Armour coins were inserted into the Armour hot dog products in the summers of 1955, 1959 and 1960. The fronts consist of a raised profile of the player along with his name and team and the backs contains the previous years stats. The 1 ½ inch plastic coins are unnumbered and came in a large variety of colors. The presence of variations and the multitude of colors make these plastic coins very challenging to collect.
The first of a three-part series on the sets begins with the inaugural edition.
My personal collection of Armour coins started in 1955 in the NYC in the neighborhood known as Hells Kitchen. Wednesday night was franks and beans night for our family in this lower middle class neighborhood, and every week for a few months that summer my mom gave me one of these colorful plastic coins to play with and told me all about the players depicted on the coins. My dad was a great Yankees fan and I can recall him laughing and saying “they spelled his name wrong” when we got our first Mickey Mantle coin, which was red.
At the end of the season he put all of them into a cigar box and they stayed there till 1959 and 1960 when Armour renewed the coin promotion. By then I was old enough to take charge of the cigar box. After 1960 the plastic coin offers from Armour ceased and the cigar box lay dormant for 20+ years in my closet till my parents retired and moved from NYC. By then I was living up in Boston and had an 8 year old of my own. I was fascinated that my tiny collection had survived several decades and added to it by picking up a few now and then, at local card shows with my son. Little did I know that this collection would never be finished. Things really took off in the late 1990s with the advent of EBay which offered many of these for sale at reasonable prices.
In 1987 Armour guru Doug Stultz wrote an article for Sports Collectors Digest focused on Armour coins and listed 24 different players with two variations (Mantle and Kuenn). The 1955 Armour coins came in six common colors (aqua, navy, pale green, orange, red and yellow) as well as “scarce” colors (black, dark green, lime green, pale blue, tan, gold, silver, pale orange and pink (which we now call peach)).
Armour coins became mainstream when they were included to the 1st edition of the SCD Baseball Card Guide in 1987 and the 1st edition of the Standard Catalog of BB cards in 1988. Both publications agreed with Stultz – 24 players and two variations and they copied his color list verbatim.
In the early 2000s I was not the only collector that had an interest in Armour coins and had discovered eBay. I found myself bidding against and communicating with Stultz, Larry Serota (aka. South Florida Yank) and James Miller (aka the Freasle) and later Laura Salzy.
So basically Larry and Doug and I began corresponding and comparing notes and came up with the fact that many variations had been missed over the years since no one had enough of these coins to compare them. Since we were now consolidating the coins among a small number of people, by the end of 2004 we had identified many variations, i.e. (2) Antonelli’s, (3) Keunn’s, (3) Mantle’s, (2) Gilliam’s, (2) Jensen’s, (2) Jackson’s and (2) Trucks or (7) new variations to add to the original two. By comparing all of our coins we were able to tell which were the rare variations and further refine Doug’s knowledge about rare and common colors.
The spring of 2004 brought the first grading of Armour coins by PSA. Larry sent in the first batch and informed Doug and I that they had agreed to grade these coins. Doug had no interest in grading his coins but Larry and I did. Looking at the early PSA population reports, at first you could not tell the rare variations from the common ones since we were sending in more of the rarer variations which we felt were worth more.
The next variation to be uncovered was the rare Gilliam thin lips tight variation which Doug had actually pictured in his 1987 article but not called a variation. It entered SCD and the PSA composite in 2010.
In the spring of 2011 Laura Salzy sent a message asking me to get the gang to compare Snider, Haddix and Finigan coins. After close inspection she had discovered the Haddix tight variation, the Snider 341 vs .341 and the Finigan Quincy vs Ouincy.
So that’s where we stand now with 24 players and a whopping 13 variations, 11 of them found 50 years after the coins were released. For those of you interested in value, PSA now lists all 3 years in SMR, although not by color, and in Armour coins color is a key influence on value. Common 55s now go for ~ $20-23 in PSA 7-8 with stars and rare variations going for considerable higher. More than 2,500 have been graded over the last decade. You can check out the 1955 Armour Coin price guide here.
The leading 1955 Armour baseball coin sets in the PSA registry can be seen here.
The question I get asked a lot is “What’s the rarest and/or most expensive Armour coin”. That question was answered recently when the only 1955 Mantle correct L-R ever seen in silver was sold on eBay for $3,350. No one who collects Armour coins has ever seen a gold correct Mantle so keep your eyes open! You can see what’s listed now here.
I’ve included the full checklist, pics of several of the variations and the 1955 colors chart below. For those of you with a keener interest in the details check out my Armour coin blog.