PSA Set Registry
Hoops and Hot Dogs
Collecting the 1957 to 1965 Kahn's Wieners Basketball Sets
by Kevin Glew
What do you get when you mix hoops and hot dogs?
Well, if you were Kahn's Wieners in the late 1950s to the mid-1960s, the answer is a successful series of regional basketball cards. At least, that's what we can surmise given that the Cincinnati-based company produced nine sets from 1957 through 1965.
The Kahn's hoops releases featured 10 to 13 cards of players from the Cincinnati Royals, the local NBA squad. The fact that these sets focus on the Royals, who moved to Kansas City/Omaha after the 1971-72 season, is one of the reasons they don't have a larger following.
"I've always enjoyed the Kahn's basketball sets, but they get no respect," noted Bob Dimand, who owns 1960 to 1963 sets on the PSA Set Registry.
The only non-Royal to be highlighted by Kahn's was Los Angeles Lakers star Jerry West, who appeared on cards in the 1960 to 1963 series. No one is 100% sure why West was included, but his presence has definitely enhanced the appeal of the sets.
"I'm assuming that it had to do with the fact that he was from West Virginia, which is pretty close to the local area [Cincinnati]," said Dimand, when asked why West would be included.
Veteran basketball card dealer Steve Taft speculates that West may have struck an endorsement deal with Kahn's shortly after his starring role on the U.S. Olympic team that captured gold in Rome in September 1960.
Throughout the nine-year run of Kahn's hoops cards, the company tweaked the design, most notably adding white borders for the 1963 issue and color photos for the final two sets.
"I like the [Kahn's basketball] cards a lot," said Pat Vesper, who owns the top 1957 Kahn's Basketball set on the PSA Set Registry. "Some cards have action shots, some have facsimile signatures, and they all have a classic or vintage look."
One of these unnumbered, oversized cards was inserted directly on top of the wieners in the package. This rendered them difficult to uncover in top grade.
"Hot dog stains are far and away the worst [condition] issue," noted Vesper. "However, some of the newer sets are also condition sensitive with respect to the card corners."
Some of these cards have, however, surfaced in high grade.
"I do know that each year you can find examples without the hot dog stains," said Vesper, "so I assume that there were cards that were never distributed; however, whether these cards were simply kept by employees or distributed another way is a mystery to me."
Taft says only a small number of high-grade examples exist and these may have been "salesmen samples or company presentation sets."
The fact that the Kahn's cards were only distributed in Cincinnati and a small surrounding area also makes it challenging to complete the sets. Dimand has been trying to upgrade his sets for more than a decade and he says "almost nothing ever comes up."
"The Kahn's sets are just the unappreciated stepchild [amongst vintage basketball cards]," said Dimand, "but I think they're great cards."
Here's a rundown of the Kahn's hoops issues:
1957 to 1959 - The Early Years
The 1957 series corresponded with the Royals' first season in Cincinnati after the franchise had shifted there from Rochester, New York. Measuring 3-3/16" by 3-15/16" each, the 11 cards that comprise this series offer black-and-white photos of Royals players with a facsimile autograph. A white rectangle at the bottom of the front flaunts the text, "Compliments of Kahn's Wieners" followed by the slogan "The Wiener the World Awaited." The backs present a basketball tip in black print.
"There are four Hall of Famers in the 1957 set - Clyde Lovellette, Jack Twyman, Maurice Stokes, and [Robert] Bobby Wanzer," noted Vesper.
The savvy collector, who created www.vintagebasketball.com, cites the Lovellette as the set's most important card.
"The Lovellette card is really the key card from a rating standpoint. Only one PSA [NM-MT] 8 has ever been located. I believe the next highest rated card is a PSA [VG-EX] 4. Think about all the mainstream sets and how unique this card is in comparison," said Vesper.
The 1957 Stokes card is his only Kahn's issue and it's also elusive in top form. Of the seven submitted, the highest-graded example is a PSA 4.
The Twyman single is also popular and is the most submitted. Twenty-four have been sent into PSA and there's one PSA MINT 9, one PSA NM-MT+ 8.5, and four PSA 8s.
While it's not as heralded as the inaugural set, the 1958 Kahn's offering has proven to be tougher to assemble. This 10-card set, which contains another sought-after Twyman card, as well as notable singles of Sihugo Green, Vern Hatton, and Jack Parr, boasts cards that look much like those in its predecessor, but the backs share "My Greatest Thrill in Basketball" stories from the players themselves.
To illustrate how rare the 1958 cards are, just 24 of them in total have been submitted to PSA and the three PSA EX 5s represent the highest-graded examples.
The 1959 cards are almost as evasive. They again exhibit a black-and-white photo with a facsimile autograph, but rather than say "Compliments of Kahn's Wieners" at the bottom, they say "Compliments of Kahn's." The backs offer a story or tip from the player.
