Unknown World Series Pinbacks

This column takes an inverted view of baseball pinback buttons.  It is about pinbacks of World Series teams that: a) were never made (or at least are unknown to the hobby) or b) there is no clear reference or attribution to a particular year.  I got the idea for this column by examining World Series press pins.  Each team that participated in the World Series in a given year issued a press pin.  There are only two teams for which no press pins were made (or have yet to be discovered): the 1911 National League champion New York Giants and the 1918 National League champion Chicago Cubs.  But the chronicle of press pins is clouded by several factors.  In 1921-1923 the two World Series participants were the Giants and the Yankees.  A joint press pin was issued for both teams.  There are teams that issued more than one press pin for a given year.  One of the press pins is assumed to be the “official” pin while the others are regarded as “prototypes” (a design that was eventually not chosen by officials of the team).  There are “phantom” press pins of teams; these teams commissioned the making of press pins because they were close to winning the pennant, but ultimately did not do so.  Finally, there are undated press pins (but to the best of my knowledge these undated pins have been attributed to a precise year).

This column is not about press pins.  But with some limitations, the press pins provide a parallel for discussing World Series pinback buttons.  Unlike press pins, there are no “official” World Series pinback buttons.  The pinback buttons were commissioned for production by vendors or concessionaires who would sell them to attending fans.  Furthermore, more than one design of a World Series pinback might have been commissioned for one of the two teams, and none for the other.

I am presenting this information as a general guide for the reader.  I do not claim it to be 100% accurate.  My classification system is simple: “none” means none known, “joint” means a single pinback that lists both teams, and “some” means at least one pin.  Consistent with the title of this column, I am more interested in identifying the years in which no known World Series pinbacks exist.


1900   no World Series played

1901   no World Series played

1902   no World Series played

1903   Red Sox (some) vs. Pirates (some)

1904   no World Series played

1905   Athletics (some) vs. Giants (none)

1906   White Sox (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1907   Tigers (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1908   Tigers (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1909   Tigers (some) vs. Pirates (some)

Given that both the Cubs and Tigers had three consecutive-year runs in the World Series, the exact year in question for some of their World Series items may be uncertain.


1910   Athletics (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1911   Athletics (some) vs. Giants (some)

1912   Red Sox (some) vs. Giants (none)

1913   Athletics (some) vs. Giants (none)

1914   Athletics (none) vs. Braves (some)

1915   Red Sox (some) vs. Phillies (some)

1916   Red Sox (some) vs. Dodgers (none)

1917   White Sox (some) vs. Giants (none)

1918   Red Sox (none) vs. Cubs (none)

1919   White Sox vs. Reds (joint)

At this point in history, the New York Giants played in the World Series five times.  Only one pin has emerged that references the Giants (1911).


1920   Cleveland (some) vs. Dodgers (none)

1921   Yankees (none) vs. Giants (none)

1922   Yankees (none) vs. Giants (none)

1923   Yankees (none) vs. Giants (none)

1924   Senators (some) vs. Giants (none)

1925   Senators (some) vs. Pirates (some)

1926   Yankees (none) vs. Cardinals (some)

1927   Yankees (none) vs. Pirates (some)

1928   Yankees (none) vs. Cardinals (some)

1929   Athletics (some) vs. Cubs (some)

This was the driest decade of World Series pinbacks for teams out of New York.  The Yankees, Giants, and Dodgers provided 11 of the 20 teams that played in the World Series in this decade, and there is not a single World Series pinback of any of those teams.  I have seen a pennant of the 1921-22 Giants, but no pinbacks.


1930   Athletics (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

1931   Athletics (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

1932   Yankees (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1933   Senators (some) vs. Giants (none)

1934   Tigers (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

1935   Tigers (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1936   Yankees (some) vs. Giants (some)

1937   Yankees (none) vs. Giants (none)

1938   Yankees (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1939   Yankees (some) vs. Reds (some)

There is an undated pin of the New York Yankees that some people attribute to 1937.  I believe it is from 1938 because it is a stylistic mate to a pin of the Cubs.  However, maybe the Cubs pin was modeled after the Yankee pin of the previous year.  There are undated player pins (PM10s) of both the Yankees and Giants.  Some were made with a dated ribbon.  First issued in 1936, they may have been sold again as souvenirs in the 1937 World Series without the ribbons.


1940   Tigers (some) vs. Reds (some)

1941   Yankees (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

1942   Yankees (none) vs. Cardinals (some)

1943   Yankees vs. Cardinals (joint)

1944   Browns (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

1945   Tigers (some) vs. Cubs (some)

1946   Red Sox (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

1947   Yankees (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

1948   Indians (some) vs. Braves (some)

1949   Yankees (none) vs. Dodgers (none)

Identifying the pins of two pairs of years in this decade is problematic.  The first pair is 1942-1943.  There was a wartime prohibition on the use of metal.  This is the decade when paper overlays were most frequently used (see a previous column I wrote on this topic).  There is a pin made by a St. Louis pinmaker that says “Beat the Yanks.”  It could be from either 1942 or 1943.  The other pair of years is 1947 & 1949.  The Yankees and Dodgers met in the World Series that year, and would do so again in 1952, 1953, 1955, and 1956.  There are two pairs of pins that probably began their run in one of these two years (I think 1947 is more likely).  One pair is 1.25” in diameter.  The first pin states “American League Champion Yankees.”  The second pin states “National League Champion Dodgers.”  The Yankee pin is in red and the Dodger pin has been seen in both red and blue.  The other pair is 1.75” in diameter.  They are of the classic “crossed bats” design (see a previous column I wrote on this topic).  The wording is the same as on the other pair of pins.  The Yankee version of this pin is in blue, and the Dodger version of this pin has been seen in both red and blue.  There is simply no way to date these undated pins, especially given the frequency that these two teams met in the World Series, six times in ten years.  If  these pins began in 1949 and not 1947, then “none” is incorrect for 1949.


1950   Yankees (none) vs. Phillies (some)

1951   Yankees (some) vs. Giants (some)

1952   Yankees (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

1953   Yankees (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

1954   Indians (some) vs. Giants (some)

1955   Yankees (none) vs. Dodgers (some)

1956   Yankees (none) vs. Dodgers (some)

1957   Yankees (some) vs. Braves (some)

1958   Yankees (none) vs. Braves (some)

1959   White Sox (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

There is a dated 1955 pin that jointly lists the Dodgers and Yankees.  It is notable by the spelling of “Ebbetts” (instead of “Ebbets”) Field.  As I stated in my book, I think it is a fantasy.  It is somewhat disingenuous to state that there are no New York Yankee World Series pinbacks from 1950, 1955, 1956, and 1958.  I am sure they were sold at Yankee Stadium and by street vendors, but they were most likely recycled or reissued inventory from a previous World Series.  As mentioned in my comments about the previous decade, the 1.75” crossed bats design “American League Champion New York Yankees” is a far more common pin than the exact same design without reference to the Yankees being American League Champions.  Since the Yankees were American League Champions eight times in this decade, that pin was most likely made in reference to one of the two years (1954 and 1959) when they were not in the World Series.


1960   Yankees (none) vs. Pirates (some)

1961   Yankees (some) vs. Reds (some)

1962   Yankees (some) vs. Giants (some)

1963   Yankees (none) vs. Dodgers (some)

1964   Yankees (none) vs.  Cardinals (some)

1965   Twins (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

1966   Orioles (some) vs. Dodgers (some)

1967   Red Sox (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

1968   Tigers (some) vs. Cardinals (some)

I ended this decade with 1968 since it was the final year before divisional playoffs and the final year before all World Series pinbacks became controlled by licensing laws (although some pins continued to be made in violation of them).  There was a popular pin of the Yankees featuring a top hat and a bat.  During the 1960s an overprint was made of the pin, adding “American League Champions” to it (this pin is shown in a previous column about overlays and overprints).  It was made sometime during the five year run of Yankee American League championships at the start of this decade, but I don’t know when.  The teams that rarely appeared in the World Series as the Pirates, Twins, Orioles, Red Sox and Tigers spawned the creation of many pinbacks.  For those teams that appeared in the World Series on a fairly regular basis, the local vendors probably assumed there would be diminished interest from fans who would be attending “yet another” World Series to warrant the creation of a distinctive (i.e., dated) pin.

As stated at the beginning of this column, I make no assurances that the classification system is 100% accurate.  I created it mostly from memory, plus a few references to my book.  The classification of “some” has the least validity because it represents at a minimum one known pin up to a large number.  For example, there were more pins made of the 1967 Red Sox than all the known World Series pinbacks of the 1920s combined.  Also as noted, there is disagreement in the hobby regarding the likely date of certain pins.  If a reader detects a confirmable error that I have made, I would be delighted to update this column.

When viewed from a more detached perspective, what are the most notable findings in this classification?  For me, there are two of them.  The first is the paucity of World Series pinbacks of the New York Giants.  It seems inconceivable that one team with a legendary pitcher in Christy Mathewson and a legendary manager in John McGraw would not have inspired many World Series pinbacks.  Even when the Athletics lost to the Giants in 1905, pins were made of the Athletics.  In fact, Connie Mack was featured at the center of many early pins of the Athletics.  But not one of John McGraw and the Giants?  It was McGraw who made the disparaging remark that the Athletics were a “white elephant,” yet it was Mack who ran with the image, ultimately placing the image of an elephant on the team sweater.  Because the Giants appeared in so many World Series (including four consecutive years in the early 1920s and another four times in the previous decade), the absence of their pinbacks is even more conspicuous.  If such pins exist, they have been extremely well concealed for over 100 years.

The second major finding pertains to the New York Yankees.  It is not the team that creates World Series pinbacks, but street vendors and concessionaires who order them to be made in the belief that fans will buy them.  From 1949 to 1964, the Yankees appeared in 14 World Series over those 16 years.  From 1936 to 1964, the Yankees appeared in 22 World Series over those 29 years.  Perhaps it was simply a case that the New York Yankees playing in the World Series was an expectation.  When they did so, it was nothing particularly noteworthy, and not special enough to design a dated pin.  Pins that are dated have little commercial appeal after the date has passed.  Thus an undated “New York Yankees American League Champions” pin would be a very safe pin to order from a re-sale perspective.  But what the New York Yankees accomplished had never been done before in the history of baseball (nor since), being World Champions for four consecutive years (1936-1939) and then five consecutive years (1949-1953).  Both times the string was broken by a year when they were not American League champions (as opposed to losing the World Series).  You would think that some enterprising vendor would have commissioned a pin proclaiming the Yankees to be “Four-Time” and/or “Five-Time” consecutive year World Champions.  Apparently not.  Only the vendors in St. Louis designed World Series pins of the Cardinals that honored the years of their past championships on a single pin.  Perhaps it is not a coincidence that St. Louis was also the home of some of the very finest pinmakers in the nation at that time in history.  Unlike World Series press pins that can be documented with precision, World Series pinbacks lack any reasonable measure of standardization.  They have no direct connection to the teams that played in the World Series, and are the product of what a third party (a concessionaire) thought would have commercial appeal to a fourth party (a fan).

A Tale of Three Cities

With apologies to Charles Dickens, this is the story of a World Series pinback button that involves three cities.  You probably can envision two of the cities—-the teams that played in the World Series. However, the third city might stump you.  Just to make it even more confusing, in fact only one of the three cities was involved in the World Series.  This is yet another story of how one baseball pinback button is more than what it appears to be.

