Cold War Cards

I tend to think of general-interest cards as the major thing that distinguishes the pre-World War 2 hobby from the much-more-familiar sports cards and pop-culture cards landscape which got rolling in the 1950s. Many of my pre-war sets serve as a way to teach people about the world and I love the way they serve as a way of documenting our understanding of things at the moment.

My thinking though is also wrong since general interest sets didn’t die out immediately after the war. I’ve come across a bunch of sets from the 1950s in particular which are wonderful to discover me. A lot of them function in similar veins to comic books—both in terms of being general action stories and, later, specifically super heroes—while others are doing the same kind of thing as the pre-war cards and documenting technology or explaining history.

The ones that fascinate me though are the ones that seem to function as state department propaganda. There are multiple sets in the 1950s which are dedicated at some level to the fight against communism. This first card is from  one such set.

Bowman’s 1951 Fight the Red Menace set is basically all about the evils of communism. The artwork is frequently amazing albeit over the top and the back text pulls no punches in terms of who the good guys and bad guys are. I can’t really imagine these being packaged with chewing gum and definitely don’t think they were popular with kids.

In America you can always find the party. In Russia, party always finds you.

Even though I grew up with the USSR as our main global antagonist the idea of just having stuff like this set around is completely foreign to me. Yes, I know that there are a lot of Americans still who freak out about the idea of communism but that fear wasn’t the background radiation of my youth nor is it the way I’m teaching my kids. We’ve had plenty of time to figure out the problems with capitalism since then as well. Anyway, I really liked the idea of having a sample of this set so I selected one that reminded of the old Yakov Smirnoff joke which spawned that early 2000s “In Soviet Russia” meme.

Another set I got a sample from is the very Dr. Strangelove named Power for Peace set that Bowman put out in 1954. This set is all about the current standard of US Military technology and how it needs to be so powerful in order to preserve the peace. This isn’t as much anti-Communism as it’s  anti-Russia and more-generically pro-military as the only thing keeping us from being bombed this very instant.

Since this set is so much like Dr. Strangelove I had to get the B-52 card as a sample. For a 1954 set, getting an image of the B-52 is kind of amazing since that was the first year that any were finished building, only three were made, and they were just test planes. And yes I kind of love that nowhere on the back of this card is the plane described as a bomber.

Not the prettiest card but another one which captures the time. I’m not going to be suckered into the 1950s/1960s non-sport cards the same way as I have been with pre-war but it’s great to have a few samples to remind me of how different this time was.

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at njwv.wordpress.com, and the web at vossbrink.net

4 thoughts on “Cold War Cards”

  1. I’ve got most of the Topps Flags of All Nations set from the same era, which is perhaps a more benign example of a general interest set.

  2. I’m kind of curious about whether or not my current students have strong opinions against communism. I remember as a kid, it was sort of a thing… although I’m sure feelings were much stronger in the 50’s and 60’s.

  3. Historical value of these cards worth more than $$ to some, it’s a way to make money, to others, it’s retaining and posting like the ones you posted. I have many that reflect history of many years and significant stars/hero’s/villains from the past. Mainly Topps early 30s HitStars, Daniel Boone,Civil War News, etc. sharing history helps remind others where we came from, the way we have changed over the decades, it’s awesome!

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