Set Registry: Big Reds, A Closer Look at the 1950's Red Man Baseball Cards by Jim Churilla

When one thinks of tobacco issued baseball cards, the first thought that comes to mind is the famous T-206 cards released from 1909 thru 1911. Of particular interest is the king of all baseball cards, the extremely rare T-206 Honus Wagner card. A PSA NM-MT 8 sold for a record $1,265,000 five years ago with lesser grades easily exceeding $100,000! That's a lot of money for a small piece of cardboard and a huge obstacle in trying to complete the set. Besides the Honus Wagner card, there are numerous other cards in the set that command a premium, adding to its difficulty.

Let's fast forward forty one years to the last issued tobacco baseball cards by Red Man Tobacco, produced from 1952 thru 1955. In an era when Bowman and Topps were fighting it out to see who would have card supremacy, Red Man snuck under the radar and produced one of the more colorful and collectible sets of the 1950's.

Williams

Unlike Topps and Bowman, who were geared for the young collector, the Red Man cards were obviously an adult only purchased product with the intent that the tobacco would be bought, and the cards collected by the purchaser or passed on to the purchaser's child or children. This is noted on the backs of the 1953 thru 1955 cards as follows, "Red Man "Chewers" – start a collection for your boys," and the 1952 card backs as "These Baseball Cards are for Red Man "Chewers" and Their Boys".

When Red Man decided that they wanted to add baseball cards to their tobacco pack product, they did their homework well and, to give their cards instant credibility, they turned to a source that was the expert and guru in the baseball field at the time. J.G. Taylor Spink was picked to select the cards that would be produced in each set. 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".

The back of each card notes that all players were personally selected by Editor J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News. His credits include a number of outstanding literary works, helping to uncover the 1919 Black Sox scandal and intensely campaigning to improve baseball by keeping it honest. He also has an award named after him, the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, established in 1962 and presented to the outstanding sportswriter of the year for meritorious contributions to baseball writing. Of course, Red Man did not have all the stars of the time in their set due to contractual reasons but they did have the right person who picked the best of the rest.

Mize

It is not known who supplied the artwork that graces the front of every Red Man Tobacco card but, whoever it was, they surely did a phenomenal job in portraying the players and managers in the sets. It is believed that actual pictures were used as the basis for the drawings but no known pictures to date can verify this belief. Red Man has been bought and sold a number of times since the cards were issued and any archival information that may have existed is long gone.

The artwork itself depicts a player or manager in one of four poses, a non-batting or non-pitching close-up pose, pitchers in a close-up pitching pose, or batters in a close-up batting or throwing pose. The background of the player or manager contains either a stadium or infield backdrop, or has a solid color that varies anywhere from red, blue, dark green, light green, pink, orange, yellow, dark blue, etc. Another important fact to point out is that Red Man used the same artwork for the same players year after year, as long as that player was still in the set. The only difference would be the background or if the player changed teams with the new team name and logo "painted over" the old one.

The front of the card contains the player or manager bio within a white box that lists the accomplishments from the previous season. You will find the players vitals such as height, weight, birth city and date, and how they bat and throw. The short blurbs are very informative and well written.

Snider

The card backs, for the most part, remained the same throughout the four years the cards were printed. The 1952 cards have a light green lettered back while the 1953 cards have a red lettered back. The upper portion of the cards are worded differently while the lower portion is worded the same. The 1954 and 1955 card backs only differ in color and, of course, the year printed on the back. The 1954 card back lettering is green while the 1955 card back lettering is red. The cardboard is of a medium stock quality.

The 1952 to 1955 Red Man Tobacco cards all measured approximately 3 ½ inches by 4 inches with the cutoff tab and 3 ½ inches by 3 5/8 inches without the tab. The tab was an important part of the card then as it is now for value. Simply put, cards with tabs today are worth more than the cards without a tab. The tab was used as part of a promotion to obtain a cap of one's favorite major league team. One would purchase a pack of Red Man Tobacco for the price of 20 cents per pack wrapped in clear plastic.

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. Each year the cards had a redemption expiration date for obtaining the hat you wanted. The cap was a felt cap and on the inside it would say "Red Mans Baseball Cap". There are a number of known original Red Man vintage posters that advertised the baseball cap redemption promotion.

Rizzuto

The tabs on the 1952 Red Man Tobacco cards say "1952 RED MAN ALL-STAR TEAM" and below that it says either "AMERICAN LEAGUE SERIES – PLAYER #" or "NATIONAL LEAGUE SERIES PLAYER #" on the front. The back of the tab says (cut along this line), "SAVE THIS VALUABLE STUB FOR YOUR RED MAN BIG LEAGUE STYLE BASEBALL CAP" on all four years the cards were issued. The 1953 tabs are slightly different from the 1952 tabs in that they say "1953 NATIONAL LEAGUE SERIES" or "AMERICAN LEAGUE SERIES" with the player name and the player number below that. The 1954 and 1955 Red Man card tabs simply say "RED MAN ALL-STAR SERIES" preceded by the year.

