Collectors will spend years, maybe even decades, tracking down some vintage sets.
The 1949 Baltimore Colts Silber’s Bakery set is one of these. It’s one of the hardest sets football collectors have tried to put together.
Cards from this collection pop up every couple of years. Now, two of the cards – showing Johnny Mellus and Charlie O’Rourke – have emerged on eBay from the same seller (thanks to Nearmint’s Vintage Football Cards blog, who linked to the auctions).
The Silber’s Bakery set is difficult because it was released regionally. Only those in the Baltimore area were able to get a hold of these cards. The rounded cards feature a black and white photo on the front with contest rules and the team’s home schedule on the back.
The Baltimore Colts were part of the All-America Football Conference back then, a precursor to the NFL franchise that now plays in Indianapolis. Famed Baltimore sports reporter Ted Patterson wrote about this set in his book 2000 “Football in Baltimore: History and Memorabilia.”
“In the fall of 1949 the Silber’s Baking Company, with its factory on Monroe Street, one block south of North Avenue, created a set of between 17 and 20 cards, all picturing members of the Baltimore Colts. The exact number has not been substantiated. The cards were the size of playing cards, with rounded corners and the photo of the Colt player the same as the 8 x 10 glossy publicity shots made by the team. …
Ten-year-old Richard Cohen idolized the AAFC Colts and, along with his friends, tried to collect as many cards as he could. Richard, who lived on Lake Drive in the Druid Hill section of Baltimore, attended P.S. 61 and would often stop at Silber’s to get the trading cards. “Each of their eight locations would have a pile of the cards behind the counter,” remembers Richard, who is now a Baltimore Neurosurgeon. “Every few days there would be a new card on the pile behind the counter and if you got to know the clerk you would usually get a card without buying anything.”
The contest involved getting all the cards with different letters on the back to spell Silber’s, according to Patterson. However, it didn’t seem as though anyone was going to win the contest.
“The trouble is,” says Dr. Cohen, “they never printed any cards with the letter E, which meant there were no winners. We had tons of the other cards, but no E.”
Cohen eventually got his father, a city building commissioner, to reach out to his contacts to get the E card. He got it from Mr. Silber, according to Patterson’s story. Cohen’s completed set got him a signed football from the team, which he still has, according to Patterson.
But the cards? Trashed when he went to college.
Cohen has been trying to recreate the set and got 13 of the 18 known cards at the time of the book’s printing in 2000.
Sportscard Guaranty, a grading company that does many pre-war and vintage cards has graded 12 of these cards, according to its population report. Beckett Vintage Grading has graded five of them. PSA has never graded one. That’s just 17 cards between the major grading houses to see these cards.
While rare, they are not impossible to find. Huggins and Scott Auctions had at least three of these cards pass through its house from 2008-2010. A Y.A. Tittle – a pre-Rookie Card – sold for $4,250 in May 2010. Tittle and Rex Grossman, the other Rex Grossman’s grandfather, were among the popular players from this set.