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Parkhurst Products Inc.: The Trading Card Company Story

Would Parkhurst Products Inc. have made trading cards without Bowman Gum, likely not! 

Now some may say bologna, I say Blony!

The glorious trail of trading cards Parkhurst Products Ltd. left behind warrants a grand story of this Canadian gum and trading card manufacturer. The cards they produced catered to both sports and non-sports audiences from 1951 to 1964. With only being in business for 16 years, Parkhurst produced 41 different card sets that still keeps us collector's active today in pursuit of their creative cards, rare packs, colorful wrappers and elusive counter display boxes. 

George Kennedy was the founder of Parkhurst Products Inc.; he started the company in 1948 and got his first experience in gum going back to WWII when some of his earlier jobs led Kennedy down the bubblegum trail.

Throughout his early twenties, Kennedy worked as a summertime cushion stuffer for Dunlop Tire Manufacturing.  At the age of 24 he then enrolled at the University of Toronto just before the war broke out in 1939. A federal contract was awarded to Dunlop to develop a dive bomber outfit that pilots would utilize during the conflict. Dunlop respected Georges past work ethic and suggested that he be chosen to work on this project.

After successfully completing this project for Dunlop, Kennedy in 1940 was hired by Wrigley’s Gum as an assistant plant manager in Toronto, Canada. He would work on emergency ration kits for the armed forces which gave him his first gum related exposure. 

By 1946, George was looking to move onward and upward and ended up partnering with the former president of Wrigley's to form their own business, the Hudson Research Foundation, which ironically was situated in Brooklyn, New York, just a few blocks down from the Topps Chewing Gum plant. They created synthetic gum base for gum companies but one of their main customers was Bowman Gum. Kennedy developed a very good relationship with Warren Bowman and held him in the highest regard due to his enterprising nature in the production of gum and trading cards.

With some fortified knowledge from befriending Warren Bowman, George Kennedy returned to Canada in 1948 and went onto establish his own gum business, Parkhurst Products Ltd., located in Toronto at 11 Wabush Ave. This may have never happened if Kennedy had not met Warren Bowman, George was sharp enough to realize that there was good money in the bubblegum business noting Warrens success, especially in the somewhat untapped Canadian market. 

Parkhurst's first premium related product release was "Bubble Dandy Animaland Gum," which came with a large, five sectioned pieces of gum plus one of 12 different animal-themed celluloid pin-back buttons as an incentive for kids to purchase more gum and complete the button set. This was a humble start on their path to gradually progressing into trading cards.

Parkhurst engaged with John Stewart Sales in 1948, for distribution of the Animaland and other penny gum confections. They were one of the largest Canadian brokers/jobbers.  

Although Kennedy was candid about his lack of experience in the trading card manufacturing, he swiftly hired a key manager named Leo Clavir, a man full of creative energy and could help Kennedy move forward with his idea to develop and distribute trading cards. Parkhurst needed more space for card manufacturing and relocated to 96 Paton Road, a much larger facility, where they went on to manufacture their first two trading card sets, which were launched in 1951.

Two different sets grace this first year's release: “Parkies Hockey”; the hockey packs (made of cardboard) came with a large piece of gum and five cards, the set contained 105 NHL players from all six teams. Through a handshake deal with Foster Hewitt of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Frank Selke of the Montreal Canadiens, and Lester Patrick of the New York Rangers to name a few, Kennedy was granted permission to print the players with team logos on hockey cards. As part of the deal, Kennedy agreed to pay these team representatives $5,000 each for the use of the photos for the two Canadian teams and $3,000 USD for the American teams. 

These first trading cards were smaller than the traditional size that we are used to today and measured a mere 1 ¾” x 2 ½”. Kennedy opined in a later interview, that he made the cards small so they could get more per sheet, thus keeping their costs as low as possible in the beginning. 

The 1951 non-sports set was named “Color Comic Card”, which had six cards per pack but only 39 cards in the set and used comics scenes from the Toronto Star Newspaper.  Some of the backs were blank while others have printing: "SEE YOU IN THE STAR WEEKLY EVERY WEEK!", plus some with ads for Frostade drink crystals (Frostade was another product carried John Stewart Sales). Obviously, Kennedy must have made another handshake deal for the use of these images on the card. 