The 1952 thru 1955 Red Man Tobacco cards consist of 208 cards with 4 cards in the 1954 set having variations due to 3 players changing teams and 2 players sharing the same card number. There are also a total of 111 different players and managers with 27 of those being Hall of Fame players. The official tobacco card designation for each set by year is as follows, 1952 is T-232, 1953 is T-233, 1954 is T-234 and 1955 is T-235.

The 1952 Red Man Tobacco set consists of 52 cards with 25 National League players and 25 American League players. Both World Series managers, Casey Stengel and Leo Durocher, are included in the set and make up the additional two cards. The 1952 Red Man Tobacco set was the first tobacco issue released since the early teen years, and is considered the most difficult set of the four to collect with tabs intact. Out of all the Red Man Tobacco cards issued, it is believed the Casey Stengel card is the most difficult to find with the highest grade given being a single PSA NM-MT 8.

The inaugural 1952 Red Man set contains a number of stars from both leagues. 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, Warren Spahn and Bobby Thompson.

The 1952 Red Man Tobacco cards are the most frequently graded cards of any of the four years. According to the current PSA Population Report, 1,373 cards have been graded with the most popular graded cards being Willie Mays (69), Ted Williams (65), Stan Musial (51), Pee Wee Reese (42) and Yogi Berra (40). Only 14 cards have received the grade of PSA 9 for that particular year, most notably one Willie Mays and two Stan Musial cards. PSA 8's total 187 or 14% of all grades received, PSA 7's total 313 or 23%, PSA 6's total 398 or 29%, and PSA 5's total 296 or 22%. The highest realized price for a Red Man card was a NM-MT PSA 8 Ted Williams going for a whopping $14,967 in 2001 and another for $13,020 in 2004!

Ashburn

The 1953 Red Man Tobacco set like the 1952 set contains 52 cards, 26 National Leaguers and 26 American Leaguers. There are 22 new players in the set, 12 in the American League and 10 in the National League. The key players in the American League are Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra, Nellie Fox, George Kell, Phil Rizzuto, Early Wynn, Bob Lemon, and Johnny Mize. The National League stars are Richie Ashburn, Roy Campanella, Pee Wee Reese, Robin Roberts, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Duke Snider, Ralph Kiner, Warren Spahn, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Stan Musial.

There have been 1,231 cards graded with only 1 PSA 10, a card of Bobby Shantz. There have been 19 cards receiving the grade of PSA 9, 2 Yogi Berra's, 1 Early Wynn, 1 Roy Campanella, and 2 Phil Rizzutto's are the more notable players. PSA 8's total 207 or 17%, PSA 7's total 26%, PSA 6's total 27%, and PSA 5's make up 17% of all cards graded. The most popular graded cards are Roy Campanella (39), Stan Musial (38), Yogi Berra (35), Pee Wee Reese (34), and Ted Kluszewski (33).

The 1954 Red Man Tobacco set has 50 regular cards with four variations in the set, bringing the card total to 54. The four variations 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. There are 28 new players in the set and among them are Minnie Minoso, Whitey Ford, Jimmy Piersall, Monte Irvin, Gil Hodges, Eddie Mathews, and the return of Willie Mays who missed the entire 1953 season while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. One difference from the previous sets is that there are no manager cards.

A total of 1,162 1954 Red Man Tobacco cards have been graded, the least among the four sets, with only 21 receiving the grade of PSA 9. This includes Mint 9 examples of Roy Campanella, Whitey Ford, Eddie Mathews and Willie Mays, to name a few. PSA 8's total 281 or 24%, PSA 7's total 311 or 27%, PSA 6's total 233 or 20%, and PSA 5's total 188 or 16%. The most popular graded cards are Willie Mays (48), Yogi Berra (38), Whitey Ford (38), Pee Wee Reese (37), Duke Snider (36), and Eddie Mathews (36).

The year 1955 marked the last year of the Red Man Tobacco cards and the last year of tobacco cards period! This final set contains 50 cards and, like the 1954 set, there are no manager cards. There are 25 National League player cards and 25 American League player cards in the set with 23 new players added. Notable additions include Early Wynn, Larry Doby, Jackie Jensen, Ted Kluszewski, and Hoyt Wilhelm. The 1955 Red Man set is the least valuable of the four issued sets but still very desirable to have.

The only other PSA 10 graded Red Man Tobacco card can be found in the 1955 set. Bobby Avila has the honor and is one of a total of 1,288 cards graded. 39 cards or 3% of all graded cards have a PSA 9 designation including a Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Warren Spahn, Pee Wee Reese, 2 Early Wynn's, and a Duke Snider. PSA 8's total 388 cards or 30%, PSA 7's total 351 cards or 27%, PSA 6's total 250 cards or 19% and PSA 5's total 174 cards or 14%.

The Red Man Tobacco cards of the 1950's are one of those tough but attainable vintage sets. They take one back to a time when the nation was growing and when baseball played a very integral part of many people's lives. It was a time when Ike was president, Rock and Roll was in its infancy, and names like Mantle, Mays and Williams were heroes to many!


Please feel free to contact Jim Churilla at [email protected] with any additional information or comments.