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1925 Maple Crispette Hockey & Baseball Cards or should we say O-Pee-Chee?

Updated: Jul 26, 2023

On March 13, 1925, the Montreal Canadiens became the NHL hockey champions, and one month later, on April 14, 1925, the Major League Baseball schedule started for a run of 154 games with 16 teams represented. The Maple Crispette Company of Montreal, Canada, had released a 30-card redemption-based set of hockey cards (V-130) in the early part of 1925 and carried on to also release a 30-player baseball card venture (V117). These cards were inserted into their assorted flavored 5¢ Prize Popcorn packages, exclusively in Canada. These two sets were centered around a contest with information on the back, and for this offer, a complete set of cards, numbered 1 through 30, had to be redeemed for a free pair of skates for hockey or for baseball: a glove or bat or an official baseball. However, many may not realise that the O-Pee-Chee Chewing Gum Company would have a significant relationship with these two sets. Who knew?

There should be no controversy over the 1925 date of the baseball (V117) set, but surprisingly enough, a simple Google search of Maple Crispette baseball still renders the date 1923. The correction of this date harkens back to 2002, when, by sheer serendipity, while reviewing the hockey players timelines to confirm the date of issue of the hockey set (V-130) being 1924–25, it was confirmed. While in this process, I took possession of one Maple Crispette baseball card and observed the reverse, which states: "Send us a set of Baseball Players or assorted with Hockey Player Cards from 1–30, and we will send you any one of the above illustrated articles—FREE".

In the 1920s, almost all hockey cards were packaged in confections of some kind, usually chocolate or candy bars, though popcorn was also very popular. This kept kids' shameless sugary nature persistently tugging at their parents' attire, pleading for one of these colourfully packaged sweets while at the store checkout. Although, at this time, many of these businesses started the unscrupulous practise of short printing one card in these redemption-based issues, thus reducing prizes allotments while maintaining robust sales. The roaring 20s saw essentially the end of this card short-printing tactic.

A single short printed card is present in both the hockey and baseball Maple Crispette sets. For hockey the short print is card number 15 Sprague Cleghorn and for baseball, again card number 15 but Casey Stangle. It would appear that this unprincipled action of short-printing for many of these companies would soon be to their detriment as history has demonstrated that many of those company’s who partook, would only last another year or so before they were out of business. Was this the instance for the ill-fated Maple Crispette company, something the rest of the story may reveal.

The Maple Crispette baseball card set offer raises the question, why were the V130 hockey cards/numbers permitted to be substituted in the V117 baseball set redemption? Little did we know at the time that the Maple Crispette company had been struggling and was about to declare bankruptcy. Was this (short-printed) redemption promotion thought to be a panacea to stay their financial woes of the Maple Crispette company? The bankruptcy came to fruition in July of 1925, only a couple of months after the baseball card offer was released and the hockey card distribution had wound down. Although, Maple Crispette did not cease operation, they were purchased from the appointed liquidator Joseph Ettenberg by M. Lattoni before the company's demise.

The official announcement in the Newspaper:"Maple Crispette Company, Limited, in liquidation Meeting of creditors; Joseph Ettenberg appointed liquidator, and M. J. Epstein, H. Stewart Jones and Rene Chenevert appointed inspectors. The O-Pee-Chee Gum Company of Canada, a well-known brand name in the hobby world, would step up and purchase the Maple Crispette Company from M. Lattoni in July 1925. Even though O-Pee-Chee's main line of business was chewing gum, their secondary product strength was producing popcorn in satchels, and it would seem that with the acquisition of the Maple Crispette Company, they were attempting to gain the primary control of the Canadian marketplace for popcorn confection sales.

Another confusing card-related discovery that ties into O-Pee-Chee's ownership of Maple Crispette, comes by the way of a five-card "lot find" of nearly identical V130 assorted colored cards. The backs of the five player cards have skate redemption printing that reads "Molasses Crispette Company" and are printed on three different colored card stocks (green, yellow and pink). The images on the cards from the Molasses Crispette Company are identical to those that were used on Maple Crispette cards, with the exception of a variant showing the players' name, the name is also in a larger typeface. It was discovered that this business directly competed with and rode on the name of the Maple Crispette Company. Were these newly discovered cards prototypes, if so, for which company; Maple Crispette or Molasses Crispette? An interesting note is that in November 1925, O-Pee-Chee would file an injunction against Adolph W. Epstein owner of the Molasses Crispette Company (likely a relative of M. J. Epstein, the past proprietor of the Maple Crispette Company), for using the name "Maple Crispette" on some of their packages in the months prior. One could assume that Adolph W. Epstein took advantage of Maple Crispette's financial trouble assuming their enviable solvency, thus leaving the door open for Molasses Crispette to take over, but that plan was later thwarted by O-Pee-Chee's surprising purchase of the Maple Crispette Company.

Our knowledge of the hobby's history teaches us that most promotions typically ran for three months, or even longer if they are based on redemption. To put together a set of Maple Crispette hockey or baseball cards, you would need at least 30 chocolate bars, and that's only if you got a different card with a different number in each bar. When you factor in the short-print, it would have taken the typical child at least 100 bars to complete the set, to say the least. We estimate that the hockey campaign began around February 1925 and lasted for three months or until the end of April. However, given the time required for redemptions, it would have been active for at least an additional month or maybe two. Since May or June of 1925 is when Maple Crispette most likely released these baseball cards, it stands to reason that by July or August, the promotion would be coming to an end while redemptions could continue for another month or two, but by July 1925, the Maple Crispette Company had filed for bankruptcy.

Although Maple Crispette continued to operate, a well-known hobby brand name, the O-Pee-Chee Gum Company of London, Ontario, bought them from the liquidator prior to the company's winding up order. We are unable to confirm whether O-Pee-Chee would continue to sell the baseball card or have been in redemption mode for prizes, but the timelines suggest that at least the latter was very likely.

Now this is where the story gets murky, in November 1925, O-Pee-Chee under full ownership of the Maple Crispette Company would file an injunction against Adolph W. Epstein for using the name "Maple Crispette" on some of his packages. Epstein owned the Molasses Crispette Company, which was also based in Montreal and produced popcorn prize packages as well. O-Pee-Chee asserted ownership of full rights to the “in dispute” trade marks. The issue goes back to the hockey cards and is based on a small handful of these colored versions that have surfaced, with Epstein’s, Molasses Crispette name on the back. It would appear that Adolf W. Epstein knew that Maple Crispette was in trouble and clearly was trying to take advantage of their promotion by redirecting sales to their brand.

Now if this story doesn’t get any stranger, is that M. J. Epstein was the proprietor of Maple Crispette and it is also noted through the historical record the Adolph W. Epstein was on the board of directors of Maple Crispette: were both these Epstein's related?

The water gets quite murky beyond this point as Adolph W. Epstein sued O-Pee-Chee in 1927 for their use of the same products packaging but we can save that story for another day.


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