Parkhurst cards were printed by Ashton Potter, who is still in business today and before some of you readers get too excited, let me cut you off, Ashton Potter was contacted in the late 1980s by Kennedy and unfortunately all the printing plates were destroyed. Although, Ashton Potter's only responsibility was for the printing of the sheets, Parkhurst would end up cutting their own cards inhouse with a guillotine. This is when Leo Clavir would come to prove his worth, he worked directly with the printers on all of the cards but he was also responsible for creating the product nicknames such as "Parkies" and later "ZIP".

To further save money, Parkhurst's method of card cutting allowed for much imperfection due to the slippage of multiple stacks of sheets being cut on these somewhat rogue, non-industrial type of machines. We assume, Parkhurst used one of the two types of lower tier commercial grade guillotines seen below, which were available in that time period. We can also assume that the cards were not likely printed on large sheets as we see today due to the limited guillotine cutting-bed size. The card size grew over the first few years to a larger standard size and then Parkhurst use professionals to cut their cards.

As if the manual card-cutting guillotine wasn't enough, Kennedy purchased for a $100, a cement mixer which allowed the stacks of same-player cards that came off the guillotine to be combined into random assortments before being hand-packaged. Not to worry, George allocated one employee to be responsible for evaluating the cards for damage to preserve some semblance of quality control.

Still, if we do find an uncut sheet, this part of the story will definitely give us a strong sense of resolution. However, get this: Parkhurst produced 25 million hockey cards in 1951, of which we estimate that only 18 million were sold, thus leaving 7 million cards left in uncut sheet form, which were unutilized to create their counter display boxes and the cardboard wrapper/boxes for Parkhurst's 1952-53 hockey campaign!

In the earlier part of the 1950's, Parkhurst boosted sales and brand awareness by negotiating with major cereal producers and inserting cards or packs into boxes of Quaker Oats, Kellogg's, and Nabisco, among other brands. Kennedy believed that this was an excellent way to publicize his business and, more significantly, a brilliant way to kickstart kids collecting and pursuing sets of cards. 

1954 was a significant year in the hockey card market, especially for Parkhurst, as the protagonist Topps used O-Pee-Chee to encroach on Kennedy's exclusive hockey card arrangement in Canada. Behind Kennedy's back, Topps attempted to steal the licensing rights for all six clubs by offering three times what Parkhurst was paying, increasing the fees from $5,000 to $15,000 per team.  Boy, it seems like old habits die hard as we've recently seen somewhat the same thing happen with Fanatics.

After some negotiations, Kennedy was able to retain the two Canadian clubs, while Topps, via O-Pee-Chee, would make cards for the four American teams in the Canadian market. Kennedy was well aware that he was about to confront a battle that would test Parkhurst's future creative powers for competition.

Before introducing their own sales force in the latter half of the 1950s, in 1954, Parkhurst pushed the envelope and took another promotional angle by retaining Veribest Specialty Company, who would perform "mail out" order forms to the general public to search out those with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Nothing wrong with a little side-gig for the common man in the 1950's to make a little extra money, this would come via commission or in lieu of cash they could also choose from a selection of prizes. If you've ever read a comic book, then you should know the name Veribest, who would advertise to youngsters to sell seeds or stationery etc. to make extra money. 

Kennedy had a soft spot in his heart for kids, he always offered more to consumers than just the cards, and he would include many with premiums and contests. Albums were also offered in earlier issues, plus other promotions like lucky premium cards, bicycle contests etc. George was also responsible for the write-ups on the back of the cards, controlling the factual and moral content of what kids were reading.

Although it would be difficult to review every set, below is a list of all of the Parkhurst card sets that were released between 1951 and 1964. The list indicates the number of found point-of-sale counter display boxes highlighted in gray. This is noteworthy for their extreme scarcity and out of the forty-one sets, strangely enough, only eight boxes have been found. Although, the majority of the wrappers have been located and appear to be available in the marketplace rather frequently. The cards themselves are generally available to collectors with some specific sets being more difficult to find than others.

Below is my "set-date" documenting chart. It is a complicated hot mess but it works for me. Not all dates of Parkhurst non-sports are 100% confirmed but the hobby seems to have them all over the board and this was the best method I could come up with. 

