By Maxine Carter-Lome, publisher, in an exclusive interview with Alex Winter of Hake’s Auctions
In November, Hake’s Auctions held a non-sports card auction featuring the collections of two long-time, serious collectors of this genre of ephemera – Roxanne Toser and John Grossman.
For those unfamiliar with the terminology, this category is defined by its name: “non-sports cards.” That includes, says Alex Winter, president of Hake’s Auctions, “any card, or card adjacent item, in which the subject matter is not related to any sport, is a non-sport card. That can be comic characters, TV shows and movies, animals, flags, and so much more. The themes and subjects that have been covered in non-sport issues are vastly broad and varied. That allows collectors to hone in on a very specific theme or run wild and collect any and everything non-sports.”
Meet the Collectors
Roxanne Toser has been a well-known figure in the non-sport card community since the mid-1970s when she and her husband Marlin began attending sports card shows and purchased non-sport cards from various sports card dealers (as at that time, no non-sport card shows existed). In 1984, Toser was the first dealer asked to exhibit at the Philly Non-Sports Card Show. In 2007, the Toser family took over running the show, putting on shows twice a year at The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, Pennsylvania.
In 1990, Roxanne extended her interest in the non-sport card community by founding Non-Sport Update magazine, a quarterly publication that provided articles about upcoming trading card products, and vintage series, and price guides. Non-Sport Update was sold to Beckett Collectibles in 2015. During her decades-long careers as a card dealer and collector, Roxanne and Marlin accumulated an extensive and varied sports and non-sports-themed family collection. A number of these items came to auction at Hake’s November auction.
John Grossman grew up in a family of collectors, surrounded by all sorts of collectibles; stamps, coins, bubblegum cards, first-day covers, dolls, wooden puzzles, board games, mechanical toys, seashells, rocks, fossils, minerals, you name it! Grossman would join his mother on her weekly grocery store trips, where he purchased boxes of 5¢ packs of bubblegum cards with the money he earned from mowing lawns. Once home, he would open the packs, shove as much of the gum as he could into his mouth, and begin sorting and storing these newfound treasures.
Over the years, his collection expanded to include baseball cards, Church and Dwight soda cards, Good Luck foil Airplanes, Buitoni Figurettes cards, and many other grocery items long forgotten. He also began attending card shows and within a few years, began setting up at them and meeting new, wonderful people. As time went on, Grossman found himself carrying around other dealers’ want lists, a perk they reciprocated for him. The thrill of finding “that last card” for a friend combined with the opportunity to learn from many of the giants of the non-sports hobby was a winning combination.
Collectible items in food and cereal were especially attractive to Grossman as they offered such an incredible diversity of content. As time went on, he decided to focus on Burdick F issues based on The American Card Catalog (Jeffrey Burdick compiled The Standard Guide on All Collected Cards and Their Values for American trading cards
produced before 1951) since it seemed so few people knew about them and there was always more to learn. Today, John is an acknowledged contributor to The Sport Americana Price Guides To Non-Sports Cards by Christopher Benjamin (published by Edgewater Book Company). Items from his collection were also featured at Hake’s November auction.
What’s Selling at Auction?
Hake’s has been offering non-sport cards at auction longer than any other auction house so we talked with Winter to learn more about the outcome of their November auction and what it says about collector interest and the state-of-the-market for this form of ephemera:
MC-L: What’s the back story on these types of trading cards?
AW: Non-sport cards were issued in a variety of ways dating back to the late 1800s, inserted in packs of cigarettes, issued with food products, wrapped up with sticks of gum, included with toys, as panels of candy boxes, and more. Once the concept took off and was a hit, there was no shortage of ways these were issued, and consumers—both kids and adults—were hooked and obsessed with completing a set. Over the last century plus, non-sport cards have gone toe-to-toe with sports cards in popularity and sales making them a ubiquitous product still found today on store shelves and the like, just sans the white powder-covered pink slabs of gum.
MC-L: Please share your thoughts about the November auction results – what surprised you in terms of what sold and didn’t sell, and your takeaways from the auction.
AW: Based on the scope and quality of what we offered this auction, both from the pedigree collections and otherwise, I was expecting great results. I can say we delivered that on all fronts. The 1936 Strange True Stories complete set, PSA graded, at $64,905 far exceeded our estimate of $10-20K, but we were conservative with that.
There was no real apples-to-apples comparison, and this set is just so difficult to find single cards of, let alone a complete set with the wrapper and with five cards being the highest in the PSA Census. This ended up being the top item in the entire auction of 1,909 lots, of which only about 75 were non-sports cards. The 1940 Superman card #1 PSA 6 EX-MINT was next in line at $23,600. This has always been a coveted set among non-sport collectors but over the years has also appealed to sport card collectors and more recently comic book collectors. When you have all of that cross-interest, the price we achieved is no surprise. Another record price was for the 1970 Hee Haw Topps test set. While that TV show may be a distant memory for many, it was more about the rarity of these cards, having never been put into mass production, which propelled this set to $22,066. These are the top three non-sport sales but across the board most lots hit or exceeded our pre-auction estimates as collectors turned out in big numbers.
