It’s a perfect name for a snack — Num Num. And in 1952, a Cleveland-based potato chip gave collectors a tasty regional set.
“To eat them is to like them,” a newspaper ad touting Num Nums trumpeted in late 1942. In January 1943, ads proclaimed they were “Good to the last chip.”
The Indians were pretty good, too. They won the World Series in 1948, and from 1951 to 1956 under manager Al Lopez, won a pennant in 1954 and finished second five times. The Indians averaged 95 wins during that span.
In 1952 the Cleveland Indians finished second in the American League with a 93-61 record that put them two games behind the Yankees. New York was wrapping up its fourth straight pennant.
That’s what makes the 1952 Num Num Cleveland Indians set so appealing. It’s not the first Num Num product — the 1949-1950 set was 36 cards — but this 20-card set included Hall of Famers like Early Wynn, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon and Larry Doby, and a manager (Lopez) who also would earn a plaque in Cooperstown. Even though Feller suffered the first losing season in his 18-year career, Wynn won 23 games while Lemon and Mike Garcia each won 22.
Doby led the team with 32 homers but Luke Easter (31 HRs) and Al Rosen (28) provided some punch in the middle of the Indians’ lineup.
Those seven players and Lopez are the big names in the 1952 Num Num set. The cards measured 3½ inches by 5½ inches and included a 1-inch perforated tab at the bottom. If a collector assembled the entire set, he could remove all the tabs and redeem them by mail for an autographed baseball “of your favorite Indians player.”
The black-and-white photographs came in packages of Num Num potato chips, pretzels and other snacks. Publicity was something that the founder of the Num Num chips, Harvey Noss, enjoyed. He founded the company as Noss Pretzel and Cone Co. near the end of World War I and claimed in 1925 that an employee, Emma Fretter, was the champion pretzel twister of the United States. The story was picked up by the national wires and was published in hundreds of newspapers.
Noss would eventually sell his business in 1958 to the Frito Company, which later became Frito-Lay.
But in 1952 Noss had a nice set of cards in Cleveland. The cards were printed on thin paper, with the card and player’s name contained within the tab. There is a biography of the player on the back of the card, including height, weight, and the names of his wife and children if the player was married. Also, on the back, on the tab, is a place for the collector to enter his name and address in order to get the autographed baseball.
Cards are more valuable with tabs still intact. Despite the stars and Hall of Famers on the list, the card that is considered extremely rare is that of Bob Kennedy (No. 16), which is a short print. Few, if any, Kennedy cards exist with a tab still attached.
Other key cards are those of Lemon (No. 4), Feller (No. 5), Wynn (No. 6), Doby (No. 18) and Lopez (No. 20).
Finding these cards in high grade is an extremely difficult task, especially since many of the cards had the tabs removed.
There have been 308 cards submitted to PSA for grading, and there are no gem mints and only two PSA9s— Lou Brissie (No. 1) and Easter (No. 12). By far, PSA5s are the most numerous, with 82 slabbed.
There are only 116 cards that have been graded by SGC, and the highest grade received is 88 (there are five of those), including Feller, Wynn, Jim Hegan (No. 2), Birdie Tebbetts (No. 3) and Bob Chakales (No. 9). Like PSA, the largest number of SGC-graded cards are in the mid-grade range, with 22 coming in with a 50.
Interestingly, the Indians also issued a version of this set, but without tabs.
The 1952 Num Num Cleveland Indians set has plenty of star power, but it is scarce and tough to find in high condition. Be prepared to shell out some cash if you want to complete this quirky set. You can see some for sale on eBay here.