Topps, Bowman, and Leaf Weren’t Alone in Baseball Card Resurrection Following World War II
Before Topps and Bowman, other companies began printing cards in the aftermath of World War II
This site focuses on pre-war cards, meaning, cards before the start of World War II. However, many collectors of pre-war stuff also delve into the earlier gum issues immediately following the war, so I try to keep close tabs on that.
When most of us think of the first post-war cards, we often think of the 1948 Bowman set or the 1952 Topps set. Knowledgeable collectors might mention the 1948 Topps Magic set or the late 1940s Leaf cards. But while Topps and Bowman would quickly establish themselves as the baseball card hobby leaders, they were hardly the only ones printing cards after the war. In fact, they weren’t even the first. Even looking past international sets like the somewhat popular 1945-46 Carmelo Deportivo set, plenty of American sets were being made before Topps and Bowman came around.
The looks of these cards had changed dramatically from the gum card era, which was interrupted in the late 1930s by the war. While those gum cards were generally colorful and more picturesque, most of the first cards after the war had a more solemn feel, utilizing real black and white photos. I don’t know that that was necessarily the intention. After all, the end of the war clearly brought about a lot of optimism and joy. Rather, it could have been a simple desire to depict players as they actually were instead of using artwork depictions.
So, prior to the war, gum cards were the ones that were the most popular. But, surprisingly, the majority of the cards printed after the war weren’t gum issues.
Bakery/Bread cards were certainly around in the pre-war era. However, they were relatively scarce compared to things like candy and tobacco cards and weren’t printed in nearly the same quantities.
Thus, it’s somewhat interesting that many of the first cards in the post-war era came from bakery/bread companies. The Remar Bread sets are among the first American card issues after the war. The cards featured only members of the Oakland Oaks minor league team and were printed for several years, starting in 1945 and ending in 1950.
Other bread companies began producing cards in 1947. Bond Bread created a popular set of Jackie Robinson cards in 1947 and those are generally viewed as the Hall of Famer’s rookie cards. They also printed a larger, more substantial 44-card set featuring various players.
Others produced sets, too, and the 1947 Tip Top Bread is one of the more important sets. It includes a total of 163 cards, making it a massive issue. Tip Top, of course, printed a few pre-war sets — notably, a 1910 issue celebrating the Pittsburgh Pirates’ World Series championship in 1909 as well as a 1921 issue featuring the Baltimore Orioles.
While most companies stopped issuing cards during the war, the Exhibit Company did not.
Beginning in 1939, they created their popular Salutation Exhibits and those were issued all the way through the end of the war and into 1946. A second set of Exhibits were then issued starting in 1947 and running through 1966. In all, those cards spanned nearly three decades and Exhibit also produced several earlier sets.
These cards, as I’ve covered before, were distributed in machines. The two sets are similar but different. The easiest way to tell them apart is the greeting (i.e. Best Wishes, Sincerely, etc.) found on the salutations. The newer ones simply have the player’s name. Both sets have multiple big names and remain popular as they are extremely affordable. Even some of the biggest stars in the game won’t cost you more than $20 in lower-grade condition and a lot of Hall of Famers can be found for only a few bucks.
Shown here are one of each type (1939-46 on the left, 1947-66 on the right).
Oddly enough, another popular type of card in the early post-war era were gasoline cards.
Like bread issues, these were also printed during the pre-war time period. However, they were generally few and far between.
A few gasoline sets are known but those produced by a company called Signal Oil/Signal Gasoline are probably the most popular. They produced a few sets immediately after the war.
Signal actually produced a set in 1938 before the war but then returned in 1947 and 1948 with a few more. In 1947, Signal offered a large set of unique looking cards featuring minor leaguers from the Pacific Coast League. And in 1948, they issued another set, but only for the Oakland Oaks.
The two sets are much different. The 1947 issue has cartoon drawings and is black and white while the 1948 edition included color pictures. Here are examples of both types of Signal Oil cards.
Topps and Bowman would ultimately come around in the late 1940s and, by the early 1950s, would begin to dominate the market. But they weren’t the first companies on the scene after the war and, while many were regional, there is a surprisingly decent number of card sets that were issued in short order, proving just how popular baseball cards were.