I wrote about a selection of Exhibit/Arcade cards I got on my own blog but there are enough of them to warrant a toehold post here as well.
We’ve had a handful of posts about Exhibit Cards here before but haven’t had a post specifically dedicated to them yet.* This is not going to be that post except to note that Exhibits are kind of wonderful because they represent a different method of card collecting and distribution and a different direction that the hobby could’ve gone.
*A good writeup is over on Sports Collectors Digest but I’d love to see more here as well.
Instead of packs of cards and the association with food and gum products, Exhibits are clearly photo products and place baseball players in the same ecosystem as Hollywood stars, cowboys, pinups, etc. of pop idols that fans would want to collect and display. Instead of products like photo packs you purchased at concession stands in stadiums, you bought your Exhibits from a vending machine in an arcade or store and you got what you got.
By the time I was a kid the only thing left being sold like this was mini plastic football helmets. It amazes me that there was an era when you could get 3.5″×5″ photo cards instead. Anyway while cards of Cary Grant, Humphrey Bogart, Judy Garland, Clark Gable, and Jimmy Stewart are lots of fun, this is a baseball card blog so I’m only going to write about the cards of baseball-related stars.
I was super-pleased to find cards of Abbott and Costello in my batch. Who’s on First* is a comedy classic that’s in the Hall of Fame because it’s not only required viewing for any baseball fan but one which I suspect we’ve all memorized as well.
*Link included as part of standard practices.
A couple springs ago I was coaching Little League and had a kindergartner named Hugh on my team. Did I put him at first base? It would’ve been irresponsible and negligent not to.
Anyway these Exhibits appear to date to the 1940s and so represent this pair at the height of their popularity. I especially like that Costello’s salutation is “Yours for fun.”
There are a lot of Cowboy Exhibit cards but the only one in my batch was Gene Autry. I should probably have scheduled this post for Christmas to coincide with Here Comes Santa Claus and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, but things were busy and it was Autry’s involvement first with the Hollywood Stars and then as the primary owner of the
Los Angeles California Anaheim Angels which makes him relevant here.
It’s funny, for someone like me who learned about the game in the 1980s, Autry should’ve been someone I knew first as a team owner. I didn’t though. He was always the singing cowboy and showman first for me and I have to remind myself that he was involved with baseball for much longer than he was recording.
Some of this though is probably because by the time I was learning about baseball the only owners I was truly aware of were the ones like Marge Schott and George Steinbrenner who were in the news for all the wrong reasons. Autry with his hands-off nature is exactly the kind of owner that I can see Angels fans loving and everyone else not knowing anything about.
The last baseball-related Exhibit has turned out to be one of my favorites of the batch. Yes I like her even over Abbott and Costello. Laraine Day is not exactly a household name as a movie star but the tabloid scandal of her marriage to Leo Durocher and her subsequent involvement with the New York Giants makes her card something I’m considering moving out of the non-sport/non-baseball album and into my Giants album.
While she was married to Durocher she wrote a book about her life with the team* and even appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If what I’ve been able to find around the web is accurate this cover upset a number of racists in the United States due to Day’s “embracing” of Mays.
*I’ll probably have to pull that book from the library just to take a peek (having access to the university library is a nice perk).
That’s about it for now. We’ll see if anything more shows up in the next batch of non-baseball cards I get.
8 thoughts on “Toehold”
Great post. I do have the book and the S.I. There is also a 4-7-52 pocket sized issue of Quick magazine w Laraine and Leo on the cover. Love the exhibit card.
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I have a magazine ad featuring Laraine and Leo endorsing Sylvania radio and tv vacuum tubes. Great post. The exhibit are under appreciated. Gene Autrey may be the least talented entertainer in history. He couldn’t sing or act. IMHO
Maybe not, but for many years, well past Elvis and the Beatles, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Raindeer” was the biggest selling single ever. In the Disney remake of “Angels in the Outfield,” the team owner is fashioned after Autry.
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It’s weird because it’s not really a set as we understand sets today. Checklists for Exhibits often don’t even exist; at the time they sort of functioned as Living Sets. Each run of them covered a period of time like 1939–1946 or 1947–1966. You’d keep refilling the vending machine with cards and each new print run would have some new photos and some of the old photos as tastes changed. The only way to date when a card was printed is through things like the size or formatting of the “Made in USA” text.
This is weird to us now since our expectations for what a “set” is have been settled for 60 years. But in the decades before Topps took over the hobby there were all kinds of different directions trading cards could have gone instead. To me, Exhibits with their larger photos and distribution one-at-a-time through vending machines represent an alternate timeline for the evolution of the hobby.
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