Friday, April 6, 2018

1986 Jays Potato Chip Discs


The company known as Jays Foods, Inc. started life basically as a food truck. In 1927, Leonard Japp, Sr. started selling pretzels around the City of Chicago. As the Made In Chicago Museum website notes, Japp's company began to satisfy the hungry drunkards coming out of the speakeasies in Prohibition-era Chicago. As Leonard recounted in 1985 to the Chicago Tribune, he and friend George Gavora saw an opportunity to make money by buying an old truck to drive around and sell smokes, pretzels, nuts, and sandwich ingredients to folks leaving the bars. But, as Leonard said, "[p]retty soon, they started asking for potato chips. I didn't know anything about potato chips."

Purportedly, none other than Al Capone came back from a trip to the birthplace of potato chips in Saratoga Springs, New York, and personally asked Japp to start selling potato chips. Japp and Gavora made thousands of dollars by catering to this crowd -- expanding their business to fifteen trucks. Japp called the chips "Mrs. Japp's Chips" to give his wife the credit, apparently. But, as was the case for many around that time, when the banks failed during the Great Depression, the company's money went with them.

It took a bit of time, but Japp reemerged from the abyss in 1938, teaming with a Kraft Foods salesman named George Johnson to create a new company called Special Foods Company. Special Foods sold a number of items -- even dog food -- but again the company turned to potato chips for success. The secret formula for Japp was to deep fry his potato chips in corn oil rather than lard, which at the time was revolutionary.

Thus, Mrs. Japp's Chips came back for at least a little while -- until December 7, 1941, when having chips called "Mrs. Japp's Chips" became a liability in the United States. As he told the Tribune, "We wanted 'Jax', but it was taken by a brewing company. 'Jays' was available. It took a couple of weeks, but we started putting tags on plain bags with the Jays name on it." Jays was very successful.

In 1945, Japp bought out Johnson. Production moved to a large plant on 99th and Cottage Grove in Chicago, right across the street from Chicago State University and right next to I-94 on the south side of Chicago. Japp ran the day-to-day operations from that point on. He was the epitome of a benevolent dictator but with a kind heart -- knowing everyone's name who worked in the plant for any reasonable length of time (a year or more according to one employee). The company provided free lunch to all of its employees and served up lunches to the multitudes of school tours coming through the plant.

Japp ran the company and owned Midwestern potato-chip palates through the 1980s. His wife Eugenia passed away in 1983, and that made Leonard decide to sell off his company. In 1986, Borden Inc. bought the company from Japp and ran it in a meandering fashion for the next eight years until the Japps bought it back in 1994.

Things seemed to be running in a storybook fashion, but within 6 years the company was in turmoil. In October of 1999, Leonard Japp Jr. -- the founder's son -- suffered an aneurysm and died at the age of 67. His son, Leonard III, passed away from a heart attack at the age of only 40 years old in the spring of 2000. Poor old Leonard Sr. had to be devastated, and he died at the age of 96 in August of 2000.

By 2004, the Japp family sold off the company, and by 2007, the company had been bankrupted. Snyder's of Hanover purchased the intellectual property rights to the Jays brand name and its other brands (such as O-Ke-Doke Cheese Popcorn and Krunchers! Kettle and corn chips), thus keeping a midwestern institution on store shelves to the present day.



In 1986 under Borden's watch, Jays teamed up with Michael Schecter Associates to issue a set of discs featuring players from three teams in the heart of Jays territory -- the Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, and the Milwaukee Brewers. Twenty discs were issued, all licensed by the MLB Players Association but not by MLB.

If I am recalling correctly from 32 years ago, the cards/discs came one to a box from Jays. Yes, box:

The discs measure 2-7/8" in diameter. According to the 2011 Standard Catalog, MSA did a number of disc sets for inclusion with potato chips around the country. But, this set apparently was the scarcest of the type, which included Kitty Clove issuing Kansas City Royals discs and KAS issuing St. Louis Cardinals discs.

