By Arnold Bailey
Back when Boston was one of the nation’s candy-making centers, one confection company sweetened things for fans and collectors by producing some unusual baseball pins and pennants.
It was during the middle of the 20th century when the American Nut & Chocolate Co. packaged small team pins and miniature team pennants in boxes of its candy. Later, the company offered another special treat with a series of small pennants featuring images of some of the era’s star players.
The pins and pennants – plus a wrapped piece of candy – were packaged in cardboard boxes, one of each per box. Full sets include 16 pins and 16 pennants, the number of Major League teams at that time – eight in the American and the same number in the National.
The company labeled the boxes and contents “Double Play,” seemingly ignoring the fact that a cross-city rival named Gum Products Inc. had used the same name in 1941 for a set of baseball cards.
The “Double Play” name was especially meaningful for the cards, which had images of two baseball players side-by-side on each of the set’s 75 cards. For American Nut & Chocolate, the name likely indicated that each box had a double helping of prizes.
Red was the dominant color on the candy boxes, which hyped the contents (one pin, one pennant and one piece of candy, all with a net weight of 3/8 ounce). It also listed the ingredients of the small, wrapped chunks of sweetness: sugar, corn syrup, molasses, salt, true and artificial flavors, U.S. Govt. food colors, cocoa, edible oil and wheat flour. Tasty?
There were two types of boxes. The design for both featured discs that mirror the images of the team logo pins. On one type, the discs were perforated and could be removed from the boxes, while others were not. Some collectors claim the cardboard discs are now scarcer than the pins they promote and, thus, more valuable. Prominent on boxes are images that are samples of a pin (Pirates) and a pennant (Yankees).
Blue-and-white counter displays, designed for retail outlets, contained 32 of the candy boxes. The displays were dominated by a drawing of a player sliding into a base and revealed that the price for each candy box was only 5 cents.
The 16 teams in the Major Leagues of the 1940s are all represented, and their logos are the focus of both the pinback buttons and the mini-pennants. The pins, measuring about 1-1/8 inches in diameter, are lithos on thin sheet metal and they tend to scratch over time.
The felt mini-pennants are about 4 inches long, and there were variations in both color and design over what appears to be four years of production. One of the most unusual variations is a blue pennant for the Philadelphia “Blue Jays,” a name changed tried for a while by new Phillies ownership in 1943.
The player pennants, also about 4 inches long, honor 22 players, a dozen from the National League and 10 from the American. (For a checklist, below.)
The player portraits are printed on felt from hand-drawn artwork, which is surprisingly well done. At least, the players are identifiable. Each pennant also has the player’s facsimile autograph. American League players are presented in blue on white backgrounds, with National Leaguers in red. If there is a weakness, it is that some of the red and blue colors tend to bleed or smudge over time.
More scarce are a series of larger team pennants – about 9 inches long – produced as send-away prizes by American Nut & Chocolate.
For the miniature player pennants and the larger team pennants, the company produced cardboard promotional candy box inserts that contain send-away offers. These cards measure about 1-1/2-by-3-3/4 inches and to get all 22 of the player pennants, all you had to do was send two of the cards plus 50 cents (inserted into slots in the cards) to the company at its Tremont Street address in Boston.
The larger team pennants also were featured on similar cardboard promo cards. The cost was 50 cents (10 cents inserted in the slots of five cards), netting you the team of your choice for the first of two issues. That offer expired on October 31, 1949, according to one of the cards. The pennants are almost identical to the miniature versions that came in the candy boxes. The company’s name was part of the mail-in address.
The second issue was available for the return of five cardboard cards with 10 cents inserted into each for the set of two pennants – Yankees and Dodgers, the 1949 league champions. Unlike the company’s other pennants, these have tie strings that are typical of vintage banners.
The mail-in address for this series was a post office box with no mention of the company’s name. The sponsoring American Nut & Chocolate Co. name doesn’t appear on the mini-pennants (both the team and player versions), nor the team pins.
Nor are the mini-pennants or pins dated, although promotional materials for the player pennants mention 1950 as the date, while information provided by the company mentions 1946 as the start date for the team pennants and pins.
The pins and varieties of pennants weren’t the only products made by American Nut & Chocolate, which opened for business in 1927. Perhaps the company is best known for its roasted peanuts, cashews and other nuts. One of the local favorites, and certainly its most upscale, has to be the company’s “Harvard brand” cashews sold in 5-cent glassine bags. Produced close to the shadow of Boston’s prestigious Ivy League center of learning, the cashews were identified as “the educated nut.”
Pick your pennants
The 1950 American Nut & Chocolate baseball player mini-pennants are dominated by what were then the two big league teams in Boston, perhaps to be expected since the candy company that produced them was located in Massachusetts’ capital city.
Of the 22 felt pennants, 10 of the players are from Boston teams, equally divided between the Braves and Red Sox.
Winners of the National League pennant in 1948, the Braves are represented by Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, the pitching tandem forever linked in baseball poetry by the “Spahn and Sain and pray for rain” rhyme; Bob Elliott, the third baseman called “Mr. Team”; Tommy Holmes, the fan favorite right fielder; and Earl Torgeson, the first baseman who played 15 big league seasons.
The Red Sox are led by Ted Williams, the living legend who was the American League MVP in 1946; Bobby Doerr, the future Hall of Fame second baseman; Johnny Pesky, the infielder who would become one of Boston’s most beloved sports stars; Vern Stephens, the homer-hitting shortstop; and Dave “Boo” Ferriss, the righty pitcher who began his career with a scoreless innings record (22 in 1950 that held up until 2008).
Three pennants picture Cardinals who defeated the Red Sox in the 1946 World Series – outfielder Enos Slaughter, third baseman Whitey Kurowski and pitcher Harry Brecheen. Two pennants picture Cleveland Indians who defeated the Braves in the 1948 World Series – second baseman Joe Gordon and third baseman Ken Keltner.
There also are two Yankees (shortstop and future broadcaster Phil Rizzuto and outfielder Charlie Keller). And there is one player each from the Reds (pitcher Ewell Blackwell), Cubs (Phil Cavaretta, batting champ and MVP in 1945), Pirates (home run champ and future broadcaster Ralph Kiner), Tigers (pitcher Dizzy Trout) and Dodgers (team leader and shortstop Pee Wee Reese).
Six teams – the Giants, Phillies, White Sox, Athletics, Browns and Senators – are not represented. And although the checklist includes many of the era’s top players, a few like Joe DiMaggio, Stan Musial and Jackie Robinson aren’t among them.
Among the earliest mentions of the player pennants in the hobby was in the February 1974 issue of Sports Scoop, a pioneering monthly publication for collectors which counted among its writers hobby pioneers like Lionel Carter, Larry Fritsch and Keith Olberman. For reasons undetermined, the checklist accompanying the brief article listed only 20 instead of the 22 pennants in the complete series, with Slaughter and Torgeson not included.
Arnold Bailey is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at email@example.com.