I begin with the World Series city.  It is Boston, and the team in question is the Red Sox.  The year was 1916.  Although it has no bearing on this story, Boston’s opponent was the Brooklyn Dodgers (at the time they called themselves the “Robins”).  The pin in question is perhaps the all-time crème de la crème of baseball pinback buttons.  It is six inches in diameter, the largest baseball pin made up until that point in history.  It features head shots of 25 people identified below their picture: 24 of the Red Sox players plus their manager, (Bill) Carrigan.  The head shots are arrayed in two concentric circles.  Fifteen players are featured in the outer circle (including Babe Ruth at the 11:00 position), and nine players plus Carrigan are in the inner circle.  The picture of Carrigan is slightly larger than those of the players.  The wording above the picture of Carrigan states, “World Champions 1916.”  The wording below the picture of Carrigan states, “Boston Red Sox American League.”  The middle of the pin states, “Drink Alpen Brau, Detroit’s Champion Beer” (yes, Detroit is one of the three cities in question).


The design of the pin is neither exquisite nor stylish.  I would describe it as “folksy,” almost to the point of being “corny.”  Interlaced between the encircled players are images associated with the game of baseball, including balls, bats, a catcher’s mask, a catcher’s mitt, a pair of baseball cleats, a first-baseman’s glove, an outfielder’s glove, a base, and a home plate.  They appear to be hand-drawn, or at the least, are not photographic images.

In the decade of 1910-1919, only three teams represented the American League in the World Series.  The first was the Philadelphia Athletics: 1910, 1911, 1913, and 1914 (losing only in 1914 to the “Miracle Braves” who issued a spectacular pin/ribbon of their own).  The second was the Boston Red Sox: 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1918 (winning all four).  The third was the Chicago White Sox: 1917 and 1919 (winning the first and intentionally losing the second).  There is an uncanny pattern between the World Series pinbacks of the Athletics and the Red Sox in their respective four-time World Series appearances.  The Athletics made several beautiful pins following their first two World Championships.  They made one pin following their third championship in 1913, and none in 1914 (perhaps because they lost).  A similar pattern emerges for the Red Sox.  A few pins were made following their 1912 World Championship.  In 1915 came the most attractive Red Sox World Series pins.  Both the pins and/or accompanying beautiful ribbons referred to the “Royal Rooters.”  It was also following the 1915 World Series that they were referred to on one pin (as well as a pennant) as the Boston Red “Sox’s.”  The term contains a double linguistic error: there is no plural of “Sox” and the apostrophe makes no sense.  To the best of my knowledge, this pin of their third World Championship is the only one that was made (just as only one pin was made of the Athletics third World Championship).  Finally, there is no known pin of the 1918 World Series.  This is most likely due to the national crisis at the time.  The United States was in its second year of fighting WWI.  The national edict was “Work or Fight.”  The 1918 baseball season was abruptly halted on September 1, 1918.  The two teams in first place at the time were declared League Champions.  The Boston Red Sox went on to defeat the Chicago Cubs in a poorly attended World Series.  Pinmakers in Philadelphia made all of the pins of the Athletics.  Pinmakers in Boston made all of the pins of the Red Sox, except one.  This one.

We now consider the second city: St. Louis.  What does St. Louis have to do with the 1916 World Series and this pin?  In 1892 the Columbia Brewing Company opened in St. Louis.  One of their brands was Alpen Brau (German for “brew of the Alps”).  The earliest record I could find of this brand was from 1905.  In the early years of the 20th century, St. Louis was the home to many breweries.  In reality, there was one big brewery and many small ones.  The big one was, of course, Anheuser-Busch, maker of Budweiser.  Falstaff was the second largest, followed by the Lemp brewery.  Down the list in size was the Columbia Brewing Company.  I could only find one entry that cross-listed Alpen Brau and the Boston Red Sox.  Alpen Brau placed an ad in the 1946 National League champion St. Louis Cardinals version of the World Series program against the American League champion Boston Red Sox.  Two years later in 1948 Falstaff acquired the Columbia Brewing Company.  Anheuser-Busch was so dominant in the city and industry that it was simply referred to by its initials, “A-B.”  I believe it was just a coincidence that Alpen Brau had the same initials.  In 1916 Anheuser-Busch was well on its way to developing a national market presence.  But why would a brand (Alpen Brau) with a small regional market presence (in the central mid-west) be promoting itself in Detroit, Michigan through the Boston Red Sox?  Obviously Alpen Brau was trying to create a larger market presence in another big city, but why Detroit, and not closer big cities as Kansas City, Cleveland, or Chicago?

In early 1917 when this pin was made, the political winds of Prohibition were gaining momentum.  The temperance movement was powerful, especially in the mid-west.  Furthermore, many breweries in the United States were founded by emigrants from Germany.  Anti-German sentiment was strong in the U.S. because that year we joined our Allies in fighting WWI against Germany.  The breweries and distilleries across the nation were bracing for a seismic change in their business: they all would have to make non-alcoholic products.  Enough states supported an amendment to the United States Constitution that would prohibit the sale and consumption of alcohol.  Congress passed the National Prohibition Act to carry out the intent of the 18th Amendment, effective January 1920.  It would take 14 years for society to reverse its opinion on the prohibition of alcohol, culminating in the 21st Amendment to the Constitution that repealed the 18th Amendment.  Many (former) breweries throughout the nation did not survive those 14 years until Prohibition was finally repealed.

So why did a small brand out of St. Louis try to assert itself into the Detroit market in early 1917?  It was because the state of Michigan was three years ahead of the rest of the nation in imposing Prohibition.  On May 1, 1917 the major breweries in Detroit, as Stroh, Goebel, and Pfeiffer, were out of the beer business.  Alpen Brau saw a market with a need and used the World Champion Boston Red Sox to promote itself.  How the residents of Detroit would purchase this product is unspecified, because all beer sales in Michigan became illegal.  But if the residents wanted a beer, Alpen Brau presented itself as the brand to purchase (however it could be done).  Alpen Brau exploited the World Champion Boston Red Sox through association by referring to itself as “Detroit’s Champion Beer.”

I believe the Columbia Brewing Company did not ask the Boston Red Sox for permission to use their name and likeness of their personnel in making this pin.  Perhaps the Red Sox responded by getting an injunction against the Columbia Brewing Company that demanded all such pins be destroyed.  That may account for why this is the only known remaining specimen.  Then again, maybe there was no injunction of any kind, and like many old baseball pins, it is simply the lone survivor.

Solving The Mystery of the Luxello Cigar Pins and a Bizzare Connection to Solving Another Baseball Pinback Riddle [Update]

Over a century ago the tobacco industry in the United States was immense.  Tobacco products included cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, and snuff.  Tobacco was not only grown domestically, but was imported from suppliers in the Caribbean, Turkey, the Philippines, and many other nations.  The industry was not only vast, it was highly controlled through trusts led by a few extremely powerful “robber barons” of the day.  Under the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, these trusts were deemed to be in violation of federal laws designed to promote fair trade.  Roosevelt acquired the reputation of fighting corporate corruption by being a “trust buster.”  Tobacco, along with many other industries, was forced to break apart their conglomerates into subsidiaries.

As such, in 1901 the American Tobacco Company (ATC) created a subsidiary, the American Cigar Company (ACC).  ATC controlled 92% of the cigarette market, but ACC controlled only 14% of the cigar market.  The tobacco industry was both innovative and aggressive in finding new ways to market its products.  The inclusion of baseball cards in packs of cigarettes became a convenient and effective way to increase the sale of cigarettes.  The relationship between baseball cards and cigarettes has been well documented through scholarly analyses, including possible reasons for the scarcity of the Honus Wagner card in the T-206 series.  The relationship between baseball pinback buttons and tobacco products has not been nearly as well researched.

Many different sets of baseball cards were issued that advertised tobacco products. Individual baseball pinback buttons have turned up in the hobby that promoted a tobacco product.  But baseball pinbacks issued in sets that promoted a tobacco product are limited to three.  The first was a 16-pin set issued in 1904 celebrating the World Champion Boston Americans (Red Sox) of 1903.  The pin proclaims the featured player “endorses the cigar makers blue label.”  The size of the set is known (16), as is the identity of each player in the set (one featured player is Cy Young).  The diameter of the pin is 1.50” (an unusual diameter for baseball pins).  While exceedingly rare, the pins are not aesthetically appealing.  The picture of each player is extremely small (about 1/8”), and the “blue label,” upon being reduced in size to be shown on the pin, contains words that are indecipherable.  The pinmaker seemingly was ineffectual in dissuading the buyer from using this unattractive design.  It is unknown how these pins were distributed.

The second set of baseball pinbacks is iconic.  Issued over a two-year period (1910-1911), this set contains 204 pins.  Players from all 16 Major League teams are featured, with teams that recently appeared in the World Series (i.e., Cubs, Athletics, Tigers, Giants, and Pirates) having the greatest representation of players.  The pins were distributed in packs of Sweet Caporal cigarettes, as denoted by the back paper on each pin.  The number of pins in the set is known (204), as is the identity of each player.

The third set of tobacco-related baseball pinbacks is among the most arcane, rivaled only by a set of pins promoting the Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods Company.  So little is known about these pins, it is uncertain as to how many pins comprise each set and the identity of the players.  The Schmelzer set likely has nine pins, because eight other pins have surfaced with each presenting a player in one position.  There is no known pin of the second base position, and his likely identity is sheer speculation.  [Update]  Robert Edward Auctions announced a lot in its upcoming auction that features the ninth pin: the second base player is Johnny Evers.  Additionally the lot includes a tenth pin, that of George Stallings as manager.  This set was assumed to have been issued “circa 1910.”  Now an exact date is established: 1915.  Stallings was the manager of the 1914 Boston Braves that went from last place to winning the National League pennant, and then sweeping the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series.  Stallings got the nickname “The Miracle Man.”  1914 was his only year of prominence as a manager in baseball, and the most unlikely choice to be honored with a pin as manager for any year except following the 1914 season.

But the grand prize for being inscrutable goes to a set known as the Luxello Cigar pin set.  This set features players on both the Athletics and Phillies of 1910.  I was so intrigued with this set I made it the object of my first column in this blog.  For many years the hobby thought the set consisted of 21 pins.  Then a few more surfaced.  As described in my first column, I think the set has 26 pins (8 position players and 5 pitchers, per team).  However, I am unsure of the identity of the center-fielder for the Phillies.  [If you would like to learn more about this fascinating set, I suggest you read my first column.]

It is difficult to describe how incredibly different this set of baseball pins is to every other known set of pins.  They are 7/8” in diameter, and were made by the Parisian Novelty Company of Chicago.  There the similarity to all other baseball pins ends.  Here are two of the pins.     SchettlerBaker 2

It is evident the pins were designed to convey richness, sumptuous elegance, and a level of social refinement one might associate with polo, not baseball.  On each side of the pin is a monogram consisting of the letter L in an interlocking pattern of three different styles of script font.  Each monogram is nested within a horseshoe that clearly reveals eight nail holes.  At the 3:00 and 9:00 positions appear a most graceful and stylish curved design.  If not pictured in their uniform, the players appear wearing a high-fashion suit.  The names of the players not only include their first name, but also stylistic abbreviations.  For example, Wm. Heitmiller, Chas. S. Dooin, and Geo. McQuillan.  The message is very clear.  The maker of Luxello cigars projected a marketing image that the smokers of its brand had aristocratic tastes.

But who was the maker of Luxello cigars?  If you Google “Luxello cigars” you will not find very much.  I was forced to believe that more ads must have been placed for Luxello cigars, but they appeared in sources outside of the data base that Google covers.  I found such a data base, and located 14 more ads for Luxello cigars.  Most of the ads were similar to each other, and most were placed in North Carolina newspapers.  As such, I thought Luxello cigars were most likely made in North Carolina.  But one ad was different from all the rest.  It showed an image of a single Luxello cigar.  It revealed that one of my speculations about the cigar expressed in my first column was wrong.  The ad showed a horse shoe on the cigar label.  In my previous column I speculated the horse shoes were a symbol of good luck, and their presence on the Luxello pins was a gesture of good luck to both the Athletics and the Phillies.  In fact, the horse shoe was part of the image of the Luxello cigar brand.  Horse shoes are symbolic of horse racing, the sport of kings.  Again, the brand pitched the image of aristocracy.