This set included 20 total discs, comprised of seven Cubs (Jody Davis, Bob Dernier, Shawon Dunston, Keith Moreland, Ryne Sandberg, Lee Smith, and Rick Sutcliffe), seven White Sox (Harold Baines, Rich Dotson, Carlton Fisk, Ozzie Guillen, Ron Kittle, Tom Seaver, and Greg Walker), and six Milwaukee Brewers (Cecil Cooper, Jim Gantner, Ted Higuera, Paul Molitor, Ernest Riles, and Robin Yount).


Out of the 20 discs, five feature Hall of Famers -- Ryne Sandberg, Carlton Fisk, Tom Seaver, Robin Yount, and Paul Molitor.

Personally, I think Lee Smith should be in the Hall, both because he deserves it and so as to even out this set and have two Hall of Famers from each of the three teams.


Not a single one, according to the Trading Card Database.


This set resides in a warm place in my heart. It never seemed that difficult to find for me since I lived in the Milwaukee area and those Jays Potato Chips were ubiquitous. Man, were they good too. They put Lay's and all the other potato chips to shame back in the 1980s.

These discs as a set were among the first things I found on eBay just after I got back into collecting in 2014. As much as any of these disc sets, I really loved this set as a kid. The biggest problem I had with them is their width -- too wide to slide into a normal 9-pocket sheet, they just don't fit well in any of the standard-sized sheets available.

I got this set off eBay in 2014 for about $5 shipped. Surprisingly to me, the set is not available currently there. All I can find are singles, mostly from COMC, and a bunch of Jays potato chips tins (improperly listed as "advertising tins"....hey guys, the chips actually came inside those tins!). So, if you find this set reasonably priced, you might want to snap it up and resell it.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

1952, 1953, 1983, and 1984 Mother's Cookies


When I finished the post last weekend on Mother's Cookies cards, it felt undone. I had not truly done justice to the dozens of sets that Mother's Cookies issued. So, I thought I would dig in deeper and highlight each of the Mother's Cookies sets. Since I covered all the sets from 1952 to 1998, I am going to do the same here as best I can.

In talking about these sets and in particular the first two sets, a bit of background for those unfamiliar with the PCL is in order.

Pretty much from the beginning of U.S. History, population in America has been shifting westward. By 1940, both Los Angeles and San Francisco had over 500,000 people (per the U.S. Census), putting them on par with the big cities back east.

Despite this, it took until 1958 for major league baseball to come to the West Coast -- with the St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Browns in 1952 being the furthest westward teams through 1953, when the Browns moved to Baltimore. The PCL even voted itself as the third major league in 1945, though the AL and NL did not think that the PCL's declaring itself a major league was enough. But, in 1952, the PCL was categorized as being an "Open" league -- a step up from Triple-A even.

Had two events or factors not taken place, the PCL very well might have become a third major league by the end of the 1950s. The first is obvious: when the Dodgers and Giants decided to usurp on the PCL's territory and pull up stakes from New York to take over in Los Angeles and San Francisco. This forced three major PCL teams -- the Los Angeles Angels, the Hollywood Stars, and the San Francisco Seals -- to leave their territory in the large cities and relocate to smaller markets (the Oakland Oaks had moved to Canada in 1956 already).

The second less obvious factor is that attendance in ballparks across the country was down due to the ability to watch games on television. While TV caused a decline for everyone, it especially hit the PCL since Californians displaced from other parts of the country could now stay home (or go to a bar) and watch their hometown team instead of supporting their local nine.

Who knows what might have happened had the PCL been able to stay together as an open, third major league. Many SABR publications concern the PCL, so if you have interest in knowing more, you should join SABR too. Remember kids: SABR is not just for stat geeks. It's a history organization first and foremost.


1952 Pacific Coast League

1953 Pacific Coast League

1983 San Francisco Giants

1984 Oakland Athletics

1984 Houston Astros

1984 San Francisco Giants

1984 Seattle Mariners

1984 San Diego Padres


Let's talk a little bit more about each of these sets. Much of the information in this post comes from the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, 2011 edition (the last one that I own in paper form). Other information comes from Nick Vossbrink's SABR blog post, Nick's personal blog post on his first complete project relating to the Mother's Cookies set, and general recollections from Twitter from Nick, Steve Cornell, Tim Jenkins, and Bru. Finally, I also got some information from The Oddball Card Collector blog.

