Cameo Appearance: New Information Unfolds Regarding the Cameo Pepsin Gum Pins, Including Date of Origin

By Keith Olbermann

The Whitehead & Hoag pins of 1896 featured 12 Hall of Famers, including the only nationally issued collectibles of John McGraw (bottom left).

If in the next 13 years only one baseball set came out that contained as many as 100 players, we’d probably know all there was to know about that set. We’d know how they were sold, why specific players and teams were left out. And we’d certainly know when they were issued.

Not so for the set still listed simply as “1898 Cameo Pepsin Gum Pins” – the only baseball memorabilia issue between the last of the Old Judges in 1890 and the Breisch-Williams candy set (E107) of 1903-04 that even came anywhere close to being comprehensive. And only when I was fortunate enough to add the hobby’s largest collection of these beauties to my own second-largest group did some of the elemental details of the issue become apparent.

To start with, the 1-1/4-inch diameter pins may have still been available in 1898, but they weren’t issued then. A careful analysis of team designations of the 136 players and managers shown strongly implies that at least 28 of them were produced in 1896, and the rest of the set came out in 1897. Forty-five of the team designations would have been outdated in 1898. There is also a hatful of previously unreported variations and one new player to add to the checklists. And just for good measure, besides Cameo Pepsin Gum, at least one other company’s name appears on at least one of the pins.

Player content
For all of the murky information, the joy of the “Cameos” is the player content. The set includes the only nationally-issued collectible of Hall of Famer John McGraw as a player (and with a mustache no less). The last contemporary Cap Anson is in the set. Other 19th century Hall of Famers whose names are still known to even the casual fan adorn the issue: Jesse Burkett, Ed Delahanty, Hugh Duffy, Buck Ewing, Clark Griffith, Billy Hamilton, Wee Willie Keeler, Connie Mack (in his first managerial job, in Pittsburgh), Kid Nichols, Bobby Wallace and Cy Young are all shown at the heights of their careers.

Most compelling of all, perhaps, is the inclusion of the man many still think was the greatest athlete to play the sport – the tragic Louis “Chief” Sockalexis. The outfielder from the Penobscot tribe burst onto the big league scene, first while he was still in the uniform of Notre Dame’s team with a home run off Amos Rusie at the Polo Grounds in New York, and then with a spectacular first two months with the Cleveland Spiders in 1897. In just 66 games, “Sock” batted .338, stole 16 bases, produced an OPS of .845 and hit the ball as hard as anybody could remember. But even as he electrified baseball in the spring and early summer of 1897, he was developing an ultimately fatal alcohol addiction. He would be out of the majors by 1899 and dead by 1913.

There is a postcard of Sockalexis, in a battered Cleveland cap, a uniform that doesn’t fit him any more and with a million unhappy miles recorded on his face, but this was certainly produced after he left the game. For something issued during his career, there is only the Cameo Pin, and it lives up to expectation. He beams from the shiny surface of the pin, with all the promise of greatness that went so terribly unfulfilled.

The Sockalexis pin was probably included in the second wave issued by the actual manufacturers, the Whitehead & Hoag company of Newark, N.J. This is suggested because 16 members of the great Boston Beaneaters are included in the checklist, but five of them – the newly-discovered pin of Joe Harrington, plus Jimmy Bannon, Cozy Dolan, Grasshopper Mains and Jack Ryan, were off the Boston roster by the end of July 1896.

The Boston pins are also stylistically different than the rest of the set – the images look less photographic and more drawn, the lettering is bolder and they are the only pins that show merely the player’s team and name and not his position. Some variations of the Boston players – Hall of Famer Nichols among them – show less detail in the player picture and thinner lettering, implying that perhaps they were reprinted later.

Merritt variation leads to a clue

The combination of two collections led to this Bill Merritt variation. The pin on the left is taken from the 1896 Pittsburg team photo (see below), with Jake Beckley making an appearance at the bottom. This helps reinforce the origin of this set to 1896 and not 1898 as previously thought.

