As baseball cards became more popular in the first part of the 20th century, issuers and distributors became more innovative. Baseball was big business and it didn’t take long for companies to figure out that offering “baseball pictures” in packages of tobacco and candy was a hit.
Before you knew it, all kinds of companies were offering cards. They were found in packages of bread, as a prize with penny candy, inside food products, magazines and more. Even newspapers got in the act.
“Supplements” found inside newspapers or papers like The Sporting News became popular in the latter part of the 19th century and, despite the fragile nature of some of them, you can still find many today. But while we mostly think of supplements or photographs as primary inserts from newspapers, a unique form of collectible soon surfaced.
While supplements were popular, newspapers undoubtedly noticed the collectability of those samller-sized baseball cards. But while producing real cards as an insert would have been far more costly, they decided they could print cards of a sort with little real expense.
Thus, a new collectible was born.
The newspapers’ inserts were technically called ‘stamps’ but they weren’t stamps by today’s definition. They didn’t adhere to anything and they weren’t used for postage. Instead, these stamps were merely cutouts printed on regular newspaper stock.
One of the most popular of these is the 1927 Rinkeydink set. This was a series of ten stamps featuring baseball players. The short ten-card issue includes notables such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, and Rogers Hornsby, among others. In fact, the checklist includes only Hall of Famers. Eddie Collins, George Kelly, Bucky Harris, Cleveland Alexander, and George Pennock round out the set. The cards are miniature in size, measuring only a little bigger than 1″ wide and 1 1/2″ tall.
While not all collectors can get on board with these, they are no doubt collectible and even somewhat popular. A Ty Cobb PSA 7, for example, sold for nearly $300 in a Heritage Auction.
At only ten cutouts, the Rinkeydink Stamps set was a small one. But in the 1930s, a much larger series was issued and it spanned several newspapers.
In 1936, several newspapers banned together to offer stamp cutouts of baseball players and other athletes during the summer months. These stamps have been found in many newspapers across the country, including the Boston American, Detroit Times, Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, Los Angeles Examiner, and others. In addition to the newspapers, these were also offered by The Sporting News.
While they were printed in many newspapers, the design on all of them mostly remained the same. The ‘Sport Stamp’ name was printed on the sides with the publication’s name at the top and player name at the bottom.
Unlike the Rinkeydink Stamps, these actually looked more like a traditional postage stamp. These stamps used real black and white images as opposed to the color drawings of the Rinkeydink series. And instead of a square border, these had a perforated look to mimic actual postage stamps.
These were certainly more in line with a real baseball card, too. Not only were they a little larger, each one included a picture of the player in question at the top and a short biography about him at the bottom beneath the stamp. The bio wasn’t an actual part of the stamp, mind you. But many of these that you see today will include the bio portion.
Because these were printed in so many papers and included so many players, they are not as difficult to find. Commons in decent shape are usually in the $10 range while stars cost a little more. Some high grade stars, in fact, can be somewhat pricey. You can see what’s available on eBay here.
Some of the stamps are intriguing early collectibles of players, too. For example, this series included Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio. 1936 was DiMaggio’s first year in the majors and, as a result, this is a legitimate rookie issue.
While these will not appeal to all collectors, one thing that cannot really be disputed is that they were issued to be cut out and collected as opposed to just serving as nice pictures in the newspaper. Several characteristics point to that. The Rinkeydink Stamps, for example, were numbered just like traditional baseball cards are. And issues like the Sport Stamps had a stamp shaped design with borders, insinuating that they should be cut out and enjoyed.
I don’t know that I’d call these baseball ‘cards’ but their collectability and, for the most part, relative affordability, make them desirable.