The word “Luxello” is linguistically referred to as a portmanteau: a synthetic word that does not really exist.  The root part of the word is “lux” from which “luxury” and “luxurious” are based.  The suffix “ello” is of Italian origin, meaning something small and also something that is adored.  It is masculine; the feminine counterpart is “ella,” as in Cinderella.  The name “Luxello cigar” thus connotes a small cigar that a male smoker would treasure.  There are other words that connote something small and endearing.  I did not understand why a synthetic word had to be created.  Maybe it was because “Luxello” was not likely to be confused with another brand.  The fact that the monogram was three interlocking L’s (Luxello Luxello Luxello) seemed a bit of over-indulgence to me.

While I found all this information to be intriguing, in truth I was no closer to establishing the maker of Luxello cigars than I was before.  So I decided to dig deeper into the tobacco industry.  The sheer size of the tobacco industry was beyond comprehension.  Since the Luxello cigar pins were made in 1910, here are some statistics about tobacco production and consumption from that approximate year.  In 1911, statistically every man, woman, and child in the United States annually smoked 78 cigars and 108 cigarettes, chewed 2 & ½ pounds of chaw, smoked 1& ¾ pounds of pipe tobacco, and dipped 1/3 of a pound of snuff.  Thirty years later only two numbers had changed: cigar consumption was down to 45 and cigarette consumption was up to 1,500 per year.  In 1912, of the 8 billion, 500 million cigars made in the United States that year, nearly half were made in NY (mostly in Manhattan) and PA.  My plan of using the Luxello brand to identify the maker was met with the most disheartening statistic: there were over seven million different brands of cigars!  The numbers were truly staggering.  I felt that I would probably never know the maker of Luxello cigars, and thus never solve the mystery of the Luxello cigar pins.

It then occurred to me that if I had any hope of finding the maker, I should not expand my search area, but narrow it.  Searching for old newspaper ads made little sense.  Marketers seek to sell desirable products to customers, not necessarily reveal their maker.  If I wanted to find the maker, I would have to analyze tobacco industry publications or perhaps federal government documents pertaining to the chartering of cigar makers.  With the help of a tobacco industry archivist, I got some great leads on where to look.  I knew the date (1910) of the pins, and I knew the brand (Luxello).  I got very lucky.  I found an announcement for Luxello cigars in a tobacco trade publication.  It was the proverbial “Rosetta stone” for solving the mystery of the Luxello cigar pins.  And as a bonus, it led to solving another baseball pinback mystery that had bothered me for a long time.  Here is the announcement:

Talks on Luxurious Luxello

Talk #1

We have taken space in THE TOBACCO WORLD to present to the trade from a new and different angle the merits of Luxello cigars.

In this age of competition the English vocabulary has been exhausted in making high sounding claims.  Every brand of nickel cigars is naturally the “best.”

In this series of talks we propose to present the claims which we make for the “Luxello.”

Mr. Dealer, We Leave It Up to You

Read, then investigate, the “Luxello” for yourself.  “Luxellos” are built on faith that giving the best possible value is the one way to build and maintain a business.

Luckett Luchs & Lipscomb

Manufacturers, Philadelphia

Rarely have so few words been of such great diagnostic value in the pinback hobby.  Among the primary findings that this information led to was:

  1. The three interlocking L’s monogram was not for Luxello Luxello Luxello, but for Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb.
  2. They created a synthetic name (Luxello) for the brand that was an alliterative match with Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb.
  3. The company was not based in North Carolina, but in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  4. The Luxello cigar originally cost 5 cents. The brand ran for at least 30 years. In 1940 you could purchase a box of 50 Luxello cigars for 87 cents.
  5. Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb received their business charter on August 11, 1909. They shortly thereafter decided to promote their company through the Luxello cigar pins, which came out about six months later before the start of the 1910 season.
  6. What good fortune that one of the two teams their pins promoted would go on to become World Champions that year, providing even greater recognition of their brand.
  7. “Luckett” was W.S. Luckett, a powerful player in the cigar business. Originally he was out of Kentucky. He was on the Board of Directors of the American Cigar Company in 1909, the same year he founded Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb. In 1902 he was stationed in southern Virginia running a tobacco operation. He would go on to get several patents related to the tobacco industry.
  8. “Luchs” was Monroe Luchs, the man within the company who was in charge of finances. He was not a tobacco man. Within 15 years he was the head finance man of a New York based company that had nothing to do with tobacco.
  9. “Lipscomb” has not been positively identified, but most likely he is W.T. Lipscomb of Durham, North Carolina. There was another Lipscomb active in the tobacco industry at the time who was from South Carolina. The role Lipscomb filled in the company appeared to be the operational or “hands-on” director of tobacco production.
  10. The corporate headquarters of Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb was located at 710 Bulletin Building in downtown Philadelphia, and its primary production facility was in Gilbertsville, Pennsylvania.

Why did Luckett Luchs and Lipscomb chose the Parisian Novelty Company in Chicago to make these visually stunning baseball pins? Most certainly Philadelphia had pinmaking companies as well at the time. Furthermore, they made some very beautiful pins celebrating the 1910, 1911, and 1913 World Champion Philadelphia Athletic teams. Indeed they did, but the Luxello pins were ordered for production prior to the 1910 season. As such, maybe Luckett Luchs and Lipscomp had no reason to be aware of the local pinmakers, especially since the tobacco company demanded a design reflecting elegant richness never before witnessed in a baseball pin.

At the conclusion of my first column on the Luxello pins, I closed with the comment that, “The past is reluctant to give up its secrets.” The secrets of the Luxello pins had been in hiding for 105 years. It is with great delight that these secrets have finally been revealed, and the hobby can both understand and enjoy the story behind these majestic pins.

But the story does not end here. Take a close look at this pin (actually it is a mirror).Image[2]

Do you see something “wrong” or peculiar about it? This item unsettled me for the longest time. It is one of three such mirrors celebrating the 1910 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics. One of them advertises a pawn shop. In Philadelphia. Another one advertises a car dealership. In Philadelphia. This one advertises a drug store. In Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Philadelphia is 475 miles from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Why would the Owens Drug Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina be featured on an advertising mirror celebrating the 1910 Philadelphia Athletics? It never made any sense to me. But thanks to Mr. Luckett, two mysteries can be solved at once. As noted, W.J. Luckett was from an old tobacco family in Kentucky. Another tobacco family from Kentucky was named Brame. In one government document no less than ten different members of the Brame family are reported as officers in various tobacco companies in Kentucky. Most assuredly Mr. Luckett was familiar with the Brame clan from his home state. Records show that some of the Brames moved to southern Virginia.

In 1876 one of the Brames in Virginia, a “P.J. Brame,” got married and eventually moved to Wilksboro, North Carolina. He was not in the tobacco business. He was a pharmacist. He and his wife eventually moved to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Historical records indicate that on January 25, 1910, P.J. Brame opened the Owens Drug Store. Brame was both the president of the enterprise as well as the head pharmacist. I don’t know if W.J. Luckett and P.J. Brame ever met. If they did, it was probably when Luckett was working in southern Virginia. I believe the word got around that throughout 1910 Luckett promoted his cigar company through his Luxello baseball pins. Maybe these pins stimulated sales of the Luxello cigars, or maybe Luckett thought they did, or maybe he just said they did. Luckett likely told one of the tobacco Brame clan about his latest method of promoting his new business. One of the Brames, in turn, likely informed his kin, P.J. Brame, the pharmacist, who just opened a new business himself, about the marketing potential of the Philadelphia Athletics baseball team. But now it is the 1910 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics. P.J. Brame probably said he knew nothing about baseball pins or mirrors, let alone using them to promote his new business. In turn, P.J. Brame was likely advised not to worry, as two such mirrors already existed; one for a pawn shop and another one for a car dealership. His advertising mirror would simply be the third of its type. He might well have been skeptical of the mirror’s potential to stimulate sales of medicine and fountain drinks. P.J. Brame was then likely reminded of another product that he sold which was undoubtedly popular with his customers. Look at the Owens Drug Store mirror again. Between the two products that are listed on the mirror, which one is listed first (and in a slightly bolder and different font)? A coincidence, maybe. But I doubt it. Such is my best explanation of how the 1910 World Champion Philadelphia Athletics wound up promoting the Owens Drug Store in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Large PM10 Pins (Part Two): More Facts and More Speculation [Update: I Found Him!]


In my younger days I collected pinbacks of every sport.  Nothing was off-limits.  I was fascinated by sports pins of all kinds, including cricket pins from Australia, hockey pins from Canada, and soccer pins from Uruguay (winner of the first World Cup).  It is through them that I learned how to identify pins made outside of the United States.   But my first love has always been baseball, and large PM10 pins in particular (my first pin).  To be very clear, I am speaking of pins with the name on top and having a pale white background.

The first time I saw a large PM10 pin that was not of a baseball player I was uncertain of the sport.  He wasn’t wearing a cap.  A very logical guess (by you) as to the sport would be football or basketball.  Not so.  The identity of the sport and my subsequent research led me to discover that in my youth I was blind to the passionate interest this sport generated.  Furthermore, growing up in Connecticut, it was all around me.  I have no recollection of anything ever being reported on it in the sports section of my local paper.  The pin was of an auto racer.  I had never heard of the guy.   All I knew with certainty was that it was a large PM10 pin, and I was determined to learn more about it.  I subsequently did, which is the basis of this column.  However, my goal remains the same as before: to shed some light on who might have made the large PM10 pins.  More specifically, I am using the auto racing pins as a way to identify who made the baseball pins.  This second part of the column on large PM10 pins brings us tantalizingly closer to answering that question.  We end up with a pile of circumstantial evidence, but no proof.  I hope you enjoy reading this saga as much as I did putting it together.

I begin with the premise that the reader knows as much about auto racing as I once did: nothing at all.  Here is a brief primer.  Auto racing comes in many forms.  I will mention only three.  First, there is dirt track racing.  Probably all drivers began their career racing on dirt tracks.  A race might consist of 30 laps around the track.  Among race car fans, this is the purest form of racing at its most primal level.  Second, there are hard tracks paved with asphalt or concrete.  These tracks are larger, the races involve more laps, and speeds are higher.  Finally, there is a type of racing based on the design of cars used in the Indianapolis 500, the most iconic of all American races.   Currently the seating capacity of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is over 250,000.   The speeds get faster every year, and the cars are specially designed for this race.  Appropriately enough, the name of the design is an “IndyCar” (that is not a typo—all one word with a capital C).  The IndyCar drivers race in a national circuit of tracks designed to accommodate the tremendous speeds the cars reach.  Cars that race on hard tracks are called “stock cars.”  Cars that race on dirt tracks can be just about anything from a stock car to a midget car to a jalopy.

When you think of the legends of auto racing, as 4-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt, you might think he would never “lower” himself to participating in short track racing in a stock car.  Not so.  After he won his first Indy 500 in 1961, he also participated in local short track racing.  It would be a coup for a local track to attract a driver of the stature of Foyt.  As they say, racing gets in your blood, and the drivers would pick their races by the size of the purse.  In the early 1960s, at a small track the winner’s purse might be $1,500.  While many drivers aspired to one day race in the Indy 500, relatively few would reach such a pinnacle.  Most drivers alternated between dirt tracks and hard tracks over the course of the racing season.  Today both the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 (a stock car race) in Charlotte are run on the same day.  Some drivers start the day racing in Indianapolis and then fly to Charlotte to drive in the second race: 1,100 miles of racing in one day (but time flies at 200 mph).

