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.


  1. Great post. I'm sure I'll use it in the future as a guide. Mother's Cookies are one of my favorite oddballs of the 80's. I grew up attending games at Candlestick and the Oakland Coliseum and we always tried to target the Mother's Cookies giveaway day.

  2. Love these. I'd be happy to help contribute on the Astros portion.

  3. This excellent post reminds that I still have to dig out my old Dodgers Mother's Cookies cards (80's & 90's) and inventory them. If I'm not mistaken, I actually got a few of them signed on the back, lol.