By Charles Harrison
My purpose in writing this article is to investigate the cards in the 1963 Pepsi-Cola Colt .45s set, document rarities and to identify why some of these cards are rare and hopefully attract some attention to this set that is obscure to all except the most sophisticated collectors.
In 1963, the Houston Colts .45s were relatively new to the baseball world and there was an opportunity for commercial enterprises to capitalize on the team’s novelty and promotional value. The Pepsi-Cola company proceeded to do just that by issuing a set of 16 trading cards on relatively thin card stock. Each card measured 2-7/16-by-9-1/8 inches and contains 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 size card.
These cards were regional in nature and 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 more rare than others? There is a clue to this in an article written by Mike Anderson, which appeared in the April 12, 1985, issue of SCD (pages 144-145). Anderson was living in Beaumont, Texas, in 1963, but could never find the cards available in the Pepsi cartons. He eventually went to the distributor to inquire and found workers on the loading dock who told him to go look in the dumpster. In the dumpster he found a large quantity of the cards workers had thrown away. It turns out that Pepsi relied on truck drivers to insert the cards into the cartons, and they found it much easier to just throw them away. A lot more cards were printed than ever got into the hands of collectors.
Anderson writes that he retrieved most of these from the dumpster and went through them. What he found was many copies of 14 players, but not all of the players. He only found one Carl Warwick and 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 all of the cards were not printed at the same time and some may not have ever made it to public distribution.
I have been able to find three articles that have been written about this set over the years, beginning in 1985 with the Anderson article. Anderson’s article 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, issue of SCD (page 110) price guide section states that the Bateman was apparently not distributed publicly and declared its value at $300. No picture of the Bateman card appears in this article either.
In the October 1988 Baseball Hobby News, Lew Lipset’s sale item No. 26 is 15 of 16 Pepsi-Cola Colt .45 cards (no Bateman) from Dick Reuss’ collection.
The Sports Collectors Bible by Bert Randolph Sugar (page 14) states that this card is “not seen frequently.” Today, most price guides acknowledge that the Carl Warwick card (one of which was found by 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.
I am often dismayed when I see “rare” modern-day cards advertised for sale in publications or on auction sites. To say the least, “rare” is misused in the hobby, as much as “great” is by sportscasters. Occasionally a truly rare find is reported. A good example of this is the U.S. Caramel (R328) No. 16 which was unknown until recent years. The famous T206 Wagner can legitimately be described as rare, and there are several other examples.
Unknown even to Texans
I spent my entire life between Bay City, Texas, and the golden triangle and I was never aware of this set when I arrived in Houston in 1979. I had been a serious collector from 1951-56 and from about 1974 until the present. The set had completely eluded me even though it was the only regional set issued in the area where I lived most of my life near the end of the time when regional sets were prevalent (1950s and early 1960s). That was about to change.
Since 1974, I have been a serious collector, active in the hobby, subscribing to trade publications, attending shows and having no knowledge of the Pepsi set. Arriving in Houston in February 1979, before the age of the Internet and smart phones, my new office building had a bulletin board.
It wasn’t long before I put an ad on that board saying “I buy baseball cards.” I was an avid collector and eager to tap into the big city market. I also advertised in local papers. It wasn’t long before a couple of young adults called me, resulting in me buying a small lot of about a dozen nice U.S. Caramels.
My ad remained up, and in about May 1979, a fellow contacted me and said he had a sack of cards he wished to sell. We made an appointment and 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 and noted they seemed to all be between about 1961-64 Topps and I guessed there were about 300 of them. He gave me a price that I thought was fair and I paid him without going through the cards in detail. He said he had acquired them all in Houston.
I took the cards home and put them aside until the weekend. Going through the cards, I found them to be as I had accessed them, mostly 1961-64 Topps in decent shape. There were, however, 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 two-for-one for my doubles. He promised to hold the cards for me until I returned with my cards in two weeks. Two weeks later, I dutifully returned cards in hand to trade only to find he had sold them 30 minutes earlier to a young boy of about 12 years old. I was irritated that the dealer’s word was not good, but since I was already here, 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 my cards away in June 1979, and forgot about them for about six months.
For Christmas in 1979, my sister-in-law gave me a copy of Sports Collectors Bible. This is now out of print and I think the copy she gave me was the last edition printed. Later that day when there was some down time, I was thumbing through the Sports Collectors Bible and opened it at random 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, which was similar to the estimate given in the Anderson article. This was the first clue that maybe I had made a good deal after all by purchasing the lot and also by not being successful in my trade efforts.
In 1985, I acquired another box of cards which held two more Batemans, which brought my total to 12. In the interim between 1979-85 I had seen one more of these cards in a baseball card shop on Boone Road in Houston owned by James Head. This brought the total different Batemans I had seen with my own eyes to 13, all located in the Houston area. All 13 were without the tabs. I have never seen another one or even a photo of another one since in the following 35 years of active collecting. I was in the possession of 12 of them and the other was sold to a gentleman by the name of Will Weber, also of Houston. It seems very likely that my 12 were all from the same source even though two of them were obtained six years after I acquired the first 10 because I got them from two people who knew each other and had been friends.
All 13 Bateman 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.
Where are the 13 cards now? I can’t say for sure, but I can tell you where they all were at one time. I still have seven, and my son Brian has one, so our family still has eight. I am not in contact with Will Weber, but suspect he still has his, so that accounts for nine. What happened to the other four? 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, which I coveted. This all happened in 1981. 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), which I also coveted. What became of them after that I am not aware, however, I am not aware of one of these cards selling or being made available for sale any time since, but I could have missed such a sale. (Editor’s note: In 2011, Robert Edward Auctions sold a collection of 41 Pepsi-Cola Colt .45 cards, including a complete set with Bateman for $6,463.)
If I may venture away from factual information into the realm of speculation, I believe the Bateman card to 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 $300 as put forth in the 1980s. I do find it remarkable that such a “rare” card was issued right here in Houston.
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.
Charles Harrison is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via SCD at 700 E. State St., Iola, WI 54990.