The large PM10 pins were made of stock car racers (a few made it to the Indy 500).  What we know as NASCAR today evolved from dirt racing.  Legend has it that stock car racing began with moonshiners modifying their cars to out-race law enforcement officers in hot pursuit.  Whatever the origin, auto racing was very popular across the nation, in both rural and urban areas.  Following the finding of my first large PM10 auto racing pin, I picked up others along the way.  Here are some of them:

Bobby Allison was voted one of the Top 50 racers in NASCAR history  Both of his sons died in auto racing related accidents.

allison367Junior Johnson was one of the stock car racers who began his racing by running moonshine.  A North Carolina distillery sells three types of alcoholic drinks based on Johnson’s family recipe for moonshine.

allison368Who could not root for a guy named “Hoop”?allison369Bobby Marshman was one of the stock car drivers who raced at the Indy 500.allison371allison370Gouevia’s helmet doesn’t look like it would provide much protection in an accident.

McGreevy’s pin is one of the first to include the checkered flag design.

allison373Bud Tingelstad was the childhood hero of late night talk show host David Letterman who grew up in Indianapolis.allison372

These pins were among the most odd-ball of all my pins.  Given their unusual size (2&1/8”) and design (head shot on a pale white background), I believed their source was the same as the large PM10 baseball pins.  If you recall from Part I, I believe these pins were made in the New York or northern New Jersey area.  Street vendors would place an order for a certain number of pins to be made of a certain baseball player.  How many different vendors would hawk these pins outside of the three ballparks in New York?  A small number, I would guess.  They knew the identity of the pinmaker (individual or company) through word of mouth.  It was only a short drive from the three ballparks to the likely location of the pinmaker.  But how would the business model work with auto racing pins?  Assuming the auto racing pins were sold the same way (at the track) as the baseball pins (at the ballpark), the points of sale to customers would be more varied.  Around 1960 there were many local tracks in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area.  At first it seemed plausible to me that the same business model could be followed, but it became a stretch the more I thought about it.  Consider the location of the pinmaker as a bulls-eye, and you draw concentric circles around it.  At a radius of 50 miles, you would encompass at least one dozen race tracks, maybe more.  So the potential market would be there, but given the product in question, it didn’t seem to make much business sense.  These pins would typically sell to the public at $.25 – $.50 apiece.  That would be a very thin profit margin for the vendor, considering the mileage in question and amount of traffic congestion.  A 10-mile distance from the source to three markets is one thing, but up to a 50-mile distance to one market is another.  It just didn’t add up to me.  Still, I had no better answer.

Then, out of thin air (almost literally, cyberspace) came a series of clues that fell together.  About 15 years ago someone on eBay was selling many large PM10 auto racing pins.  There were about 20 individual lots.   All of these pins were in mint condition; it was as if they had never seen the light of day.  Amidst the pins were some design variations to the standard large PM10 pins that led to a very different interpretation as to how they were distributed.  Two final pins, neither being of drivers, were absolutely critical.  I cannot call them the Rosetta stones to identifying the source of the large PM10s, but close.

The following pins are among 21 that present the name of a track as well as the driver.

Blanket Hill Speedway was in Kittaning, PA (near Pittsburgh).  “Hank Bauer” is the answer to the trivia question about the only baseball player to appear on a large PM10 pin in two different poses.  His corresponding counterpart in auto racing is “Dave Lundy.”


Victoria Speedway was in Dunnsville, NY, near Albany (a half-mile dirt track formerly used for horse racing). The pins of Pete Corey are evidence that the name of the track was promoted as heavily as the driver.allison385

Fonda Speedway is in Fonda, NY (near Mohawk).

Oswego Speedway is in Oswego, NY (near Syracuse).allison374

The Southern Rebel 300 was held in Darlington, SC (it is now a 500-mile race with a different name). The name of the track on this pin was not explicitly named but is inferred from the two design features.allison377

Raceway Park was in Chicago.allison378

Vallejo Speedway was in Vallejo, CA (near San Francisco). A pin with a “full design:” name of driver, name of track, and checkered flag feature.allison384

Needless to say, the location of these tracks far exceed 50 miles from NYC.  These pins served to completely change my understanding of all the large PM10 auto racing pins.  A different business model had to be followed for their distribution and sale, but not necessarily their manufacture.  While the pinmaker sold baseball pins directly to street vendors (and the vendors probably picked up the pins at his place of business), the auto racing pins were not sold to street vendors.  They were most likely purchased by the owners of the tracks. The pins were shipped to the tracks, one as far away as 3,000 miles.  Perhaps the earliest auto racing pins just listed the driver’s name.  I believe the various track owners wanted more customized pins to promote their own tracks.  The pinmaker then expanded his design offerings, adding the name of the track and also checkered flags, symbolic of racing.  As such, these pins have richer designs than the very plain baseball pins of the 1950s.  This is one indication the auto racing pins were made after the baseball pins.  But there is also another more powerful reason.  As I indicated in Part I of this column, the large PM10 baseball pins were made over an eight-year period based on the players depicted. However, all the pins were constructed identically with a spring pin. The large PM10 auto racing pins were likely made over time as well.  I have a total of 42 of them.  Three of them were made with the same spring pin design feature as used in all the baseball pins.  As such, I believe they are the oldest of the auto racing pins, and they only present the driver’s name.  The allison381remaining 39 pins were made with a different type of pinning mechanism.  This method was developed later in the technological evolution of pinmaking.  It was a more sophisticated design, using two metal plates instead of one, and the pinning mechanism is a claspback design.  After the pin has been affixed to clothing, the tip of the horizontal pin is tucked under a clasp to prevent it from falling off, as well as decreasing the likelihood the wearer would get unintentionally stuck with the sharp end of a spring pin.   While I offered a precise start date and end date for the large PM10 baseball pins, I do not know precisely when the auto racing pins began and ended.   My best guess is they began in 1959 or 1960, and ended around 1965 or 1966 (Junior Johnson retired in 1966).  Unlike baseball which is characterized by extensive and precise record keeping, there is no such analogue for auto racing.  The Indy 500 race is thoroughly documented (it began in 1911).  There is far less information on the early years of stock car racing, and even less on local dirt track racing.  While some of the racers on the pins began their careers in the 1950s, whatever records exist on these drivers indicate that they all raced in the early to mid-1960s.  For example, it is documented that Bud Tingelstad ran his first race in 1960.

Now comes the part of the column where I engage in a continuation of my speculative theory about the origin of the large PM10 pins.  Please withhold your judgment until the end of the column.  I have pieced this together from the confluence of both the baseball and auto racing pins.  I will begin with an inflammatory hypothesis: the maker of the large PM10 baseball pins probably violated the law.  Not the selling of unlicensed merchandise (there were no such laws at the time), but the likely non-payment of sales tax and income tax from the sale of these pins. In the 1950s the pinmaker most likely ran a cash-only business with these pins.  He accepted cash (only) from the street vendors.  The street vendor accepted cash (only) from fans buying the pins.  Unless the street vendors kept records of pre-game and post-game inventory, there would be no way to document how much was owed in taxes.  While the pinmaker might have kept more precise records than the vendors, I speculate that he did not.  I doubt if either party issued receipts; the street vendors certainly didn’t.  If the ultimate truth is that both the pinmaker and street vendors faithfully paid sales tax and reported the generated sales as a basis to pay income tax, I sincerely apologize for impugning the integrity of both parties.

Now jump ahead to today.  Ballparks sell some items costing hundreds of dollars (e.g., a replica uniform).  A beer costs $10 at Yankee Stadium.  Many fans pay for these items with a credit card.  There is a documented record of the sale that provides a basis for the vendor to report sales tax.  Back in the 1950s, vendors did not sell anything expensive enough to warrant paying by check, and credit cards had not yet been invented (or at least they were not accepted as a form of payment at ballparks).  As such, in an all-cash context, it might be argued that no one paid sales tax for anything purchased at a ballpark.  Not so.  I remember being at Yankee Stadium in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Beer vendors would walk the aisles.  A case of Ballantine beer was placed in a rectangular metal tray that the vendor carried in front of him with the aid of a strap that ran behind the vendor’s neck, attached to both sides of the metal tray.

[This paragraph has nothing to do with pinback buttons.  It is based on a fond memory.  The beer vendor carried a can opener.  It had a wooden or metal handle and at the end of it was a sharp piece of metal in the shape of the letter V.  This is long before the invention of “pop-top” cans.  When I would watch my father open a can of beer at home, he would punch one hole in the can with the can opener, then rotate the can 180 degrees, and punch a second hole in the can.  Then he would pour the beer from the can into a glass, but the beer would pour only from one hole.  I asked him about the purpose of the second hole.  He said it was to let the air out of the can.  One day I snuck a can of beer for myself (I recall being about 15-16).  I wanted to test his theory, so I punched just one hole in the can and poured the beer.  Not knowing beer from shinola, I quickly saw the importance of the second hole.  The beer I poured looked nothing like the beer he poured.  Mine was about one inch of beer and six inches of foam.  Back to the ballpark.  When you ordered a beer, the vendor did not bother with rotating the can of beer in the tray.  Instead, at lightning speed he used the can opener to punch 3-4 holes in the same side of the can.  Then he poured the beer into a paper cup and produced hardly any foam.  I asked my father why he did not also use this particular method.  He replied, “Because the beer vendor is a professional.”  I would enjoy hearing from any reader who remembers this era of buying beer at a ballpark.]

The beer vendor wore an unusual badge.  The cost of the beer was 50 cents.  The rectangular badge indicated the beer itself cost 48 cents, and 2 cents was for sales tax.  Above the badge, right above the “0” in “50,” was a rectangular flap of plastic.  It was attached by some sort of hinge.  After the 6th inning the flap was lowered, revealing the number “5.”  In short, after the 6th inning there was a nickel increase in the cost of a beer, but the price increase was not enough to warrant collecting more in sales tax.  I remember my uncle, a consummate beer drinker, was most displeased with the unwarranted price jump, which he brought to my attention.  So street vendors who sold pins collected no sales tax (at least not so indicated), but sales tax was overtly included in the price of beer sold by vendors in the stadium.

What does sales tax have to do with who made large PM10 pins?  When the maker of large PM10 pins went from baseball to auto racing, his business model had to change.  Many of the customers of the pinmaker were out of state.  The owners of the tracks probably would be very reluctant to send cash through the mail, so they paid by check.  Now there is a paper trail.  For the tracks within the state of New Jersey (and there were many), there would be the issue of both sales tax and ultimately income tax.  While the making and selling of baseball pins could be an “underground” operation because of the cash-only method of payment, the entire operation had to become “above ground” when non-cash payments were involved.  But there is a huge missing link in this supply chain.  How would the owners of the various race tracks around the country know the identity and address of the pinmaker?  Word of mouth may suffice as a marketing method among a small group of people operating within 10 miles of each other, but it won’t suffice when your potential market is the entire nation.  How does the pinmaker now “go national” in his marketing plan?  There must have been a way to generate national awareness of his availability.

