store. In 1933 you would get one card, one stick of bubble gum, and the outside container or the wrapper for 1¢. Unfortunately most of the wrappers were tossed aside or returned to the local drug or candy store to be used in acquiring premium cards. It should be noted that premiums were also available direct from the manufacturer if one sent a specified number of the wrappers to them in the mail. In either case a great number of wrappers disappeared this way and few have fallen into the hands of collectors.
The Goudey Company tried to be accommodating to the present day hobbyist in identifying the year of the wrapper by using a very small symbol that is a small circle with a capital C in the middle surrounded by G. G. Co. on the top inside of the circle and the year at the bottom. The 1933 and 1934 Big League Chewing Gum wrappers are both identifiable this way. The 1933 wrapper shows seven different action poses of ballplayers with the center picture being that of a batter in a ballpark setting. Lou Gehrig autographs the 1934 Goudey issue and an actual photograph of him (headshot) exists on the surface of the wrapper. A Knot Hole League of American is introduced and for twenty Big League wrappers and 3¢ in stamps you get "One Knot Hole Membership Card, One big League Premium Book that lists gloves, baseballs, suites, etc., and One Knot Hold Badge."
The 1935 Goudey Puzzle card came with a brand new wrapper concept. Not only did it have Babe Ruth on the front swatting another home run but the year 1935 was right on the front in large numerals. This wrapper notes that the storekeeper has a poster showing the 1935 premiums (have any of you ever seen such a premium book or poster? If so, this writer would appreciate a letter acknowledging its existence). The 1938 Heads Up issue is another story. We know it was issued in 1938 making up a forty-eight card set but the Boston people ignored identifying the year on its wrapper. The wrapper is a colorful one done in red, blue, and yellow with action poses of players again adoring the surface. The head of the larger person in the center is accentuated in the proper fashion.
The National Chicle Company obliged the collector once more by using the identical symbol or trademark the 1933 and 1934 Big League Gum had only with N. C. Co. written instead on the inside of the top arch of the circle. I know of two base colors used for this wrapper, that being yellow and blue. A large red star is centered behind the ace pitcher who has just released the ball. "Photographic art pictures of Major League Stars and Teams" could be obtained free of charge from the store if one submitted fifteen Diamond Star wrappers. The wrapper announces that fifty pictures would be in the series with new ones issued every few days.
The 1939 Play Ball celebrates the centennial year of baseball and notes the years 1839 and 1939 in blue ink on the white and red candy stripped paper. One end of the wrapper shows the types of baseball uniforms worn during the past hundred years. The years of 1839, 1864, 1889, 1914 and 1939 are represented. Ironically, a note on the opposite end of the wrapper specifies two hundred and fifty cards to be issued, as we know only one hundred and sixty-two comprise a set today. The 1940 Play Ball initiates the use of a "Baseball Prize Contest" to stimulate sales.
Even though the wrapper does not have a year noted on the surface of the wrapper we can be assured it is 1940 as the contest is to close on August 31, 1940. The first prize is a pass to the World Series games, second prize winner gets an autographed baseball with prominent Major League players, third to twenty-two got ten autographed photographs of baseball stars, 23-32 got an autographed glove, 33-50 an autographed bat, and 51-100 $1.00 in cash. To win you had to count the number of baseballs on the wrapper with the judges (Al Schacht, Dolly Stark and Waite Hoyt) looking for the "correct, neatest and most original reply." Incidentally, you needed to send Play Ball wrappers or "reasonable facsimiles" totaling five to be eligible.
The 1941 Big League Goudey wrapper has no identification by year on the wrapper. It has a player with a large "G" on his red uniform shirt who has just hit the baseball and is ready to round the bases. Ten wrappers and ten cents get you a "Big League Baseball Cap" and twenty wrappers and twenty cents get you a "Bucky Walters Baseball".