From 1921 to the 1970s, Exhibit Supply Co. (ESCO) of Chicago, Illinois, released over 14,000 different cards. While there are numerous articles I could write to kick off my coverage of “Exhibits” here on the blog, covering various aspects of the company’s history, including the postcard-like design style, distribution and machines, and key sets/cards, there’s a select group of cards that are particularly scarce, about which very little is known in a topic I’m genuinely passionate about: Checklist cards!
Before I delve into the world of Exhibit’s wrestling, football, baseball, and boxing checklist cards, there are a few important points to address.
Firstly, I want to clarify that I’m not an exhibit expert. These cards have a poorly documented history that’s challenging to unravel, and there are some hot debates about some of them in the hobby. However, my interest in learning more about them has been growing over the years. The topic of checklists, in particular, has been on my mind for some time. I decided to take the plunge and share my thoughts, hoping that fellow collectors might reach out to me and engage in conversations or provide additional insights. So, please don’t hesitate to contact me if you notice any errors or have more information to share.
Next, kudos to Adam Warshaw and his book, Exhibit and Related Sports Arcade Cards. I’ll reference it throughout this post; it’s an awesome resource.
Lastly, before diving into the cards, you should be aware of one critical Arcade/Exhibit-related topic – slicks. Slicks are paper versions of the cards produced on “slick” glossy paper. They served as exact replicas of the typically thick postcard-like cards and were designed to be affixed to headers on the front of exhibit vending/arcade machines. Adam pointed out that ESCO likely produced them because paper is more cost-effective and lighter than cardboard. When manufacturing and mailing tens of thousands of these each year, every penny saved matters.
To illustrate, here’s an example of a vending machine with a header sign with a bunch of slicks pasted on it, advertising “Baseball Stars” and “Football Stars.”
This is a different sign, but notice the glue on the back of each one.
Exhibit Wrestling Checklist Card
The following Exhibits “Wrestlers” checklist card was sold in a lot of 34 items by Robert Edward Auctions in April 2023 for $1320. REA described the checklist as “extremely rare” and having a typed address on reverse, but otherwise in fair condition. I’ve also read that the postcard is not on standard Exhibit card stock.
A scan of the same card appears in Warshaw’s book (with a photo of a boxing and baseball checklist). He wrote that the checklist cards from the 1950s are “actually salesman samples, as proven by the example addressed to arcade owners.” However, he only shows the back of the wrestling card, which has sale information, so I think we can call, at least this known example, a salesman sample checklist card.
I also think there may be another pair of 1955-59 Exhibit Supply Company Wrestler series advertising checklists featuring Lou Thesz. One has Don Eagle on the list, and the other does not. Both were supplied with each order of 1000 cards and only exist without cardboard backing and have blank backs.
Exhibit Boxing Checklist Card
Here’s a scan of the Exhibit Prize Fighters checklist card from Warshaw’s book.
And here’s another I found on Google Images. I think they’re the exact same item, given some of the wrinkles.
Because I haven’t seen a scan of either back, I’m unsure if they’re slicks or a salesman sample item/postcards. Also, Warshaw explains that even though Jake LaMotta and Rocky Marciano are both listed on the card, they were part of different sets/series, with La Motta being part of the Salutations series from the ’40s while the Marciano card came out years later in another series. I’ve also seen folks date the boxing checklist card to 1950 (just like the wrestling card).
Exhibit Football Checklist Cards
Things start to get even more complicated when it comes to Exhibit Football checklist cards.
First, there’s definitely a slick version. Sports Collectors Digest shared a pair of machines with headers, one of which features both a Joe DiMaggio baseball and Chuck Bednarik football checklist.
Next, Robert Edward Auctions sold a lot of Exhibit football cards in April 2015 for $2700; its title was 1948-1952 W468 Football Exhibits Complete Set (59) Plus Rare Checklist. They describe the checklist as “paper thin” and in fair condition due to “adhesive on reverse.” So, I think it’s safe to call it a slick.
REA also wrote that the football cards were released between 1948 and 1952, black-and-white between 1948 and 1951, and sepia-toned in 1952. However, Warshaw thinks the cards may have been issued on an ongoing basis from 1948-1955, with certain cards being replaced over time. He also shares that the checklist card is interesting because it specifies which cards were made in the particular year of its creation (cards were issued in 32 card series). He writes that the checklist card is undated and wasn’t mailed, so we can’t conclusively say it’s a 1950 card.
Tuff Stuff says the cards were released in three groups of 32 in 1948, 1950, and 1951, with the 1951 series being the easiest to find. They also wrote that the checklist was produced in 1950 in black-and-white and green – they also mentioned a nine-card ad display with the Bendarik checklist. Beckett online also says the checklist was produced in 1950 in both black-and-white and green and lists 32 players from the 1950 set on the front.