Enter the two (partial) Rosetta stone pins.  I acquired these along with the mint pins of the racers.  I don’t know why I did so, because they each are only tangentially related to sports.  In hindsight, I’m ecstatic that I did.  They helped to unravel the mystery of the large PM10 pins (or at least offer a very plausible explanation of them).  The first pin is a large PM10 pin.  But it is obviously not of a racer, at least not wearing his helmet.  He looked like some office manager.  Why was a large PM10 pin made of him?  Like most of the drivers, I never heard of him either.  Nat Kleinfield was both a prominent track announcer and a writer about auto racing.  He lived in northern New Jersey (Fair Lawn), and was well-known for his manner of speech in calling races in various tracks in New Jersey.  He also had a radio show about auto racing.  The second pin makes mention of his first name, Nat.  It is an expression reflecting a popular phrase of the era.  “I like Nat” was a variation of President Eisenhower’s campaign slogan:  “I like Ike.”  The rest of the pin presents the name of some publication called “Illustrated Speedway News.”  That pin led me to investigate Illustrated Speedway News (ISN).  What follows next was the result of many hours of internet research.allison382allison383

Nat Kleinfield was neither the owner nor editor of ISN.  He wrote a feature called “Speaking of Speed” and was the resident luminary columnist for ISN.  ISN began in 1938.  It was a weekly publication, coming out every Tuesday.  The format of the newspaper was modeled after the New York Daily News.  The cover page was a photograph, as was the back page.  Each issue was typically 16 pages in length.  ISN was regarded as the definitive publication for national auto racing news.  While ISN presented itself as having a national focus on auto racing, in reality it was heavily East-coast oriented.  There would be a few columns written by stringers from California and the mid-west to legitimate its proclaimed national scope, but beyond that, almost everything else was about racing news in the East.  ISN contained stories about race tracks and announcements of upcoming races, mostly around the tri-state region.  In reading it I learned about tracks that were operating within 30 miles of my home as a boy in Connecticut that I never knew existed.  My assumption that auto racing was primarily a Southern phenomenon was completely wrong.  Maybe there were more tracks in the South, but there were also many tracks in NJ, NY, CT, PA, and MA.  The corporate headquarters for ISN was Brooklyn.  A few issues occasionally come up for sale, but only two years of ISN have been archived on microfiche, 1964 and 1965.  Fate was very kind to me regarding the years in question.  My theory of the large PM10 pins is that the baseball pins stopped in 1959, and the auto racing pins came next.  The issues from 1964 and 1965 could prove most useful for me.

Here was my reasoning.  The maker of the large PM10 pins was from the New York or northern New Jersey area.  After the Dodgers and Giants left New York, he switched from cash-only local sales to national sales for auto racing pins paid for by check.  ISN was the definitive auto racing publication and was available for national distribution through subscription.  How did the owners of race tracks around the nation find the pinmaker?  I concluded he must have placed an ad in ISN.  Furthermore, if the pinmaker who made the auto racing pins also made the baseball pins, the pinmaker’s location had to be in the New York or northern New Jersey area.  I crossed my fingers and hoped to find an ad that showed a picture of a large PM10 pin that would unequivocally nail the lid on this mystery.  After all, that is exactly how the mystery of the “Jackie Robinson tells his story to the Brooklyn Eagle” pin was solved, as described in a previous column.  I scrolled through the pages of each issue.  Many of the big ads were placed by insurance companies.  In the back of each issue was a section for classified ads.  While the majority of these ads were placed by individuals typically selling automobile parts, some companies placed ads as well.  Ad space was sold by the vertical inch;  many ads were only one-two inches..  Typically the same small ad would run for two-three weeks.  However, one company ran its ad every week, the exact same wording, week after week.  While the ad was not the proverbial “smoking gun” that I hoped to see, what I found was seductively taunting.   The company was called “Motor Speedway Specialties Co.”  The ad said they specialized in “Novelties and Souvenirs.”  Furthermore, no other company consistently advertised the offering of novelties and souvenirs.  As a bonus to further entice me, the ad specified “Wholesale Only.”  How much more could I hope for?  The grand prize was the location of this company: Irvington, NJ.  For those of you unfamiliar with NJ, Irvington is three miles west of Newark.  Among the inferences that can be drawn from this ad is ISN ordered its own promotional pins from one of its advertisers.

How strong is the evidence that one company made all of the large PM10 racing pins?  Extremely probable, but not absolutely conclusive.  They all were made with an unusual sized die, 2&1/8”.  Unusual, but probably not the only die of that size ever manufactured.  More conclusively, the font is the same on every pin.  Furthermore, I have never seen this particular font on any other pinback in any sport.  Since ISN was the only definitive national racing publication at the time (historical records indicate such), and since “novelties and souvenirs” include pinback buttons (they do, but it is not an obvious or immediate connection), and since no other racing souvenir company other than the Motor Speedway Specialties Co. consistently advertised in ISN, then the evidence is very compelling.  Second, we would have to assume that if a large PM10 auto racing pin that is identical in design and structure to a large PM10 baseball pin, both types of pins came from the same source.  The diameter, pale white background color, and font are identical in both.  Among the PM10 baseball pins there are a few that have a font that is slightly thinner than the rest.  Otherwise, the fonts on all the rest of the baseball pins are identical to every one of the auto racing pins.  Just like the baseball pins, there is no union bug on any of the racing pins. This is what the scientific community would call extremely strong circumstantial evidence, but not proof. What is the weakest part of my theory?  Yes, the evidence is overwhelming that the same company made both the large PM10 baseball and auto racing pins, but the mere presence of an ad for a company that makes novelties and souvenirs does not necessarily confirm that it was the actual source of the pins in question.  Without a detailed invoice or a company brochure (preferably illustrated) that describes the products it sells or the verbal account of a knowledgeable person (e.g., a former employee), there is break in the final link of the chain.

When a theory is proposed, it is not uncommon to encounter some evidence that challenges the theory’s accuracy.   In such a case you either have to modify the theory to accommodate the new evidence or explain the likely irrelevance of the disconfirming evidence.  The second “Rosetta stone” pin has a bright yellow background, not pale white.  It is also of a different diameter (3.00”) than the large PM10 of Kleinfield.  The identity of the company that made this pin is on the curl: “Edmar Specialties Company, Forest Hills, NY.”  Did the maker of the large PM10 pins reveal his identity through this second pin?  I don’t think so, but possibly.  The use of color suggests a different pinmaker, but a different diameter is even more strongly indicative of it.  A company like Whitehead & Hoag made a wide array of pins, and as such they would have invested in many dies of different sizes to meet their customers’ needs.  A small company that provided an array of “specialties” or “novelties,” including pinbacks, would be far more inclined to work with only one die or maybe two.  Like an artist who only works in one medium (charcoal, for example), small novelty companies would likewise offer extremely limited choices in the size of a pinback and its design.  Edmar offered 3.00” pins, with the option of color.  Other popular sizes for pinbacks are 1.75” and 1.25”.  The large PM10 pinmaker most likely limited himself to 2 & 1/8” pins with no color.  Again, I can’t prove this exclusivity in design.  There is no historical record of the Edmar Specialties Company in Forest Hills, NY.  It was likely a mom-and-pop operation whose name was probably a hybrid of their first names, as Edward and Martha.

In my opinion the larger colorized pin is far more plausible as a promotional product for ISN than the black and white large PM10 pin of Kleinfield.  In fact, the large PM10 pin of Kleinfield makes no reference at all to ISN.  Why would ISN order such a plain pin in promoting its lead writer?  Probably because the pinmaker made pins featuring the drivers that Kleinfield wrote about in his weekly column, “Speaking of Speed.”  As such, ISN honored its lead writer with the same type of promotional item reserved for the people that he covered in racing news.  The Kleinfield pin is the only known large PM10 pin that does not feature a sports figure.  In my opinion the Kleinfield pin offers the biggest clue to ultimately revealing the identity of the maker.  When ISN inquired about another pin that would present many words, no head shot, and be in color, the pinmaker probably said he did not produce pins of the size needed to clearly present all the words, and his pins were only in black and white.  So ISN found Edmar for the second pin.  Speaking somewhat loosely, I believe the black and white headshot, pale white background, distinctive diameter, and distinctive font was the “trademark design” of pins made by the Motor Speedway Specialties Company of Irvington, NJ in the 1950s and 1960s.

I conclude with a paradoxical answer to my question of whether an individual or company made the large PM10 pins.  The correct answer is likely “both.”  The owner of the Motor Speedway Specialties Co. may have made the baseball pins as an “under the table” operation based on cash sales to avoid taxation.  When the baseball pin market subsided, he switched to auto racing pins.  Because most or all of his sales were now traceable because of non-cash payments, the auto racing pins were officially made “above the table” by his company.  You will have to decide for yourself what you think of all the evidence provided and inferences drawn as the basis of my conclusion.

However, my sleuthing is not over on this matter.  I am in the process of trying to establish the owner of the Motor Speedway Specialties Co. through corporate records archived by the Secretary of State of the State of New Jersey.  I was advised not to expect a speedy reply.  But if I get a name, I will next attempt an archival recovery of his obituary.  If I do, I hope it reads something like this:

“Peter Pinmaker passed away three days ago.  He worked at the Whitehead & Hoag Company in Newark for 40 years. After he retired, he operated a novelties and souvenirs store in Irvington.  Some of his creations brought immense pleasure to others, yet few knew the identity of their creator.  He had great interest in both baseball and auto racing.  He is survived by his wife, Petunia.”  Even that would not nail the case shut, but it sure would seem to bring us closer, wouldn’t it?

Three closing notes.  We all know the history of baseball.  You may wonder what happened in auto racing.  Nat Kleinfield had a stroke in mid-1964, and auto racing suffered from his diminished presence.  He died in 1970 at age 60.  The Daytona 500 went on to become the premier stock car race.  The early years involved racing on the hard sand of Daytona Beach at low tide.  Drivers who lost control of their cars either wound up in the soft sand or in the Atlantic Ocean.  In 1959 a hard track was built in Daytona for what has become a famous race.  The mid-late1960s brought about great social change, particularly of a counter-cultural nature.  People’s changing tastes were reflected in the growing use of drugs, popular music, the hippie movement, and of course, the Vietnam War.  Many long-standing civic traditions were altered, but auto racing, like baseball, continued to be part of the American social fabric. Just as many minor league baseball teams folded in this era, auto racing suffered as well.  Local dirt track racing still exists, but on a much more limited basis than in its heyday.  Only three of the tracks presented on the pins remain in business: Darlington Raceway, Fonda Speedway, and Oswego Speedway.  The majority of the tracks that promoted their races in ISN cease to exist.  Even ISN folded in the early 1970s.  Stock car racing lost most of its local flavor as NASCAR found corporate sponsors and follows a national circuit of races held in huge tracks.  Darlington Raceway is now part of the NASCAR circuit. The stock car auto racing industry is now highly structured and formalized.  There are some small tracks that still hold races today, as Fonda Speedway and Oswego Speedway, but with reduced racing schedules.  In 1969 MLB merchandise licensing laws went into effect, part of the larger process of regulating, standardizing, and formalizing professional sports in America.  Long gone is the uniqueness of local and regional influences on these sports.  Just as professional baseball had to change with the times, so did professional auto racing.  Both sports continue to have a populist appeal and are enjoyed by millions of fans every year.  The large PM10 pins of auto racers are but a remnant of a bygone era.  I have 74 of the large PM10 baseball pins of this design.  I have 42 large PM10 auto racing pins.  If auto racing were an obscure sport, it would not have generated so many pinback buttons. Furthermore, while there may be a few large PM10 baseball pins of players on the three New York teams that have not yet turned up in the hobby, I believe there are many more large PM10 auto racing pins waiting to be discovered.  Most notably, not one of my auto racing pins makes any reference to the Indy 500.  Why not?  I suspect it is because the Indy 500 considers itself to be better than all other races, and a small novelty store located in Irvington, NJ is beneath its standards for supplier quality.  Alternatively, maybe the pinmaker didn’t have the capability to produce 10,000 pins for one order.

Second, I have one large PM10 pin that is neither of a baseball player nor an auto racer.  It is of a professional wrestler who performed in the 1960s.  I don’t know if its existence serves to refute or support my theory of who made these pins.  By the way, I made an imprecise statement in Part I of this column.  I said, “There are less than 100 known large PM10 pins.”  I should have said, “There are less than 100 known large PM10 baseball pins.”  I did not include the auto racing pins in that total.  Assuming the pinmaker made all the large PM10 pins (2&1/8”) with the pale white background, the running total of known pins so far is 117 (74 baseball, 42 auto racing, 1 wrestling).  This pinmaker has undoubtedly made more pins than any other single individual in the history of sports pinback buttons.  That makes his anonymity all the more maddening.  The hobby owes him a huge debt of gratitude, whomever he may be.

