At first glance the 1949 MP & Company baseball set is simply…how shall I say this? Ugly.
And lest you think the card designers were saving all their mojo for the backs of the cards, let me disabuse you of that notion before we go any further.
Still, ugly ≠ lazy, and even if it did I suspect many of you could find uglier sets out there somewhere. (See any set with “metal” in the name.)
To understand the 1949 MP & Company baseball set as the laziest set ever, it’s important to know it had a predecessor six years earlier. Here are two cards from the 1943 release.
I know some of you still aren’t convinced. After all, other sets have reused prior card designs and fared quite well in the minds of collectors. It’s just that the 1949 MP & Company cards took recycling to a whole new level. For instance, here are the 1943 cards of Danning and Medwick.
Scroll up the page and you’ll note more than just a passing resemblance to the 1949 cards of Berra and Pesky. In fact, every one of the 24 cards in the 1949 set is a retread of a card issued six years earlier. Here are each of the 1949 cards (yellow rows), a few at a time, matched to their corresponding 1943 versions (red rows).
While Boudreau and Williams are repeated from set to set, we see that Yankees pitcher Ernie Bonham becomes Giants shortstop Buddy Kerr.
CARDS 103, 105, 106
The next three cards in the sets are pure repeats of their earlier issues, though Joe DiMaggio’s cap and sleeves, along with the fielder’s garb, appear to have changed from white to light blue.
All three players are different in this next grouping. Hank Greenberg’s playing days were over by 1949, so he instead becomes Ferris Fain. That they batted with opposite hands was not a detail that would trouble the set designers. Turning Lou Novikoff into Andy Pafko required little effort and made good use of the Cubs uniform already there. The change from Hubbell to Ennis was a bit more gauche as it not only got the glove hand wrong but also put the Phillies star in a Giants uniform.
First up is a slugger-for-slugger trade that works well as both are righties and the uniforms are fairly generic. Next up are the two brothers and battery mates from the Cardinals. Pitcher Mort becomes shortstop Nippy Jones while catcher Walker morphs into fellow catcher Del Rice. As Jones and Rice were both Cardinals, the uniforms are good as is.
Mize to Sauer is another example of a lefty turning righty while Reiser to Coan works just fine. Small liberties are taken in shortstop Joost inheriting a classic pitcher’s pose from Ruffing.
Cards 116, 117, and 119
The Alvin Dark card is worth attention and not just because nobody expected this Giant to be the second coming of Mel Ott! Unless the 1949 release has been incorrectly catalogued all these years, we have our first instance of “Cardboard Clairvoyance” since Dark did not move from the Braves to the Giants until December 14, 1949, a date presumed to be later than the set’s release.
Berra from Danning is one we’ve already seen, and it generally works, apart from looking nothing like Yogi Berra. Of course, collectors wanting more lifelike images were welcome to buy Bowman instead.
Meanwhile, Lemon from Hack is another with a story. Stan Hack played his entire career as a Cub, so the Chicago uniform makes sense, just not when it goes onto Bob Lemon, who played his entire career with Cleveland. Though the MP & Company sets don’t scream “quality control” when you look at them, high ranking execs found this error too great to let stand, leading to the only major variation in the 1949 set.
No word on why Bob’s face turned blue in the process unless to show he’d been screaming for the corrected jersey till he was…oh, never mind.
The left-handed hitting Johnny Pesky inherits a right-handed stance from Joe Medwick while Cronin-for-Sain works out even if the “Boston” on their uniforms were from two different teams. As with the Pesky-Medwick pairing, Hoot Evers is forced to bat wrong-handed thanks to inheriting his artwork form Dolph Camilli.
Card 124 and un-numbered cards
The last numbered card in the 1949 set is card 124, Larry Doby, who is shown throwing with the wrong hand thanks to the recycled Johnny Vander Meer artwork his card was based on. You’ll also notice both players wearing uniform number 57.
While Vander Meer wore number 33 from 1939-1949, he did in fact wear 57 in 1938 when he threw his consecutive no-hitters. Though much of the artwork in the 1943 set feels very generic, we can at least wonder if the artist may have been looking at a 1938 press photo when drawing Vander Meer’s MP & Company card. Either way, neither 33 nor 57 would have been a match for Doby, who wore either 14 or 37 at the time his card was produced.
Following Vander Meer is Tommy Henrich, a repeated player from the 1943 set. While none of the 1943 cards were numbered, Henrich’s 1949 card is one of only three un-numbered cards in the 1949 set. A second un-numbered card is that of second baseman Al Kozar, who must have struggled mightily to play his position in full catcher’s gear!
The last un-numbered card in the 1949 set is Jimmie Foxx. As his final season was 1945, I don’t have any theory for how Foxx cracked the 1949 set. His presence is particularly puzzling in that he gives the set 25 cards, despite numerous accounts that the set was released as three strips of eight cards each. (See this auction listing for an example of a 1943 uncut strip.)
Noting the very low population counts on the 1949 Foxx, I wonder if the card was released somewhat by accident (“Oh, shoot! He retired? Seriously?”) and then replaced by another player.
MP & Company gets even lazier!
Thus far we have focused solely on the fronts of the cards. Now let’s take a look at the card backs of each player who had cards in both 1943 and 1949. First here is Lou Boudreau, fresh off managing the Cleveland Indians to the 1948 World Series title. Easy as it might be to note that accomplishment, the 1949 card simply repeats the 1943 card back verbatim.