The 1952 and 1953 sets tell us both on the backs that they were distributed solely through the purchase of any Mother's Cookie product that cost over 5 cents. Turning to the Standard Catalog, we learn that these two sets are amongst the most popular regional minor league sets ever produced. The cards are slightly larger (2-13/16" x 3-1/2") than today's standard size (2.5" x 3.5"). The 1952 set has 64 cards in it, and the 1953 set has 63.

Even though the 1952 set has two members of the Hall of Fame in it in Joe Gordon and Mel Ott and despite the fact that five cards were scarce, the most popular card in the set is none other than one of the cards pictured above -- The Rifleman himself, Kevin Joseph Aloysius "Chuck" Connors, who also played in the NBA (he was 6'5" tall) for the Rochester Royals and Boston Celtics before playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers (1 game in 1949) and the Chicago Cubs (66 games in 1951). The 1953 set is far more mundane and has very few cards which carry any premium at all -- the most valuable in the set is probably that Lefty O'Doul card.

Fast forward to 1982. Mother's teams up with the Astros, the Dodgers, the Mariners, the A's, and the Giants for the first time. The Oddball Card Collector has some great promo sheets for retailers showing how Mother's was teaming up with each of these teams to give away team posters at games where fans could get into the game for half-price. These posters were all over the place. The Astros poster looks like someone dropped acid watching one of the "The More You Know" PSAs, showing a psychedelic Astro star rainbow with a random sliding Astro under it being called safe before reaching the bag. The Mariners had a poster showing a player posing with some huge pink mascot thing. The Dodgers poster is one Night Owl would love -- it's the celebration photo of Steve Howe jumping into Steve Yeager's arms after the final out of the 1981 World Series. Check out this video for the incredibly understated call of the final out by Keith Jackson. Finally, Giants and A's fans had to content themselves with getting team photos.

So, then comes 1983. Mother's dipped its corporate toe into the baseball card water by distributing a twenty-card set of San Francisco Giants. As the Standard Catalog notes, these cards were standard sized (2.5"x3.5") with rounded corners -- the format followed for the rest of the time the sets existed. The cards were given out at the Sunday, August 7, 1983 game between the Giants and the Astros (a game the Giants lost 2-1 to the Nolan Ryan-led Houston Astros in a brisk 2:04 game). Mother's hired on hobbyist and photographer Barry Colla to provide the photos. Notice that the cards do not appear to be licensed at all on the back -- I'm not even sure if they had any agreements with either MLB or the MLBPA for these cards, though I'm guessing the Giants signed off. As was the practice for the first years of the promotion, Mother's wanted kids to buy cookies. So, they gave out packs of 15 cards with a coupon good for five more cards that may or may not be the one that were needed.

This 1983 promotion must have been successful, because it lead to the expansion of the card sets both in size (expanding to 28 cards) and in the teams covered (adding the A's, the Astros, the Mariners, and the Padres). For each of the new teams, Mother's issued the current rosters for each team along with a card for the manager, the coaches, and a logo or stadium card and checklist. But, since the Giants were the hosts for the 1984 All-Star Game, Mother's issued a special 28-card set that featured drawings of former Giants all-stars. Fans were treated to cards of Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, and Orlando Cepeda alongside other less notable names like Chris Speier and Gary Lavelle.

For each of these sets in 1984, the teams held a stadium giveaway where attendees of all ages received twenty of the twenty-eight cards in the set along with a coupon to receive eight more cards by mail. As I mentioned in my initial post, Baseball Cards Magazine put the number of sets given out at the SGAs at 30,000 for San Francisco and Oakland, 25,000 in San Diego, and the first 20,000 in Seattle (without mentioning numbers for Houston).

Barry Colla took the photos for the Astros, Padres, and A's sets, while Mariners team photographer Corky Trewin was responsible for photographs in that set. Finally, the Director of Graphics and Photography for the Giants, Dennis Desprois, put together the Giants set by color-tinting black and white photos of the Giants players. A nice touch on these cards noted by Nick Vossbrink is that the team names are printed in the fonts used by the teams (except for the Giants, of course).

