If you've been around the baseball card/memorabilia hobby for very long, you've probably seen at least one of a series of colorful Wheaties advertisements that appeared on the back covers of some Dell comic books circa 1953.
I recently received an inquiry from reader Steve Magelli, who had acquired a pair of the comics and wanted to know where the advertisements stood in the world of baseball collectibles.
Specifically, he asked if I had ever seen any of the facsimile autographed color photo player portraits that had been cut out of the ads -- as instructed. He wondered whether they were considered "real" baseball cards and what collectible value they might have.
Surprisingly, baseball collectors seem to have had little regard for the colorful Wheaties ads over the years, even though the ads feature many of the same star players that appeared on such widely collected Wheaties memorabilia as box-back cards, tin trays and premium photos in the early 1950s. Occasionally at card shows, complete comic books are offered, and, less frequently, back covers that have been torn off. I've never seen the cut-out portraits offered, and doubt they would generate much interest.
Because the comics covers were printed on a higher quality, glossy paper than the newsprint body of the comic, the Wheaties ads maintain their original brightness better, although being on the outside of the book, they suffered more from wear and tear than the interior pages.
Among comic book collectors, Dell titles have never enjoyed the popularity and collector value of contemporary DC comics. While DC had Superman, Batman, Green Lantern and other superhero icons, Dell's biggest names in the 1950s were Tarzan and the Lone Ranger, along with a host of cartoon characters like Woody Woodpecker and Little Lulu.
For that reason, Dell comics with the Wheatiers series of "Spark Up" ad backs, remain very reasonably priced today. While the biggest names among the ballplayers on back can bring up to $100 in top condition, lesser stars can be found for under $10. These values are for complete comics. Seperated back covers would bring 50-75%, and cut-out portraits no more than 25%.
After my initial response to Steve, admitting that I didn't have much data about the Wheaties ad comics covers, but that I definitely remembered seeing a Yogi Berra ad and possibly a few others, he did some digging around the internet and came up with these baseball players: Yogi Berra, Roy Campanella, George Kell, Stan Musial, Phil Rizzuto and Al Rosen, along with hockey Hall of Famer Sid Abel.
I wouldn't be surprised if there are few other baseball players in the series, and perhaps even a few more non-baseball athletes. Some of Wheaties' line-up of endorsers in that era included Ralph Kiner, Bob Lemon and Preacher Roe. I suppose it's not out of the realm of possibility that there might be Jackie Robinson ad in this series, as well.
If you have scans of other ads from this series that you'd like to share, e-mail them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.