Finally, who besides a collector would have many large PM10 auto racing pins?  Not just 1 or 2, but 20.  Either a former race track owner, a former pinmaker, or someone who was sentimentally attached to them.  I cannot remember the name of the person who 15 years ago put those 20 auto racing pins on eBay.  These pins are in absolute mint condition.  Someone had taken very good care of them.  For a long time they probably resided in a box tucked away or maybe in a dresser drawer, along with other keepsakes.  In putting the final touches on this column, I wanted to see if I could find anything about their possible source.  I think I found it, but like everything else, I can’t prove it.  I researched Nat Kleinfield once again, this time about his personal life.  He was married, and his wife’s name was Lillian.  They had a son, Nathan, who goes by “Sonny.”  Like his father, Sonny Kleinfield is a writer.  I discovered he is a writer for the New York Times.  Lillian Kleinfield died at age 88.  She died in 2000, 15 years ago.  In cleaning out the family home in Fair Lawn after her death, I believe Sonny found the treasure trove of pins and placed them on eBay.  Without also including the two pins relating to his father, all we would know is that large PM10 pins were made of both baseball players and auto racers.

Sometimes I think I am chasing ghosts.  Maybe they are chasing me.

[Update: I Found Him!]

I should have realized sooner that if there was an answer to who made the large PM10 pins, after I established the likely connection to Motor Speedway Specialties, the answer would appear through something auto racing related.  Even after I posted the column, I kept following links about racing.  I discovered a website “3wide” that posted old racing photographs; its name is based upon a racing term involving three cars leading the field, each in its own lane.  The cars are racing down the track “three across” or “three wide.”  A few clicks and I found the Holy Grail that I had been seeking.

A person named “Russ Dodge” submitted an old photograph to the website.  The photograph was dated 1961.  But the photograph did not depict racers, but a souvenir store.  It shows a smiling couple, appearing to be in their early 40s, behind the counter of their store.  Beneath the photo is a statement that says the photograph is not to be presented or posted without permission of the photographer or photographer’s family.  The photograph itself is not as important as the information about it.  Mr. Dodge wrote the following story that was posted beneath the photograph.

“Always a Tough Decision What to Buy Next”

“Many photos, decals, and novelty racing souvenirs in my collection were purchased from Jeanne and Al Otto’s novelty stand at the Flemington Fairgrounds.  Each week it was a fun task as a young teen to decide whether to buy a decal, a souvenir of some type or an Ace Lane Sr., John Reilly, or Virgil Plum photo of a ‘Flemington Regular.’

The Otto’s were friendly people and displayed great patience as young potential customers carefully surveyed their inventory for something new each week.  They always had the ‘neatest stuff’ and besides from also having stands at Old Bridge and other speedways, they operated a wholesale business called Motor Speedway Specialties Co., supplying other speedway novelty stands across the country.

Ironically, the ‘choosing experience’ returned for me some 25 years after my first purchase.  In the early 1980s I managed the novelty stand at Bridgeport Speedway.  One of my suppliers was, you guessed it, Motor Speedway Specialties Co. then being managed by Mrs. Otto and basically selling off the old remaining stock from their glory days.  How thrilled and lucky I was to be able to buy the original ‘stuff’ I didn’t buy in my youth!

Thanks for listening.

Senior Moment by Russ Dodge”

On November 9, 2012 a visitor to the website offered this comment on the photograph and accompanying story submitted by Mr. Dodge:

“Great memories here!  I wish I still had my plastic helmet and goggles.  I still have some photos and a Tasnady button.”

Records indicate that Al Tasnady was a stock car racer from Flemington, NJ who raced mostly on dirt tracks.

Where do I begin?  I am gratified to learn that the maker(s) of the large PM10 pins were remembered as “friendly people” who helped young collectors.  While I was not into racing, then or now, I would have bought up all of their baseball pins if given the opportunity to do so.  I feel guilty that I opined these nice people might be tax cheats in their younger days.  What this new information taught me was that the racing pins were not sold to race track owners, but to the operators of novelty stands located near the race tracks.  And the “wholesale only” description was not completely accurate.  Obviously they sold their items retail at stands they operated at nearby race tracks.

So it wasn’t “Peter and Petunia Pinmaker,” but “Al and Jeanne Otto.”  On behalf of sports pin hobbyists who collect your creations 50-60 years after you made them, we thank you most sincerely for providing us with so much enjoyment.  Al and Jeanne, I have been looking to thank you for a long, long time.

Large PM10 Pins (Part One): A Speculative Theory


Large PM10 pins come in two sizes: either 2 & 1/8” or 2 & 3/16”.  The slightly larger size features players exclusively from the Philadelphia Phillies of the early 1960s.  The slightly smaller size features players from the three New York teams of the early 1950s to the late 1950s, with five very notable exceptions.  They are: Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn, Del Crandall (Milwaukee Braves), Ted Williams (Boston Red Sox), and Rocky Colavito (Detroit Tigers).  There is also a pin of Willie Mays with a “SF” on his cap, but it was an airbrushed version of an original photo of Mays wearing “NY” on his cap that first appeared on a large PM10 pin.  I strongly believe the pins of the three players on the Braves were made for the 1957 and/or 1958 World Series featuring the Braves and Yankees.  The Williams and Colavito pins were made because both were very popular American League players.  In total, there are less than 100 known large PM10 pins.  Their most distinctive feature is not just their larger size compared to the 1.75” PM10 pin, but their absolute starkness.  There is no color at all in any of them.  There is no background imagery.  Just a black-and-white head shot against a pale white background.   A few of these pins have a slightly different font than the rest.  These large PM10 pins are so devoid of artistry that they could well be regarded as the equivalent of a mug shot of the players.  I think these pins are beautiful in their raw simple elegance.

Now comes the part of this column where I engage in speculation.  In particular, I am speculating about who made these pins.  The slightly larger PM10 pins were most likely made by a metal works company in or near Philadelphia.  For an unknown reason, this company used a die that was 1/16ths of an inch larger.  The only sports-related pins I have ever seen with this 2 & 3/16” diameter are of these Philadelphia Phillies players.  Vendors ordered these pins to be made, and sold them in and around Connie Mack Stadium on game days.

I believe the smaller of the large PM10 pins were all made in the New York or northern New Jersey area.  Some people in the hobby speculate that the five non-NY player pins are evidence that these pins were made and sold in different cities around the nation.  I don’t think so.  The vendors who ordered the manufacturing of these pins did so simply because they thought the pins would sell.  All five of these pins were of popular players who were on teams visiting the New York Yankees.  It is no coincidence that these five pins are extremely scarce.  Furthermore, all of the large PM10 pins lack the style and grace of pins made by the major pinmakers of the day, such as Whitehead & Hoag and Bastian Brothers.  These famous companies made pinbacks that manifested superior artistry and craftsmanship.  With their simplistic fonts and stark white backgrounds, the large PM10 pins are at the opposite end of the continuum of pinmaking artistry.  These pins are just incredibly simple, almost primitive, in design.  As such, I believe it is more likely that the maker of the large PM10 pins was a metal works company that did not specialize in making pinbacks.

The large PM10 pins would not have met the quality standards of Whitehead & Hoag.  Unlike Whitehead & Hoag et al., a metal works shop could produce pins quickly because there were no elaborate design issues to address.  It probably could offer much smaller minimum production runs, and also charged less for its products.  These would be three very desirable features for street vendors.  These street vendors had low overhead, worked on tight budgets, probably did not even purchase a peddler’s license from the city, and needed a supplier that offered a low-cost product.  The vendors would sell their pins outside of Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, and the Polo Grounds before the crowd started to arrive.  At least one game was played in NYC every day.  For the vendors, it became a question of where they would sell their wares.  The pins were mounted on a large piece of cardboard as a display to entice buyers.  Unlike the small PM10 (1.75”) pins, the large PM10 pins were seldom adorned with ribbons and dangles (e.g.,a plastic ball, glove, or bat).  If you see a large PM10 pin with a ribbon and dangle, it likely has been altered by a third party (a seller of baseball memorabilia) to enhance the visual appeal of the pin to a prospective buyer.

So who might the unknown metal works company be that made these very simple large PM10 pins?  Was there more than one?  We will never know.  But here is a theory I have come to believe may be true.  Maybe it wasn’t a company at all.  Perhaps it was an individual, as a retired sheet metal worker who knew the craft of pinmaking.  Maybe he was a former employee of Whitehead & Hoag, a company located just 11 miles away from NYC in Newark, NJ.  He purchased a die and a press for crimping the component parts.  Perhaps the seller was a metal works company that had an older model press that got replaced.  Very few pins in general are 2 & 1/8” in diameter.  Maybe he got a good deal on an unpopular die.  He bought celluloid, sheet metal, colletts, paper, and spring pins from suppliers, or even as surplus stock from a metal works company.   He developed a relatively crude but effective way of creating the paper image of the player from some other paper images (as a team photograph or baseball card).  He probably ran the entire operation out of his apartment or garage.  He then wholesaled the pins to the street vendors.  Sounds crazy?  Maybe.

What is the range of dates of these large PM10 pins?  I believe there is a precise beginning date for them.  Excluding the pins of Dodger and Giant players, and using just Yankee players featured on the pins, the “early” years of these pins featured Rizzuto, Mize, Coleman, Woodling, Lopat, and Reynolds (among others).  Guess who never appeared on a large PM10 pin?  DiMaggio.  You would think that a pin of DiMaggio would sell out every day from the vendor’s display board.  Not if he were retired (which he did after the 1951 season).  So I believe the start date for the large PM10 pins was 1952 (for an additional reason to be discussed shortly).

The pins ran through the decade of the 1950s.  The “late” years included pins of Maris, Lopez, Richardson, Boyer, Kubek, and Arroyo (among others).  I believe the end date of the large PM10 pins was 1959.  Then the large PM10 pins mysteriously stopped.  Maybe there was nothing mysterious at all about their demise, because two-thirds of the market was lost after the 1958 season.   Their production was not halted because of MLB merchandise licensing laws, since they did not begin until 1969.  The Yankee fans alone could not generate enough demand to warrant continuing the making of these pins.  What Yankee players did not have a large PM10 pin made of them?  Joe Pepitone, Tom Tresh (ROY), Bill Stafford, Jim Bouton, Al Downing, Phil Linz, Norm Siebern, and Ralph Terry.  These players were members of the 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, or 1964 American League champion Yankees.  Terry was a member of all five.

As a counter-argument, it can reasonably be stated that these players were all in the formative years of their careers.  In their early 20s at the time, they were not as popular with the fans as the premier players such as Berra, Mantle, and Ford.  Thus, quite appropriately, no pins were made of these emerging players.  Fair enough.

But now the argument gets switched around.  What players did have pins made of them?  Certainly the starters on the team.   But also two players only the most knowledgeable New York Yankee fans would recognize: Maury McDermott and Bill Miller.  McDermott played for the Yankees for one year, 1956.  He was used as a reliever and spot starter.  His record that year was 2-6.  He played in 23 games, starting 9 of them.  He pitched 87 innings giving up 85 hits (including 10 home runs) and 47 walks.  Why on earth would a pin have been made of him?  Because for one brief shining moment early in the season, he looked like he had great potential.  On May 5, 1956 McDermott started for the Yankees at home against the Senators.  He pitched a fine game, went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs, 5 hits, 3 walks, and no home runs.  He not only got the win, he stopped a two-game team losing streak.  Furthermore, his victory was the start of a five game winning streak for the Yankees.  McDermott seemed hot, as did the team.  He would next pitch five days later on May 10, again at Yankee Stadium. He lasted five innings and took the loss.  He would win only one more game for the Yankees during the rest of the season.  I bet that pin of Maury McDermott was made right after the game of May 5.  Even seldom-used Phil Linz contributed more to the Yankees than Maury McDermott.