My next post will have less text and more photos, as much of the information regarding how the sets were distributed does not change for a few years. 

Saturday, February 24, 2018

1952, 1953, and 1983-1998 Mother's Cookies


Mother's Cookies came into being in 1914 in Oakland, California, supposedly as a response to to Woodrow Wilson's declaration that Mother's Day would start being observed as a national holiday. According to the Mother's Cookies history website (and a Kellogg's press release), Noah Wheatley was running a newspaper stand at the corner of Market and Kearney in San Francisco when he decided to buy some cookie recipes from a customer.

A year later, he opened a one-man operation on 12th Avenue in Oakland and baked some 2,000 cookies a day. His vanilla cookies did very well despite the fact that he sold his cookies for $1 a box -- which is the equivalent of $24.41 today. Must have been some damn good cookies.

The bakery did well, but to expand the company, Wheatley had to sell his home and his piano to get the money for a larger facility. It panned out pretty well, leading Wheatley to move to a large facility at 810 81st Street in Oakland, where it stayed until 2006.At that time, sales had declined and costs had increased to the point where Mother's shuttered its Oakland manufacturing facility and moved production to Ohio and Canada.

Corporate ownership of Mother's changed hands on several occasions. At some point, a Dutch company called Artal NV bought the company. That's according to Wikipedia, whose entry on Mother's Cookies is an utter mess. The history section treats Archway cookies as a "sister company" from its beginnings in 1936 (it's became a "sister" only in 1998) and spends half the history entry about Archway. Anyway...

At some point, Artal either changed names or sold itself to Beledia N.V. (which is Belgian or Dutch depending on whom you believe), because that is the company that sold Mother's along with 7 other companies to Specialty Foods Corp. in 1993. That takeover loaded up a bunch of debt on the company (typical), and Specialty struggled in its conglomerate form to be profitable.

Specialty first tried to double down with its purchase of Archway in 1998, but that did not work either. So, the combined Mother's and Archway companies were sold in one transaction to Italian giant Parmalat. That did not work well. Parmalat was the Enron of Italian companies in some respects, racking up massive debts and creating false financial statements tied to bogus billings to shell companies in the Cayman Islands. Mother's and Archway were lucky that they could be sold off as assets; the Parmalat scandal completely destroyed Parma Football Club.

Mother's was sold with Archway to Catterton Partners, a private equity company, in 2005. The first thing that these guys did was to close the Oakland operations in a cost cutting measure. That did not work well either, and the Catterton folks used the combined Archway & Mother's Cookie Company to book nonexistent sales to keep its lines of credit open with Wachovia Bank. Shortly thereafter, Archway & Mother's declared bankruptcy.

Mother's went away for a little while, and hipsters immediately went nostalgic for the brand's signature animal cookies -- creating t-shirts saying, "Goodbye, Mothers." That goodbye was a fairly short goodbye, however, as 2009 saw Kellogg Company purchase Mother's Cookies name/assets out of bankruptcy so that another generation can gnaw on those pink and white little animal cookies.


These images are downloaded from The Trading Card Database. While I probably should have picked an exemplar from each of the one hundred eighteen sets that Mother's Cookies issued, I decided instead to use just one from each year.



















Mother's Cookies sets were incredibly popular among collectors in the mid-1980s through the 1990s. As mentioned above, there were a total of 118 different sets issued by Mother's Cookies. Two of those were in 1952 and 1953 and exclusively featured players and managers from the Pacific Coast League. Otherwise, starting in 1983 and ending in 1998, Mother's issued the following sets:

