Bubble Gum Cards

Ever since the Superman character burst upon the scene in 1938 and through the 1980’s, the copyright to the character and all things related thereunto was owned by National Periodical Publications.  National Periodical Publications published three monthly titles that featured Superman: Superman Comics, Action Comics, and World’s Finest Comics (the latter featured Superman teamed with Batman).  They also owned all rights to the Adventures of Superman as well.  At some point in the early 1960’s they allowed the Topps bubble gum company to issue Superman bubble gum cards, based on the TV show.

Naturally, I immediately dug into my pocket to see if I had a nickel and thankfully, I did.  So, I grabbed a pack, went to the counter near the entrance to the store, and plunked down my 5¢.

As soon as the transaction was complete, I opened my treasure to see what was inside.  There was always something very magical about opening a pack of bubble gum cards.  There was the sweet aroma of the bubble gum (which lingered on the wrapping paper long after the gum itself was gone) and this time, it was extra special, because the cards inside featured George Reeves!

I have always regretted not having bought out their complete stock of Superman bubble gum cards that day.  Of course, I doubt if I would have had been able to afford it anyway -- after all, five cents was still a lot of money back then.  Sadly, I only have a few of those precious cards.

Incidentally, one thing that always drove me nuts as a kid was the announcement at the end of almost every episode of the Adventures of Superman which went like this: “Superman is based on the original character appearing in Superman magazine.”

Superman magazine?  What was that?  I knew there was a Superman comic book (as well as Action Comics and World’s Finest) but was there, in addition, an actual magazine that featured Superman?

For years I feared I was missing out on another Superman publication that my local drugstore had decided not to carry.  I imagined this large, glossy magazine (on the order of Look or Life) featuring Superman and all sorts of additional fascinating articles about the character.  It took me a long time to finally figure out that the announcer was just using the word “magazine” as a more sophisticated way of saying “comic book.”

But at least I had the presence of mind to save one of the wrappers as well as a few of the cards.

I don’t know if the wrapper itself is valuable to collectors, but I know the cards are.  And although I’ve seen a few of the cards featured in books and on the web, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the wrapper.

I believe it’s quite rare.

Wrapper for Superman bubble gum cards circa 1960

On display inside a glass case at Jim Hambrick’s Superman Museum in Metropolis, IL: the box for the Superman bubble gum cards.  You can see the upper right corner of a wrapper in the lower left corner of the photo.

And so, presented for your viewing pleasure, here is what is left of my Superman bubble gum card collection.  I hope you enjoy it!

I will always remember the shock of delight I experienced when I went into the Five and Dime store on main street of my hometown (Hartley, Iowa) one sunny, summer afternoon in 1965 and discovered that they actually had some merchandise related to the TV show!  (Thanks to Chuck Harter for refreshing my memory as to the year these cards were released.)  In my neck of the woods, it was difficult enough to come by anything related to the Superman character at all in those days, let alone the TV show!  About the only Superman items available to a poor midwestern boy like myself were the comics.  Fortunately, the local drugstore had the wisdom to provide a magazine rack at the front of the store, on the bottom shelf of which were stocked the latest issues of various comic books.  So at least I was able to keep up with the exploits of my hero in his comic book incarnation.  But I had never seen any merchandise featuring George Reeves in my hometown until that fateful day.

Card #9 shown actual size

The Bubble Gum Cards Adventure Continues

Thanks to the miracle of eBay, I was able to find the pictures from a complete set of the 66 Topps Superman Bubble Gum Cards, circa 1965.  Here they are, submitted for your viewing pleasure...

One thing that is really cool about these pictures is that they are not all merely scenes from the TV show.  Some of them are clearly outtakes or shots taken during rehearsal.  For example, look closely at THE THREAT.  Lois, Clark and Jimmy are in Clark’s office -- the only problem is, Clark isn’t wearing his glasses!  And others are obviously posed; for instance JIMMY, SUPERMAN & PERRY.  But the most unusual one of all is No.65, VISITOR FROM SPACE (which is directly above on your right).  For years, fans have wondered where on earth this scene comes from.  There certainly is no episode in the Adventures of Superman in which Superman encounters this “visitor from space”.  Could it be, some have wondered, that this is a scene from an unfinished, never broadcast episode?  The answer, as it turns out, is no.  Thanks to George Reeves historian Jim Beaver, we now know that the actor is Stuart Randall, a friend of George’s who had been in two feature films with him (RANCHO NOTORIOUS and BUGLES IN THE AFTERNOON) as well as in “Superman on Earth” (as Gogan, one of the Kryptonian council).  The two actors were saying hello to each other on the RKO lot where they were both working in 1951.  George was filming TAOS and Randall was shooting CAPTIVE WOMEN, which is what he’s in costume for. 

Thanks to Lou Koza, co-editor of the Adventures Continue website, I can share with you this beautiful close-up of the box for the bubble gum cards:

Last but not least, here is the complete collection of the backs of all 66 cards.  As you can see, most of them had text on the back, which described the scene on the front of the card.  But some of them were pieces of two different picture puzzles.  For years, I had some of the pieces of both puzzles but I innocently assumed they were pieces from the same picture so I could never figure out what image they were supposed to form.  But now I know (and so do you!)

Thanks again to Lou Koza for providing this wonderful graphic!

by Richard Potter