The 1963 Pepsi Cola Colt .45s Baseball Card Set
This article was published in the 2014 The National Pastime.
This article investigates the 1963 Pepsi Cola Colt .45s Baseball Card Set, documents rarities, and identifies why certain of these cards are rare, drawing attention to this set that is obscure to all except the most sophisticated collectors.
In 1963 the Houston Colt .45s were relatively new to the baseball world and Pepsi Cola hoped to capitalize on the promotional value of that novelty. The company issued a set of 16 trading cards on relatively thin card stock. Each card measured 2 7?16 inches by 9 1?8 inches featuring a black and white picture of a Colt .45 player, a schedule, and ads in the form of tabs which are often cut off by collectors to make a more standard-sized card. These cards were distributed in the local Houston and Beaumont/Port Arthur area and possibly other local markets. This set has an American Card Catalog designation of F230-3 and was designed as an insert for six pack cartons of Pepsi Cola. They were free to kids who could talk their parents into buying Pepsi by the carton.
So why are some of these cards rarer than others? There is a clue to this in an article written by Mike Anderson which appeared in the April 12, 1985, issue of Sports Collectors Digest (SCD pages 144–5). Anderson states in his article that he was living in Beaumont, Texas in 1963, but there were cards he could never find in the Pepsi cartons. He eventually went to the distributor, where workers on the loading dock told him to go look in the dumpster. Pepsi relied on truck drivers to insert the cards into the cartons and the drivers found it much easier to just throw them away. If so, many more cards were printed than collected.
In the dumpster, Anderson found many copies of cards featuring 14 players, but not others—i.e. one Carl Warwick but no John Bateman. Assuming that this was common practice by distributors, all of these cards are likely relatively scarce, but not necessarily rare. It also suggests that not all of the cards were printed at the same time and some may not have ever made it to public distribution.
I have been able to find only two additional articles about this set after Anderson’s. His was accompanied by a picture of Bateman, but it was not a picture of the 1963 Bateman Colt .45 card. The featured set in the May 1, 1987, Sports Collectors Digest price guide section (page 110) states that the Bateman was apparently not distributed publicly and declared its value at $300. No picture of the Bateman card appears in that article either.
In the October 1988 Baseball Hobby News, Lew Lipset’s sale item number 26 is for a set of 15 of the 16 Pepsi Cola Colt .45 cards from Dick Reuss’s collection. Bateman is the missing card.
Bert Randolph Sugar states on page 14 of The Sports Collectors Bible that this card is “not seen frequently.” Today, most price guides acknowledge that the Carl Warwick card (one of which was found by Mike Anderson) is rare and the John Bateman card is extremely rare. When these cards occasionally come up for sale as a set, it is usually a set of 14 missing Warwick and Bateman, and once in a while, a set of 15 missing the Bateman.
I am often dismayed when I see modern day cards advertised for sale in publications or on auction sites described as “rare.” The word is misused in the hobby as much as “great” is by sportscasters. A good example of a truly rare find is the U.S. Caramel (R328) number 16 which was unknown until recently. The famous T206 Wagner card can legitimately be described as rare.
In the case of the 1963 Colt .45s set, their rarity equalled obscurity, even for me, a serious collector. I spent my entire life between Bay City and the golden triangle and I was never aware of this set. I had been a serious collector 1951–56 and from about 1974 until the present. Even though it was the only regional set issued in the area where I lived most of my life, and despite how active in the hobby I was—subscribing to trade publications, attending shows—I had never encountered or heard of it. That was about to change.
I moved to Houston in February 1979, before the age of the Internet and smart phones, to find my new office building had a bulletin board. Eager to tap into the big city market, I put an ad on that board: “I buy baseball cards.” I also advertised in local newspapers. It wasn’t long before I had bought a small lot of about a dozen nice U.S. Caramels. They were very desirable cards and I thought a nice find. My ad remained up and about May a fellow contacted me and said he had a sack of cards he wished to sell. He brought me a small brown bag about the size of a typical lunch bag full of cards. I was very busy and quickly scanned the cards. They seemed to all be 1961–64 Topps and I guessed there were about 300. I bought them without going through the cards in detail. He said he had acquired them all in Houston. He also had a friend who had some cards and he would let him know about me. His friend had lived in Houston, but was now in the Dallas area.
