By Doug Koztoski
Six-plus decades of seasoning. An eye-catching design. A strong variety of featured athletes and feats. How about a charming quirkiness? Not to mention a relatively affordable price tag.
A sports card issue with at least one of those elements is bound to attract its lot of collectors. Few sets, however, include all of those pieces, but the 1954 Quaker Oats Sports Oddities offering does blend them together and the collection certainly has its fans.
With the No. 8 Current Finest ranking on the PSA Set Registry for the issue, Pete Lee is a big fan of the smaller grouping that collectors first found tucked in boxes as a bonus for consumers of Puffed Wheat and Puffed Rice cereal.
Lee collects both sport and non-sport sets and he enjoys the 1954 Quaker Oats issue’s hand-painted images, its non-sport look and vibe and that it shows “a more personal side to sports than just the stats,” he said. “I like the oddities, I like Ripley’s Believe it or Not type things. That’s what this set is about for me. It’s about the oddball side of sports.”
Oh, is it ever.
The issue starts by highlighting Big Ten halfback Johnny Miller, who, in a high school game, was about to punt a football when a defensive lineman burst through the line attempting to block the kick. Miller faked the punt for a split second and that move made the defender jump in spread eagle fashion.
“Miller then stepped back and coolly kicked the ball between the legs of his astonished foe. The kick went sixty yards,” the summary said. As the text on every one of the 27 cards in the set ends: “It’s Odd but True!”
It’s unclear who did the artwork for these rounded cornered collectibles, but sports columnist Jimmy Evans apparently penned all the card back write ups. The cards tend to spotlight mostly unfamiliar names and events at this point, and maybe they were not well known at the time, either, but a few still register a blip or more in sports fans' hearts and minds. Even so, the stories are the stars of the set, which was the goal.
First buying Quaker Oats cards raw about five years ago and then turning to eBay to purchase graded examples, Lee has a few favorites in the set that mix the “for sure” with the obscure.
“I like the Bronko Nagurski card (No. 26),” he said of the football Hall of Famer who is described on his pasteboard as the “toughest football player of them all” and how in one pro game he “knocked out three men on three consecutive plays!”
“I also really like The Harlem Globetotters card (No. 23) because I used to see the Globetrotters as a boy,” the Northern California-based hobbyist noted.
Another top choice is Carl Stockholm (No. 17). “It talks about how Stockholm was wounded in World War I and then became a great bicycle racer,” Lee said. “I liked his ability to overcome adversity.”
Although it might fall way short of overcoming adversity, but challenging nonetheless, Lee said cards of Joyce Rosenbom (No. 20), a hard-throwing baseball and softball player, as well as the set-ender of Yankee Stadium, noting how no one has hit a baseball out of the ballpark, were two of the toughest cards for him to find in the issue.
In addition to Rosenbom, three other women have their own card in the set, perhaps the strangest story coming via Catherine Fellmeth (No. 8). While bowling in a tournament, and trying to pick up a spare with three pins left, Fellmeth rolled her ball down the alley, got the spare, but one of her pins flew into an adjoining alley and knocked down the two pins the other bowler was looking to get a spare with.
The ’54 Sports Oddities cards show up at modest levels on eBay, both raw and graded. When it comes to PSA Population numbers, all of the issue’s cards have at least 50 to 60 samples on average, with usually double digits for all in the high-grade range (PSA 9 or 10). The cards of Nagurski and George Halas (No. 19), another NFL legend, show up the most, with 75-80 examples of each; the slots filled by the four ladies, meantime, are on the lowest end of the availability scale, but not scarce.
Prices on higher condition Sports Oddities generally fall in the more affordable range compared to the era’s regular issue cards. With a little patience, raw commons can be found for just a few dollars each, while graded cards are more hit or miss in the bargain department. That said, a handful of various PSA 10s recently sold in the $40 to $50 apiece area, including a Halas for $44.
Lee said the popularity of the ’54 Quaker Oats offering remains limited, in part, due to its low hobby profile. The collector added that since the set embraces more of a non-sport mentality it will never generate the interest, on average, as a more mainstream issue.
Yet, down the road a decade or more, Lee sees the set’s “fringe popularity” continuing to resonate with a certain type of collector, one “who likes both sports and non-sports issues and can appreciate the crossover.”
Doug Koztoski is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He welcomes comments and questions related to this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.