What's more American than popcorn? The answer is, "not very much." Popcorn and its close relative sweet corn/maize were staples in the Americas at least 3500 years before Julius Caesar roamed around Europe. Coming up with easier ways to make it and inventive ways to sell it filled American minds in the last half of the 19th Century. Then, its combination with peanuts and molasses became enshrined in baseball's most famous song -- "Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack."
Unpopped popcorn for home consumption begins to be sold in the mid-1910s. Its cheapness during the Depression -- where a 10-cent tin of popcorn made enough to feed a family -- helped its popularity. Sugar rationing during World War II accentuated popcorn's rise, with consumption tripling between 1941 to 1945. In the decade after World War II, though, popcorn lost its luster for a while until promotions tying its making and eating to watching TV helped sales again.
By the late 1950s, two competing companies both came to market with their solutions to help families make popcorn more easily through disposable devices. The first to reach market was E-Z Pop Popcorn, owned by Taylor-Reed Corporation, and it was soon followed by our heroes at Jiffy Pop, owned by American Home Products Corporation. Both companies had a product that was to be placed over a heated stove or fire and contained unpopped corn and a frying fat in a package that would expand to contain the pressure and volume change of the popped corn.
So, of course, the next development was the Taylor-Reed Corporation calling its lawyers to sue for patent infringement. Taylor-Reed won on the trial level, convincing the judge that these two products were sufficiently close such that Taylor-Reed's patent -- which was first in time -- was infringed and AHPC's patent was invalid.
However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit disagreed with this assessment. Why? Because AHPC's patent included foil packaged in a spiral foil pouch rather than Taylor-Reed's compressed "button" arrangement -- "the concave form of the bowl cover to conform to the configuration of the vessel so that it would expand from its depressed form into a convex shape" -- was an improvement on the design. In short, the product itself could not be patented, and the packaging was different enough such that the two patents could coexist without infringing on the other. By the mid-1970s, Taylor-Reed has ceased to exist (after its name partners retired) and Jiffy Pop seemingly had won the home popcorn-making race.
Yet, Jiffy Pop soon lost that race. By 1983, food companies started taking advantage of advances in technology in how America cooked its food. With the rise of the microwave oven in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was only a matter of time before microwave popcorn replaced Jiffy Pop and purchasing unpopped jars of popcorn kernels as America's favorite popcorn-making method.
For its part, AHPC spun off its foods division into the ambitiously named International Home Foods in 1996, and moved Jiffy Pop into that company. Four years later, ConAgra purchased IHF and, with it, Jiffy Pop. You can still buy Jiffy Pop in its tinfoil pan at Walmart today, if you miss burning your hands on that wire handle.
1986 MSA Promo Discs
Over three years, MSA and Jiffy Pop issued a total of four sets -- two nearly identical sets in 1986 and one set each in 1987 and 1988. In 1986, MSA used the Jiffy Pop disc fronts as a promotional card, so the sets include the same players on the front of the cards but with their promotional literature on the back. As the 2011 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards fills us in, the promo set was printed as a 20-card set for MSA's use at a restaurant and food trade show to hand out to attendees.
To be fair, these promos must have been reasonably successful in light of the fact that, in 1986 alone, disc sets were issued for potato chip makers Cain's (Detroit Tigers), Jays (Brewers, White Sox, Cubs), KAS (St. Louis Cardinals), and Kitty Clover (Kansas City Royals) and for non-disc sets from Dorman's Cheese, Keller's Butter (Philadelphia Phillies), Meadow Gold Milk (for both a photo and sketch set), and Burger King. A little marketing goes a long way, apparently.
As for the discs that accompanied the popcorn, they were packaged one per Jiffy Pop package underneath the cardboard top and on top of the aluminum foil package. In other words, if you made the popcorn, you could not miss the disc. Mark Hoyle was kind enough to give the inspiration for this post through providing me this photo of the packaging from 1988 that had Red Sox star Roger Clemens on it:
As that package notes, the complete 20-disc set was available simply by sending three UPC proofs of purchase with $1.50 through a mail-in offer. The Standard Catalog provides a bit more detail. The set available through the mail-in offer came in the form of an uncut sheet measuring 16-1/4"x14" (1987) or 16"x14-1/2" (1988). This photo is from an eBay auction and shows you the front of the sheet from 1988:
The Standard Catalog also states that the 1986 version of the Jiffy Pop discs is "one of the scarcer 1986 regionals" and makes no mention of a mail-in offer. This is probably why it is scarcer. Both the 1987 and 1988 sets were available as sheets. Some people have cut these sheets up and are selling them on eBay as "unpunched Square Proofs," for what that is worth.
HALL OF FAMERS
1986 (Promos & Base): Jim Rice, Wade Boggs, George Brett, Robin Yount, Dave Winfield, Reggie Jackson, Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Ryne Sandberg, Nolan Ryan, Mike Schmidt, Gary Carter.
1987: Sandberg, Jack Morris, Brett, Ozzie Smith, Ripken, Rickey Henderson, Schmidt, Rice, Boggs
1988: Boggs, Carter, Andre Dawson, Paul Molitor, Murray, Tim Raines, Alan Trammell, Winfield, Yount
Other than the Promo parallel set from 1986, the Trading Card Database does not have any variations listed for any of the players in any of these sets.
Jiffy Pop drove its competition out of business in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was the make-at-home prepackaged popcorn for the 1970s. That said, when I was a kid, we did not buy a lot of Jiffy Pop popcorn in my house. We grew our own popcorn and had enough from one harvest to last us for years and years. I mean, I think we were making popcorn in 1988 that had been grown at least 5 to 8 years earlier and it was still good and popped without a problem.
That said, I can recall perhaps one or two times in my entire life that we bought a Jiffy Pop pan and made the popcorn. If I recall correctly, well, it was popcorn. Nothing special. Part of me wants to buy a pan today and make it to see if it tastes any differently or better than microwave popcorn, but that is a very small part of me.
I'm a sucker for these disc sets for some reason, even though they are difficult to display/store easily thanks to being round and slightly wider than a standard-sized baseball card. They are great for the player collector as a neat oddball to add to a collection, even if they do not have logos on the hats.
I still think Panini should go down this path to maximize its MLBPA license rather than trying to make sets to compete with Topps and issue regular cards in boxes. It would increase Panini's hipster-coolness level to 11 in the collector industry. Then again, it wouldn't foreclose competing with Topps if that's what Panini wants. But, Panini doesn't think that way, apparently.
If you go on eBay to buy these, you will find a lot of individual discs available for sale. Don't fall for the "individual square proof versions" -- even the perforated ones -- that are overpriced at $24.99 plus $2.99 shipping. These discs are not so rare that you can't find them priced reasonably, even as individual player discs. The sets are harder to find, and the promo discs are not easy to find at all -- even if Jiffy Pop is still relatively available at any Kroger or Walmart grocery store.