I took the cards home and put them aside until the weekend. Upon a closer look, I found 24 cards that I had never seen before. They were 1963 Pepsi Cola Colt .45s without tabs. I was disappointed. While I knew nothing about the set, there was a lot of duplication with only four different players. I had one Carl Warwick, two J.C. Hartmans, 11 Ken Johnsons, and 10 John Batemans. Within a month, I found a dealer in a local flea-market who had several different cards from this set and he was willing to trade me 2-for-1 for my doubles. He promised to hold the cards for me until I returned with my cards in two weeks. I dutifully returned, cards in hand to trade, only to find he had sold them 30 minutes earlier to a 12-year-old boy. I was irritated that the dealer's word was not good, but since I was already there, I decided to tour the flea-market. I happened upon the boy who had bought the cards and offered to trade with him at two for one. He was tempted, but I was a grown man and he was afraid of me as I probably came on too strong out of frustration.
I put the cards away in June of 1979 and forgot about them for about six months. I was still unaware of the rarity of any of these cards or even how many were in the set. For Christmas my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Sports Collectors Bible. (This is now out of print. The last edition was likely published in 1984.) While thumbing through it at random, I opened to page 74 and began to read about the Pepsi regional set distributed in Houston. The phrase “not seen frequently and is very scarce” referring to the Bateman card caught my eye. It also estimated the value at that time at $275–350, similar to the Anderson article. This was the first clue that maybe I had made a good deal by purchasing the lot and also by not being successful in my trade efforts. Christmas that year was at my in-laws’ home so I had to wait until that evening to see if my memory was good. When I got home I immediately went to check and was pleased to find I had 10 copies of the very rare Bateman card.
In 1985 the friend of the man I had bought the cards from said he had found a shoebox full of cards and wanted to know if I was interested. We agreed to a price without me seeing the cards and he mailed them to me. In this box of cards were two more Batemans which brought my total to 12. In the interim between 1979 and 1985 I had seen one more of these cards at a Houston baseball card shop. This brought the total different Batemans I had seen with my own eyes to 13, all in the Houston area. All 13 were without the tabs. I have never found another one or even a photo of one since in the following 29 years of active collecting. It seems very likely that my 12 were all from the same source because I got them from two friends.
I believe the Bateman card may be the rarest baseball card issued since World War II. I would not venture a guess as to what it is worth, but would say it is certainly not the $300 put forth in the 1980s. Generally cards, like houses, are priced on the basis of comparable recent sales and there are no recent sales that I know of. If a Bateman card with tabs were to surface, I would venture that it would certainly be the rarest card since the war. And how remarkable that such a “rare” card was issued right here in Houston.
CHARLES HARRISON was born in Bay City, Texas, and graduated Lamar University in 1964 (BSChe) and University of Missouri in 1966 (MSChE). He works for Bechtel and lives in Houston. Relatively new to SABR, he is a lifelong baseball fan and considers anything played in short pants to not be a true sport. Joe DiMaggio retiring in 1951 was first thing he saw on television.
If any of you have or know of copies of this card I would appreciate you contacting me to help better establish the true number in existence. My contact information is as follows:
The details of the events I have outlined can be corroborated by a few individuals who were close to me and aware of the transactions, including wife Virginia, my son Brian, my cousin Vernon Harrison, and my friend Sam Cochran. Sam, Vernon, and Brian are also serious collectors. Each has laid eyes on the 12 that I owned, but none saw the 13th card which was sold to Will Weber. All 13 cards were without tabs and I have never seen or been aware of one with tabs. All 15 of the other cards in the set do exist with tabs. I would be very interested to know if anyone is aware of other Bateman cards from this set and if they have ever seen one with tabs. I would like to establish if any other examples exist so I can document how many exist. I would bet fewer than 20. It would be interesting to know if the 13 I am aware of were obtained by someone working for Pepsi or their printer and none were in fact ever released to the public.
At this time I still have 7 of my original 12. My son Brian has one so our family still has 8. I am not in contact with Will Weber, but suspect he still has his so that accounts for 9. What happened to my other 4? I sold one card to an Oklahoma dealer who bought it for a customer in Nebraska. I cannot remember the dealer’s name and I never knew the customer’s name. I traded two cards to Bill Heitman, a dealer/collector from California for, among other things, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. (Editor’s Note: The 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle is described by Professional Sports Authenticators as “the most valuable post-war sportscard.” One in gem mint condition sold for $275,000 in 2001.) The last card was traded to a collector in the San Francisco area for, among other things, a Zeenut Joe DeMaggio (that is how it is spelled on the card).