Updated: Jul 6
The 1950s has to be one of the greatest decades in the history of baseball cards. If Hall of Fame rookie cards are your thing, the 1951 Bowman set alone delivers Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Whitey Ford, Monte Irvin, and Nellie Fox while 1954 Topps nearly matches that lineup with Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, and Tommy Lasorda. And while we’re on the subject of 1954, Duke Snider fans could not only grab his Topps and Bowman cards but enjoy even more cards of the Duke thanks to Red Man tobacco, Red Heart dog food, Dan-Dee potato chips, Stahl-Meyer franks, and the New York Journal-American newspaper.
So how can a 1950s baseball card set be just okay? Answer: It can’t. They’re all awesome. The set I’m talking about is just OK as in Oklahoma! Wait, what?!
One of the perks of a player collection is discovering card sets you might have otherwise never known about. Certainly this was the case for me as my Carl Hubbell collecting turned me onto the 20-card set known as 1959 Oklahoma Today Major Leaguers.
Sized somewhere between tobacco cards and contemporary cards at 1-11/16” x 2-3/4” these cards were issued as a group on the back cover of the Summer 1959 issue of Oklahoma Today magazine. The Post War Cards website has excellent photos of the magazine’s front and back covers as well as more information about the cards.
Most of the set’s players were born in Oklahoma (e.g., Mickey Mantle, the Waner brothers) while the Missouri-born Hubbell qualified for the set by growing up in Oklahoma. As a mid-grade Mantle recently sold for over $1000 on eBay, Hobby treasure hunters may want to hop the next flight to Oklahoma City in hopes of an intact magazine finding its way into a yard sale or Goodwill bin. (If you find one, just send me the Hubbell as a thank you.)
On one hand, the issuing of cards in a magazine is fairly novel. On the other hand, the Oklahoma Today set is hardly unique. Modern collectors may immediately think of the Sports Illustrated for Kids cards that began in 1989 and continue to this day (Victor Wembanyama, anyone!). Magazine cards were also a staple of the 1980s as the many Baseball Card Magazine cards in my Dwight Gooden binder can attest. But what about vintage, which I’ll define here as 1980 or before? Here are several magazine cards that come to mind.
In 1978, TCMA offshoot SSPC rather cleverly realized that magazine-issued cards provided a perfectly legal (and fully licensed!) “in” to the otherwise monopolistic stranglehold Topps wielded over the Hobby. The result was a collection of magazines, each containing a centerfold of three 9-card sheets. The generic magazine, “All-Star Gallery,” could be found with eight different team-specific sets, while the Yankees and Phillies had their own separate magazines.
Of particular interest among the 270 different cards issued this way is the Glenn Burke card that comes with the Dodgers set. As this LGBT baseball pioneer has relatively few cards, Burke collectors are happy to add either the cut card or the intact magazine to their collections.
Growing up as a kid in the 1970s, there was no cooler magazine than Dynamite, and cards only added to the cool. Our school had a couple subscriptions but you can bet the cards were always gone by the time I got my hands on an issue. While the cards were typically from that year’s Topps flagship set, Dynamite sometimes got a bit more creative with the offering, as is the case with this (ahem) Ben Dover.
April 13, 1962, Life
At first glance this issue of Life magazine might not look too exciting to card collectors, but what’s that saying about judging a book by its cover?
In fact, this magazine–if the centerfold is still intact–has cards of Yankee sluggers Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris!
1954-55 Sports Illustrated
The very first issue of (the modern) Sports Illustrated from August 16,1954, is a collectible in its own right but even more so if it still includes its special insert of 27 baseball cards. Willie Mays, Ted Williams, and Jackie Robinson are just three of the players included, along with 24 others whose cards are identical to their 1954 Topps counterparts aside from card stock.
Though the initial lineup was hard to top, the next week’s magazine is of even greater interest to many collectors as it includes a “Cards That Never Were” 1954 Topps-like Mickey Mantle. (The Mick was absent from both the 1954 and 1955 Topps flagship sets due to an exclusive contract with Bowman.)
SI was back at it the following year, issuing a fresh set of 8 cards in its April 11, 1955 magazine, highlighted by Warren Spahn and Ernie Banks, and 8 more the following week, highlighted by Al Rosen.
For the interested collector, Trading Card Database lists sixteen other sets from before 1954 that contain “Magazine” in the name. Nearly all are from Japan. However, this list only scratches the surface as it excludes magazine issues under different names and (oddly) the colossal 1916-57 Baseball Magazine premiums set, though in fairness not all collectors regard these premiums as cards.
Of course the discussion of what constitutes a baseball card is a much larger discussion and ultimately one that individual collectors should decide for themselves rather than defer to the Hobby police. Looking at my own collection, I have a 1954 Roy Campanella “card” cut from the back cover of a Little Lulu comic book. Should that count?
Is the cutout really a card? Is a comic book a magazine? Whatever you decide is 100% OK with me, and I don’t mean Oklahoma this time!