The thesis that the pins were introduced in 1896 has been reinforced by the discovery of a startling variation in the pin of Bill Merritt of the Pirates. In the Merritt in my original collection, the catcher is shown in an ordinary portrait, with no lettering on the chest of his uniform. In the Merritt pin in the collection I’ve just acquired, his uniform reads “Pittsburg” – but there’s also somebody standing in front of him! The top of the head of another player (Hall of Famer Jake Beckley) is clearly visible, and a hunch I had about the Pittsburgh pins was confirmed: All but one of the photographs are taken from the 1896 Pirates’ team photo. The others had been meticulously isolated, but Merritt’s somehow slipped through complete with Beckley’s Cameo cameo before the manufacturers made the correction.

From that team shot comes the Connie Mack pin, and Mack himself virtually guarantees that like the Boston pins, the Pittsburgh ones first came out in 1896. Given he’d still be managing the Philadelphia A’s 54 years later, it had to rank as one of the more short-sighted decisions in baseball history, but on Sept. 21, 1896, Pirates management fired him. His inclusion in the set makes an 1897 issue date unlikely and an 1898 one impossible.

So, too, does the inclusion of Jot Goar, an 1896 Pittsburgh pitcher and the only player in this set shown with two different photos and two different teams. Then, as now, the Pirates had some kind of affiliation with the minor league team in Indianapolis, and when Goar was sent to the latter club in 1897, a new pin was issued showing him in that uniform. The fact that there is a Cameo Pin of Louis Bierbauer – the second baseman whose controversial acquisition led to Pittsburgh’s adoption of the name “Pirates” – seems to seal the timeline.
Bierbauer was sold by Pittsburgh to St. Louis on March 3, 1897, and played two years there. But no St. Louis version of his pin has shown up, and his Pittsburg pin is – allotting for the true rarity of all the Cameos – comparatively easy to find.

The history of these plastic-coated pins, and the company that made them, also suggests that there were at least two separate issues. Whitehead & Hoag began in 1892 as manufacturers of “novelties.” Within four years, Benjamin Whitehead and Chester Hoag were the leaders in a new field: Political campaign buttons. The year 1896 is considered the birth of these eminently collectible items, which shed the fragility of earlier efforts when the company perfected the application of celluloid to photographic prints. The durability of their product is obvious: A few of their baseball pins are found cracked or dinged, but most of them, 116 years later, still sparkle – to the point that it’s difficult to photograph or scan them.

So if 1896 was the watershed year for the very idea of pins, it makes sense that Whitehead & Hoag, which would double in value and quadruple in plant size in the eight years after its founding, would launch into baseball memorabilia immediately.

Thus I offer the following theory on this set:
1. 1896 Whitehead & Hoag Boston Series: Given that Jack Ryan – one of the five players included in the set but dropped from the team roster – was released on May 19, 1896, these pins might have been issued as early as April 1896.

2. The 1896 Whitehead & Hoag Pittsburg Series: That all the photos on all the known Pirates’ pins save for Bierbauer are taken from the 1896 Pittsburgh team photo, putting a date on these is aided as much by who isn’t in the set as who is. I mentioned earlier Jake Beckley’s unintended appearance in one version of the Merritt pin. Beckley was traded to the New York Giants on July 25, 1896, and no pin depicting him has yet turned up. This suggests the Pirates pins were produced, or at least distributed, after that point, but before Connie Mack was fired on Sept. 21.

3. The 1897 Whitehead & Hoag National Series: There certainly is circumstantial evidence that the remaining teams were not issued as one set, but rather on a club-by-club and even city-by-city basis. The pins don’t all look exactly the same. Most teams have the player’s name and position on the left side of his photo, and the team on the right. But all the Chicago pins have just the name on the left, and the position and team on the right. Baltimore pins have all the information squeezed close together and in one case (Arlie Pond), the name, position and team read as one line.

Additionally, only nine of the 12 big league teams are represented in the set. The members of the missing squads (Louisville, St. Louis and Washington) were pretty lackluster – but as mentioned before, there’s a pin of Bierbauer with Pittsburg. He was sold to St. Louis before the 1897 season began. Surely that would’ve been a quick fix, unless the pins were being marketed only in the individual regions in which each team played.