1983: Giants
1984: A's, Astros, Giants, Mariners, Padres
1985: A's, Astros, Giants, Mariners, Padres
1986: A's, Astros, Giants, Mariners
1987: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers, Mark McGwire
1988: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers, McGwire, Will Clark
1989: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers, McGwire, Jose Canseco, Ken Griffey Jr., Rookies of the Year, Griffey Hand Cut, Griffey Uncut Sheet
1990: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Rangers, McGwire, Canseco, Clark, Nolan Ryan, Matt Williams
1991: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Rangers, Nolan Ryan 300 Wins, Ken Griffey Sr. & Jr.
1992: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Rangers, Nolan Ryan 7 No-Hitters, Jeff Bagwell, Chuck Knoblauch
1993: A's, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Nolan Ryan Farewell
1994: A's, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Mike Piazza, Tim Salmon, Piazza & Salmon
1995: A's, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres
1996: A's, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Padres, Rangers
1997: A's, Angels, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Padres, Rangers
1998: A's, Astros, Dodgers, Giants, Padres

EDIT: This list of sets from TCDB led to a discussion on Twitter that some of the other individual player sets other than the 1989 Griffey set may have also been issued in uncut strips/sheets. For example, Nick Vossbrink (@vossbrink on Twitter) pointed me in the direction of a tweet from Larry Robidoux (@mrdsgrumpy), who showed a photo of the Nolan Ryan 300 Wins set from 1991 as an uncut strip:

This discussion led me to a quick eBay search to see what I could find out there. Lo and behold, it appears that nearly every single-player set was available in an uncut form, even as early as the 1987 and 1988 Mark McGwire Sets:

When found in the wild in retail, the cards were issued in an interesting manner. Like most food issues, the cards were included in the packages of the cookies for which they were used as a promotional item (credit for this photo goes to The Junior Junkie on Twitter):

For the team sets, the cards combined the best parts of a stadium giveaway with the promotional aspects: while complete sets included 27 or 28 cards, kids going to games in the various cities in the 1980s would receive packets with just twenty of the cards in them. As Giants collector and SABR member Nick Vossbrink noted on the SABR Baseball Cards blog, the packet from the stadium giveaway included a redemption coupon for eight more cards. But, there was no guarantee you would receive the eight cards you needed.

Baseball Cards Magazine noted in October 1984 that these cards would be given away in this manner in varying quantities depending on the city in which the game was located. So, in San Francisco and in Oakland, 20 cards were given to the first 30,000 through the gates. In San Diego, the first 25,000 received their 20 cards, and in Seattle, only the first 20,000 received cards.

Starting in 1987, Mother's started issuing cards of individual players, as the cookie package above for Ken Griffey notes. Going back to the SABR blog, Nick noted that distribution until the early 1990s would include only area-specific cards. So, if you lived in the Bay Area, you were guaranteed either a card of either a Giant or an Athletic. But starting around that early 1990s timeframe, any of the sets that Mother's issued might show up anywhere that the cookies were found.

Also changing in the early 1990s were the stadium giveaways. Turning once again to the SABR blog, Nick mentions that the giveaway started to include 20 cards plus eight copies of some card -- like his 8 Alex Diaz cards. That led to kids running through the stadium trying to find someone to trade with to complete sets. Now that is a great idea to resurrect.

Nick was kind enough to send me a scan of the envelope that held the cards in the early 1990s. As you can see, it describes the fact that each envelope contained 7 of the same card and that everyone needed to help one another to complete a set.


Lots of sets here, so let's go!
1952: Joe Gordon & Mel Ott

1953: None.

1983: Frank Robinson

1984: Nolan Ryan (Astros), Rickey Henderson (A's), Joe Morgan (A's), Billy Williams (A's), Dick Williams (Padres), Rich Gossage (Padres), Tony Gwynn (Padres), Willie Mays (Giants), Willie McCovey (Giants), Juan Marichal (Giants), Gaylord Perry (Giants), Orlando Cepeda (Giants)

1985: Ryan (Astros), Don Sutton (A's), B. Williams (A's), D. Williams (Padres), Gwynn (Padres), Gossage (Padres)

1986: Morgan (Astros), Ryan (Astros), D. Williams (Mariners)

1987: Ryan (Astros), Yogi Berra (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Reggie Jackson (A's; single card and shared card with Canseco), Catfish Hunter (A's), Rollie Fingers (A's), D. Williams (A's), R. Henderson (A's), D. Williams (Mariners)

1988: Ryan (Astros), Berra (Astros), Tommy Lasorda (Dodgers), Sutton (Dodgers), Tony LaRussa (A's), Dennis Eckersley (A's), D. Williams (Mariners)