Twyman again headlines this issue, though the Med Park and Wayne Embry singles are also highlights. Only 31 cards in total have been evaluated, with the four PSA EX-MT 6s being the top-graded examples.
1960 Kahn's Set - Introducing the "Big O" and Jerry West
The 12-card, 1960 Kahn's set is the most valuable because it boasts cards of Jerry West and Oscar Robertson that predate their mainstream rookies.
"Those are their true rookie cards," said Dimand, "so those are head and shoulders above everything else [in terms Kahn's basketball card values]. ... Every major basketball collector that I know highly reveres those cards."
The fronts of these singles are similar to the 1959 singles, but the backs are more detailed. They share the player's name and vitals (Age, Born, Height, Weight, College, High School, Years Pro), biographical information, and year-by-year statistics.
The West, which predates his 1961 Fleer rookie, is one of his most coveted and elusive cards. Of the 21 submitted, the sole PSA 8 represents the highest-graded specimen. That PSA 8 commanded $21,600 in a Robert Edward Auctions sale in April 2017.
The Kahn's Robertson single was also unveiled prior to his 1961 Fleer rookie. It, too, is next-to-impossible to uncover in flawless form. There has been one PSA 8.5 and one PSA 8.
"Without a doubt, the Oscar Robertson and Jerry West cards demand the highest prices [of all the Kahn's cards]," said Vesper. "The 1960 set would be the ultimate set in higher grade in my opinion. The cards have a great look and you can't get better stars."
1961 and 1962 Kahn's Basketball Sets - The Middle Years
At 13 cards, the 1961 set is tied for Kahn's largest hoops offering with the 1963 set. Measuring 3-3/16" by 4-1/16" each, these cards have similar fronts to the 1959 and 1960 cards, but this was the only Kahn's hoops issue that has blank card backs.
This set harbors the second Kahn's singles of West and Robertson, as well as notable cards of Twyman, Embry, Bob Boozer, and Adrian Smith.
The second Kahn's Robertson card is more plentiful than his first. Twenty-two have been submitted and there are two PSA 8s and one PSA 9.
The 1962 Kahn's set was scaled back to 11 cards but is again bolstered by singles of Robertson and West. The front design is similar to the previous issue, but this set introduced horizontal photos on four cards: Arlen Bockhorn, Boozer, Hub Reed, and Twyman. The backs reverted to a detailed format similar to the 1960 set but fashioned a longer bio and no stats.
Sixteen West cards have been sent into PSA and the sole PSA 8 represents the highest-graded example.
1963 - White Borders
Kahn's introduced white borders on the card fronts for their 13-card, 1963 issue, which distinguishes these cards from the previous series. The backs offer vitals and generous biographical information.
Aside from the Robertson and West cards, this set also marks the Kahn's debut of Hall of Famer Jerry Lucas. Of the nine Lucas cards evaluated, the PSA EX-MT 6 is the highest-graded example.
1964 and 1965 - Introducing Color
The 12-card, 1964 set offered full-bleed color photos for the first time in a Kahn's hoops set. At 3" by 3-5/8", however, these were the smallest Kahn's basketball cards. The company name and slogan, which was previously indicated in a white rectangle on the bottom of the front, were shifted to the back. The rest of the information on the back is virtually the same as the 1963 series card.
It should also be noted that there are two distinct card backs. Three cards - Happy Hairston, Jack McMahon, and George Wilson - have their data printed in red on the card back, while the rest of the cards exhibit black print.
There are also two different versions of the Robertson and Lucas cards. One incarnation of the Robertson features him in a side view, while the other pictures him from the front. Both are difficult to obtain in high grade. The PSA 9 of the side view single is the highest-graded example.
There are also two variations of the Lucas card. One pictures him in a shot with windows open in the background, while a second doesn't have the windows. The "no windows" version is so rare that there hasn't been an example submitted for grading to PSA and it's not part of the Master Set on the PSA Set Registry. Of the 20 "Windows Open" Lucas cards examined, there are three PSA NM 7s (with no cards grading higher). One PSA 7 sold for $375 on eBay in May 2017.
Kahn's hoops swan song was a four-card set in 1965. All four players - Twyman, Robertson, Lucas, and Embry - highlighted are Hall of Famers. At 3" by 3-9/16", these cards are slightly larger than the 1964 singles, but their design, including color photos, is essentially the same. The backs are printed in red.
For more information on the 1957-1965 Kahn's Wieners basketball card sets, please visit https://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/#3basketball-cards.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Mile High Card Company, Bob Dimand, Evan Mathis, MINT State Inc., and Pat Vesper for providing cards and images for this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of March 2018.
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