While Topps and Bowman battled for the pennies and nickels of bubble gum chewing youngsters from 1952-55, a tobacco company was hoping to do snare adults. The Red Man baseball cards issued from 1952 to 1955 have been tabbed by many collectors as one of the most beautiful sets of the 1950s.
“Tabbed” is the key word here. Because in addition to the sharp, colorful portraits of major-league stars, Red Man Tobacco cards came with a tab underneath the player’s picture. Tabs could be cut off, collected and redeemed for prizes, like a felt baseball cap; a collector would need 50 to claim the cap. In today’s collecting world, cards with tabs are more valuable. But the Red Man cards are fun to collect, with or without the tabs.
The cards measured 3 ½ inches by 4 inches with tabs intact — they were 3 5/8 inches deep without them — and were the first tobacco issue for a national set since the early 1920s. There was one card between the cellophane outer packaging and the packet of chewing tobacco.
Believe it or not, a few unopened Red Man packs survive today–and so do some of the colorful advertising posters.
Part company advertising vehicle, part promotion and part standard baseball card set, Red Man cards have their fans today but are just enough outside the mainstream for prices to remain relatively affordable.
Here’s a capsule summary of each set.
1952 Red Man Baseball Set
The inaugural Red Man baseball card set contained 52 cards, broken down by 25 players and one manager in each league. The players were chosen by J.G. Taylor Spink, the editor of The Sporting News. The managers were the skippers of the 1951 World Series teams, Casey Stengel (Yankees) and Leo Durocher (Giants).
Card fronts contained full-color paintings of each subject, with a biography inserted inside a white box. Card backs contained company advertising. There are an impressive 20 Hall of Famers in the set. Key cards include Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Pee Wee Reese, Ted Williams, Yogi Berra and Bob Feller. It was the only year Williams and Feller would appear in the set.
If you’re not too fussy about condition, you can piece a full set together for around $500 without tabs but high-grade sets with tabs can bring several times that amount.
1953 Red Man Baseball Set
The format for Red Man’s second set was similar to the first, with the main difference being numbers included within the player biographies. As will be the case for any Red Man set, cards with tabs still attached command the biggest premiums.
The card backs are headlined “New for ’53,” with advertising taking up most of the back. Again, there were 25 players and a manager from each league. Stengel reappears, while the National League was represented by Brooklyn Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen.
There are 22 players in the ’53 Red Man set who didn’t appear in the inaugural issue.
Musial is the key card in the set, followed by Berra and three Dodgers — Duke Snider, Roy Campanella and Reese.
Prices are relatively similar to the ’52 set.
1954 Red Man Baseball Set
The format changed slightly in Red Man’s third season, with managers deleted from the set. The card design stayed the same, but there were a few player variations. In the National League, card No. 19N depicts two players — Enos Slaughter Gus Bell — while American Leaguers Dave Philley (Indians and Phillies), Sam Mele (Orioles and White Sox) and Hall of Famer George Kell (Red Sox and White Sox) are shown with two different teams.
The return of Mays from military service made his card a big hit among collectors. Dodgers and Yankees cards often bring a premium, with Snider and Campanella again leading the way.
Of the variation cards, the Kell card depicting him in Boston is the more valuable. Philley’s Philly card is nearly double the value of his Cleveland card, while Mele’s White Sox card is slightly more valuable than his Baltimore card. As for the Slaughter-Bell variation, Slaughter holds a slight edge.
You’ll pay a little more for a set of 1954 Red Man cards because of the variations but a no-tab set can still be had for a relatively reasonable sum.
The final year of the Red Man set pretty much followed the pattern of its predecessors. The only difference was updated statistics in the player’s biography.
Twenty-three new players appear who weren’t on the ’54 cards as Early Wynn, Larry Doby, Jackie Jensen, Ted Kluszewski, and Hoyt Wilhelm finally got their faces inside the Red Man pouch.
Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford, Nelson Fox, Gil Hodges, Willie Mays, Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider are the most coveted cards from this set.
The 1955 Red Man set is usually the cheapest of the four and a great entry point for someone looking to collect them.
Whether you decide to collect them with or without tabs, the Red Man baseball cards of the 1950s are a fun and generally affordable challenge. The painted portraits really stand out and with just over 200 cards to collect, many of which can be had for just a few dollars, the sets are attainable with just a pinch of patience.