The Enigmatic Cincinnati Reds Burger Beer Sets

While researching 1978 Topps Burger King sets for my recent series about Topps baseball sets that year, I stumbled upon something interesting in The Standard Catalog – the vintage Cincinnati Reds Burger Beer sets. These sets, largely unknown and mysterious, seemed like a fascinating addition to the Oddball Archive. However, there’s surprisingly little information available about them, and confusion surrounds their origin and purpose since some of them aren’t marked as to an issuer. In this article, I’ll share all the details I’ve uncovered about these six fascinating sets.

The Cincinnati Reds Burger Beer Sets in the Macro

My 2010 Catalog lists five different Burger Beer sets: 1952-53, 1955, 1956-57, 1958-59, and 1960-64. I then found that Bob Lemke debuted a 1954 release on his blog. In that post, he shared that a few Reds’ specialists helped him develop the set’s checklists and that the cards are sort of arbitrarily assigned to various “sets” based on shared photo characteristics and the uniform worn by the player; he acknowledges that more than one style of picture may have been produced in any given season since no one seems to recall the manner of distribution. 

However, all the Burger Beer premium share a similar format. While they vary in size a bit, they all have portraits or posed action black-and-white photos on the front with white borders—usually some combination of name, position, team, and logo. The backs are generally blank, besides the few issues with an advertising message at the bottom.

That advertising is how I want to categorize and discuss these sets. Those referencing Burger Beer on them include 1954, 1956-57, and 1958-59, and those that don’t and are cursorily related are 1952-53, 1955, and 1960-64.

Burger Beer Sets With a Reference to an Issuer

It’s been really tough to find examples of these cards and then commit them to specific years, so if you have any corrections or additional photos, please let me know in the comments or shoot me an e-mail.

1954 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds

1954 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Charley Harmon and Jim Greengrass

The distinguishing characteristic of cards attributed to 1954 is the appearance of an advertising message, “Courtesy of Burger Brewing Co.” That message can be on the front or the back of the 8-1/2″ x 11″ picture cards. On his blog post, Lemke included Bobby Adams, Fred Baczewski, Dick Bartell (coach), Bob Borkowski, Jim Greengrass, Charley Harmon, Waite Hoyt (announcer), Andy Serminick, and Birdie Tebbetts (manager) to the checklist but acknowledged that more pictures would likely be reported.

1956-57 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds

1956-57 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Frank Robinson

The 1956-57 Burger Beer series also featured 8-1/2″ x 11″ and black and white player photos. The player’s names are printed in all capital letters under the image on the white border. A unique advertising slogan at the bottom of the otherwise blank back distinguishes these cards: they say, “COURTESY OF BURGER – A FINER BEER YEAR AFTER YEAR.” Cards of the same player in both portrait and posed action photos exist. I believe the checklist is at 27 right now. Lemke wrote that the existence of ad lines raises the chance that the issues without one might not have any connection with Burger Beer, but they’re accepted as such by a lot of Reds collectors because of their similarity to those that do.

1958-59 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds

1958-59 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Frank Robinson

The 1958-59 Burger Beer Reds cards have been the easiest for me to track down examples of. They’re also 8-1/2″ x 11″ with black and white player photos, but they can be distinguished by another unique advertising slogan on the backs, “COURTESY OF SPARKLE * BREWED BURGER BEER / HAVE FUN – HAVE A BURGER.” Examples exist with the player’s name on the front with both their first and last name or last name only. Lemke wrote that some have the team name, too. The current checklist has 17 pictures of 13 players.

1958-59 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Waite Hoyt

Burger Beer Sets Without a Reference to an Issuer

Lemke acknowledged that there’s a chance these sets have nothing to do with Burger Beer, so what else could they be? Well, there were many team-issued postcards during this time (search for Cincinnati Redlegs sets on TCDB, and you’ll get dozens of returns), so it’s possible the team also released cards at stadium concession stands in different formats. I also thought they could have been Jay Publishing sets, but I think most of these are 5″ x 7″ in size, and the Burger Beer issues are sized more like a standard sheet of paper, ideal for player signings. Ultimately, however, no one seems to know, so categorizing them as non-referenced Burger Beer sets works for me!

