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History Of Sports Cards & Memorabilia in Pennsylvania

There's a connection between the collections Just Collect buys in a certain state, and that state's sports, sports card, and sports memorabilia history. The thing we love best about buying collections is finding out the stories underlying them. And every collection has a story – no one collects these types of collections by accident.

One of our favorite components of the story behind the collections is the role the collector's geography played. Whether consciously or not, the city and state a collector grew up in plays a substantial role in the sports cards and collectibles they will collect. This ranges from the more obvious, like a collector in PA selling a game-used Roberto Clemente bat, to far more subtle and lesser-known influences, like a collector in PA selling Kobe Bryrant or Cris Carter rookie cards. It also doesn't make a whole lot of sense for a collector out in Arkansas to have a stash of Richie Ashburn baseball cards, unless he grew up in Philadelphia - and these are the stories we love to hear.

Major League Baseball in Pennsylvania – Phillies, Pirates and Athletics

Thanks to the traditionally busting cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburg, Pennsylvania has been at the forefront of every one of the major sports leagues since their respective inceptions. The Phillies and Pirates played their first game in 1887, and a rivalry was born nearly instantly. But like the other intra-state Pennsylvania rivalries, the Phillies – Pirates rivalry featured quality as well as length of years as the teams fought each other for near-exclusive domination of the National League East throughout the 1970s and then again in the early part of the 1990s until the removal of the Pirates to the NL Central in 1994, a realignment that most still consider to be a big mistake to this day. There was no better state to be a baseball fan than Pennsylvania in the 1970s as the Pirates and Phillies opened fresh new stadiums, Three Rivers Stadium in 1970 and Veterans Stadium in 1971 respectively. Pennsylvania would also enjoy three World Series championships that decade, with the Pirates winning in 1971 and 1979, and the Phillies winning in 1980.

But there was much more baseball in Pennsylvania than the Phillies and Pirates rivalry. For the first half of the 20th Century, there could be little dispute that the best baseball team in Pennsylvania was Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics. Excluded from a rivalry with either the Phillies or Pirates because there were in the American League, the Athletics won the World Series five times, more than the Phillies and Pirates combined, before leaving for Kansas City in 1954. The early Athletics teams were not only Pennsylvania's most popular, they were amongst the most popular in baseball. They won the World Series three teams in the four years between 1910 and 1913, and then twice more in 1929 and 1930. Connie Mack was one of the biggest celebrities in sports, and his "$100,000 infield" made up of Stuffy McInnis, Eddie Collins, Jack Barry and Frank "Home Run" Baker is to this day considered one of the best of all time.

NHL Hockey in Pennsylvania – Flyers, Penguins & the "Next Six" of 1967

Passion has always defined Pennsylvania sports, and that passion comes largely from its rivalries. Unlike the Phillies and Pirates and rivalry which became subdued because of realignment in 1994, the Flyers and Penguins rivalry has only been getting more heated during that time. Everyone has heard of the "Original Six;" the Flyers and Penguins were part of the "Next Six," the 1967 expansion that doubled the size of the league and brought two NHL hockey teams to Pennsylvania. This was not the first time the NHL had a team in Pennsylvania. An NHL team bounced around Pennsylvania, first as the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1925 -1929 before becoming the Philadelphia Quakers for the 1930 season, before folding in large part due to their 4-36 record that year. The NHL and Pennsylvania expected much more from the Flyers and Penguins in 1967 than they received from the Pirates and Quakers from 1925-1930.

The new rivalry was ugly at first. The Flyers were successful far more quickly than the Penguins, typified by the Penguins horrifying 42 game winless streak (0-39-3) at the Philadelphia Spectrum from 1974-1989. But that only made the arrival of Mario Lemieux that much sweeter for Penguins fans. Mario not only ended the winless streak (which began when he was only eight years old), but brought respectability and ultimately greatness to the Pittsburgh Penguins by winning the Stanley Cup in 1991 and 1992. Eric Lindros restored some balance to the rivalry again when he joined the Flyers in 1992. Today, the rivalry is as heated as ever with both teams restored to the same division again, and both teams being regular participants in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

NBA Basketball in Pennsylvania – The Philadelphia Warriors and 76ers

Though they have had no intrastate rivalry to benefit from, the Philadelphia 76ers have a rich history dating back to the Syracuse Nationals in 1946. The Nationals were a successful NBA team led by Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes. The team's move from Central New York to Philadelphia beginning in 1964 was inevitable once the Philadelphia Warriors left for California, leaving Syracuse as the smallest city to host a team and Philadelphia without a franchise. Professional basketball in Pennsylvania was already at a fever pitch when the 76ers began play thanks to Warriors' superstar Wilt Chamberlin; his 100 game in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania had taken place in 1962. And though Chamberlin was forced to move to San Francisco with his team, he would be traded to the 76ers and head back to Philadelphia just a few seasons later. In 1976, Philadelphia would acquire its next mega-star, Julius Irving, from the financially strapped New York Nets of the ABA.

