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.


  1. Cool regional oddball issue. Logos or not... I don't think I could pass up this set for $5 shipped.

  2. Chips in a box? That's certainly different.
    I have a good quantity of oddballs in my Sandberg PC, but I'm missing this one. I actually didn't know this set existed until now. Thanks for the heads up!

  3. As a sucker for disc cards these are super fun even if none of them are completely relevant to my collection. I do wonder why so many of these are slightly too wide for a 9-pocket. I have them in 4-pockets but am wondering is they fit in 8-pockets.