Auction houses never cease to amaze us with their incredible finds, and the recent sale of a 1959 Topps Football First Series Vending Box by Heritage Auctions is a prime example. This rare collectible was sold for an astonishing $117,000. In this article, I’ll dive deeper into the details of this particular box as shared by Heritage, compare it to other 1959 Topps Football Vending Boxes (Series Two) that have been auctioned in the past, take a glimpse at other vending boxes from the era, and finally, take a closer look at vending machines from that time to see what we can learn about Topps’ packaging, production, and distribution in its early years.
I first heard about this 1959 Topps Football vending box when a collector contacted me via e-mail. He had seen a few vending box examples I shared on the 1959 Topps Football Unopened Archive page and mentioned that the example in the Heritage Auction was described as being in 7 card bundles, while the example I shared on the archive was a straight run example. I dug around a little and noticed that “Jason_at_Heritage” had shared a few photos of the box on Reddit. You can see the box exterior, the interior bundles, and two specific bundles pulled out, one featuring Jim Brown!
Later Jason also shared the following two pictures on an Instagram Reel.
Ultimately, Heritage updated the auction listing with a photo of the box interior. And a clarification of the original auction description describing the 7-card bundles. Here are Heritage’s exact item description and pictures on their site when the auction ended.
1959 Topps Football (First Series) Vending Box. CLARIFICATION: The term “pack” originally used could be misleading. There are not 7-card unopened wax or cello packs inside. The cards are in bundles like one would associate with currency, there are paper bands used not traditional “packs” and we did note this, “tightly bound with brown paper.”
Offered is a complete 1959 Topps Football first series vending box. One of the most significant football issues of the vintage-era, the 1959 Topps football set produced some of the hobby’s favorite cardboard portraitures. Split into two 88-card series, the first series is anchored by Johnny Unitas (#1), Jim Brown (#10), Frank Gifford (#20), Bart Starr (#23), Bobby Layne (#40), Sam Huff (#51), Raymond Berry (#55) and Paul Hornung (#62). This is the first vending box of the sort we have ever seen, rather than the typical presentation of 500 loose cards tightly packed into an 8 ¾” vending box, these cards are presented in 7-card “bundles” snuggly fit into an elongated 9 ¾” box. Each 7-card bundle, tightly bound with brown paper as presumably issued by the factory. A total of 71 “packs” brings the total number of cards to 497. Heritage Auctions has reviewed the box and has confirmed that the cards are vending cut throughout and a proper distribution of cards are inside. The box itself displays in good condition with surface soiling and one partial corner split.
This isn’t the first example of a 1959 Topps Football Vending Box that has been auctioned off, though it is the only First Series Box I could find. Huggins and Scott have auctioned three 2nd Series examples.
The first was a lot of 424 cards from a 1959 Topps Football Vending Box and a 1963 Topps Baseball Vending Box. The cards and pair of boxes sold for $2k in December 2021. Notice that the Football Vending Box is longer than the Baseball box.
The next Huggins and Scott example was from September 2011 when they sold a 1959 Topps Football Second Series Unsearched Vending Box for $4250. I will note that the ribbing pattern is a little inconsistent on the right-hand side.
The third Huggins and Scott 1959 Topps Football Series 2 Vending Box sale dates back to October 2007 when they sold a GAI-authenticated one for $7000.
What else do we know about other vending boxes from the era? Well, first, they all use the Trading Card Guild branding. Topps created the Trading Card Guild branding (which shares the same TCG initials as Topps Chewing Gum) in 1950/51 to move products without gum.
I haven’t been able to track down, with any certainty, the first year Topps first started issuing Trading Card Guild Vending Boxes. But The Topps Archives shared the following photo of a 1956 Elvis Presley Vending Box.
I also tracked down a few other examples, including those from 1959 Topps Funny Valentines, 1958 Topps TV Western, 1960 Topps Baseball, and 1959 Topps Fabian (plus a case!).
David Hornish’s The Modern Hobby Guide to Topps Chewing Gum: 1938 to 1956 shared that 1955 Topps All American Football cards were assumed to have come in vending boxes, 1952 Topps Baseball Series 3 cards (the gray backs) could have been a vending product, 1956 Flags of the World had vending boxes, and that maybe 1956 Hocus Focus and 1952 Look’ n See had vending products.
When it comes to football cards, things are a bit more interesting. The BBC Emporium wrote that “In the early 1990s, there was an unopened vending find of 3-4 boxes of 1956 Topps football cards by Illinois currency dealer Don Fisher. The vending boxes were discovered in the garage of an Alexandrian, Indiana resident who sold the boxes to Fisher. The boxes were then broken up and sold throughout the hobby. Many of the high grade cards that exist today are believed to have originated from this find.”
PSA shared that the 1956 Topps Football cards pulled from vending boxes were cut slightly larger than the pack-issued varieties.
Jason shared Heritage’s box on the Vintage Wax and Packs Facebook group and wrote that the vending box is longer than typical vending boxes. And that if you stacked 500 cards in one of these boxes unwrapped, it would leave over an inch gap, like the box was made for wrapped cards. He pointed to a Mile High Card Company auction for a 1959 Topps Baseball 4th/5th Series Vending Box. Mile High added a note that they “…have added an image of the contents of the vending box. As you will see there is a gap in the interior of the box. We have also added an image of the 1964 Topps High Number vending box also offered in this auction. We have done this to show that the 1959 box is a longer box and that is why there is a gap in the interior of the box. Please also note that in a previous auction we offered a 1960 Unsearched vending box that also had a gap in the box and was offered in the slightly larger box to the same dimensions of the featured 1959 Topps unsearched vending box.” Here are the pictures.
So Topps was definitely producing vending boxes in the late 50s using the Trading Card Guild branding (whether the above examples are unsearched, I have no idea), and some of the boxes appear to be larger, like the 1959 Topps Football First Series Box that Heritage Sold (and the Football box Huggins sold with the baseball box). Obviously, the Heritage box has an unknown provenance and atypical wrappers, so what might be going on?
I decided to research vending machines, you know, these cards had to be put inside them, after all. The first picture I came across was this one that sold six cards for 5 cents.
The collector wrote it was a late 50s, early 60s 5-cent vending machine. The advertising on the front has a 1957 Topps TV Westerns, a 1960 Topps Baseball, and a 1957 cartoon card displayed. He wrote asking if anybody else had a display with different cards. So I thought maybe there were vending machines that offered seven cards for 5 cents, which would be perfect for the 7-card 1959 Topps Football bundles in the box that Heritage sold.
First, I found a machine that sold “packages” of assorted cards for 5 cents.
But then I found some examples of the “Hey Kids” “Get Your Trading & Hobby Cards” that offered seven cards for 5 cents.
It seems reasonable to think these vending machines could have had football cards in them too. However, I don’t know how these vending machines worked. Did the cards come out wrapped, and if so, did Topps wrap them, or did a vending supplier do it, and Topps just provided the supplier boxes of cards?
If Topps distributed football cards in 1959 in vending boxes, I’m pretty convinced they’d have gone out in the Trading Card Guild branded boxes. We’ve only seen those examples from that era, after all. And it wouldn’t surprise me if the 1959 Topps Football First Series Vending Box sold by Heritage Auctions, complete with 7-card bundles, was initially meant for the “Hey Kids” machines. But we can’t be sure, unfortunately.
If you know anything about late 50s vending boxes, feel free to e-mail me or leave a comment. And as always, happy collecting!
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