NFL Football in Pennsylvania – The Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles

Though the Steelers and Eagles had an intrastate partner in the NFL, they never truly established a rivalry the way their counterparts in the NHL and MLB did. That is because, frankly, the Steelers were a terrible football team until they moved into the AFC in 1970. The Steelers have flourished since then, but being in a distinct conference from the Eagles prevented a rivalry from forming. Though their rivalry was lackluster, each team's individual contribution to the history of football is enormous.

The Steelers were founded in 1933 by the Rooney Family as, you guessed it, the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates baseball team name and colors were so popular in early 20th Century Pittsburgh that the city's NHL and NFL teams took the same name. It was in-between the 1939 and 1940 seasons that the name was changed to the Steelers. Amazingly, the Steelers made the playoffs only once in their first forty years. With little money to spend on players and no strong rivalries to speak of, the Steelers were more than happy to accept a $3,000,000 relocation fee to move to the new American Football Conference when the NFL and AFL merged in 1970. The Steelers fortunes began changing almost immediately as coaching legend Chuck Knoll began his tenure and used his genius for evaluating talent to draft more future Hall of Famers in a shorter period of time than any coach before or since: players like Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swan, "Mean" Joe Greene and Franco Harris.

The Eagles, on the other hand, were successful relatively quickly, winning NFL championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960. After paying a paltry expansion fee which translates to less than $50,000 even in today's dollars in the middle of the 1931 season, the Philadelphia Eagles were born. The Eagles were the successors to the Frankfort (a large neighborhood in northeast Philly) Yellow Jackets – sort of. The franchise right transferred to the Eagles was that of the Yellow Jackets, but for official record keeping purposes, the NFL and the Eagles treat these as two distinct teams. The Eagles did not start play until 1933, two seasons later, and the rosters by that time were nearly completely different. The Eagles bounced around from stadium to stadium, from the Baker Bowl to Philly Municipal Stadium to Connie Mack Stadium to UPenn's Franklin Field, never spending more than fifteen consecutive years in any one place until they finally landed in Veterans Stadium in 1971.

Pennsylvania & the History of Sports Card Collecting – American Caramel Company, Fleer, & Bowman

So with so much sports activity on the field, it should be no wonder that so much of the history of American sports cards and collectibles is also in Pennsylvania. The town of Duryea, Pennsylvania became synonymous with Topps after the Brooklyn, New York company began producing its cards there in 1965 and "Duryea" was stamped conspicuously on its product.

But Pennsylvania's connection to vintage sports cards began long before the middle 1900s. The American Caramel Company was the product of a merger between two candy companies, one located in Philadelphia and the other in York, Pennsylvania. These consolidated companies would subsequently purchase Milton Hershey's caramel company, Lancaster Caramel Company. In an effort to boost sales and perhaps help justify the $1M purchase price, the Philly-based American Caramel Company sought a way to promote and differentiate their candies – their answer was to follow the tobacco company model and included a single baseball card in every package of caramel. The first series of 100 cards known as the E90-1 set is the 1909 series, and the last is the 1927 set. The prize of the 1909 set is "Shoeless" Joe Jackson's rookie card as an outfielder for the Philadelphia Athletics. American Caramel went on to produce baseball cards of one team at a team, featuring Pennsylvania's own Pittsburgh Pirates in the E90-2 set, a much more difficult set to find today. The next set, E90-3, featured Chicago Cubs and White Sox players only. American Caramel also tried its hand at other sports, such as boxing, and non-sports cards between 1909 and 1927. There remains debate about the precise quantity and identity of cards produced by companies such as American Caramel since the name of the manufacturer did not always appear on these "strip cards."

Fleer was certainly Pennsylvania's most significant contributor to the history of sports cards and collecting. Known largely to collectors from the 1980s and 1990s as one of that period's also-rans, Fleer was an innovator in the card market and a legal pioneer, taking Topps to task with the Federal Trade Commission in the 1960s for what Fleer believed to be unfair competition. 