More over, why are 11 members of the 1897 Cedar Rapids Bunnies of The Western Association included in the set? Why some Buffalo Bisons of The Eastern League, including the team’s owner? Why is there supposedly – although I have never actually seen it – a pin depicting a montage of photos of the 1897 New Castle, Pa., Quakers of The Interstate League?

Clearly, Whitehead & Hoag would slap their new celluloid coating on anything and stick it on a metal pin frame, provided you provided the photos and paid them their price. But the one piece of evidence leaning against the idea that what has long been cataloged as one nationally-issued set of pins might really be more than a dozen regional issues, is the advertisements for Cameo Pepsin Gum.

Inserted inside the rim of the back of nearly all of the pins is a paper ad. Very often it references only Whitehead & Hoag, and gives the various dates of its patent and copyright achievements in 1894 and 1896. But just as often, the ads are for Cameo Pepsin Gum. Many pins are known with each kind of ads (noted with asterisks in the checklist below). More confusing yet, the Cameo ads show up across the spectrum of teams, from the 1896 Boston pins to the Merritt/Beckley error to the ones from Cedar Rapids to the Team Montage pins, and thus tie them all together. Perhaps Cameo distributed them regionally, who knows? The gum company’s name also appears on Whitehead & Hoag pins showing a boxer or two, famous jockeys, pretty decent reproductions of well-known paintings, a series of cartoon characters identified as “Little Pinkies” and “Indians.” The latter come with several different backs but one of them carries a paper advertisement selling Cameo Gum and identifying Whitehead & Hoag as the manufacturer of the pin itself. There is some kind of strong tie-in between the gum and the pin-maker, and for the time being we should probably stick with the theory that this was a national issue.

A new back was revealed in this set. A newly added Jesse Burkett pin had “On Time Starch” on its back, which differed from the two other known backs for this set.

However:
4. 1897 Whitehead & Hoag On Time Starch Issue: When these two pin collections were merged, this was the real stunner: A pin of Hall of Fame outfielder Jesse Burkett of the Cleveland Spiders, exactly identical on the front to one I already had with the Cameo ad on the back. Except this Burkett’s back read: “TRY ON TIME STARCH, SODA AND YEAST.” I find only two other references to “On Time Starch” from any baseball memorabilia reference source – illustrations of copies of Dammon and Miller of Cincinnati bearing the same back label. The information on the set has always been scarce and sketchy. Looking at the checklist of the set I helped organize for Bert Sugar’s The Sports Collectors Bible in 1975, I find that only 23 different pins were then known; with just the front variations, the count is currently 158.

So that’s all we have on this alternate issue: Three supposed Cameo Gum pins that advertise starch.

I would suggest we go with the checklist below henceforth (including the addition of Harrington and the variations as indicated), re-date the issue from 1898 to 1896-97, and identify the set not as Cameo Pepsin, but as Whitehead & Hoag.

Lastly, if you’ll indulge me, if you have copies of Barnie, Clements, Franklin, Kennedy (Brooklyn), Lowe, Rhines or the Indianapolis or New Castle Team pins, please let me know care of the editor. I’d like to fill those holes on my want-list, or at least get scans or photocopies of fronts and backs to see if they can flesh out any conclusions here. Thanks.