Speaking of, I pulled this black-and-white exhibits football checklist from TCDB. It could be a black-and-white photo of a green/sepia-tone card, but the back shows glue, implying a slick.
Last, I ran across this photo in Google Images. I can’t quite tell if it’s thick like a normal W468 card, but this thread on net54 implies there’s a Bednarik checklist that’s not a slick.
SGC shows three 1948-52 Exhibits (W468) checklist cards with Chuck Bendarik pictured in its Pop Report.
Exhibit Baseball Checklist Cards
I know of two 1947-66 Exhibits baseball checklist card variations. One has ‘Yogi Berra Listed First,’ and one has Al Evans listed first.
Here’s the SGC-graded example of the one with Yogi Berra listed first.
The SGC Pop Report also lists two cards with the description ‘Joe DiMaggio Pictured,’ including the following example – but note that it has Al Evans listed first. I’m unsure if the other SGC-graded example is the same as this one – but if you look above, the Yogi Berra Listed First card also features Joe DiMaggio.
Let’s discuss the ‘Yogi Berra Listed First’ copy. It’s a slick, given the tape residue on the back of the card. Robert Edward Auctions sold the pictured SGC-A card in August 2022 for $840, and I regret not bidding more for it! They noted that it was the first of its kind that they had seen but were aware of the existence of others (I presume they are referring to the variation with Al Evans listed first). REA mentioned the glue residue showing on the blank back. By the way, that Sports Collectors Digest arcade find I referred to earlier, with the baseball and football checklist, the baseball one is a ‘Yogi Berra Listed First’ slick.
The SGC graded Exhibits baseball checklist I shared, with Al Evans listed first, was sold by Heritage Auctions in a lot of 182 Exhibits for $1135.25 in May 2012. Here are a few other cards from that lot.
Heritage explained that they were calling them 1940s to 1960s Exhibits, but they may be something more unique. Given the previously unknown checklist, they thought their origin could be Canadian, and a few of the Salutation series subjects included in the lot suggested a unique circulation apart from the massive distribution in the United States.
In a 2013 auction for 42 and a 2015 auction for 44 more similar Exhibit baseball cards, Heritage wrote, “NOTE: The primary origin of these cards appears to be Canada and one find even yielded a checklist card. The print quality of these cards matches that of the accepted Canadian color tinted baseball exhibit cards. Third party graders still do not accept these and simply write them off as reprints. Please take this into consideration when bidding.”
There was a 64-card Canadian Exhibit baseball set (two 32-card sets), often referenced to 1953, but its checklist doesn’t match the checklist card. The Canadian Exhibit baseball cards are also numbered. PSA writes, “Cards tinted green or red number from #1-32, while cards #32-64 were printed in blue and reddish-brown. Strictly printed in 1953, the cards possess action or portrait style photographs with the player’s name seemingly hand-printed at the bottom of each with the year’s issuance printed below as “53”. The grey stock cards are numbered in the upper right corner.”
Also, the Al Evans checklist lists the New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies who played in the 1950 World Series, but the Phillies are crossed off, and New York Giants are written in, who the Yankees played in the 1951 World Series.
Warshaw dedicates some time to the team cards in his book. He wrote that from 1949 to 1957, except for 1953, ESCO issued a team card for each pennant winner. Noting that a card that says “1955 World Champions” wasn’t made for the 1955 print run. It had to be made after the September/October 1955 World Series.
Therefore, Warshaw references the Al Evans listed first checklist card as one for the 1951 print run (Yankees vs. Phillies in the 1950 World Series).
Wrap-Up and Further Reading
Again, if you have any more information or photos of these cards, please get in touch with me via e-mail, in the comments, or on Twitter. And if you’re into Exhibits, be sure to pick up a copy of Warshaw’s book Exhibit And Related Sports Arcade Cards. I’m super excited to learn more about this hobby niche and suspect there is still a lot to uncover about Exhibits.
For some related content, be sure to check out:
- Checklist Central, where I document my Checklist Era Series, am developing a Checklist Variation Guide, and share all my checklist-related articles.
- I haven’t covered Exhibits a lot on the blog, but I did include the 1947-66 Exhibits as one of my 5 Oversized Alternatives to Topps Tall Boys.
- And so you don’t miss any of my future writing, subscribe to The Post War Cards Newsletter on Substack.
PS, I think there’s a chance the Exhibit Supply Co could have printed the baseball and football slicks for a 1955 revised release as wrestlers, prize fighters, baseball stars, and football stars all appear together on the following catalog page with a note to “Combine In One Machine” (and there is that arcade machine with both the baseball and football checklist card slicks on it).