Next up is the Splendid Splinter. There are some subtle wording differences between the two bios but nothing substantive. Oddly, the most significant update is changing the spelling of Francis to Frances. Of course, Ted’s middle name was Samuel, but what the heck! (For whatever reason, you will find Theodore Francis Williams in several other contemporary sources including his 1940 Play Ball card. Also head to post #21 in this Net54 thread for even more Williams misspellings/variations in the MP & Company sets.)
Next up is Bob Feller, and you probably think you know the drill by now. Still, even I was surprised to see the on both cards that “Feller is 24 years old.”
Batting clean-up is the Yankee Clipper, centerfielder…I mean rightfielder (?!)…for the New York Yankees. Again, the 1949 bio is stuck in 1943. (Technically, both bios are current through the end of the 1942 regular season since they ignore New York’s loss to St. Louis in the 1942 World Series.)
Pee Wee Reese is next. His 1949 bio shows the biggest change thus far, omitting the opening line about being with the Dodgers for three years. Still, I bet Pee Wee would have preferred to see a revision to his batting average instead since his 1949 card still had his career mark at at very pee wee .244 when in fact he had raised it to .265.
Next to last of the repeated players is Tommy Henrich. While some of his bio has been removed, nothing new has been added.
The final repeated player in the set is Jimmie Foxx. Again, part of the bio has been omitted but nothing new has been added.
Cardboard ancestry OF the 1949 set
As has been shown in great detail, the immediate ancestor of the 1949 set is the 1943 set, right down to the reuse of all 24 player images. However, as amateur as the cards look, you’d be wrong to conclude that they represented a one-off (sorry, two-off) effort that just showed up in 1943 out of thin air.
Just one year earlier, MP & Company issued its “War Scenes” set, a collection of 48 cards numbered 101-148 and featuring similar comic book style art to the baseball issues.
Between the “War Scenes” set and a “War Gum” set from Gum, Inc., the makers of the 1939-41 Play Ball (and later Bowman) sets, 1942 was a great year for Admiral Nimitz supercollectors.
Interestingly the 1942 set was not the only time MP & Company had the same idea as Gum, Inc. Here is a card from the 1935-37 Gum, Inc., set known as “G-Men and Heroes of the Law.”
And here is a card from a 1936 set known as “Government Agents vs Public Enemies.” The copyright line on the card back identifies “M. Pressner & Co.,” which is simply a long form of MP & Company.
Interestingly, the earliest collectibles produced by MP & Company are hardly knock-offs at all but at least in my opinion nearly 20 years ahead of their time.
Yes, these Ruth and Gehrig photos fall somewhere short of striking, but good chance they were developed by a ten-year-0ld kid! That’s right, MP & Company’s first collectible I could track down is a 1930 set of eight “Ray-O-Print” photos that kids produced themselves from a kit that included negatives and photo paper.
Though the technology would differ, I believe the next time kids could develop their own baseball photos from a pack would be 1948 in a set that would quietly mark the baseball card debut of the small company that would soon come to be synonymous (if not hegemonic) with baseball cards.
Another ancestor I’ll offer, though not blood related, is the 1933 Eclipse Import baseball set. Between the artwork, the card backs, and even the oddball numbering scheme, this set seems to have everything in common with the 1943/1949 MP & Company sets. What’s more, the two companies were only a block apart!
The final ancestor of the MP & Company cards is the American Caramel E91 series. As Anson Whaley details on his Prewar Cards website, each piece of player art is used for up to three different players across the three-year issue’s 99 cards. If you know your deadball era hurlers well, you might also notice another detail reminiscent of MP & Company: Rube Marquard has his glove on the wrong hand.
In truth, the E91 cards from American Caramel make a credible run at laziest set ever, but I still give the nod to 1949 MP & Company since at least the American Caramel cards batted 1.000 on updating teams and uniforms whereas the MP & Company cards barely even bothered.
Just who are these guys?
The MP in “MP & Company” stands for Michael Pressner. The name suggests the proprietor would be a person named Michael Pressner, but I’ve personally come up short in my attempts to find such a person beyond this bowling team photo from 1895…
…and a skin care consultant in Virginia! I can see some resemblance between the two, but that’s not to say either has any link to MP & Company.
What is known is that MP & Company was a producer of carnival supplies. No, not Ferris wheels and bumper cars but the sorts of trinkets you might win at Skee Ball. This ad from 1927 gives you the general idea…
And this 1974 catalog shows the firm was still in business a good quarter century after their 1949 baseball release.
In fact this notice of product recall shows MP & Company alive and well as late as 1995!
Finally, I suspect MP & Company had some relation to Pressner’s Carnival Mart, a 1960s version of “Party City” just outside New Orleans. If you’re thinking Mardi Gras beads, you’d be correct, as we learn from this January 1969 article.
This could go on a ways, but you can see we’re drifted pretty far from baseball cards already. I’ll just close by noting that I wrote most of this post over Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and that for many of us the New Year is a time of hope and renewal. At the same time, what many of us find is that our “new” years look a lot like our old years, save some occasional new names and faces around us.
In the world of baseball cards, 1949 was one such year. There were some goodbyes. There were some hellos. But when you put that set together it looked exactly the one before it. Lazy and ugly, yes, but also familiar, which we sometimes need just as much as newness and beauty. And besides, spring was just around the corner.