There was a time in the 1970's when one could put together a nice set of baseball cards by simply going to the local grocery store and buying a loaf of bread, a carton of milk, a box of cupcakes, and Tony the tiger's Kellogg's Frosted Flakes, without ever having to invest a single penny in packs of Topps baseball cards. If you were a kid then like I was, we really had it made because cards came with just about anything and going to the grocery store with your Mother was a win/win situation and not the laborious task that kids think it is today. We actually looked forward to the magical journey down aisle six, checking out the bottom of the Hostess Cup Cake boxes to see who was on the three-player panel. To this day, I am still baffled that I could never find a panel with one of my favorite Chicago Cubs players on it, Jerry Morales! Indeed, to us kids, the weekly grocery store visit was nothing but a whole lot of fun that we looked forward to especially since Mom was paying for everything!
Go back twenty to twenty five years earlier and you could find a similar scenario of baseball cards being associated with food products, tobacco products, hot dogs, and dog food. Yes, I said dog food, 1954 Red Heart dog food to be exact! If you owned a dog in 1954 and you collected baseball cards, then your dog ate Red Heart dog food and plenty of it. The more Red Heart dog food your dog ate the more Red Heart baseball cards you could accumulate, simple as that!
In 1954, Red Heart dog food issued a thirty-three card baseball set containing a number of star players and eventual future Hall of Famers. Whoever was responsible for putting together such a great collection of players in such a small set certainly did an outstanding job. The fact that Stan Musial is in the set speaks volumes because neither of the baseball card company big shots, Topps or Bowman, could land Stan the Man. According to Stan himself, the reason neither card company had him in their sets was simply the fact they did not want to pay him what he wanted, yet Red Heart was more than happy to divvy up. Mickey Mantle is also in the Red Heart set, and like Musial he too is missing from the 1954 Topps set due to the bubble gum contractual war going on between Bowman and Topps.
The 1954 Red Heart baseball card set has a catalog designation of F156 and consists of three series of eleven unnumbered cards measuring 2 5/8" x 3 ¾" that could be ordered from Red Heart through the mail by sending in two dog food can labels along with ten cents for each colored series. One could occasionally find a mail-in offer for the cards in the Sunday comic section of the local newspaper during the baseball season.
The front of the cards offer a classic portrait photo which is framed by a surrounding white border. Whoever was responsible for the photo selection did a very good job by choosing quality close-ups that fill out the cards nicely. The players name is centered inside a yellow, red or blue colored diamond shaped box, and below the players name box inside the lower white border in black letters is the full team name. The card back is grey and black in color and put together in five sections. The top section contains the player's full name, his position, and the team he plays for centered between two baseballs. The next section, which I will call section two, contains a very nice informative description of the player's career highlights. The middle of the card back is divided into two sections, on the left is the player's bio and to the right is the player's 1953 statistics, along with his lifetime statistics. The final and lower section contains the Red Heart logo inside a heart and the words "The Big League Dog Food" with the John Morrell & Co. copyright below it.
The three different series colors, determined by the background color on the card front, are blue, green, and red. The blue series players are Gus Bell, Billy Cox, Ferris Fain, Nellie Fox, Harvey Kuehn, Mickey Mantle, Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce, Enos Slaughter, Sammy White, and Eddie Yost. The green series players are Alvin Dark, Dee Fondy, Jim Gilliam, George Kell, Sherman Lollar, Billy Martin, Roy McMillian, Hank Sauer, Duke Snider, Warren Spahn, and Gus Zernial. The red series cards are believed to be scarcer and consist of Richie Ashburn, Frank Baumholtz, Carl Erskine, Jim Hegan, Ralph Kiner, Ted Kluszewski, Bob Lemon, Gil McDougald, Stan Musial, Al Rosen, and Red Schoendienst. Depending on whether one could mail-order the series of their choice, it has been argued that if so, then the red series should not be scarcer because Stan Musial is in the series with four other future Baseball Hall of Famers, making it a more desirable series to order. The green set would logically be the scarcer series because it lacks the two best cards in the set in Mantle and Musial.
This all makes sense "if" one could choose the series of their choice to order, if not, then the short print designation is validated which can be backed up by the PSA population report for 1954 Red Heart red series cards. This as of print date, the population report shows a total of 4,048 Red Heart cards having been submitted for grading with the breakdown by color series as follows: 1,532 blue series or 38% of all graded cards, 1,368 green series or 34%, and 1,147 red series or 28%. Out of the 4,048 cards submitted for grading, Mickey Mantle cards account for a majority 538 of that total or 13% of all cards submitted, while Stan Musial card submissions rank a distant second at 213 total cards or 5%.
One of the many positives of the Red Heart set is that a high percentage of good condition examples can be found because they were acquired through the mail (instead of being purchased in packs) which cut down on potential additional handling damage. They also were printed on a strong and durable card stock and it appears the cards were factory cut with better care than other sets of the time. The population report reflects this as 3,064 or 76% of all cards submitted graded a PSA 7 or higher. However, this ONLY reflects graded cards since it is impossible to know the average condition of ungraded cards. The actual grade breakdown of all cards is as follows: 2 PSA 10's, 145 PSA 9's or 4% of all cards graded, 1,697 PSA 8's or 42%, 1,220 PSA 7's or 30%, 576 PSA 6's or 14%, 248 PSA 5's or 6%, 112 PSA 3-4's or 3%, and 28 PSA 1-2's. In case you're wondering which two Red Heart cards graded out a perfect PSA 10, they are two Mickey Mantle cards with one having sold for a whopping $12,022 in 2003!
The 1954 Red Heart baseball card set has maintained its value over the years and having 11 out of 33 players as Hall of Fame inductee's only adds to the sets strength and appeal. According to the PSA Sports Market Report, a PSA Mint 9 Red Heart set is worth a hefty $30,625 or about $928 a card which is no dog food! If you're looking for a cheaper route, then try a NM/MT graded set which you can get for the "low" price of $8,560, or better yet, a NM set will put you back only $3,145. Can't afford that, then stick with one of the two mid-grade sets that can be had in the $1,200 to $1,850 range. Needless to say, the complete set is valued and in demand. The most valued individual cards in the set based upon a grade of PSA 9 are the short printed Stan Musial ($6,500), Mickey Mantle ($4,000), Duke Snider ($1,400), Warren Spahn ($1,100), Richie Ashburn ($950), Billy Martin ($925), Red Schoendienst ($900), Bob Lemon ($900), Ted Kluszewski ($850), Ralph Kiner ($850), Carl Erskine ($750), Nellie Fox ($750), Jim Gilliam ($750), Gil McDougald ($750), Al Rosen ($750), Enos Slaughter ($750), and all remaining cards have a value of $410 each. There are probably a number of 1954 Red Heart ungraded gems waiting to be found on the open market or perhaps you will be lucky enough to find some at a garage sale, flea market, or estate sale at a bargain price. One rumor that this writer learned of was that you could still purchase the 1954 Red Heart baseball set from Red Heart as late as the 1970's, but reliable sources have told me that this is just not true, but that a number of sets were available for purchase through dealers. Whatever the truth is, it sure makes for an interesting story about a very interesting and worthy set. Besides, who would have ever thought that dog food would have an impact and a place in baseball card history?
Comments or additional information are welcome and can be e-mailed to Jim Churilla at [email protected].