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Sixty years ago, Post Cereals and parent company General Foods ran a big football card promotion designed to encourage sales.

Grocery store managers saw young Baby Boomers tagging along with mom in hopes of convincing her to buy a box of cereal with their favorite player cards on the back. What the kids saw were over-the-wire football pennants and end-aisle stick signs stretching across the storefront. A three-section bin filled with Gravy Train dog food and another poster on a stick announcing a “Touchdown Special!” of savings had been set up just inside the door.

Not far away was an end-aisle special highlighting Swans Down Cake Mix that came with a free sheet of football cake decorations. Further on, a Tang display featuring Paul Hornung announced that all 14 NFL team photos were available by mail for 50¢ and an inner seal from one of the breakfast drink jars.

Finally came the main attraction — a big setup that included a football trading card sign featuring Johnny Unitas, Hornung and Bill Kilmer promoting “FREE! TRADING CARDS” surrounded by stacks of Post cereal boxes with NFL player cards on the back.

A Post Cereals advertising display sign promotes free trading cards featuring such 1960s football stars as Johnny Unitas, Paul Hornung and Bill Kilmer.

A Post Cereals advertising display sign promotes free trading cards featuring such 1960s football stars as Johnny Unitas, Paul Hornung and Bill Kilmer.

Also See: 1950 Bowman Football offers snapshot of early pro game 

In 1955, Post Cereals teamed with Ted Williams to promote Sugar Crisp by inserting a cloth Major League Baseball team patch in each box. Post ventured back into the sports world in 1960 when it printed "framed" pictures of nine of the top sports stars of the day on the backs of 12- and 16-ounce boxes of Grape Nuts Flakes boxes. The list of players included baseball heroes Mickey Mantle, Eddie Mathews, Don Drysdale, Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline, hoopsters Bob Petitt and Bob Cousy and Frank Gifford and Johnny Unitas from the gridiron.

1961 saw Post release its first large-scale card promotion as the company produced a set of 200 MLB players. The cards were designed to be cut out with scissors. There was also an opportunity to get team sheets of "Company" cards through a mail offer on the side of the box. The perforated team cards were attached together as a single unit.

Post upped its baseball presence in 1962 by expanding the number of cereals with cards and followed up in the fall with their only NFL promotion. 1962 was Post's biggest year for sports cards on boxes.

1963 baseball was Post's last effort at producing cards on boxes. They inserted cards into boxes in the 1990s, but the days of box backs with cards produced using rotogravure printing had passed.

Rotogravure printing was accomplished by Post’s graphic designers creating 150 percent scale mockups of each box, including the back panel. The group of mockups for each cereal brand and size were then arranged in the way they would be printed. A photograph was made and used to etch six color rotogravure cylinder plates. Each set of plates printed the boxes for one particular cereal.

There were 200 different cards in the Post Cereals football set spread over 12 cereals printed on 99 different packages that resulted in 500 million individual football cards that began hitting grocery store shelves in August 1962.

Football cards on the back of Post Cereal's Oat Flakes brand.

Football cards on the back of Post Cereal's Oat Flakes brand.

Also See: 1972 Topps Baseball as vivid as colorful Oakland A's 

The twelve cereals were: Alpha-Bits, Bran Flakes, Crispy Critters, Grape Nuts, Grape Nuts Flakes, Oat Flakes, Post Toasties, Raisin Bran, Sugar Crisp, Sugar Coated Corn Flakes, Sugar Coated Rice Krinkles and Top 3. Top 3 was produced only between 1961-63 and was a mixture of Corn Flakes, Wheat Flakes, and Crisp Rice. Post packaged several of its cereals in two single-serving variety packs — Post Tens with 10 boxes and a six-carton Treat-Pak.

Several brands were double printed with other products, meaning that each brand had the same images and configuration of cards on the back panel. Crispy Critters, both the 8- and 13-ounce sizes, had the same back panel as like-sized Alpha-Bits boxes. Another matched pair was Grape Nuts Flakes 12-ounce and Top 3 10-ounce. Post Toasties 12-ounce backs were printed with the same cards on two different style boxes as Post was test marketing a flip-out spout as an alternative to the regular top flap.

The goal of most collectors is to put together a 200-card set. Many also want both the red and black asterisk versions of #57 Jim Ninowski and #74 Sam Baker. While price guides have historically made the asterisk colors of these cards a point of emphasis, it happened simply because the cards were printed on different cereal products and not as a result of error correction. One card art mockup had a black asterisk and the other was red.

If all of the individual cards were cut from each of the 99 panels the result would yield a master set of 528 cards. The key to collecting a master set of individual cards comes from the ability to differentiate the double prints. The process of etching a rotogravure cylinder created a unique plate each time the process occurred, often resulting in printed images with slightly different shades of color. In addition, very small print marks are often found on one brand of a double print but not the other.

Johnny Unitas’ Grape Nuts Flakes and Top 3 cards provide a good example. The Top 3 card shows two white dots just above the tree line on the left half of the photo that are not present on the Grape Nuts Flakes version.

A box of Post Top 3 cereal included free football trading cards on the back.

A box of Post Top 3 cereal included free football trading cards on the back.

