Gum card manufacturers of the 1930s popularized the practice of producing “premiums,” larger-format cards redeemable with the exchange of a given number of baseball cards or wrappers at the point of sale. Carrying on this tradition in 1948-49 was the Leaf Gum Company of Chicago, which offered a larger-format, pinup-sized premium to young chewers of their All-Star Baseball Gum, in exchange for ten wrappers.
The known subjects, currently counted at eight, included some of the greats of the game’s history, including Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Ed Walsh, Grover Alexander, John McGraw, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Cochrane and Walter Johnson – in some cases, a curious selection, with others conspicuous in their absence. The premiums themselves, printed on lightweight paper, were difficult to maintain in any reasonable condition, and very few survived.
Today, the premiums are very, very scarce. Due to the relative recency of large-format grading company holders, population reports may not be the best gauge for scarcity, but with fewer than 60 graded copies available (and none graded above a 6.5), there is no question that these premiums are very difficult to obtain.
This particular example of Christy Mathewson refers to him as “one of baseball’s most beloved pitchers,” a statement that holds true even today. With just 7 graded copies on the combined census of PSA and SGC, none have graded higher than VG with the exception of one PSA copy graded 5 with a qualifier (we speculate that the qualifier must be an MK, since so many pinups are found with writing.
I happened to be with the owner of this item when he discovered it at a card show several years ago. I was fascinated by it; the image is flawless and it comes from an issue I had never seen before. I was thrilled when he elected to offer it for sale in a Love of the Game Auction – it’s exactly the kind of piece we want to feature: unique, special, old, attractive. We’re glad to have it.