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Hard to Believe, But Cards Were Once Free

by Paul Angilly
March 1, 2005

With the amount of money being paid for sports cards these days, it’s hard to believe that at one time nearly all trading cards were free.

Lest we forget, trading cards were originally intended as an incentive to buy another product. At first, they came free with packages of tobacco or cigarettes. Later, they were packaged as a bonus item with bubble gum or other candy products. In either case, they were considered a free item that came with the main product -- like the toy surprise in boxes of Cracker Jack.

When I was a kid, those types of cards were still around and they usually proved even more fun to collect than the traditional Topps cards (by the time I started collecting in the mid-1970s, the gum in packs of Topps cards had long since become the bonus item, rather than the other way around).

During my early days of collecting, I bought packs of Topps cards like anyone else, but I also enjoyed getting cards with packages of Twinkies or boxes of other Hostess snack cakes, in boxes of Kellogg’s cereal, even in loaves of Wonder Bread.

Like any other 8-year-old boy, I had a bit of a sweet tooth. One of my favorite candies was Sugar Daddy, a bar of milk caramel on a stick -- the perfect food. Only adding to my enjoyment of the caramel treat at the time were the tiny (approximately 1 x 2¾-inch) trading cards found inside each bar.

Today, the four 25-card sets produced by Nabisco (makes of Sugar Daddy) from 1974 to 1976 remain among the oddest of the "oddball" sets of that era.

There were actually two groups of two sets each made: the individual-player "Pro Faces" and "Sugar Daddy All-Stars" sets from 1974-75 and the two generic "Sugar Daddy Sports World" sets of 1976.

The 1974 Pro Faces set includes 10 NFL players, seven NHL players and eight NBA players. The cards actually had an adhesive back so that they could be stuck onto a wall poster, yet the backs also contain information about the players pictured. Many well-known players are included in the set: Roger Staubach, Jim Plunkett, Phil Esposito, Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, among others.

The fronts feature a color photo of the player’s head superimposed over a cartoon-like drawing of his body in uniform -- with the head photo enlarged in comparison to the cartoon body. Various solid colors are used for the backgrounds, with the players’ names printed near the bottom of the card. Backs include a card number (along with a "Series No. 1" notation) along with personal information and career highlights.

The 1975 Sugar Daddy All-Stars follows a similar format, with the large head photos attached to smaller cartoon bodies. The fronts are a little more complex, with slightly different designs for each of the three sports. Player names appear in a box at the top of the cards, with the player’s position and team affiliation in a similar box at the bottom. The backs of the cards include a "Series No. 2" notation.

The checklist is very similar to the first series, with 10 NFL players (including Staubach and Plunkett again, along with Merlin Olson), seven NHL players (Esposito returns and Brad Park also appears) and eight NBA players (including Abdul-Jabbar).

The sets issued in 1976 take a different approach, featuring dozens of different sports with color photos (usually a generic scene) surrounded by a white border on the front and a listing of recent champions in that sport on the back. Both series have identical designs.

The sports depicted between the two series are: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer, golf, tennis, auto racing, bike racing, power boat racing, canoeing, volleyball, cricket, field hockey, lacrosse, figure skating, gymnastics, swimming (with separate cards for breaststroke and diving), track and field (separate cards for high jump, pole vault, hurdles, broad jump and shot put), skiing (separate cards for hot dog ski, slalom ski and ski jump), fishing, hang gliding, jai alai, motorcycle riding, steeple chase and yachting.

The pictures on the front often have no correlation with what’s described on the back of the cards. For instance, card No. 1 of the first series shows a hockey game between two teams dressed in red and white on the front -- possibly a Russian league game, but apparently not an NHL game, based upon the logos on the jerseys. Yet the write-up on the back mentions the Philadelphia Flyers’ victories in the 1975 and 1974 Stanley Cup finals.

Cards for most of the Olympic sports mention the world record holders in that event. Cards for sports such as tennis and auto racing list recent winners in major competitions. Cards for some sports -- such as cricket and hang gliding -- simply describe the sport itself.

A select few of the cards match up a picture on the front of a recognizable star with an appropriate write-up on the back. Most notable are Cathy Rigby pictured on card No. 23 (gymnastics) of series two, with some highlights from her career on the back; famed "Battle of the Sexes" tennis player Bobby Riggs pictured in women’s clothes on card No. 15 (tennis) of series one, with a mention of his matches against Margaret Court and Billie Jean King on the back; and famed stunt motorcyclist Evel Knievel on card No. 8 (motorcycle) of series two, with a description of his career on the back -- including the failed Snake River Canyon jump.

Other well-known athletes pictured on the fronts of the two 1976 series are Pete Rose (shown batting on card No. 12 of series one), Sonny Jurgensen (shown throwing a pass on card No. 4 of series two) and former Yankees player Bobby Murcer (shown chasing a fly ball on card No. 25 of series two).

All four series of the Nabisco Sugar Daddy cards are extremely difficult to find as complete sets, although there’s usually a handful of singles available at any given time on eBay. The cards can cost $5 to $10 or more when purchased individually, but larger lots of the cards can also be found for as little as about $1 per card.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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