No gum? No problem. The man behind Fleer’s challenge to the Topps monopoly proved card collectors could live without bubbles.
His name was in the pages of hobby news publications on a regular basis as the 1970s became the 80s.
Donald Peck, president of Fleer, was trying to grab a share of the growing sports card market. Topps was still packaging its cards with gum and Fleer–already producing confections–was ready to join in. A long legal battle ensued and in the end, Peck lost. But not really.
In 1981, Fleer produced its first set of baseball cards, packaged not with gum after the court overturned a Fleer victory, but with logo stickers. The move created competition in the sports card industry for the first time since the 1950s. Fleer and Donruss quickly proved there were enough collectors who weren’t really all that interested in the gum anyway. The move helped pave the way for the modern card industry when Upper Deck received an MLB license in time for the 1989 season.
Peck, a native of Bridgeton, New Jersey, retired from the company in 1991. He died Sunday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at age 83.
Fleer actually began in Philadelphia during the 19th century and in the 1920s, became the first company to produce bubble gum. Peck joined Fleer as personnel manager in 1952, was promoted to vice president and became the company’s president in 1971.
After a court overrruled his company’s initial victory in the Topps challenge case in 1981, Peck said he was disappointed, "but it doesn’t knock us out of the box." A loophole allowed Fleer to sell cards in a package with the logo stickers of Major League teams, something it had been doing since the 1970s anyway. Peck figured collectors were anxious to see what another company could do with a full license. He was proven correct, even though Fleer was never able to match Topps’ popularity.
In the 1995 sports card industry book Card Sharks, author Pete Williams lauded Peck for pursuing his dream and for expanding the card-collecting industry through vision and persistence.
Peck became vice chairman of Fleer in 1988 and retired in 1991 when all of the card manufacturers were producing large numbers of cards in a booming market. Fleer closed its plant in Philadelphia four years later.
Peck was a World War II veteran, serving on a Navy troop transport ship in the Pacific. After his discharge, he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of North Carolina and entered the business world. Ad avid sportsman, Peck was an outstanding tennis player at UNC.
He had been married to Doris Layton Peck since 1949 and the couple had two children and three grandchildren.