Red Man Tobacco cards: a collection worth obtaining

As we have stated more than a few times…one of the great things about being a baseball card dealer is getting to see (and sometimes purchase) some great old baseball memorabilia. MLB Memories was really excited recently when the chance to obtain some beautiful Red Man Tobacco baseball cards came our way!

One of the most colorful and collected baseball card issues of the 1950s is the Red Man Tobacco card sets. These were the first national sets of tobacco cards produced since the golden days of tobacco sets in the latter 1800s and early part of the 1900s. In an era when Bowman and Topps were fighting it out to see who would have card supremacy, Red Man came in under the radar and produced one of the best looking and most collectible sets of the 1950's.

Topps and Bowman were obviously geared for the young collector as they were meant to increase bubble-gum sales. The Red Man cards, on the other hand, were sold with an adult only purchased product with the intent that the cards collected by the purchaser would probably be passed on to the purchaser's offspring. In fact, this intention is even noted on the backs of the 1953 thru 1955 cards as they read, "Red Man "Chewers" - start a collection for your boys," and the 1952 card backs say "These Baseball Cards are for Red Man "Chewers" and Their Boys".

The cards measure 3-1/2" x 4", IF they include the 1/2" tab at the bottom of each card. The tab was an important part of the card. The tab was used as part of a promotion to obtain a cap representing a major league team. A purchase of a pack of Red Man Tobacco cost 20 cents, and the pack came wrapped in clear plastic. The ball card was on the outside of the tobacco pouch and under the plastic. The tabs on the card bottom edge were redeemable for that free baseball cap from Red Man. The promotion was to turn in 50 cutoff tabs and mail them in for the cap of your choice. In other words, you had to spend ten dollars on Red Man Tobacco to get enough tabs for the cap. Remember, that was in 1950s money!

Because of that successful promotion, cards are harder to find with tabs intact, and thus considerably more valuable to the collector today. Simply put, cards with tabs today are worth more than the cards without a tab, and that is one of the reasons the collection MLB Memories just obtained is so exciting. EVERY card has its tab!

Card fronts came from full color paintings of each player with biographical information inset in the portrait area. Card backs contain company advertising and are essentially the same on all the cards. It is generally held that actual photographs were used as the basis for the paintings, but no pictures have ever surfaced to verify this idea. Also, it is not known who supplied the artwork for the Red Man Tobacco cards but, whoever it was, they did a great job in portraying the men in the sets! Check out the Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra or Willie Mays card and you will see for yourself.

Red Man baseball sets were issued from 1952 through 1955. The players and managers represented in the sets were selected by J. G. Taylor Spink. This is the man after whom the National Baseball Hall of Fame award for baseball writers is named. Spink was the publisher and editor of The Sporting News, which many considered the baseball bible of that era, and he carried the nickname "Mr. Baseball". He certainly did a great job in selecting the subjects for the card sets. Just in the inaugural 1952 Red Man set there are several players still hotly collected. In the American League, there are cards of Larry "Yogi" Berra, Bob Feller, Nellie Fox, George Kell, Ted Williams, Larry Doby, Minnie Minoso and Early Wynn. The National League contains Richie Ashburn, Monte Irvin, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays, Stan Musial, Pee Wee Reese, Robin Roberts, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider, and Warren Spahn. There is also a card of Bobby Thomson who, the year before, hit what is called "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" to put the New York Giants into the World Series.

The first two years ('52-'53) included a manager from each league, and 1954 had four different variation cards. That makes a total of 208 cards for the collector. The four variations in the 1954 set are as follows: Card 4A of George Kell has two cards, one showing him on the Chicago White Sox and the other on the Boston Red Sox. Card 6A also has two variations of Sam Mele, one on the Baltimore Orioles and the other with the Chicago White Sox. Card A 9A of Dave Philley has him on the Cleveland Indians on one card and the Philadelphia Athletics on another. The final variations are two cards of 19N, one of Enos Slaughter and the other of Gus Bell, both believed to be short printed.

One of our favorite 1954 Red Man cards (and in the collection we have for sale) heralds the return of Willie Mays to the New York Giants. Willie missed the entire 1953 season while serving in the U. S. Army during the era of the Korean War. It is a great looking card, and it seems so appropriate as Willie and his Giants went on to win the World Series that season.

These are beautiful cards. They capture an era so well, and yet have a timeless baseball card quality about them.

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