1952-1953 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds

As I said, whether these cards were a Burger Beer promotion or not, Reds collectors ascribe them to that sponsor. I haven’t found a photo beyond the one in The Standard Catalog, but the blank-backed photos have player portraits or posed action shots within a white border. On the bottom border is a C Reds logo, with the player’s name and position (usually) in all capital letters to the right. The cards are 8″ x 10-1/2″, and the checklist stands at 12.

1955 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds

1955 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Ed Bailey

The 1955 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds cards are 8-1/2″ x 11″ and again feature black and white player pictures with white borders. So again, since they have a similar format, collectors attribute the set to Burger Beer. On the bottom border are team logos of Mr. Red on either side of the player’s name, position, and sometimes team – the backs are blank. I’ve also seen these cards described as being 8″ x 10″. 

1955 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Charlie Harmon

Lemke followed up his post about the 1954 Burger Beer cards with an article two days later expanding the 1955 Burger Beer checklist. He wrote that he thought the ’55s were the most visually appealing of the bunch, with the Mr. Red baseball logo in each corner of the wide bottom border. He acknowledge the style of picture could have begun in 1954 and continued into 1955 since two of the known pictures in this format are of players who were traded away from the Reds in the 1954 postseason. Lemke expanded the checklist from 13 to 22 cards:

  • (1) Bobby Adams
  • (2) Dr. Wayne Anderson (trainer)
  • (3) Fred Baczewski
  • (4) Ed Bailey
  • (5) Gus Bell
  • (6) Rocky Bridges
  • (7) Jackie Collum
  • (8) Art Fowler
  • (9) Jim Greengrass
  • (10) Charlie Harmon
  • (11) Ray Jablonski
  • (12) Johnny Klippstein
  • (13) Ted Kluszewski
  • (14) Roy McMillan
  • (15) Rudy Minarcin
  • (16) Joe Nuxhall
  • (17) Harry Perkowski (traded to Cubs, Oct. 1, 1954)
  • (18) Wally Post
  • (19) Frank Smith (traded to Cubs, Dec. 8, 1954)
  • (20) Gerry Staley
  • (21) Birdie Tebbetts
  • (22) Johnny Temple
1955 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Roy McMillan

1960-64 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds

1960-64 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Joey Jay

This series is the most suspect to me; with so many acknowledged variations, it’s hard to believe they were all associated with Burger Beer. But they share the same large (8-1/2″ x 11″) format with white borders. Many of the photos were reissued year after year with cropping changes and aren’t usually listed separately in the checklist, so any checklist is likely incomplete and only grouped based on format. Lemke wrote that they all have two lines of type on the front, the player’s name and team, with blank backs. Some players have up to six different poses. He also noted that it might be feasible for a dedicated Reds collector, who has all the cards or photos, to break the set down into its component parts based on player selection and uniform to date them. A decade ago, the checklist stood at 57 player/pose combinations.

Conclusion and Further Reading

In 2013, Sports Collectors Daily got access to the following Roy McMillan card, wearing a uniform dated to 1951, and asked if perhaps Burger Beer issued a full 1951 Reds photo set as well – hey, at least this one has the Burger Brewing Company text on it.

Maybe a 1951 Burger Beer Cincinnati Reds – Roy McMillan

However, we’re unlikely ever to know if Burger Beer sponsored all of these sets. They’re still pretty awesome collectibles, though, particularly if you’re a fan of all-time greats like Joe Adcock, Ted Kluszewski, Joe Nuxhall, Smokey Burgess, Frank Robinson, Don Newcombe, Vada Pinson, or even Pete Rose (he has a portrait to chest card associated with the 1960-64 issue).

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