The early 1950’s were a great time for baseball card sets issued in specific areas of the country by local and regional food producers and other companies Anyone who wants a really good idea into the culture of the 1950’s would be well served acquiring a type card from each 1950’s set issued. There were so many of them that one can build a really nice collection this way. Sixty years ago, the 1954 Wilson Franks set had kids eating hot dogs to try and snare a big league star and other meat companies did the same type of kid-oriented promotion.
It’s pure speculation but I wonder if this uptick in regional sets had to do with the Topps and Bowman baseball card “war” of that era. For whatever reason, just as in the first part of the 20th century when there was an explosion of “tobacco” sets, the 1953-55 period had a bounty of different card sets for youngsters to bug mom about during those trips to the grocery store.
Esskay Meats, Glendale Meats, Johnston Cookies and even Red Heart Dog Food were among the sets issued. Some included players from a number of different teams while others were so localized they included only players from a certain team like the Johnston Cookies and Spic ‘n Span Cleaners Milwaukee Braves. You could actually still order the Red Heart cards into the 1970’s directly from the company, which explains why so many are found in great condition to this day.
Sixty years ago, Wilson Franks, based in the Chicago area released a 20-card set issued in their hot dog packs. The white-bordered cards set off the full color portrait photo very well with their name position and team in one upper corner and the Wilson Weiner hot dog package logo on the other top corner. The horizontal backs feature biographical information, a brief blurb and seasonal and career statistics.
The players are an interesting mix of the leading stars of the day but also include a managerial card of “Smiling” Stanley Hack and Sammy White along with six future Hall of Famers with the key being Ted Williams. Stan Hack, Ray Jablonski and Ferris Fain are among the other toughest cards to find, especially in higher grades.
Most of these cards exist in damaged condition because of the way they were packaged but a mini-hoard of nearly 300 cards in nr-mt or better condition were purchased as a walk-in by Al Rosen at a Chicago show in the 1980s. Thus there is a nice grouping of these cards available in either collector condition or in extremely well-preserved condition. This enables collectors to buy cards at whatever price point they prefer.
In some ways these cards are also precursors to our modern cards because of the very simple design.
And as for prices, they have been strong for a long time. One high grade set sold at the “Copeland Auction” in 1991 for $23,100. That set had been estimated to bring between $7,000 and $9,000. In 2009, a PSA 8.5 Williams sold for $56,865 via Mile High Auctions. PSA has graded only 1489 Wilson Franks cards in all, with the vast majority grading at ‘6’ or lower because of the staining issue as well as poor centering and print defects.
An uncut sheet of all 20 cards with some condition issues, sold via Robert Edward Auctions for $14,000 in 2010.
At only 20 cards, it’s a tempting set to tackle but don’t expect to have one that’s in top grade unless you’ve got a lot of disposable income.
Over 100 cards from the 1954 Wilson Franks set are currently available on eBay. Click here to see them.