PSA Set Registry
Collecting 1953-1955 Stahl-Meyer Baseball Cards
"Frankly" Three of the Hobby's Top Regional Food Sets
by Kevin Glew
To be "frank," they are three of the most coveted regional food issues ever produced.
When New York-based meat company, Stahl-Meyer, inserted 3-1/4" by 4-1/2" cards of Yankees, Dodgers and Giants players into franks packages from 1953 to 1955, they were simply trying to sell their product. They could not have fathomed that more than six decades later collectors would be willing to pay hundreds of dollars for them.
"You can't even talk about regional sets of the 1950s without acknowledging the Stahl-Meyer sets as being three of the most desirable, majestic and condition-sensitive sets that are universally recognized [amongst vintage baseball collectors]," noted Rob Lifson, former president of Robert Edward Auctions. "They're beautiful. They're like the granddaddy of food issue sets in a lot of ways."
One of the reasons these cards are so sought after today is because of how they were distributed. Reportedly released solely in the New York area, the cards were inserted into packages (one card per package) with the franks. Some say the cards were placed on top of the franks, while other reports indicate that some were actually inserted in between rows of franks. Jim Manos, a regional food card issues expert, points out that the cards did come with a wax coating that offered them some protection.
"If you ever hold them in your hand, they're kind of waxy like Kahn's [baseball cards]," he said.
But this didn't always safeguard the cards from stains.
"I've seen some that have the horizontal stripes or vertical stripes on them from where they were actually touching the wieners," noted Paul Dubbeld, who owns the No. 1, 1954 and 1955 Stahl-Meyer sets on the PSA Set Registry.
The cards are also sometimes found warped because they were pressed against the dips between the franks.
"They always have heavy creases," noted Dubbeld. "When you have a package of hot dogs, you take a couple out and then you fold up the package and put it back in the refrigerator to keep the hot dogs fresh, so the cards would often get folded along with the packaging."
Les Aiello, who owns the registry's No. 4 Current Finest, 1955 Stahl-Meyer Franks set, has also seen examples where the borders have been cut off.
Manos and Aiello have also heard that these cards were given out at big league ballparks in New York. Manos was told that two connected cards were handed out at a time. This would explain why some cards are found with perforations.
"They came with a brown tray. You would get a pop [soda], a hot dog and popcorn or something like that, and in the center of the tray it had a little space where the cards would be propped up like an easel - and they were attached and perforated," said Manos. "And they weren't given out at every game; it was only at certain games."
Aiello has heard a similar story. He inherited some of his Stahl-Meyer cards from his uncle.
"My understanding of how my family acquired them was that you actually got them at the ballpark in your little cardboard tray with your hot dog, and you would stick the card right in there," he said. "So you probably got ketchup, mustard and sauerkraut all over it before you even got to your seat."
Here's a rundown of the three different Stahl-Meyer series:
1953 Stahl-Meyer Franks
Hobbyists seem to agree that cards from the 1953 series are the most plentiful. This set features cards of three players from each of the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants for a total of nine cards.
The photos were reused in the ensuing sets, but these cards are distinguished from the 1954 and 1955 releases by their white-bordered fronts. The fronts also offer the player's name and a facsimile autograph, and most are commonly found with corners that are diagonally cut (although some have been uncovered with square corners).
The red-bordered, horizontal backs feature red-and-blue print on white stock. The left side presents the player's name, position, team, vitals (e.g., Born, Height, Weight, Bat, Throws), as well as biographical and statistical information, while a ticket promotion is outlined on the right. This promotion gave kids the opportunity to win two tickets to a game at one of the big league stadiums in New York, but it required that they check the box on the card back of the game they preferred to attend and return the card, along with a letter (25 words or less) telling Stahl-Meyer why they liked their franks. The kids who penned the 200 most original letters would win tickets.
The ticket promotion is another reason why these cards are elusive today. Many of the cards were taken out of circulation when collectors returned the cards for the ticket promotion. These cards had to be redeemed by August 21, 1953. From this, we can safely deduce that the cards were produced and disseminated at least a few weeks prior to this date.
Five of the nine players featured - Mickey Mantle, Phil Rizzuto, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider and Monte Irvin - have been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. And the other four - Hank Bauer, Gil Hodges, Whitey Lockman and Bobby Thomson - are all well known.
The 1953 issue is the only Stahl-Meyer offering to boast a Campanella card. Just 13 have been submitted, with the highest graded copy being a PSA NM-MT 8.
Not surprisingly, the Mantle card commands the most. This card, which features a portrait shot of a smiling Mantle, regularly garners more than some of his Topps and Bowman issues from the same era.
"If you have a beat up Mantle, that's just grading out at a [PSA PR] 1, normally that card is $1,500 itself," said Dubbeld.
Of the 45 Mantles submitted, there has been one PSA MINT 9.
