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 3 - Football cards, Topps and the Beatles
The concept of producing football cards at A&BC came from Douglas Coakley. A&BC Gum began with an ‘All Sports’ series in 1954, a set of 120 cards which included 36 footballers. They followed this in 1958 with a set of 92 footballer cards, and thus began a run of 16 years of football card production. During this 16 year period A&BC produced both English and Scottish sets, and included special issues and giveaways with many cards e.g. paper pennants, small black and white photographs etc. For a list of all English A&BC football cards produced between 1965/66 and 1979/80 click here.
A footballer set was produced every year in their thousands and therefore became the mainstay of A&BC. Douglas Coakley was responsible for the design of the cards, plus signing up the teams and individual footballers. He appointed a sports agent who went around to training grounds locating and signing up the individual players on contracts. The agent also wrote the text for each card.
In later years A&BC introduced the concept of ‘series’ within a set. Series 1 would be produced to coincide with the start of a football season i.e. for distribution around August each year. A second series would be introduced some months later and, if required, a third series would also be produced. The concept aimed to keep the series fresh for their agents, allowing the ‘selling season’ to be kept alive alongside the football playing season. Obviously the number of cards produced in each series was reduced in anticipation of lower sales of the later series. Series 3 cards of most sets are therefore the harder to collect, and are now more valuable.
Following the success of the English football cards A&BC began producing Scottish versions of their cards in the early 1960s. These were also popular, though produced in smaller numbers than the English cards. The backs of the Scottish cards were, after a while, coloured differently from the English sets to avoid mix-ups between the two in the factory.
Douglas Coakley recalls some interesting stories of footballers:
- In the 1960s each footballer was paid a set fee of £10 for the rights to use their image on an A&BC card. This was irrespective of their ‘fame’.
- George Best was the first player to use an agent who refused the £10 fee and instead asked for £1,000. A&BC refused. George Best appears in the 1966/67, 1967/68 and 1968/69 sets, but not any A&BC sets after that date, perhaps dating this incident to that time.
- Tommy Smith, the Liverpool captain, didn’t want to sign for £10, believing the amount too small. The agent contacted Douglas who then telephoned Tommy Smith and explained to him that A&BC paid everyone £10 regardless of their stature in the game. This included many of the ‘lesser’ players featured in A&BC cards, and £10 would be a lot of money to them. After that explanation Tommy Smith agreed to sign.
- In the late 60s A&BC commissioned some tin badges of football players as give-aways at trade fairs. These badges are now highly sought after and collectable.
Topps and the Beatles
In 1962/63 Douglas Coakley approached Brian Epstein (manager of the Beatles) and his lawyer David Jacobs and obtained the rights and licence to produce cards with the Beatles images and signatures. A set of 60 cards were first produced and issued, with immediate success.
Information of the series success was passed on to Topps in the U.S. and A&BC gave them the photographs and helped to negotiate the rights and licence for Topps to produce these sets in America, leading to an enormous success there.
Around this time Topps saw that the A&BC Chewing Gum company was a good business, and decided to buy out Rudy Braun, which turned out over time for A&BC to be an error of judgement. This was just after A&BC's biggest year, mainly due to the Beatles Cards, the increase in sales of the Footballer series, and their other products.
Mars Attacks is a set of science fiction cards produced by Topps in the U.S. in 1962 (though there is some confusion over the name ‘Bubbles Inc.’ which may have been used by Topps at this time and which appears on these cards). The set is well-known for its graphic depiction of gore and violence. At the time it produced sensational feedback from members of the public.
Though it is not recognised as an A&BC Chewing Gum production Douglas remembers that A&BC did produce Mars Attacks in the UK. Douglas was in the US at a meeting for Mars Attacks and remembers Woody Gelman defending the content of the cards. Woody said that he was in a war, and the cards represent what war is about.
Douglas remembers being asked to go on TV in England to defend the cards. He was fronted by a lady who said that her son had nightmares from the cards. After the show Douglas remembers having a cup of tea with the lady, a nurse, who then asked if A&BC could provide her son with the three cards he was still missing for the set!!
Douglas also maintains that they received a letter from the Mars company asking them to cease production as the set was an infringement on their company name!
Mars Attacks was a popular series but production was stopped because of the adverse publicity.