OLD BASEBALL CARDS WITH BUBBLE GUM

The tradition of including baseball cards with bubble gum began in the late 1930s and helped popularize both the cards and the chewy treats among America’s youth. While some of the earliest card companies had included stickers or small toys in their packs, it was the idea of the Topps Chewing Gum Company to pair baseball cards with one of the most beloved snacks for children that truly took off.

Topps’ founder, a young confectionery salesman named Woody Gelman, had the ingenious notion in 1938 to include a piece of bubble gum with each pack of cards as a promotional tactic. The 5-cent packs, containing a stick of gum and several cardboard cards featuring images of professional baseball players, were an immediate hit. Kids loved collecting and trading the cards to complete sets while enjoying the sugary gum. With World War II rationing limiting candy options, Topps’ baseball cards with bubble gum became even more popular.

By the 1950s, Topps had cornered the market and their baseball cards were firmly established as a coveted collectible for children. The cards evolved to feature more photography instead of painted images and included statistics on the back to fuel sports fandom. However, Topps did face competition from other companies like Bowman Gum in the early decades. Their packs also contained a stick of gum but were otherwise inferior in quality and size compared to Topps’ higher production standards.

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Topps signed exclusive licensing deals with both major leagues, allowing them sole rights to produce official MLB cards beginning in 1956. This monopoly helped drive out competitors like Bowman, whose baseball sets became highly sought after by collectors after they ceased production. As interest in the cards grew, so did their complexity with the addition of team logos, pose variations, and colorful design elements on the fronts.

Meanwhile, Topps continued innovating the formula with new promotions like the infamous1958 “Ted Williams card in every pack guarantee” that caused a frenzy. Some of the rarest and most valuable baseball cards originated from these early years alongside gum, including the iconic 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie that has sold for over $2.8 million. Mantle and other cards of the era are engraved in baseball history as affordable pieces of memorabilia for America’s youth.

In the turbulent 1960s, fewer children were consuming baseball cards with bubble gum compared to earlier decades. Topps began issuing higher print runs that decreased scarcity, even as the Vietnam War captured national attention away from the sport. The company found renewed success with the introduction of the first baseball cards with player autographs and the landmark 1968 set commemorating the 100th anniversary of baseball. These new concepts helped restore some of the market’s diminishing interest.

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By the 1970s, baby boomers drove demand for vintage cards from their childhood as nostalgia emerged as a commodity. Savvy collectors amassed holdings of pre-war tobacco cards and early Topps issues. In response, in 1981 Topps launched limited series like the high-end Glossy All-Stars to engage adult collectors alongside traditional packs paired with bubble gum. The market also began to differentiate between common cards suitable for the bubble gum formula versus premium subsets meant for dedicated fans.

With the American economy rebounding in the 1980s and 1990s, interest snowballed for pristine vintage cardboard. Auction houses catered to wealthy buyers seeking the rarest Hall of Famers from the penny pack era. At the same time, syndicated sports radio and higher salaries lured many away from traditional card collecting toward expensive sports memorabilia. Topps and competitors like Fleer and Donruss refreshed designs annually but saw waning consumer involvement outside of speculators.

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Today, despite mass production of cardboard relics, scarce early issues alongside gum still captivate imaginations. The market remains active for unopened wax boxes and condition-graded examples of pioneering inclusions like the 1939 Play Ball Napoleon Lajoie that started it all. While mass-produced for children as entertainment, the simple coupling of baseball and bubble gum indelibly connected generations to America’s pastime through low-cost collectibles. Even as the collecting landscape evolves, these pocket-sized snapshots freeze moments in time as few other media can.

The practice of enclosing penny packs of baseball cards and gum transformed the trading card industry’s business model and allowed millions of baby boomers to enjoy affordable access to sports heroes. Topps seized on the brilliant promotion and defended their hold for decades, even as competition arose. While packs are no longer geared toward kids primarily due to risks of choking, the earliest baseball cards sandwiched between gum still attract avid bidding wars. Their ubiquity and affordable packaging fitting into any pocket book or bubble helps explain why this simple yet innovative formula has been reminisced about so fondly for over 80 years.

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