By Doug Koztoski
Baked. Fried. Crispy. Flavors ranging from plain to exotic. Many resemble a fresh saddle; others appear on the crumpled continuum. However they are made, taste or their form, slender potato chips sit atop Salty Snack Mountain, with annual sales in the billions of dollars.
Some credit George Crum with inventing the shaved potato-related treat in the 1850s; while some additional information points elsewhere, and earlier, for sparking the tasty sensation.
Either way, the history of food product promotions and sports seems bottomless, like a new deep big bag of chips, and in the 1960s crunchy potato slivers and baseball often teamed up.
Metal baseball MLB team pins about the size of a quarter came with chip bags on a fairly regular basis during the era, and from 1964-66 Guy’s brand via Kansas City, Missouri played a solid role in this scenario.
In his own way, Jeff Lederer followed the advice on the back of many of the pins that urged people to “Be wise buy Guy’s” when he first started collecting raw versions of them in 2009. Lederer stepped up his game a few years later.
“I got into grading (the pins) when I found a bunch of color variations digging through some boxes at the (2013) National (Convention),” Lederer said.
Now the sports hobbyist owns all the regular Guy’s pin sets in upper-tier grade.
“The ’64s have a brown back, which I call their base set, but they also have a variation with a black back for each,” he said.
Brown and gold represent the 1965 main back color choices. In addition to some color variations with these 20-team sets in each of the three years, sometimes another more eye-catching twist comes into play.
“In 1964 fronts of (regular) Chicago Cubs pins have a star on each side (of the team name),” Lederer said. “But one version has three stars on each side.” And those Cubs pins appear in both color choices.
“Finding the variations has been as exciting for me as collecting the pins,” Lederer said.
Most of the time just the team name and some sort of art-deco style logo adorn the pin fronts, but in three cases the main design features the name and the word “fan,” as in “Los Angeles Dodger Fan,” “San Francisco Giant Fan,” and “A Yankee Fan.” Of that trio the Yankee pin generally attracts the most attention. Backs on all of the 1964-66 Guy’s pins include the company logo; yet only the ’64s are undated.
Lederer’s favorite pins are numerous, but when pressed his personal top picks came from the 1964 set and included the Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates, the Boston Red Sox white color variation and, since he lives in the Houston area, the Houston Colt 45s. He said when he sent many of those in for encapsulating he had “a strong feeling they would achieve the ultimate grade.” Like one’s favorite combo of chips and dip, it all came together for him as those pins earned PSA 10s.
Pin poppin’ particulars
With respect to PSA Population numbers, Guy’s pins do not make much of a splash, which could be part of the appeal to certain collectors.
The 1964 set mentions only 225 samples with a dozen PSA 9s and a quartet of 10s. The least available non-variation ’64: the Detroit Tigers, with 8 samples. The 1965 and 1966 issues both have around 330 in PSA slabs, with several 9s. The PSA 10s tick up to seven examples in ’65 and jump to 25 in Gem Mint the year after. In both ’65 and ’66 the most challenging team to locate spotlighted the Baltimore Orioles, who won their first pennant and World Series in ’66.
Chips all in
Prices for raw Guy’s pins in Excellent shape often range from three or four dollars each, but can sell for several dollars apiece—and are regularly sold in lots. But when it comes to rare pins in top grade, the price guide makes a good doorstop.
“I’ve seen a raw pin go as high as $50-$60,” Lederer said. “A good condition (raw) pin should go in the $20-$50 range, depending on rarity and grade.
PSA 8s commonly trade for $8-$15 each for the average pin, to $80 and up for scarce samples.
“PSA 9s typically sell for $100-$200 each, while PSA 10s can go anywhere from $250 to the sky’s the limit,” Lederer emphasized. “I’ve seen some go as high as $600-$700.”
Again, under certain circumstances.
And the pins promotion did not stop with just the bonus in the bag as Guy’s urged collectors to complete the entire run of the collectibles. A 1965 “saver sheet” recently spotted online showed spaces for all 20 teams and, when full, redeemed for “a Little League baseball or softball.” The sheet included the line “One button in each 59 cents Guy’s bag.”
“The saver sheets sell for $20-$30 in mid-range condition,” Lederer said.
But he added interest in them remains marginal. Even so, just as a display piece these saver sheets might just be an item to track down and frame. Like with any redemption offer, one can only speculate how many complete sets of pins likely ended up trashed.
Also during certain years in the ’60s, Crane’s Potato Chips of Decatur, Illinois marketed their product with baseball pins. At first glance, from the front anyway, Crane’s and Guy’s pins look the same. The backs provide the easiest way to differentiate the two brands, where, normally, the logo/name of each clearly stands out.
Lederer sees the future popularity of 1960s Guy’s Potato Chip baseball pins kind of like the steady appeal of one’s favorite flavor of thinly-sliced and cooked spuds.
“I think it remains the same,” he said. “I think you have a group of collectors that collect ’60s type stuff, things that aren’t sports cards—and collect different types of memorabilia, something rare and different.”
Even though only a few Guy’s collectors pop up on the PSA Set Registry, the seasoned hobbyist thinks the potato chip promotion’s charm ranks highly with team collectors in private collections, which seems realistic.
And whether one goes “all-you-can-eat” on the Guy’s pins like Lederer, or takes more of a “snack-on-the-run” approach, lightly paraphrasing a famous Lay’s Potato Chip ad slogan seems appropriate: “Betcha can’t collect just one.”
Doug Koztoski is a frequent contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at email@example.com.