This is the second part of my series on Signal Oil cards. Read yesterday’s entry.
Signal oil upped the octane level significantly by pumping out a fully leaded set of cards that were the equivalent of introducing fuel injection in a carburetor era. Using post card printing techniques, the ’48 Oakland Oaks cards are believed to be the first color photography used for baseball cards. Furthermore, Signal didn’t issue standard cards for Hollywood and Los Angeles. Instead, they produced color slides and a viewer. As the Signal Oil slogan implored, we will now “go farther.”
As most of you are aware, card producers used various colorization techniques to transform black and white photos into “living color.” Bowman was the first major company to use actual color photos when they created the wonderful ’53 MLB set. However, Signal’s ’48 Oaks pioneered the color photo process. PCL historian and collector, Mark Macrae, provided the following details: “The 1948 Oakland Oaks cards were produced by Mike Roberts Studios in Berkeley. Less than a decade earlier Roberts had introduced what we now refer to as “Chrome” postcards at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition. This same color technology was used by Roberts to produce the Oaks set, essentially the first American issued color photo baseball cards.” Incidentally, Roberts was known as the “post card king.” His colorized postcards included the phrase, “Wish You Were Here,” and could be found wherever Americans traveled.
There are 25 Oaks cards that measure approximately 2-1/2” X 3-1/2” and are printed on a thicker stock than the flimsy ‘47s. Once again, the cards could be acquired at Bay Area stations. As in ’47, the cards are not numbered and backs feature a biographical narrative and advertisements for the team’s radio station and Signal gas. Also, some of the stations would stamp their information over the bio.
The ’48 Oaks won the PCL championship with Casey Stengel at the helm and his protégé Billy Martin anchoring second base. Their cards are in the set along with Hall-of-Famer Ernie Lombardi and Dodger legend Cookie Lavagetto. All the photos appear to be taken at Oaks Park in Emeryville.
Signal mixed things up in the greater Los Angeles area in ’48 by issuing five color slides for both the Angels and Stars in a set accompanied by a baseball-shaped viewer. The 2” x 3-3/4” slides have a color transparency on one end a short biography on the other. A very rare slide featuring a group of Hollywood players exists as well. The viewer and slides were available for purchase at Signal outlets.
In closing, repurposed Signal stations can still be found. Here is a “now and then” look at one on old highway 99 in Seattle. There might be a moldering, ’47 “Kewpie” Dick Barrett tucked away in a storage closet.
McCrae, Mark. Signal Oil Baseball Cards. 9-11, Jan.2018. Email Interview
Wilson, Arnie. “Wish You Were Here…Mike Roberts: The Life & Times of America’s Postcard King.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 26 July 2015, www.huffingtonpost.com/arnie-wilson/wish-you-were-heremike-ro_b_7875752.html.
Jrsherrard. “Seattle Now & Then: Signal Station on Aurora.” DorpatSherrardLomont, 16 Mar. 2013, pauldorpat.com/2013/03/16/seattle-now-then-signal-station-on-aurora/.
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