1989: Craig Biggio (Astros), Berra (Astros), Ken Griffey Jr. (solo 4-card set & Mariners), Lasorda (Dodgers), Eddie Murray (Dodgers), LaRussa (A's), Eckersley (A's), Gossage (Giants), Ryan (Rangers)

1990: Biggio (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Murray (Dodgers), Ryan (solo 4-card set & Rangers), LaRussa (A's), R. Henderson (A's), Eckersley (A's), Gary Carter (Giants), Griffey (Mariners), Randy Johnson (Mariners)

1991: Griffey (4-card set with his dad & Mariners). Biggio (Astros), Jeff Bagwell (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Murray (Dodgers), Carter (Dodgers), Ryan (4-card solo set & Rangers), LaRussa (A's), R. Henderson (A's), Eckersley (A's), R. Jackson (A's), Gossage (Rangers)

1992: LaRussa (A's), R. Henderson (A's), Eckersley (A's), Gossage (A's), Gwynn (Padres), Griffey (Mariners), R. Johnson (Mariners), Ryan (Rangers & 8-card solo set), Ivan Rodriguez (Rangers), Biggio (Astros), Bagwell (Astros & 4-card solo set), Lasorda (Dodgers)

1993: Rod Carew (Angels), Biggio (Astros), Bagwell (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Mike Piazza (Dodgers), Pedro Martinez (Dodgers), Ryan (10-card solo set), LaRussa (A's), Eckersley (A's), R. Henderson (A's), Gossage (A's), Gwynn (Padres), Griffey (Mariners), R. Johnson (Mariners)

1994: LaRussa (A's), Eckersley (A's), R. Henderson (A's), Gwynn (Padres), Trevor Hoffman (Padres), R. Johnson (Mariners), Griffey (Mariners), Gossage (Mariners), Carew (Angels), Bagwell (Astros), Biggio (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Piazza (Dodgers & 4-card solo set & 4-card set with Tim Salmon).

1995: Carew (Angels), Bagwell (Astros), Biggio (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Piazza (Dodgers), LaRussa (A's), Eckersley (A's), R. Henderson (A's), Gwynn (Padres), Hoffman (Padres), R. Johnson (Mariners), Griffey (Mariners)

1996: Carew (Angels), Bagwell (Astros), Biggio (Astros), Lasorda (Dodgers), Piazza (Dodgers), Gwynn (Padres), R. Henderson (Padres), Hoffman (Padres), R. Johnson (Mariners), Griffey (Mariners), I. Rodriguez (Rangers)

1997: Murray (Angels), Carew (Angels), Bagwell (Astros), Biggio (Astros), Piazza (Dodgers), Gwynn (Padres), R. Henderson (Padres), Hoffman (Padres), I. Rodriguez (Rangers)

1998: Bagwell (Astros), Biggio (Astros), R. Johnson (Astros), R. Henderson (A's), Gwynn (Padres), Hoffman (Padres)


For putting out cards for so long, Mother's Cookies did a really good job of avoiding errors. Across all those sets, there are only four errors listed on the Trading Card Database, and all went uncorrected.

1952: Misspelled Marino Pieretti's last name.
1984: Bob Schmidt's card actually features a photo of Wes Westrum
1991: Misspelled Jim Deshaies' last name.
1996: In stating how Rick Wilkins was acquired by the Astros, the card notes he was traded for Scott Service. Wilkins was actually traded for current Mariners manager Scott Servais.

All in all, pretty solid work.


When these cards were first issued in my lifetime in 1983, they seemed as foreign as something issued in Japan to me. These cards are not rare by any stretch of the imagination, but they were not cards that showed up with any regularity in Milwaukee in the 1980s or in Atlanta in the 2010s.

I don't have any better take or more insight to add than Nick provides on his blog and on the SABR blog. I highly encourage you to read Nick's personal blog post (linked here) in addition to his post on SABR that I linked above. Both provide a ton of information about this set.

As for finding these on eBay, they are out there. With so many years available, if you like these cards, you can find them for sale there.