Also See: Baseball stamps tell story of game's history, biggest stars 

Veteran Post cereal collector Gevert Meyer is credited with the observation that the Crispy Critters yellow football featuring the card number in the upper right corner is darker than their corresponding Alpha-Bits partners. When a print run of cards occurred, the six colors — cyan, yellow, magenta, black, key and clear lacquer — were overlaid on the paper roll one right after another, resulting in full-color images. The key color was chosen based on the main color on the front of the box as Post wanted the correct shade to display when the box was viewed on the shelf. In the case of Crispy Critters, the key color would have been maize and resulted in darker yellows on the numbered football as it was overlaid not only by the yellow plate but also by the key (maize, in this case) plate. Lighting under which a Crispy Critters card is viewed can affect the appearance of the shade of yellow in the football. Also, scanners often inaccurately reflect the proper Crispy Critters yellow hue.

Originally, Post planned to double print Sugar Coated Corn Flakes 10-ounce and Oat Flakes 15-ounce back panels. The rotogravure plates for four different back panels of large Oat Flakes boxes were created and some sample boxes were printed, as demonstrated by the fact that Kraft, who ultimately acquired General Foods and thus Post’s assets from 1962, has examples of the Oat Flakes boxes in their archives. There are two known back panels and one complete box of 15-ounce Oat Flakes cards in collections, all three with the same images and seven-card configuration.

None of these samples show adhesive that was used to attach the liner bag on the inside of the box — the back of the card panel. One can reasonably deduct that these panels were rescued from Post’s Battle Creek plant without ever being filled with cereal. To date, no individual large size Oat Flakes cards have been found in circulation. It appears that Post did not distribute 15-ounce Oat Flakes boxes with football cards even though the rotogravure plates were created.

Without the production of 15-ounce Oat Flakes boxes, collectors search for 99 uncut panels to have a complete set. Crispy Critters panels are the rarest as newspaper research indicates they were a test product marketed only in western states and Maine in 1962. To date about a half dozen 8-ounce Crispy Critters back panels or complete boxes are known to be in collections. Only a pair of partial uncut 13-ounce Crispy Critters panels have been found — one with five cards plus the header and the other with no header and two connected cards.

Short-print cards are the result of production volume for each cereal. There are a couple dozen tough short-print cards and another 15-20 that arguably could be classified as short prints. Collectors of basic 200-card sets will find #93, Dave Baker, to be the most expensive card to obtain as his two versions were on 10-ounce Oat Flakes and 11-ounce Grape Nuts boxes, both having low production numbers. Card #74, Sam Baker, is on the same two-card Grape Nuts panel as Dave but is easier to find since the other version was from a more well-produced Post Tens bottom tray of three cards.

A Post Grape Nuts box features 1960s football stars Sam Baker and Dave Baker.

A Post Grape Nuts box features 1960s football stars Sam Baker and Dave Baker.

For master set collectors, any of the 28 Crispy Critters 13-ounce cards are in extremely short supply. They are much more difficult to find than either of the Baker cards. Yet none of the large Crispy Critters cards qualifies as a short print since they are double prints of Alpha-Bits cards. Master set collectors enjoy the hunt for the ultra-rare 13-ounce Crispy Critters cards that can be had for a fraction of the Baker cards.

Many collectors enjoy trying to find as many front-panel “cards” as they can. There were eight different players featured on what are called “ad headers” in a top corner of most of the box fronts and some were cut out and saved. It is possible to collect a master set of 18 ad header player cards. There is also an ad header on Rice Krinkles boxes advertising an Action Toy given away inside those cartons.

The photos for the 1962 Post cereal promotion were taken in 1961 by the duo of Jim Laughead and Brad Bradley of Laughead Photographers of Dallas, Texas. The posed action shots, referred to by Laughead as the “Huck ‘n’ Buck,” are iconic photos of the era. To date 86 of the 200 original production photos reside in collections, with the majority of those owned by a single collector. Laughead and Bradley were contracted again by General Foods in 1962 to shoot the Tang promotion team photos at training camps.

The material used to advertise the promotion is also highly coveted. Displays mentioned previously from grocery store setups include the very rare centerpiece football trading card display with oversized cards of Unitas, Hornung and Kilmer, themselves desirable when detached. Football character stick displays, over-the-wire pennants and “shelf talkers” came as part of the grocery store display kit.

Grocery store giveaway booklets on various topics of football featured Hornung, Jon Arnett, Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff. 

1960s grocery store giveaway booklets featured such stars as Paul Hornung.

1960s grocery store giveaway booklets featured such stars as Paul Hornung.

There is a magazine ad and another Hornung ad from the back of a couple of comic books. Swans Down cake decoration sheets are a colorful go-along piece and fairly rare.

A comic book ad promotes Post Cereal football cards.

A comic book ad promotes Post Cereal football cards.

Some of the rarest items include press sheets, which were the first few box images printed on the paper roll, cut off and approved for production before a full run of 50,000 feet occurred. Two different Hornung posters exist and only three in total.

There are a couple of known cellophane wrapped Post Tens variety packs with cards visible on the bottom tray and an intact Treat-Pak with two single serving Alpha-Bits boxes that each have a card on the back.

A Post Cereal Treat-Pak included football trading cards on the bottom.

A Post Cereal Treat-Pak included football trading cards on the bottom.

Post also produced a salesman’s brochure titled “Touchdown!” along with a merchandising guide that details the advertising material available. The Tang grocery store display featuring Hornung is also extremely difficult to find.

A 1960s Tang advertisement featured Paul Hornung.

A 1960s Tang advertisement featured Paul Hornung.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Post cereal football promotions and only part of the story about why 1962 Post cereal football cards are “The Greatest Set Ever!”

For more information on Post Cereals cards, check out Robin’s website at postcerealfootball.com. You can reach him at Rbpauls@postcerealfootball.com