This article is copyright and may not be reproduced without the permission
of the author, Nigel Mercer.
The history has eight parts:
- 1. Introduction and beginnings
- 2. Card production and Topps
- 3. Football cards, Topps and the Beatles
- 4. The end of A&BC Chewing Gum
- 5. Non-football cards and stickers produced by A&BC Chewing Gum, 1953 to 1974
- 6. Football cards and stickers produced by A&BC Chewing Gum
- 7. The Braun family story
- 8. The Frank Conway story
Part 2 - Card production and Topps
A&BC began by making a chewing gum in a twist wrap style, and then Douglas Coakley went to America on his honeymoon and whilst he was there sought out anyone who might be selling machinery to mass produce chewing gum, since the required equipment was very specialised. By good fortune he was informed of a chewing gum company which had gone into liquidation in Fort Worth, Texas. He flew from New York and bought the equipment not knowing anything about machinery, taking a big chance. A&BC were then able to produce their first proper chewing gum which was wrapped in the familiar style that is still used today; it was called “Everlast” chewing gum.
With the machinery that came from America A&BC started to produce gum with cards. They had remembered the popularity of the children’s craze for cards from before the War, and thought that cards would improve the sales of their gum. A short while later their first bubble gum was produced and included cards of Film and T.V. Stars, these were wrapped in a wax wrapper which included an imaginary dollar bill in the printing, hence the name “Dollar Bubble Gum”.
In the same year their printers suggested at the time of the Coronation to produce cards of the Queen with photographs by Dorothy Wilding as they had permission to produce these prints (a set of 24 ‘Royal Portraits’). This was controversial at the time as they were not of the Coronation and were seen as ‘cashing in’, though it did give A&BC publicity and increased sales.
With increasing sales A&BC quite rapidly outstripped the production capacity of their printers. One problem for the printers was their inability to collate the cards properly to try and avoid duplicates in the same wrapper; eventually A&BC cut and collated the cards themselves.
Alliance with Topps
The Topps Company was founded in the U.S. in 1938, and begun producing Bazooka bubble gum after World War II. In 1950 Topps began including cards in with their gum in an attempt to increase sales. In 1952 the then President of Topps came to England and, while there, visited A&BC Chewing Gum. According to the recollection of the Coakley brothers he advised A&BC that they were getting nowhere and advised a tie up with Topps under a licence agreement to produce some of their products. At the time A&BC declined the Topps offer.
A&BC began to expand and after a further visit to America started making Ball Gum for the first ball gum vending machines in the country as well as for their other products. At this stage they were producing about 15 tons of gum each week. The company soon outgrew the premises in Cricklewood and around 1958 moved to larger premises at Colindale in North London.
In 1959 Topps again approached A&BC and this time A&BC were ready to listen. The two companies negotiated a licence for A&BC to produce Bazooka Bubble Gum and to reproduce some of Topps’ card gum series, starting with Elvis Presley, Flags, etc. A&BC also agreed to buy some old wrapping machines for the card gum and a new wrapping machine from Forgrove to produce Bazooka, after it had been sent to the States and modified, all very expensive. This then meant that after signing the licence agreement A&BC was committed to paying a percentage of their turnover of all products to Topps, and sticking strictly to the terms of the licence agreement.
Over the next 15 years A&BC continued to produce their own series of cards, increasingly focusing on the popular football cards, though they also produced the Topps U.S. series range of cards. Regardless of the source, all A&BC cards were printed in England. A number of A&BC cards are recorded as having the initials 'TCG' on the cards, and A&BC on the wrappers. This is understood to indicate where the cards came from Topps (Topps Chewing Gum) but were wrapped into A&BC packets.
In or around 1959 there was a serious fire at A&BC. After some time they managed to get back into production but they then decided to look for a bigger factory. A suitable factory was found in Spilsby Road, Harold Hill near Romford Essex, east of London where they remained for many years. They increased the factory footage many times and also bought the next door factory as the company expanded.
In the 1950s, as part of an increasingly professional approach to their business, A&BC established 20 newsagents and shops for ‘product testing’. Most were in the South e.g. London and South Wales. New card sets were introduced and A&BC then basically knew within one week whether they would sell or not. If the shops, and then the company, felt that the sets would not sell then A&BC would not proceed to full production. These testing shops remained with A&BC through the 1960s.
According to the memory of Douglas Coakley the Rolling Stones set is an example of a set which A&BC thought would sell, but which did not, so they only ever appeared in the testing shops. This may help explain why cards from this set are so hard to come by. Unfortunately the production records from A&BC Chewing Gum are not thought to have survived, so there is no known record of the actual numbers of each card produced.