What does this game and the McDermott pin have to do with who made the large PM10 pins?  Who else but a solo operator could produce a batch of pins on such short notice?  His business model would have been just like that of McDonalds today: very rapid service, low cost, and acceptable quality.  The pinmaker had four days to make a batch of McDermott pins before his next start.   Production companies take orders that are placed in a queue.  The McDermott pin would have to wait for its turn in the queue.  The only way the McDermott pin could get expedited would be if a street vendor paid a premium to bump it up in the production queue.  Adding to the cost defeats the purpose of vendors buying from this supplier.  Since McDermott got real cold real fast for the rest of the season, the vendors probably got stuck with a batch of pins of a player who no longer had fan appeal.  After he was released by the Yankees, his pin was virtually unsellable. Such is the risk of counting on unproven players, even for street vendors.

Bill Miller had a three-year career with the Yankees.  He was 4-6 in 1952, 2-1 in 1953, and 0-1 in 1954.  He was out of baseball by the end of 1955.  The pin of Miller is undoubtedly from his rookie year in 1952 (which is why I believe 1952 was the start date of the large PM10 pins). Despite a losing record that year, he pitched very well.  He started 13 games and completed 5 of them, including two shut-outs.  All of his victories were complete games.  On June 22 he pitched a complete game in a 3-1 loss.  His final complete-game victory was on September 10, a 7-0 shut-out where he only gave up only 3 hits and 2 walks.  [Can you imagine a rookie pitcher today getting two complete-game shut-outs, plus pitching three more complete games?]  This promising rookie deserved to have a pin made of him.  But how about Ralph Terry?  Terry is often remembered for giving up the home run to Mazeroski in the 9th inning of the 7th game of the 1960 World Series against the Pirates.  Terry is less remembered for winning the 7th game of the 1962 World Series against the Giants.  He pitched the complete game that ended when McCovey hit a screaming line drive to Richardson with two runners in scoring position.  Terry won 78 games for the Yankees in his career.  There is a pin of Bill Miller but not of Ralph Terry.  If only Terry had started his career about five years earlier, when the pinmaker was in his prime.

Late in the 1956 season the Yankees acquired 40-year old Enos Slaughter from the Kansas City Athletics.  A large PM10 pin was made of him.  However, Slaughter is featured on the pin not in a Yankee uniform, and not wearing a Yankee cap.  A crude “NY” was superimposed on his cap.  It is in the wrong place (too close to the bill), and out of proportion in relation to the size of the cap.  The person who doctored the cap knew more about making pinback buttons than altering photographic images.  Maybe the needed equipment was lacking.  The metal works industry is heavily unionized.  Such companies do not typically produce sub-standard products.   Products made by a unionized workforce often cost more because of the relatively higher cost of union labor associated with higher quality workmanship.  The small PM10 pins (1.75”) often have a union bug pressed into the metal.  I cannot recall ever seeing a union bug on a large PM10 pin.  And if a few exist, it may well be because the enterprising pinmaker purchased scrap sheet metal already imprinted with a union bug.  Why would a unionized metal works company make 1.75” pins but not 2 & 1/8” pins?  Maybe it is because the large PM10 pins were not made by a company.

The large PM10 pins had a run of just under 10 years.  But not exactly.  More precisely, the large PM10 baseball pins had such a run.  In Part II of this column I will discuss large PM10 sports pins that many hobbyists probably don’t even know exist.  In their own way they tell a story even more intriguing than their baseball counterparts.  These pins neither definitively corroborate nor disconfirm my theory of who made them.  You can draw your own conclusion.  Such is the agonizing fun of being a pin collector.


Lithograph Pinback Buttons (And One Unique Contraption)

Many pinback button collectors are familiar with the birth of celluloid pinback buttons.  Two dates are typically associated with their invention, either 1894 or 1896.  One of these dates is presented on a paper insert often placed in the back of a celluloid pinback button.  The engineering process used to create celluloid pinback buttons is rather complicated.  It begins with an image on paper that is laminated with a protective celluloid (plastic) cover.  The paper image and celluloid cover are then crimped to a piece of metal that has been shaped with a die to create a concave flange and secured with a round metal ring (called a “collet”).  The trough created by the curl and collet provides a channel into which a spring pin is placed, permitting the pinback button to be attached to clothing for wearing. There are also other variations to this basic design, mostly involving the pinning mechanism.

What all celluloid pinback buttons have in common is technical complexity in their construction (with associated cost to the buyer).  It is no wonder that some celluloid pinbacks today look as good as the day they were made.  These pinbacks were very well constructed and have withstood the test of time.  As such, it seems rather remarkable to me that a simpler method to make pinbacks did not come along for almost another 25 years.  This column is about the invention of the second type of pinback button.  The technology was much simpler, and the cost to the buyer was much less.  They are known as lithograph pinback buttons.

I was able to locate two original documents filed with the U.S. Patent Office regarding inventions pertaining to lithograph pinback buttons.  History would ultimately reveal one was a smashing success, and one was (apparently) a dismal failure.  This column will feature a single lithograph pinback button/badge to demonstate both inventions.

Lithograph pinback buttons are characterized by their simplicity of construction.  Just as with celluloid pinback buttons, there are different variations in design.  The most basic design begins with a flat piece of metal (tin).  No paper is involved.  First, the sheet of tin is painted with a background color.  Upon drying, words and/or a graphic image are applied with ink.  Depending upon the particular design of the item, a third step might involve applying a thin coating of lacquer after the ink has dried to help preserve the image, in much the same way as the layer of celluloid (plastic) protects a celluloid pinback button.  Next a die stamps or cuts out the images that have been created on the sheet of tin.  This simple design technology is the basis for what the hobby calls “tabs.”  Since a tab is usually just a flat piece of metal, it is affixed to clothing (i.e., the top of a shirt pocket) by bending back the top portion of the tab.  Some well-known baseball tabs in the hobby include a tab celebrating Early Wynn’s 300th victory, a set of team tabs from the early 1960s, and the “Our National Game” player tabs of the 1930s.  An unusual variation to the typical flat tab is a set of team and player “bubble” tabs issued in the 1930s where the tabs are on the sides instead of the top.

A second variation of lithograph pinback buttons is the paint and ink are applied to tin, a die cuts out a circle around the image, and then another die creates a flange (i.e., the curl).  Finally, a spring pin is inserted under the curl for wearing.  Because no protective lacquer is applied to the ink, these pinbacks are water soluble.  An example of this type of lithograph pinback button would be the Cracker Jack pin set of the 1930s.

Finally, a third variation does involve the application of lacquer to the images before they are cut and shaped into round pinbacks.  An example of this type of lithograph pinback is the 1956 Topps pin set.  No matter what type of design technology is used, lithograph pinbacks are more easily damaged (usually by scratching) than celluloid pinbacks.

James L. Lynch was a Chicago industrialist who ran a sheet metal company.  He applied for a patent to make lithograph pinback buttons.  The title of his patent application was “Process of Making Buttons.”  The date of the original application was March 9, 1912.  Lynch finally got his invention patented on February 13, 1917.  The number is 1,215,675 from the U.S. Patent Office.  Here is the direct transcript of his patent application:

“The usual type of button as heretofore constructed has consisted of a metal base over which a printed design and thereafter a sheet of celluloid is secured, and the various elements are then permanently associated with one another in the forming of dies for the button.

By my invention, however, I am enabled to produce a button of the same appearance and durability, although at much less cost.

It is an object of my invention to produce a button constructed of metal having any desired design in any derived color or combination printed or lithographed directly on the metal itself, and with a transparent protecting coating applied to give a high gloss and approve the appearance thereof.

After the desired designs are applied to the metal, a liquid solution is applied thereto by painting, rolling, dipping, pouring, or by an air spray, which dries with a high luster and forms an elastic coating on the sheet very similar to a celluloid covering.  The button blank is then stamped from the sheet, and is then passed through suitable dies to form an inturned flange, serving as a retaining means for a pin and clasp wire, for the completed button.

By this process a button is thus formed which is exactly similar in appearance to the ordinary type of paper and celluloid covered metal buttons, but which is produced at exceedingly less cost, and furthermore, owing to the fact that in its finished condition, it is essentially an all-metal construction, it is far more durable than the other older type of button.”

While it is easy to play “Monday Morning Quarterback” 98 years after the invention was proposed, Lynch was partially correct about the value of lithograph pinback buttons.  He was correct about them being of all-metal construction, and he was correct that they are less costly than celluloid pinback buttons.  Where we could argue with Lynch is that history has shown that lithograph pinback buttons are, in fact, not “far more durable than the other older type of button.”

Lithograph pinback buttons went on to become a staple of the industry.  They are still made today.  Mr. Lynch undoubtedly prospered financially from his invention.  Nearly one-hundred years later, collectors of pinback buttons have to worry about reproductions and fantasies.  It should be duly noted that these hobby concerns apply only to celluloid pinback buttons.  It would be virtually impossible to reproduce lithography on metal unless one had access to the original design technology.

Mr. Lynch obtained another patent on a second invention pertaining to lithograph pinback buttons.   I was able to obtain an obscure specimen of it for this column.  While his first invention was a commercial success, the second one apparently was a dismal failure.  Furthermore, in the patent application process, Lynch made a statement that confirms what many hobbyists have long suspected about the object of their collecting interest.

On November 27, 1911, six months before filing his original patent application for lithograph pinback buttons, Lynch submitted another patent application entitled “Attaching Means for Buttons and Badges.”  The patent on the invention was granted on November 26, 1912, patent number 1,045,160.  The following is a direct transcript of his patent application:

“In many labor organizations, the various unions recognized the members of the union to obtain a monthly button or badge evidencing the continued good standing of the member in such union.  Such buttons or badges are required to be worn or exhibited during the month upon the clothing or cap of the member, and at the end of the month a new button or badge is issued and the old button thrown away or destroyed.  This entails considerable waste, as the entire structure is discarded….Furthermore, the frequent attachment and detachment of such device to the clothing soon injures the garment, rendering the same unsightly.  The object of this invention is to afford an attaching device adapted for use in connection with a button top, to removably engage the same upon the clothing without the necessity of removing the attaching means or pin from the clothing and enabling any desired button top of a standard size, to be immediately secured in place in lieu thereof, if desired.  It is also an object to the invention to afford an exceedingly strong and secure engagement of the button with the garment, preventing the disengagement therefrom except with intent.”

The following shows a scan of both the front and back of Lynch’s invention.  It happens to be a Boston Red Sox pinback.  I believe it was either a salesman’s sample or a demo of the construction process.  I recently acquired this pinback to illustrate its most unusual design features.  Mr. Lynch’s patented invention has two parts, and both are unique.  I have never before seen either part.  While a picture is worth a thousand words, I will try to describe it verbally.



The top half is, by far, the more intriguing.  It is an engineering marvel.  It is a single piece of wire.  If you were to stretch it out, it probably would be eight inches in length.   The wire is thicker than in any other pinning mechanism that I have ever seen.  The two ends of the wire culminate in the same place.  The engineering design is so tight that upon casual inspection it almost looks like one continuous piece of metal, with no beginning and no end.

One end of the pin has been sharpened to a point, the end that pierces the garment.  From the point, the wire extends about 1.50” until you come to essentially a double loop.  It is this loop that provides the tension in the spring pin (just as in a conventional safety pin).  The wire then extends at a 45- degree angle downward, followed by another 45-degree bend downward in the wire.  Now it is perpendicular to the pointed end of the wire.  Following a slight (about 1/8”) bend backwards (creating a “notch”), the wire now heads back 180 degrees to the main part of the pin.  Then there is a very tight complete reversal in the direction of the wire, creating the illusion of two parallel wires.  The wire then doubles back yet again, heading toward the pointed end.  The final part of the wire creates an oval-shaped loop, which serves to house the sharpened end of the wire (and protect the wearer from being impaled).