1896-97 Whitehead & Hoag Pins Checklist:
001 Anderson, L.F.; Brooklyn
002 Anson;1 B. Chicago
003 Bannon; Boston
004 Barnie, Mgr.; Brooklyn
005 Bergen; Boston
006 Beville, Sub.; Indianapolis
007 Bierbauer; 2 B. Pittsburg
008 Bowerman; C. Balt.
009 Breitenstein, P.; Cincinnati*
010 Briggs; P. Chicago
011a Brown, Sub. L. H. P.;
Cincinnati (“Cincinnati” on shirt)
011b Brown, Sub. L. H. P.;
Cincinnati (no name readable on shirt)
012 Burk, L.F.; Cincinnati
013a Burkett, L.F.; Cleveland
(“Cameo Pepsin Pin” ad)
013b Burkett, L.F.; Cleveland
(“On Time Starch, Soda, and Yeast” ad)
014 Burrell, C.; Brooklyn
015 Canavan, 2.B.; Brooklyn
016 Childs, 2.B.; Cleveland
017 Clark; C. Balt.
018 Clarke; Pitcher, N.Y.
019 Clements, C.; Phila.
020 Cockman, Sub.; Indianapolis
021 A.B. Cole, C.F.; Cedar Rapids
022 Collins; Boston
023 Corcoran, S.S.; Cincinnati
024 Cross; 3.B.; Phila.
025 Cuppy, P.; Cleveland
026 Dahlen; S.S. Chicago
027a Dammon, P.; Cincinnati
(“Cameo Pepsin Pin” ad)
027b Dammon, P.; Cincinnati
(“On Time Starch, Soda, and Yeast” ad)
028 Daub, P.; Brooklyn
029 Decker; L.F. Chicago
030 Delehanty; L.F. Phila.
031 Dolan; Boston*
032 Donahue; C. Chicago
033 Donnelly.; Cedar Rapids
034 Donovan; Pittsburg
035 Duffy Capt.; Boston
036 Dunn, P.; Brooklyn
037 Dwyer, P.; Cincinnati*
038a Ely; Pittsburg (thick lettering)
038b Ely; Pittsburg (thin lettering)
039 Everett; 3.B. Chicago
040a Ewing, Capt. & Mgr.;
Cincinnati (“Mgr.” just touches cap)
040b Ewing, Capt. & Mgr.;
Cincinnati (“Mgr.” does not touch cap)
041 Fields, 1.B.; Buffalo
042 Fisher, P.; Brooklyn
043 Fisher.; Cedar Rapids
044 T. Flood, P.; Cedar Rapids
045 Foreman, P; Indianapolis
046 Fuller, Owner; Buffalo
047 W. Fuller, C.; Cedar Rapids
048 Ganzel; Boston
049 Goar; Pittsburg*
050 Goar, P.; Indianapolis
051 Gray, 3.B. ; Indianapolis*
052 Griffin, C.F.; Brooklyn
053 Griffith; P. Chicago
054 Grim, C.; Brooklyn*
055 Hamilton; Boston
056 Harrington; Boston
057a Hart; Mgr. Chicago
(right side background brown, “Mgr. Chicago”
barely readable, photo borders visible on
both sides)
057b Hart; Mgr. Chicago
(right side background gray, “Mgr. Chicago”
easily readable, no photo borders visible)
058a Hastings; Pittsburg (thick lettering)*
058b Hastings; Pittsburg (thin lettering)
059 Hawley; Pittsburg*
060 B. Hill, 3.B.; Cedar Rapids
061 Hoffer; P. Balt.
062 Hogreiver, R.F.; Indianapolis
063 Holliday, Sub.; Cincinnati
064 Horton; P. Balt.
065a Hoy, C.F.; Cincinnati
(“Cincinnati” readable on shirt)
065b Hoy, C.F.; Cincinnati
(no name readable on shirt)
066a Hughey; Pittsburg
(Cropping line visible under “Pittsburg”)
066b Hughey; Pittsburg
(No cropping line visible under “Pittsburg”)*
067 Hutchinson, 1.B.; Cedar Rapids
068 Irwin, 3.B.; Cincinnati
069 Jennings; S.S. Balt,
070 Keeler, R.F.; Baltimore
071 Kennedy, P.; Brooklyn
072 Kennedy, S.S.; Cedar Rapids
073a Killen; Pittsburg  (thick lettering)
073b Killen; Pittsburg  (thin lettering)
074 Kittredge; C. Chicago
075 Lachance, 1.B.; Brooklyn
076 Lange; C.F. Chicago
077 Long; Boston
078 Lowe; Boston
079a Lyons; Pittsburg
(Cropping line visible under “Pittsburg”)
079b Lyons; Pittsburg
(No cropping line visible under “Pittsburg”)*
080 Mack; Pittsburg
081 Mahaffy, P.; Cedar Rapids
082 Mains; Boston
083 McAleer, C.F.; Cleveland
084 McCormick; S.S. Chicago