The most readily available card in this set is the Whitey Lockman. This can likely be attributed to a transaction that Lifson completed in the mid-1970s. The hobby veteran once purchased 52 Lockman cards directly from an employee of Mill Print, the Milwaukee-based company that produced these cards.
"I remember when I tried to sell them. I actually put an ad in The Trader Speaks telling people that they could have one for $25," he said.
Lifson said that he sold these uncirculated cards one at a time.
"Every card went to a different person," he explained. "They got scattered across the land in a way that was very uncommon. When I was down to 20, I could've sold them all."
Lifson's purchase explains why a disproportionately high number of Lockman cards have been submitted and received high grades. Of the 22 evaluated by PSA, there have been five PSA 8s, one PSA NM+ 7.5 and four PSA NM 7s.
1954 Stahl-Meyer Franks
Dubbeld says he sees cards from this series less frequently than the 1953 series. For this offering, Stahl-Meyer increased the number of cards to 12 - four from each of the New York teams.
These cards showcase the same front design as the 1953 singles, with the exception of their yellow borders. The vertical, red-bordered backs present information in red and blue on white stock and offer vitals and stats at the bottom similar to those on the 1953 singles.
Rather than a ticket promotion, however, the top-half of the 1954 backs gave kids a chance to send away for a "Johnny Stahl-Meyer's Baseball Kit." This kit included a large poster that provided room to score a game, as well as replica tickets to a game. To obtain this kit, kids had to send one package wrapper and 10 cents to a Stahl-Meyer address.
This set offers seven of the same players as the 1953 issue and introduces five new players: Carl Erskine, Gil McDougald, Don Mueller, Don Newcombe and most notably Willie Mays. This would also be the "Say Hey Kid's" only Stahl-Meyer card. Just 10 Mays cards have been submitted and there is only one PSA 9 and one PSA EX 5 as the highest graded examples.
Why Mays is only in the 1954 set remains a mystery. The Giants superstar served in the military in 1953, so perhaps that explains his absence from the 1953 set. But why Mays, who was a star on the Giants' 1954 World Series-winning squad, wasn't included in the 1955 release has never been officially explained. It seems likely, however, that the two sides simply couldn't agree on financial terms.
This set also offers the rarest of the three Mantle Stahl-Meyer singles. Just 10 have been evaluated and the highest graded copy has been a PSA 7, which was sold by Robert Edward Auctions for $23,500 in May 2011.
"Even though we got a great price for that  Mantle Stahl-Meyer, I think it was a bargain. They just don't exist in top grade," said Lifson.
1955 Stahl-Meyer Franks
The New York meat manufacturer produced one final 12-card set in 1955.
The fronts of these cards are identical to the 1954 singles, and like the 1954 cards, the vertical backs boast red-and-blue text on white stock that highlights the player's name, position, team, vitals and stats on the bottom.
But rather than featuring a promo for Johnny Stahl-Meyer's kits, the 1955 cards offered kids the chance to send away for a cap or pennant. For two wrappers and 50 cents, collectors could receive a cap of the big league team of their choice, while two wrappers and 25 cents could net them a wall-size pennant (12" by 30") of their favorite club.
Eleven of the 12 player cards in this series are the same as those in the 1954 set. Jim "Dusty" Rhodes replaced Mays as the only new card in the set.
The Mantle card is once again the most valuable. Of the 18 submissions, the highest grade that one has received is a PSA VG-EX 4.
But while the Stahl-Meyer sets do boast a high percentage of Hall of Famers, several legends are also absent. Where, for example, are the cards of Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Yogi Berra or Whitey Ford? The likely explanation is that Stahl-Meyer couldn't come to a financial agreement with these players.
Nevertheless, demand for the cards of players that were included in these condition-sensitive sets continues to be strong.
"If you're from the New York area, this is the probably the king of all your regional sets," said Dubbeld.
Aiello expresses similar thoughts.
"I think that what makes this set interesting is that it showcased only the New York teams and it lasted for only a very short time. So, for me, that makes the chase of finding them more interesting," he said. "And certainly there are a lot of nostalgic feelings evoked by memorabilia of the Giants and the Dodgers before they moved to the West Coast. It's a snapshot of a great time in American baseball."
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Writer's Note: I contacted the Stahl-Meyer head office for this article and spoke with a contact there. They asked me to email my questions to them, so I sent them some questions asking if they could confirm how these cards were distributed and why stars like Jackie Robinson did not participate. I didn't receive answers, so while I've done my best to research the 1953-55 Stahl- Meyer issues, unfortunately, some of the details surrounding these series have proven to be difficult to confirm.
For more information on the 1953-55 Stahl-Meyer Franks baseball card set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/baseball-cards/1953-stahl-meyer-franks/155.
If you have any information that can improve this article, please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected]. Thanks to Robert Edward Auctions and Paul Dubbeld for providing images for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of July 2016.
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