Voices From The Old Neighborhood
by Jim Romeo
Reminiscences of One Collector's Trading Cards
For a non-sport collector, there are many paths to a full and varied collection. For Gerry Hickey, a non-sport collection wasn't something he went out and scouted over the years. Most of his scouting was done as a youngster who actually collected them in the late thirties. Today, some 60 years later, he remarkably has a wonderful collection of non-sport cards.
Gerry grew up in depression-era New York City, where sand lot ball games, corner candy stores, where Saturday Matinee movies were all common place. Like most kids at the time, Gerry collected trading cards. What makes his story so unique is that he still has them!
Here's a sampling of Gerry's collection:
"The G-Men and Heroes of the Law- the official stories from records of G-Men and famous police organizations and heroes of the law", copyright 1941, by Gum Inc. of Philadelphia, PA. ; " The Presidential Series - a series of 31 pictures of our presidents." Back of card in this series reads: "Save the 31 pictures, return to the United States Caramel Company of East Boston, MA and receive a one pound dollar box of assorted chocalates free. Your pictures will be returned with the chocolates. "; Series of World War I Cards. Back of card reads: "Save all these picture cards of soldiers, marines, sailors and airmen in turning for National Defense", synopsis of the card subject included on each card, copyright 1941 Gum, Inc; Movie and Film Star cards, perforated on top and bottom of card, back of card reads: "each card is one in a series of 96 cards"; "The American G-Men Series", with a header on each card that reads "Crime Does Not Pay". Back of card reads: "From the records of the crime detection departments of your city, state and nation. " ; Mickey Mouse Card Series, from Mickey Mouse Bubble Gum. Back of card titled "The best bubble gum in the world. Makes the Biggest Bubbles."; Lone Ranger Card Series, Lone Ranger Chewing Gum. Made by Gum, Inc., copyright 1940; Indian Chewing Gum , back of card titled: "the world's greatest penny value", Goudy Gum company of Boston, MA.
We interviewed Gerry to get some insight into the trading card culture from the eyes of a kid who was there once. Here's what we found:
Can you tell us a bit about your neighborhood and what it might have been like back then?
I grew up in St. Albans, Queens, New York, about 15 miles outside of New York City. No far from where Archie Bunker and All In The Family took place! Most of my cards were accumulated after the depression, but before World War II. At that time the area was a working class neighborhood with single family detached homes.
What type of trading cards can you remember being around as a child?
There were many types. The types that come to mind include G-Men Cards, Indian Cards, Movie and Film Star Cards, Cartoon Cards, Cowboy and Indians, War Cards, the Lone Ranger, and Buck Rogers.
What were your favorite one or two sets and why did you like them?
I'd have to say the war cards and the G-Men cards. You see at that time there was a real spirit of loyalty by Americans. These cards meant that you supported America and its role in the previous World War. It was also a time of gangsters, and John Dillinger, and Al Capone. It's interesting how the cards were an expression of the attitude of the people back then.
What year were these that you were collecting them?
Middle Thirties, 1935-1941
What age were your peers that had these type of trading cards?
About age 7 - 15
Can you remember them during World War II?
Wings cards, which came on the backs of Wings Cigarettes were out around then.
Where would you normally get these cards from?
At the local candy store. They would come one card in a pack. The size of the card was the same size as the block of bubble-gum. The bubble gum was sectioned in three little strips. You could break off a piece at a time.
Were the cards ever sold with a product?
I do recall Silver Cup Bread put out Lone Ranger cards. I also think they used to give some out with Ice Cream. A company called Frostick comes to mind.
Did most kids at that time have cards?
Yes, all kids had cards as I remember in my neighborhood.
You had some movie cards that were in a strip with each card perforated from the next. Was that common?
The movie cards were cheaper cards. Not as good material. You'll notice on the back of the movie cards is the name of the Island Theatre, which is the theatre near my home which gave these cards out. There were about 8 or 10 cards on one strip. You would get this strip when you went to the movies.
Did you "flip" your cards with other kids?
Yes, you would stand up and flip or throw your card, sometimes the game would be that you had to match the card. At other time the games would be that you had to call the card out in mid-air and guess whether the front or back would land up. Another type of game would be in which you would through them or wing them, trying to get them closest to a wall. Whoever was closest to the wall got the card. A variation on this game was when you continued to try and throw the cards until one cards was one hand span or less away from your opponents, in which case you would win your opponents card.
Where did you used to do the flipping?
Most often, flipping was done in the neighborhood, in front of the house, on the front stairs or stoop. Cards were also common around the school yard.
How did you keep your cards over the years?
Believe it or not, I kept them in an old envelope box. Keep in mind that I am a true collector in the nostalgic sense. I never started collecting cards for their value or to make a profit, but collected them because they were a small treasure from my youth and I just hung on to them.
How did your cards survive the annual "house-cleaning" that mothers everywhere performed over the years? Did you have to hide them?
I suppose it says something about the way things were then as opposed to the way things are now, but when I was growing up toys and goodies weren't easy to come by. If you received toys, cards, games and the like, you held onto them and treasured them. Today it seems that we have a disposable society where every season, there's a new set of cards, by new companies. What's worse is that now there's this thinking of mint sets, and unwrapped boxes and packages of cards are most acceptable. That wasn't the way it was back then. The way I was brought up was to take care of your merchandise, value it, and keep it. Throwing it out was never an option!
Gerry has little idea of the value of these cards. For him they have a
special sentimental value, and a reminder of his youth. Accordingly he has no
intention of selling them. What's interesting about his collection is the
snapshot they provide of an America at a crossroad in between two World Wars.
The cards were a valuable vehicle in communicating the horrors of crime, war,
and the excitement of adventure. A vignette of the times, and evidence that the
times, they are a changin' !
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