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Baseball Cards And The Fifth Cycle
By Lionel Carter
( Article orginally published December 1957 )
Baseball card collecting, which is but one small field in the growing hobby of card collecting, appears to be entering the last years of the Fifth Cycle oŁ card inserts. It and the First Cycle all began in 1887 when the morals censor cracked down on the use of actresses in packages of cigarettes. The Goodwin Tobacco Company substituted baseball cards in their packs of Old Judge Cigarettes, and this set became not only the first but also the largest baseball set (over 2000 varieties have been found) ever issued. May's Cut Plug followed with a set of 40 cards, S. F. Hess issued a small set of big league and California League players, and the D. Buchner Company inserted a few baseball players along with police inspectors and captains, jockeys, and actors in their Gold Coin Cigarettes. And so ended Cycle One.
Baseball boomed from 1908 through 1915 and with fellows like Mathewson, Cobb, Johnson, Tinker-Evers-Chance, there had to be baseball cards. The tobacco companies also dominated the Second Cycle when such popular brand names as Piedmont, Sweet Caporal, Sovereign, Old Mill, and Polar Bear issued first a set of 522 "white borders" and then a set of 208 "gold borders." Other notable tobacco issues included a set of team photos by Fatima, 50 double folders by Mecca, 76 triple folders by Hassan, 426 Pacific Coast League players by Obak, and over 500 red bordered cards of various southern leagues by Old Mill. Candy and gum manufacturers entered the field at this time with many companies coming out with sets of 25, 30, or 50 cards topped by a very distinctive Cracker Jack series of 196 cards. Sporting Life and Sporting News issued sets of 200 cards, and cards were wrapped in bread baked by the General, Morehouse, Weil, Rochester, and Ward-Mackay Baking Companies. War halted this outpouring of cards.
The Third, Cycle began and ended during ihe early Twenties and was dominated by the American Caramel Company, but these cards are so scarce and there are so many varieties that no one knows just how many cards were issued. The Collins McCarthy set of Hall of Fame cards and their Zeenut series of Coast League players were outstanding sets in a period of cheap cards with blank backs that even today remain unclassified. Bread cards, similar to the American Caramel cards, were issued by the Holsum and Weil Baking Companies.
The Fourth Cycle was a period of gum issues that began in 1933 and lasted until war again called a halt to card production. Three gum companies were largely responsible for this renaissance: The Goudey Gum Company with its Big League Cards, National Chicle with Diamond Stars and Batter-Up Card's and Gum, Inc. with the Play Ball sets.
The Fifth Cycle really topped all of the others for a variety of cards and products. The Topps and Bowman Gum people easily dominated the field, but the Swell Gum and Leaf Gum Companies offered early competition. Later cards were issued with bread (Remar, Tip Top, Sunbeam), cookies (Johnston, Mothers, Drakes), ice cream (Hagues), weiners (Wilson, Hunters, Glendale, Stahl-Meyer), potato chips (Dan Dee, Nuan Num), dog food (Red Heart), and even tobacco made a comeback (Red Man Chewing Tobacco). Out of this vast array only Topps Gum answered the bell in 1956, and perhaps only Topps will issue baseball cards in 1957. The Fifth Cycle is in its dying stages.