A bottle of soda cost a mere 29 cents in 1967, but for a kid with a limited budget that was a lot of coin. But if your parents could afford a bottle — and better yet, a six-pack in a carton — then Coca-cola’s products yielded a fun treat for baseball fans.
For 1967 and ’68, bottles of Coke, Fanta, Tab, Sprite and Fresca (who remembers Fresca?) were sealed with caps showing the likenesses of major-league players. The caps were an inch in diameter and the pictures were protected by a clear plastic liner. Many of the photos had the team insignia airbrushed out of the player’s cap, but interestingly, some kept them.
The player’s name is in block letters beneath the photo, with the team name above the picture. The cap top would have a baseball logo next to the word “Coke.” Some king-sized versions of Coke — they cost more than 29 cents for sure — also had the baseball to let the consumer know there was something beneath the cap.
What’s interesting about this set is the numbering system. A 35-cap set of “Major League All-Stars” had a number designation to the left of the player. In addition, there are American League and National League all-star cap sets that had numbers with an “A” or “N” prefix preceding the number. And for areas that had major –league teams, a letter prefix preceded the number — O4 for Frank Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles, for example. Regional issues consisted of 18 bottle caps.
If you tried to get every cap of every all-star and regional team, that would be a 580-cap master set. That’s a massive undertaking for sure.
The biggest issue with these caps, like any other piece of collectible memorabilia, is price. There were no twist off caps in the 1960s, so openers were needed to open the Coca-Cola bottles. Some of those hand-held openers could be pretty rough on the caps, too, causing severe bending and occasional piercing that would damage the player image. Rust was also an issue, as the metal caps would corrode easily.
Plus, if you lived in the New York area as I did in the 1960s, bottle caps were vital for a street game officially called skully, but also was called skelly, scully (I doubt it was named for the Dodgers announcer) or skelsy. In the Brooklyn neighborhood I lived in, the game was called skellzies or skalezies, depending on your accent. Players would flick caps through a 12-box maze, numbered 1 through 12, and then advance to a final box in the middle of the board.
Some kids would fill their bottle caps with wax or clay to make them heavier, since opponents would try to knock a player backward so they would have a longer time to get to the goal. Sort of like juvenile shuffleboard with a different board. The wax and clay would have a detrimental effect on the photographs, particularly if the cap liner was removed.
Another way kids would damage these caps during skully games was to take the cap and rub it vigorously against the street asphalt. That would make the cap smooth and allow it to travel farther along the board when flicked.
I’m not sure it all that damage inflicted by skelly players wasthe reason, but PSA no longer grades the 1967 Coke caps. Suffice to say, finding a cap in pristine condition is probably impossible — unless your parent worked at the bottling company and obtained them before they were placed on the glass bottles.
There are plenty of caps floating around on eBay, ranging from cheap ($3 plus shipping) to expensive ($140 and up a 1967 Mickey Mantle). Naturally, the Mantle commands one of the higher prices in the set, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose and Carl Yastrzemski are somewhat lower, but still command prices in excess of $40 depending on condition. On the other hand, prices in the latest Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards, show that a collector could find all members of the 1967 California Angels, New York Mets and Cleveland Indians for under $6 apiece on average. Same with the 1968 Red Sox set, which is crucially lacking a cap of Yaz.
Coke caps are the most common found in this set, with Tab, Sprite, Fanta and Fresca generally yielding prices that are 10 percent higher than the Coca-Cola versions.
Storing these caps might seem problematic, but the sheets sold by local coin shops fit the bill perfectly.
The Coca-Cola caps gave kids a perfect outlet for summertime fun: a nice cold drink, a cool player (hopefully) under the cap, and ammunition for playing a game on the hot streets of the city.