The unusual hobby of collecting jello baseball cards has developed a small but devoted following over the past few decades. The notion of encasing baseball trading cards in a thin layer of flavored gelatin seems nonsensical at first, yet for some collectors it has become a unique way to preserve and display their favorite players.

At its root, the hobby traces back to the early 1960s when a group of friends in Milwaukee would meet weekly to play cards, drink beer and experiment with new snacks. One night, Larry Mulligan had the idea to suspend some of his spare baseball cards in a bowl of orange gelatin he was making for dessert. His friends got a kick out of seeing the cards float suspended in the jiggling gel. The concept spread by word of mouth among Midwestern card collectors in subsequent years.

By the late 1960s, small circles of collectors in Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota had started making jello cards as novelty items. It never coalesced into a true collecting phenomenon until the late 1970s. That’s when the release of Topps’ 1977 design featuring player headshots inspired Robert “Jello Bob” Klement to create encapsulated versions showcasing the vibrant photographed backgrounds. He posted about his creations on trading card forums, igniting wider interest.


Klement became something of a pioneer for the niche hobby. He experimented with different jello flavors, add-ins like fruit slices, and methods for securing cards in place with toothpicks or melted gelatin borders. In 1980, he self-published the first Jello Card Collector’s Price Guide featuring over 1,000 encapsulated cards he and fellow collectors had produced over the prior years. It helped legitimize what was still seen as an eccentric pastime.

Throughout the 1980s and 90s, jello card collecting spread across the Midwest and gained traction on both coasts as well. Hobby shops in major cities began stocking supplies like unflavored gelatin sheets, small mold trays and fruit-flavored syrups to encourage production. Regional jello card shows also proliferated where collectors could buy, sell and trade their creations. Unique “builds” featuring layered cards became highly sought after show pieces.

At their peak in the late 1990s, estimates placed the number of dedicated jello card collectors in the U.S. between 2,000-3,000. Declining interest in traditional card collecting and the rise of online platforms for buying/selling cards took a toll on the niche community in the 2000s. While a number of memorable jello cards were preserved from notable baseball events like Mark McGwire’s 1998 home run chase, many collectors switched focus or dropped the hobby entirely.

Today, jello card collecting persists but on a smaller scale confined mostly to online forums. A handful of aficionados still diligently produce new cards commemorating milestones, rookies and retiring players. Regional mini-shows organized by collectors clubs in Illinois and Missouri help sustain in-person trading and socializing. Online auction prices suggest particularly unique vintage jello cards can still fetch $20-50 among serious collectors.

Some of the appeal stems from the tactile experience of handling a jello baseball card. Though the gelatin coating protects from bending or creasing, it also emphasizes the actual cardstock and photography beneath the surface layer. Special printing techniques allow foil or embossing to really pop visually encased in jello. The mutable nature of the gelatin itself makes for endless fiddling, shaping and recreating of builds long after initial solidification.


There is undoubtedly an element of nostalgia as well for collectors who got into jello cards during childhood or its heyday in the 1980s-90s. Making cards is a hands-on family or group activity evoking simpler times spent with friends bonding over baseball and snacks. For others, the novelty and craftsmanship involved in complex layered jello card structures is an art form worthy of appreciation, preservation and discussion among a dedicated niche.

Skeptics may dismiss jello baseball cards as nothing more than a quirky hobby without mainstream collecting merit. Its multidecade history demonstrates devotion from aficionados who find creative inspiration, community and enjoyment from mementos of America’s pastime suspended memorably in fruit-flavored aspic. Even as online platforms shift focus to digital cards, the tactile appeal ensures jello cards’ place among the curios and novelties that help tell baseball’s unique cultural story.

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