MC-L: When is the next auction from their collections scheduled?
AW: Our next premier auction will be in March. We are now deciding what items will go in that sale. There is so much to choose from, along with plenty that we are waiting to be returned from third-party graders, so it is very much a work in progress. But suffice it to say that the non-sport section of the auction will be another impressive round.
MC-L: Why is this type of ephemera so popular these days? Where’s the interest coming from?
AW: Cards in general are one of the ultimate forms of nostalgia. Most of us had some type of cards growing up, be it in the days of gum packs or from the more modern era of trading card game cards. It is just such an easy way to acclimate oneself into becoming a collector, whether they realize it or not. Once you have a few cards you want more. Then you want them all. Completing a set, finding a rare chase card, or whatever the scenario may be, the obsession becomes real once you start to go down that road. They are also small and relatively easy to store, even if you have a large collection. Interest in cards comes from those reclaiming their youth, and the cards that might have been thrown away, or the more modern collectors who are buying the new product because it speaks and appeals to them. Over the years the term “gum card” has morphed into “trading card” as the gum was dropped, and the wax wrappers became foil packs.
• A complete 1936 Wolverine Gum Strange True Stories gum card set, including “The Bat Man” PSA Graded with wrapper sold for $64,905.90. The cards feature interesting art on the fronts and detailed text on the back about the images shown along with the tagline, “True Stories From The Files Of One Of The World’s Greatest Collectors Of Strange Tales.” While the back also notes the potential of 260 cards in this series, ultimately only 24 were ever produced. The set deals with some truly strange and macabre subject matter. Card titles include “Drowned By A Giant Clam,” “In The Grip Of The Python,” “Torture Of Galileo,” “Hari Kari,” “The Iron Maiden,” and “Poisoned,” just to name a few. The true highlight of the set, and a highly sought-after card on several levels, is #24 “The Bat Man.” This card came out a full three years before the first appearance of the superhero Batman in Detective Comics #27, published in 1939.
• A 1940 Gum Inc. Superman Gum Card #1 PSA 6 Ex-Mint sold for $23,600. The Superman R145 set consists of 72 cards, with the #1 and #72 cards the most desirable in the set, which typically come to market showing more wear and tear. The condition of this set makes it a truly rare example.
• A 1970 Topps Hee Haw test card set based on the popular country music/comedy variety TV program, Hee Haw, sold for $22,066, against a $5,000-$10,000 estimated value. The cards feature photo and cartoon fronts with backs showing a cartoon joke with a punch line that can be seen by looking through a red tint screen, which was also included with the set.
• A 1940 Gum Inc. Superman Gum card sold for $10,994. The cards in this 48-card set display amazingly detailed and colorful art of the Man of Steel’s many heroic adventures. Text describing the action shown on the front is on the reverse, along with the card number, a black-and-white Superman design, and information about the Supermen of America Club.
• A 1962 Topps Mars Attacks complete gum card set sold for $6,649.65. Card fronts feature choice art, in many cases quite gruesome such as #36 “Destroying A Dog” in which a Martian disintegrates a dog with his ray gun, and #50 “Smashing The Enemy” in which a U.S. soldier splits open an alien’s head using the butt of his rifle. Cardbacks are black, white, and orange, featuring story text plus a preview image of the following card. The final card in the set #55
features “A Short Synopsis Of The Story” on the front while on the back is a checklist.
• A 1935 Gum Inc. Mickey Mouse complete gum card set with the movie stars realized $6,359.42. The 24 cards in this set are numbered 97-120 as numbering continued from the standard set of 96 cards. However, these cards are much rarer, making them one of the most desirable and elusive gum card sets of any era. The cards are rare due to licensing issues concerning the likenesses of the stars used on the cards, so these cards had a very short distribution run. Card fronts feature choice art of Mickey with a movie star done in caricature style. Backs have text relating to the front image/star with a blank line where the star’s name was to be filled in. Stars included Groucho and Harpo Marx, Charlie Chaplin, Mae West, Jimmy Durante, Laurel and Hardy, Edward G. Robinson, Greta Garbo, Eddie Cantor, and more.
*All prices include an 18% Buyer’s Premium and are PSA-graded.
Hake’s is America’s first collectibles auction house. Established in 1967, over the last 56 years Hake’s has offered every type of pop culture collectible and all manner of Americana including comic books, sports cards, political memorabilia, movie posters, original art, action figures, autographs, coins, and more. Hake’s has authored over 20 price guides and reference books over the decades covering all aspects of the hobby. Founded by Ted Hake, Hake’s was acquired by Baltimore business mogul Steve Geppi in 2004. For more information, visit their website at www.hakes.com