Like most non-tobacco card companies of this period, Fleer began in 1885 as a candy company, ultimately best known for producing bubble gum from its headquarters in Philadelphia. Fleer's Dubble Bubble bubble gum was the first of its kind when it was first produced in the 1920s. Fleer first included sports cards with its candy in 1923 and, like most other companies of its kind, also tried its hand at non-sports cards. After a substantial hiatus, Fleer re-entered the baseball card market in 1960, and maneuvered around Topps' near-exclusivity, by signing a contract with Ted Williams and other retired baseball stars to produce an 80 card retrospective. In the same year, Fleer began producing cards of the newly popular AFL, and would continue to do so until Topps took over that near-exclusive license four years later.

Fleer took Topps to court charging unfair trade practices and a monopoly and won, until the decision was subsequently reversed on appeal. It was ultimately held that since Topps' contracts only included sports cards sold with gum, that companies were free to sell their cards with other products and so Topps had no monopoly. Upon the reversal, Fleer sold its existing player contracts to Topps, and left the sports card market. In 1981, Fleer was again successful in winning a legal victory that would break the Topps monopoly, and again saw the decision reversed – but the reversal would not take place until after Fleer had produced a 1981 baseball set. Upon the reversal, Fleer this time made the decision to continue producing baseball cards and abide by the court order by inserting stickers instead of bubble gum.

Gum, Inc., the company that produced the Play Ball baseball sets from 1939 to 1941 and would continue producing cards under its new name, Bowman, in 1948 following the resolution of wartime shortages. Gum, Inc. also produced Bowman football and basketball cards in 1948. Bowman cards were extremely successful, and Gum, Inc. became the baseball card leader in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Bowman fought head-to-head with Topps for exclusive rights to produce MLB cards from 1950 through 1956, when Topps eliminated the competition and acquired Bowman.

The Philadelphia Gum Company also had a short but important role in trading card history. The company located in the Philadelphia suburb of Havertown, Pennsylvania held the license to produce cards for the National Football League from 1964-1967 while Brooklyn's Topps Company produced the rival AFL's cards.

Biggest Stars From The Keystone State

PA has a ton of history from it's sports teams and players, to it's card manufacturing - which has created quite the niche for collector's statewide. If you didn't collect sets or team sets, you definitely collected players from your favorite teams. Let's take a look at the best players from PA-based teams:

 Connie Mack (1891-96)  Nap Lajoie (1896-1900)  Al Simmons (1924-32)  "Mean" Joe Greene (1969-81)
 Honus Wagner (1900-17)  Richie Ashburn (1948-59)  Jimmie Foxx (1925-35)  Terry Bradshaw (1970-83)
 Paul Waner (1926-40)  Mike Schmidt (1972-89)  Lefty Grove (1925-33)  Jack Ham (1971-82)
 Ralph Kiner (1946-53)  Steve Carlton (1972-86)  Mickey Cochrane (1925-33)  Franco Harris (1972-83)
 Roberto Clemente (1955-72)  Tug McGraw (1975-84)  Jack Lambert (1974-84)
 Bill Mazeroski (1956-72)  Pete Rose (1979-83)  Jerome Bettis (1996-05)
 Willie Stargell (1962-82)  Troy Polamalu (2003-14)
 Barry Bonds (1986-92)  Ben Roethlisberger (2004-present)
 Andrew McCutchen (2009-present)
 Steve Van Buren (1944-51)  Bernie Parent (1967-70)  Mario Lemieux (1984-97, 2000-05)  Wilt Chamberlain (1959-62, 1965-68)
 Pete Pihos (1947-55)  Bobby Clarke (1969-84)  Jaromir Jagr (1990-00)  Hal Greer (1963-73)
 Chuck Bednarik (1949-62)  Rick MacLeish (1970-80)  Ron Francis (1990-97)  Dolph Schayes (1963-64)
 Reggie White (1985-92)  Reggie Leach (1974-81)  Sidney Crosby (2005-present)  Julius "Dr. J." Erving (1976-87)
 Donovan McNabb (1999-09)  Eric Lindros (1992-99)  Moses Malone (1982-86, 1993-94)
 Charles Barkley (1984-92)
 Allen Iverson (1996-06, 2009-10)

Contact Just Collect, Inc. When You're Ready To Sell

Pennsylvania has made perhaps the greatest contribution to sports of any state in the nation. The success of its professional and college teams on the field is rivaled only by its innovation and pioneering of amateur athletics off the field. And from Fleer to Bowman to Topps, the history of sports card collecting is headquartered within Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, and beyond. Just Collect is always looking to buy sports cards and memorablial from collectors in Pennsylvania. When you are ready to sell your collection, contact the experts at Just Collect.