The above list was aided by the known dates of the hockey wrappers, and the designs were used compared with the non-sports artwork looking for similarities. Examining the fonts and in the use of the words "Parkies" and "Zip" provided an excellent guideline to put the years in perspective, although no method is perfect.   

(Forgive the watermark on the wrappers, I am just trying to deter those pesky vintage wrapper reprinters)  

Around 1959, Kennedy’s relocated the Parkhurst company to Barber-Greene Road in Don Mills, a small suburb basically attached to the north-east side of Toronto. The production of bubblegum and trading cards gave George the revenue and reputation to expand into other businesses along the way, as they also acted as subcontractors for Dow, producing Saran Wrap and Handi-Wrap. 

Other brands and companies under the Parkhust umbrella were: The Hawes Company (furniture wax polish and lemon oil), The IT Company (for shoes), Sunbright margarine, and later their own brand Parkerhouse, and even the famous Smith Brother cough drops. Parkhurst had undergone a shift from just being a gum and trading card-based company to now being a national manufacturer and distributor of a large array of consumer and household products.

By 1963–1964, Parkhurst was leaving the trading card business and had produced its final hockey set. Kennedy came to the conclusion that producing cards required so much money to cover hockey team fees and too much time to manufacture, package, and distribute. Sales of margarine were twenty times higher than those of gum trading cards. Kennedy said, "It was a pure business decision." This choice was also aided by the fact that sugar had increased in price from $6.60 per 10-pound bag in January 1962 to $10.00 a bag in January 1963.

By November 1963, Parkhurst had consolidated their five enterprises into one, and with the rebranding, Kennedy renamed the company Grant Products Ltd. The card packs were no longer a focus, although the Zip Bubble Gum line of bulk-packaged 1¢ retail bubblegum remained.

Although Parkhurst's hockey cards were discontinued in 1964, they did continue with the occasional request to produce a few non-sports set under the new name Grant Products Ltd. Grant release Treasure Island, a 60-card set, issued in wax pack form, although it is touted as 1960 by most collectors and possibly with the influence of the graded PSA label stating the same. From your read above, the 1960 date is incorrect as Grant Products was formed in 1963. These cards were also issued in the USA by Buymore Sales Company out of Long Island, New York. Those were only available through vending machines in the USA, thus no box or wrappers have been found.

Same goes for the 1967 "The Monkees Photos", which funny enough, states on the bottom of a graded full box "Donruss Canadian", sorry, not so. In the USA, Rayburn Products and Screen Gems contracted the production of these cards through Donruss and in Canada they retained Grant Products, (which is also printed on the top of the box and the wrappers) to distribute in Canada. So let's dispel that Canadian Donruss error going forward and give Grant some consideration here.

Grant Products also contributed to the 1967 Marvel sticker issue, which was released by Philadelphia Chewing Gum in both the USA and Canada. Back in 2010, I enjoyed having had a few long personal conversations with Ed Fenimore, the proprietor of Swell Gum (Philadelphia Chewing Gum), he had mentioned George Kennedy and they were respective gum-friendly industry associates. 

Grant's final card related product was the 1972 Horrible Hororscopes, certainly a collaborative effort between Philadelphia Chewing Gum and Grant Products.

One of my dear longtime hobby friend Jerry Wisniewski sent this letter to me many years ago as he made an attempt in 1974 by mailing to Grant Products, a letter requesting if any hockey cards were left over in their warehouse; well, you can read the response.

By 1975, Kennedy retired from Grant Products and no more trading cards would be in their future. George left his son-in-law, Barry Maines to take over the reins. The extended Parkhurst legacy ended in 1985 when Grant Products finally closed their doors for good. Well, not exactly, the story does picks up in 1990's for another run at the card business but I will leave that story for another day. 

From the “Adventure of Radisson” to “Zorro”, Parkhurst kept Canada on the map in the trading card industry, spurring them along with the competition from O-Pee-Chee. We believe the battle between these two brands brought out the best in these two companies that they produced. "Healthy competition breeds inspiration that brings out all of ones best while removing contempt" - Capiche Fanatics. 

NOTE: Most of the hockey information and more can be found on the website and app, please check it out. We look forward to adding all the Parkhurst/Grant non-sport card issue in the near future on Needuum.


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