085 McDougal, P.; Cedar Rapids
086 McGarr, 3.B.; Cleveland
087 McGraw; 3.B. Balt.
088 McKean, S.S.; Cleveland
089 McMann, P.; Brooklyn
090 McPhee, 2.B.; Cincinnati
091a Merritt; Pittsburg
(Beckley’s head visible in front of “Pittsburg”
uniform lettering)
091b Merritt; Pittsburg
(Beckley’s head, “Pittsburg” uniform lettering,
erased)
092a Miller, R.F.; Cincinnati
(“Cameo Pepsin Pin” ad)
092b Miller, R.F.; Cincinnati
(“On Time Starch, Soda, and Yeast” ad)
093 Motz, 1.B.; Indianapolis
094a Nichols; Boston (thick lettering)
095b Nichols; Boston (thin lettering)
096 O’Brien; 1.B. Balt.
097 O’Connor, C.; Cleveland*
098 Pappaulan, R.F.; Cleveland
099 Payne, P.; Brooklyn
100 Peitz, C.; Cincinnati*
101 Phillips, P.; Indianapolis
102 Pond, P., Baltimore
103 Powell, P.; Cleveland*
104 Quinn; 2.B. Balt.
105 Reidy, P.; Milwaukee
106 Reitz, 2.B.; Baltimore
107 Rhines, P.; Cincinnati
108 Richie, Sub. I.; Cincinnati*
109 Rowe, Mgr.; Buffalo
110 Ryan, R.F.; Chicago*
111a Ryan; Boston (thick lettering)
111b Ryan; Boston (thin lettering)
112 Schreiver, C.; Cincinnati*
113 Seymour; Pitcher, N.Y.
114 Shindle, 3.B.; Brooklyn
115 Smith, C.; Buffalo
116 Smith; Pittsburg*
117 Smith, C.; Brooklyn
118 G. Smith, S.S.; Brooklyn
119 Sockalexis, R.F.; Cleveland
120 Speer, C.; Milwaukee
121 Stentzel; C.F. Balt.*
122 Stivetts; Boston
123 Sugden; Pittsburg*
124 Sullivan, S.S.; Buffalo
125 Tebeau, F.B.; Cleveland*
126 Tenney; Boston
127 Terry; P. Chicago*
128 Tucker; Boston
129 Urquhart, C.; Buffalo
130 Vanburen, L.F.; Cedar Rapids
131a Vaughn, C.; Cincinnati
(“Cincinnati” readable on shirt)
131b Vaughn, C.; Cincinnati (no name
readable on shirt)
132 Wallace, P.; Cleveland
133 Watkins, Mgr.; Indianapolis
134 Weaver, L.F.; Milwaukee
135 Wood, C.; Indianapolis
136 Cy Young, P.; Cleveland*
137 Zimmer, C.; Cleveland
138 Baltimore Base Ball Club
(“Champions of ‘96”)
139 Brooklyn B.B. Club
140a Buffalo B.B. Club
(dated 1897; no photographer’s credit)
140b Buffalo B.B. Club
(no date; photographer’s credit)
141 Indianapolis B.B. Club
142 New Castle B.B. Club
143 Pittsburg B.B. Club*
144 Toronto B.B. Club*

* Known with both Whitehead & Hoag or Cameo backs.

2 thoughts on “Cameo Appearance: New Information Unfolds Regarding the Cameo Pepsin Gum Pins, Including Date of Origin

  1. Al Simeone on said:

    Loved the story on the cameo pepsin pins. Having owned alot of this collection at one time. 60 of them .It was great to see the story about them. I always had a feeling that they may have not been made all at one time. 1896 and may have been put out over a few years. Also nice was to see some of the variations on them I did do some good work with Don Fluckinger re cataloging them when I put my collection up for sale in the REA auction about 5 years ago. I had about 20 pins at the time that were uncataloged and decided to help Don out with a new list of what I had for SCD.. Great job and would love to talk to you about them and the ones I had. Al Simeone

  2. Tom Boblitt on said:

    Great, great story Keith…..I, too, sold a few pins to the owner of this grouping, now in your collection. All great people and glad to know that this collection now resides with you–another true collector. Congrats on the acquisition

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