By design the wire has so much tension in it that the pinning mechanism is more difficult to engage than a conventional spring pin.  It was Lynch’s intent that once affixed to a garment, the pin would remain there.  As such, the pin is not particularly easy to open or close.  The pin was engineered so precisely that the blunt end of the wire abuts part of the loop.  By any reasonable standard, this is the most elaborate and sophisticated pinning mechanism yet invented for pinback buttons.

The bottom half of Lynch’s creation is also no “plain vanilla” fare either.  The badge has an unusual diameter for a pinback (either celluloid or lithograph), 2 & ¼”.  By comparison, the large PM10 pins are 2 & 1/8”.  But most distinctive is its design.  It is half-way between a flat tab and a typical lithograph pinback.  It does have a slight curl (90 degrees) to it, but the curl is not pronounced enough to create a trough.  If you tried to place a typical spring pin in it, the pin would immediately fall out.  The curl is just enough that the metal flange can be holed.  At the 12:00 position is such a hole.  The badge is affixed to the attaching spring mechanism by inserting the tip of the “parallel wires” into the hole, then sliding the badge down to the point where it rests in the “notch.”  The depth of the notch is such that the badge hangs straight and is not pinched by the wire, and thus dangles freely beneath the attaching mechanism.

Lynch customized the design of the badge to complement the design of the pinning mechanism.  There would be no way to wear the badge without his pinning mechanism.  To the best of my memory, I have never seen a holed lithograph pin/badge before.  I have seen holed celluloid pinbacks before, but the hole was usually at the 6:00 position.  They were typically football pins, and beneath the pinback dangled some metal football-related adornment.  I have seen these pinbacks minus the adornment, and I have seen adornments that had become separated from the pinback.  It would be possible to re-create such a pinback by uniting the two parts that were originally not joined together.  The hobby is divided on the integrity of pinbacks that have been so altered.

But what would/could you salvage from one-half of Lynch’s invention?  Probably nothing.  Either you would have a badge with no way to wear it, or you would have an attaching mechanism with nothing to hang beneath it.  As such, Lynch followed the marketing principle of product differentiation.  Quite literally, his invention differentiated itself from every other product in the pinback market.

So what are we to make of Lynch’s invention a century after its birth?   I conclude it was a commercial failure.  Recall from the patent application that this product was designed to reduce wear and tear on clothing from the continuous attaching and removing of pins.  Perhaps the market concluded that doing so did no serious harm to a garment.  As such, the invention was likely regarded as a solution to a non-problem.  I can think of no other viable explanation for why there are no other known surviving specimens of Lynch’s patented idea.

I should note that I might have previously seen one other Lynch badge (but not the pinning mechanism).  It was long ago and my memory is not clear.  I do recall seeing a lithograph pin for the 1926 Army-Navy game played at Soldier Field in Chicago.  I remember it was orange in color.  I recall looking at it in bewilderment.   I was struck by the fact that it did not have a curl deep enough to hold a typical spring pin.  In short, there was no way a person could wear it.   I can’t remember if it was holed or not.  If any reader has this pin, I would enjoy hearing from you.  The reverse of this Red Sox badge states “J.L. Lynch, 77 W. Washington St, Chicago, ILL. Pat’s applied for.”  In the middle is the union logo for the Amalgamated Sheetmetal Workers International Alliance.

As a final note, I am intrigued by the dates of these two patents.  Lynch first applied for (and received) the patent on his attaching mechanism.  This patent took one day short of a year to be granted.  The patent on the lithograph pinback button took nearly a full five years to be granted, first applied for in March, 1912 and finally approved in February, 1917.  When I was researching this column I was tempted to call Lynch the “father” of lithograph pinback buttons.  I now believe he was but one of several individuals who contributed to creating this type of pinback.  The five-year time period between the original application and final approval suggests that at that time the U.S. Patent Office was also evaluating related products submitted by other inventors.

This blog is about baseball pinback buttons (plus an occasional column about other sports).  I debated whether I would have written a column if this badge were not sports-related.  I probably would have, but the fact this badge is baseball-related just made it a delightful coincidence.


Please forgive my exuberance in using all capital letters for the title of this post.

In my book I make the point that mystery often surrounds baseball pinback buttons.  We can hold in our hand the end-result of someone’s decision to have a pinback button be produced, but we often never know the who, what, when, where, why, and how behind the little trinket.  This is especially true of pinbacks not issued in sets.  They often defy explanation.

This is the story of solving the mystery of one pinback that has intrigued me for a long time.  The particular pin in question is one that is well known in the hobby.  It is a pinback of Jackie Robinson, 1.50″ in diameter (a most unusual size for a baseball pinback button).  There is a youthful looking image of Robinson on the pin, with the inscription “Jackie Robinson Tells His Story to the Brooklyn Eagle.”  At the bottom of the pin is an individual letter that is seemingly unrelated to the picture of Robinson or the words on the pin.  In a previous post (“The Pinbacks of Jackie Robinson”) is a picture of the pin.  This particular specimen features the letter “J.”  The size of the letter was large enough to be noticed, but not over-powering in its presentation.

It is very unusual (but not unheard of) for a pinmaker to place any extraneous information on the front of the pin, as pertaining to the maker of the pin, for example.  Such information is usually placed on the curl or on the reverse with a paper insert (if at all).  I could not decipher the meaning of this free-floating letter.  It is one of the more flagrant mysteries among baseball pinback buttons.  The pin itself is very scarce.  It rarely comes up for auction or for sale.  I have seen two versions of this pin: one with the letter J and one with the letter N.

I reasoned there could only be two possible explanations for the two versions of the pin.  One pertained to the pinmaker.  I thought the pinmaker might have made two production runs, with the letters N and J simply identifying the run.  Perhaps the two runs differentiated the time or place of the pin’s distribution.  The pinmaker’s name was presented on the curl.  I googled the company and unbelievably discovered it was still in business.  I wrote a letter to the company and asked what it could tell me about the story behind the two different letters on the pin it had made.  I heard nothing for weeks  Finally I received a letter from an employee who had been with the company for over 50 years.  He told me the company stopped making pins many years ago as part of their line of promotional products.  Furthermore, all the files pertaining to pinbacks had long been destroyed.

My last hope was the Brooklyn Eagle archives at the Brooklyn Library.  Previously I had researched their microfiche files for a post I had written on The Deer Club.  The library had converted the Brooklyn Eagle into microfiche starting with the inception of the newspaper in 1841 up until 1947.  The library ran out of money to finish converting the remaining issues into microfiche (the newspaper folded in 1955).  I did a manual page-by-page search of the newspaper for 1947 hoping to find a reference to the Robinson pin.  I found nothing.  I donated $100 to the Brooklyn Library to help fund the continuation of the microfiche project.

About 1-2 years went by when I received an email from the Brooklyn Library stating that the complete run of the Brooklyn Eagle was now available on microfiche.  While I was pleased that the project was now complete, I really did not have the enthusiasm to do another year-by-year, issue-by-issue, page-by-page search of the newspaper.  The process was very laborious.

Recently I was scrolling through some old emails and found the one from the Brooklyn Library.  Just for fun I clicked on it.  Much to my surprise, the site now included a search function.  I entered “Jackie Robinson tells his story” and was taken to eleven specific issues.  The year was 1949.  There was a ten-part series on Robinson’s story, beginning August 15, 1949 and ending August 24, 1949.

I clicked on the August 15 issue.  Beneath the first installment of the series was an advertisement by the Brooklyn Eagle.  My eyes were transfixed as the ad showed a picture of the Robinson pin.  The ad read:

“The lucky letter is R!  Look at your Jackie Robinson button.  If it has the letter R imprinted just above the name ‘Brooklyn Eagle’ it’s a lucky button.  You may exchange it for our autographed baseball of Jack Robinson.  Bring all lucky buttons with the letter R to the Circulation Department, Brooklyn Eagle, 24 Johnson Street.  Near Buro Hall.”

There it was in black-and-white, right before my eyes!  But the ad didn’t explain everything.  Like, how would people get a button?  How many “unlucky” letter buttons were there?  I knew of two of them, the J and the N.  But something else seemed missing.  The lead line of the ad appeared to be the answer to a question: “The lucky letter is R!”  But what was the question?

I clicked back and found a reference that preceded the first installment of the series that was published on August 15.  In the August 12, 1949 issue of the Brooklyn Eagle was an ad run by the newspaper.  This ad was the Rosetta Stone to deciphering the Jackie Robinson pin!  My mouth became dry when I read the ad:

“Button button, who’s got the lucky button?  Thousands of these buttons are being given away on the streets of Brooklyn daily.  Be sure to save yours because a number will be imprinted with a lucky letter just above the name ‘Brooklyn Eagle.’  The lucky letter will be announced in this space on Monday, August 15.  Bring your original lucky button to the Circulation Department of the Brooklyn Eagle and receive an autographed baseball by Jackie Robinson.”

To further taunt the reader, the picture of the Robinson pin featured a question mark in the position where the letter would appear.  The final reference pertaining to the mercurial Robinson pin appeared following the third installment on August 17.  It was a photograph of three people, each wearing the lucky R Robinson pin and holding an autographed baseball.

We now know how the pins were distributed to the public.  They were not sold at Ebbets Field, but were most likely given in batches to the operators of corner news stands in Brooklyn.  Presumably every person who bought a copy of the newspaper was offered a free pin by the news stand operator as part of the Brooklyn Eagle’s promotion.  How many news stands sold the Brooklyn Eagle in Brooklyn?  Hundreds?  The Robinson story was not a one-day event, but a series that ran in ten installments, one installment per day for ten consecutive days.  How many pins were given out (“thousands daily”)?  If the lucky letter on the pin was identified by the newspaper on August 15, what was the fate of the unlucky pins?  Were they thrown to the curb when the buyer of the newspaper realized it wasn’t the lucky letter?  Did the news stand operators fish out the lucky pins to get an autographed baseball for themselves?  How many baseballs did Robinson autograph: 10, 20, 50?  That is how many R pins would have been made.

How many letters were featured on the unlucky pins?  We know the letters that were made: N, J, and R.  These are three of the letters that are part of the first and last name of Robinson.  If the letters chosen for production spelled out his full name, there were pins made with eight other letters: A, C, K, I, E, O, B, and S.

The Brooklyn Eagle did not undertake an inexpensive promotion of its series on Robinson.  The pins required a double press run.  The first run produced the image of Robinson and the words.  The second run printed a strategically placed letter on the paper image.  Then all the paper images were laminated with celluloid and crimped with a collett to become a pinback.  This procedure was followed for as many different letters that were used: 3 (known), 11 (his full name), or 26 (the entire alphabet).

In my years of collecting I have seen two pins with the letter N and one with the letter J.  Presumably the Brooklyn Eagle destroyed all the R pins after they were redeemed.  But what became of all the other pins that were distributed, “thousands daily” for ten days?  Pins purchased at ball parks are sometimes saved as a souvenir of a memorable day.  These Robinson pins were distributed for free as part of a commercial transaction that lacked sentimentality.  Is that why so few have survived?  Was it because the value of the pin was established on the first day of the installment, thereby rendering all the unlucky pins to be valueless with nine days to go in the promotion?  Would more pins have survived if the Brooklyn Eagle had identified the lucky pin on the last day of the promotion instead of the first?  What are the odds that a lucky letter R pin was never redeemed and remains tucked away in an old dresser or shoebox?

While I feel very gratified to bring closure to the Robinson pin, it is fun to wonder what might have happened, and maybe what still is.