Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Taffy and the Near Failure of 1950s Baseball Cards

Baseball card designer Sy Berger almost failed at his first baseball card venture because he chose the wrong candy to market.

Berger was hired to design cards to sell gum. His first cards, for characters like Hopalong Cassidy, were successful, but his first baseball cards were a dismal failure. Why? Because those 1951 baseball cards were packaged with a piece of taffy. Disaster. The taffy "picked up the flavor of the cards' varnish," one article read. Berger himself remembered, " 'You wouldn't dare put that taffy near your mouth.'"* The next year he used gum in the pack instead, and the pop-culture phenomenon of baseball card collecting was born.

Why did the taffy absorb the flavor of the varnish? Perhaps because taffy is hygroscopic, absorbing water from the atmosphere around it. The gum was clearly a better choice.

*"Sy Berger: The salesman who reinvented the baseball card." <i>The Week</i>, December 26, 2014.

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