WHEN DID THEY STOP PUTTING BUBBLE GUM IN BASEBALL CARDS

The tradition of including small pieces of bubble gum in baseball card packs began in the late 1930s and lasted for several decades, but the inclusion of gum eventually ended in the late 1980s/early 1990s as the baseball card industry changed dramatically. There were several factors that led to the demise of bubble gum in cards.

In the late 1930s, the American Chicle Company, which was a leading gum manufacturer, began including baseball cards as a promotion for its Bubble Gum brand. This helped drive sales of both the gum and cards. In the post-World War II era, the baseball card market boomed in popularity among children and collectors alike. Most major gum and card manufacturers of the time, such as Topps, Fleer, and Bowman followed the model of including ball cards and small pieces of gum together in wax-wrapped packs that sold for a low price, typically around a nickel or dime. This became the standard promotional model for the baseball card industry for several decades through the 1950s-1980s peak of the card collecting hobby.

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Signs that the inclusion of gum was coming to an end started emerging in the late 1980s. One major factor was the decline of the traditional baseball card companies as the industry consolidated. Topps had dominated the baseball card market for years but faced new competition from larger entertainment corporations that got into the baseball card business, such as Fleer (owned by Phillies owner Roly DeLyon) and later Donruss and Upper Deck. Larger and more marketing-savvy entertainment conglomerates like The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Entertainment began acquiring traditional card companies. This led to business model experimentation as the large corporates sought higher profits than the traditional model could provide.

Another major issue was the rising costs and liability associated with including gum with cards. Food production requires strict guidelines and quality control which increased packaging and manufacturing costs. There was also the risk of potential lawsuits if children choked on gum or got cavities from excessive gum chewing while collecting and trading cards. In an increasingly litigious environment, the gum inclusion opened card makers up to potential liability. Some manufacturers like Fleer had already stopped including gum in the late 1980s over these food safety concerns.

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At the same time, the baseball card market was peaking in the late 1980s. Overproduction led to a spectacular crash in the early 1990s as the speculative bubble of skyrocketing rare card values abruptly deflated. With falling profit margins in this down market, card companies sought to cut costs wherever possible. The inclusion of gum was an obvious place to reduce expenses. Without the promotional need to drive gum sales either, the tie-in became less necessary from a business perspective.

In 1991, industry leader Topps ended the tradition when it discontinued including gum with its baseball cards due to profit pressures. Other manufacturers soon followed suit. While some smaller regional brands held onto the gum inclusion for a short time more, the baseball card industry transitioned to a non-edible model. This brought an end to an era where children could simultaneously enjoy chewing bubble gum and sorting through their newest baseball cards acquired from the corner store. Instead, cards would now be sold sans gum in thicker plastic packaging designed for storage and protection of the card collection within. This marked a symbolic end of an innocent time for a generation of baseball card collectors.

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Changing economics, industry consolidation, increased costs and liabilities, coupled with the early 1990s baseball card crash were the factors that led card manufacturers to drop the time-honored tradition of including small pieces of bubble gum within baseball card packs. It brought closure to an iconic promotional model that had successfully driven the growth of the baseball card hobby for decades. While the inclusion of gum was a fond memory for many collectors, it became an unnecessary inclusion as the industry professionalized and modernized operations in the early 1990s’ changing marketplace.

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