Collectors are familiar with the Hostess Baseball Card promotion that ran from 1975-79. In each of those five years, ITT Continental Baking Company, the parent company of Hostess at the time, issued a 150-card set of regular Hostess cards in three-card panels on the bottom of family-sized boxes of snack cakes.
Less familiar are the Hostess Twinkies sets. From 1975-77, ITT issued Twinkie cards for a limited time as sort of an introduction to its regular Hostess sets.
Often referred to as “test sets,” the Twinkies sets are a bit different from the regular Hostess sets issued during the same period.
The cards printed for Twinkies used the same design, player photos, card size, and card numbers as the regular Hostess series. Like the regular issue, the back of the card contained the player’s biographical and statistical information. Despite these similarities, they are separate sets. Since Twinkies were packaged and printed differently, they contain features different from regular Hostess cards.
In 1975, Hostess included baseball cards in individual servings of Twinkies, the popular “golden sponge cake with a creamy filling.” Hostess distributed the 60 cards for a limited time in California and the Midwest.
The cards were printed on a cardboard panel that supported the bottom of the package and was designed to be cut to 2 ¼” x 3 ¼” size. It served a practical purpose in addition to housing the player card. Being positioned on the left side of the panel created a built-in left border, with a dotted line surrounding the remaining three sides.
The checklist for card numbers 1-36 was the same as the regular Hostess set, but the next 24 cards depicted only players from teams in California and the greater Chicago area. Since the cards used the same numbers as those in the regular set, the last two dozen cards were skip-numbered.
In 1976, Hostess issued another 60-card Twinkies set, but made changes. The built-in left border was eliminated and the card was positioned in the middle of the panel, requiring a dotted-line border on all four sides. The checklist was identical to the first 60 cards of the regular issue.
Once again, the cards were issued one per package on the cardboard panel of Twinkie Twin packs in California and a portion of the Midwest.
Significant changes occurred the following year. The set size expanded from 60 to 150 cards. The cards were issued one per package on the cardboard panel of several different snack cake products – not just Twinkies – and 93 of the 150 cards were issued with two or more different products. Uncut panels came in various sizes depending on which products were involved.
The 1977 Twinkie cards were unevenly distributed in three separate regions of the country, and not all 150 cards were available in each region. According to one source who obtained information directly from Hostess executives at the time, ITT planned to issue card numbers 1-60 with Twinkies and Suzy Qs in the western United States, card numbers 1-21 and 136-150 with Suzy Qs and SnoBalls in the Mountain and Midwestern states, and all 150 cards with Twinkies (#s 1-30, 118-150) and Cupcakes (#s 31-135) in the eastern United States.
In all products except Cupcakes, the card was bordered by a dotted line on all four sides. In Cupcakes, the width of the cardboard backing was identical to the width of the card, so dotted lines only appear on the top and bottom of the card.
Cupcakes were limited to card numbers 31-135, and they are easy to identify. The backs contain small print and a thick black bar near the statistics. Of the 105 Cupcake cards, 57 were exclusively issued with Cupcakes. The remaining 48 were issued with Cupcakes and other snack cake products.
Hostess or Twinkies?
Many hobbyists make no distinction between Hostess and Twinkies. For this reason, Twinkies may be found interspersed in lots and partial sets of regular Hostess cards for sale at auctions or in online stores. But there is a difference between a card cut from a family size box of Twinkies and one issued in an individual serving of Twinkies or other snack cake product – the former is a regular Hostess card issued on a box of Twinkies, and the latter is a Twinkie card.
Twinkies differ from the regular Hostess cards in three distinct ways. Since the cardboard backing was in direct contact with the snack cake, Twinkie cards almost always contain product stains. If a Hostess card contains brown splotches or stains, it is most likely a Twinkies card.
In addition, the back of a Twinkies card contains a wax coating added by the manufacturer to prevent the product residue from bleeding into the card. A regular Hostess card does not contain the wax coating. But the clearest way to tell the difference is by looking on the back of the card. If the back contains a thick black bar or small portion of a black bar at the top and/or bottom of the statistics, then it is a Twinkies card.
While the backs of all uncut Twinkie panels contain the characteristic black bar, not all Twinkie cards cut down to size contain a black bar. Poorly cut cards or cards whose back printing was slightly misaligned with the front do not contain black bars. In 1977, a couple of the single-serving Hostess products required a large cardboard backing whose black bar was located far away from the statistics. One must carefully examine the card and feel the wax coating to identify Twinkie cards without the black bars.
Twinkie cards contain an unclear color photo on the front and dark print font on the back. The player’s photograph is somewhat faded and burry, and the statistics are printed in bold, dot matrix. These printing differences are not unique, however. Some regular Hostess cards (often from Suzy Q boxes) contain similar printing.
The backs of almost all Twinkie cards were printed in black ink, but the 1975 set can contain brown. The brown back versions are scarce.
The 1975 Bert Hooten (spelling) and Bill Madlock (player position) errors were eventually corrected in the regular Hostess set but were not corrected in the Twinkie versions. Aside from the misspelling on the 1975 Craig Nettles card (#24) and the uncorrected Lee May photo on the 1975 Milt May card (#35), no other errors are noted.
The 1977 set is particularly unusual because of its regional distribution and numerous variations. Master set collectors can search for 236 single card variations and 276 uncut panel variations in seven different, uncut panel sizes among the 150 cards in the set.
Checklists for the 1975 and 1976 Twinkies sets are easily compiled because no variations exist. But no comprehensive 1977 Twinkies variations checklist is publicly available.
The chart below reflects an attempt to compile a complete checklist of the 1977 Twinkies set, including variations. Readers with additional information are invited to contact the author directly.
Twinkie cards are interesting and attractive variations of the regular Hostess sets. Because of their different features and shorter supply, Twinkies will challenge both the causal and advanced collector.
|1977 Hostess Twinkies Checklist|
|Total||276 uncut panels =||48||12||105||63||21||15||12||236|
Key: Uncut Panel Sizes
A 3 1/8″ x 4 1/8″
B 4 1/2 ” x 4 1/4″
C 2 1/4″x 4 1/4
D 3″ x 3 5/8″
E 6″ x 4 ”
F 4 1/2″ x 5 5/8″
G 3″ x 4 1/8″
The last column entitled “Back” shows the number of back variations for each card cut from a panel into the standard 2 1/4″ x 3 1/4″ size, including those with a black bar, without a black bar, and/or with the unique Cupcake back.