By popular demand, here are a few more nuggets we dug up over the weekend from coverage of the hobby decades ago.
- In 1959, Topps wax putting 250 million baseball cards and 70 million football on the market, mostly through penny and nickel wax packs.
- Cello packs were decent sellers, which proved to company officials that in many cases, it wasn’t the gum that was the attraction for youngsters. “You can always tell when it’s baseball season,” said one Topps spokesman in a 1961 wire service article. “Our wrappers are lying all over the place with the unchewed gum still inside.”
- If you wondered why Topps made basketball cards in 1957 and then stopped for a dozen years, consider this: Even in the summer of 1961, there were 10 million 1957-58 Topps cards sitting around, still unsold. Did they meet the same fate as the unsold cases of 1952 Topps high numbers which were dumped in the ocean? Since the ’52s are believed to have met their demise around this time, it’s quite possible they did.
- Cards were already “big business” according to Ward Cannel, who wrote a story about the hobby for the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA) in June of 1961 and mentioned the growing number of dealers in “second-hand or out of print” baseball cards who sold to collectors looking to complete their sets (truthfully, it’s not likely any of them made a living at it, but the national market was there. Larry Fritsch is considered the first full-time card dealer. The hobby legend had made it his sole occupation by the start of the next decade).
A story by Bill Levinson in The American Weekly in 1960 reported that there were “50,000 serious collectors of historic trading cards in the U.S.” Presumably, that included all types of trading cards, not just baseball and not just sports. His story also showcased the T206 Wagner, to which a $250 value was assigned. Reports of the time mentioned the belief that only four or six Wagner cards were known to exist. Today, it’s thought that somewhere around 75 Wagners have survived.
- Levinson also reported that big league players were given “50 or so” of their own cards to hand out to “friends, family or neighborhood youngsters. All other cards they buy.”
- Some New York kids of the 1950s and 60s might disagree, but Topps President Sy Berger told NEA’s Harry Grayson in 1959 that “a youngster wants a complete set. if there is any trading it is done only when you have a duplicate of one player and you want to get one you don’t have. Nobody hoards Mickey Mantle cards.”
- Topps’ scout, Turk Karam, had 2,500 minor league players under contract in the spring of 1959, but the company also guarded against the dreaded trade scenario that would make some photos look dated. “The minute Turk feels a player has a chance to make the majors, we have a photographer take a picture of him, without a cap on,” Burger told Grayson. “We can put him out the minute he comes up, no matter what team he is on. For the next card issue we have a photo of him in uniform. Trades kill us. We’ve been here on the press with a series of cards when a trade was made. We have to stop the run, kill the card of the traded player and put in one of him on his new team. If you send out a card that doesn’t list a player on his right team–and right to the minute, too–you hear about it.”