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Billy Idol: Cardboard Connoisseur?

Billy Idol: Cardboard Connoisseur?

If you grew up in the eighties or just have a love for all things retro, you probably thought most of Billy Idol’s songs were about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll! I certainly did, that is, until I took a closer look at his lyrics. 

“I live in my own heaven; I collect it to go at the 7-Eleven.” – Billy Idol, “Rebel Yell”

I know today we buy our cards from Hobby shops, big box retailers, and breakers, but trust me: indie liquor stores and 7-Eleven was how we got our fix back when Idol hits were topping the charts. Still, if you really want to understand the rocker from Middlesex, we’ve gotta go way more retro than the eighties. Ready? Steady? Go!


The years 1909-11 reside squarely within the Tobacco era, but that does not mean all cards produced during those years were packaged with tobacco products. Targeting a younger demographic with more innocent vices, these same years saw at least 14 different caramel sets. One such set was the 1909-11 American Caramel set classified as E90-1.

Card backs advertise 100 subjects, though the actual size of the set is 120, a number that increases further if various corrections or minor image variations are counted separately.

While the set is loaded with Hall of Famers, the set’s key card is a man you won’t find in Cooperstown’s plaque gallery any time soon: the highly prized Shoeless Joe rookie. Interestingly, Jackson cracks the set as an Athletic despite playing only 10 games with Philadelphia. (Totally unrelated fact: Billy Idol and Joe Jackson each had hits on the Billboard Top 100 the entire month of September 1982.)


Yet another notable characteristic of the American Caramel set are the many cards featuring glorious sunset backgrounds. Here are just a handful.

Overall, however, the set’s most interesting card–at least to me–is that of Ennis Telfair Oakes, better known by his nickname Rebel. (The Federal League squad he would later captain, the Pittsburgh Rebels, was named for him.)


A quick glance at the Oakes card shows the center fielder, in the Cardinals’ original powder blues, leaping high for a one-handed grab as the sun sets behind him. Even apart from a small detail I’ll mention shortly, I find it the most captivating action pose in the set.

Now for that small detail. Take a closer look at the image’s upper edge, and you’ll see that Rebel’s glove actually extends beyond the border. Intentional or not, this special effect is unique to the Oakes card and not something I recall seeing in any other image from the era.

Those of you who know the American Caramel sets (or older cards in general) might reasonably speculate that the overlap is just a side-effect or poor registration. However, every Oakes card I’ve seen displays this same issue.

Curiously, the only other card that comes to mind when I think of a single image in a set extending past its borders is the 1933 Goudey Lou Gehrig card. 

Here the effect is much more subtle: only the yellow ink component of Gehrig’s bat pushes past the upper border of the card.

To recap then, we have Rebel and yellow crying “more, more, more!” Sound familiar? I’ll add that Idol’s fixation with these cards’ margins makes a lot of sense. After all, the margin of a chemistry paper is where the lad formerly known as William Michaal Albert Broad got his rock star name.


I know at least on the surface Billy Idol appears way too hip to collect baseball cards. I mean how many hardcore collectors do you know that radiate anywhere near the rocker’s sexuality, charisma, and cool? Apart from readers of Hobby News Daily, I have to imagine none. 

Still, allow me to present one final bit of evidence: this 1870 Peck & Snyder card of the Mutuals of New York. Now go look up how the song “Mony Mony” got its name, and tell me I’m not on to something! Now if you’ll excuse me I’ll be dancing with myself.


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