HistoryDubble balloon & Baseball Cards: Philadelphia’s Fleer LegacyFebruary 22, 2016 | by Bradley Maule
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Once a Dubble Bubble, currently a buncha rubber | Photo: Bradley Maule


When the upper Deck company launched its an initial series in 1989, it adjusted the baseball card industry. Through a smiling face in rookie Ken Griffey Jr.—card #1 in the series—Upper Deck’s glossy finish, counterfeit-proof hologram logo, and superior design upped the ante for various other baseball map manufacturers and monetized “bubble gum cards,” lengthy a kids’ hobby. It would eventually spell the end for Philadelphia’s Fleer company, which had its root in the 19th Century and also closed that Olney factory in 1996, offering the critical of what it owned in 2005. Yet Fleer additionally once changed the baseball map industry.

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In 1980, Fleer scored a significant victory end its longtime competitor, Brooklyn’s Topps Company, once it winner an antitrust suit versus Topps and the significant League Baseball football player Association. Breaking up Topps’ baseball card syndicate allowed Fleer to start production top top its first full baseball card collection in 1981. It additionally finally earn Fleer a tiny revenge because that Topps’ reduced in the balloon gum market decades earlier.


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“Really delightful.” A 1909 ad for Chiclets by frank H. Fleer & Co., Philadelphia & Toronto, via Period record Antique and Vintage art Prints


Chiclets and Dubble Bubble: Philadelphia’s location in chewing gum and bubble gum history

German-born frank Fleer married the daughter of smell extract producer rose oil Holstein in the 1880s, and by the finish of the decade, Fleer had developed Frank H. Fleer & Co. Together with his brother Henry, Fleer used the flavoring approaches to chicle, a boiled-and-dried sap that fed the cultivation chewing gum industry, and also had their first hit with a cola-flavored gum. Influenced by Henry’s love the candy-coated almonds, the Fleers in 1895 patented a candy-coated gum, Chiclets, which added a great of crunch and also kept the gum fresh. (Chicle: Chewing Gum the the ameri from ancient Maya to william Wrigley, Jennifer Mathews, 2009.)

Chiclets do Fleer a national brand, and also they operated a manufacturing facility at 2343 Hamilton Street—where Eakins Oval is today—before building and construction of the Ben Franklin Parkway. Through the novelty of Chiclets fueling his success, candid Fleer sought come add an ext delight come chewing gum: blowing bubbles. In 1906, he produced his an initial run the Blibber-Blubber, a prototype of balloon gum. Blibber-Blubber proved a little bit of a flop, however, as it to be sticky and also hard to chew.

In 1909, Sen-Sen Company, i beg your pardon later became the American Chicle Company, purchase Fleer and the civil liberties to Chiclets. (Chiclets are still manufactured today, through Cadbury Adams, a division of Mondelēz.) open minded Fleer at first served top top the board, yet in 1914 left and established a brand-new Frank H. Fleer Company, creating candies and confectioneries while, with a Chiclets no-compete clause, still trying to find a different kind of bubble gum.

Frank Fleer died in 1921 without ever seeing the two things that would lug his name through almost another century. With his son-in-law Gilbert Mustin in ~ the company helm, and also production now at 10th and also Diamond highways in phibìc Philadelphia, Fleer in 1923 an initial dipped its toes right into the commerce card industry by including cards that movie stars choose Mary Pickford, historical heroes like Wild bill Hickok, presidents, and sports stars like Babe Ruth in its package of candy. However that endeavor an in similar way did not at first stick. The one 5 years later did. Or rather, that didn’t.


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Fleer’s Gum manufacturing facility at 10th & Somerville | postcard ~1950s via Topps Archive


Fleer’s an initial attempt at balloon gum, Blibber-Blubber, failed because it was complicated to chew and, worse, it stuck to people’s encounters after punch a bubble. A young accountant remedied that. In 1928, 23-year-old Walter Diemer experimented after hours at Fleer with gum formulas till he produced a batch that was stretchy and less sticky. The batch to be gray, for this reason he included pink dye, the just color accessible at the time. Bubble gum to be born. (Diemer obituary, New York Times, 1998.) offered a penny a item in wax wrappers, Dubble Bubble came to be a smash because that Fleer.

With Dubble Bubble, Fleer outgrew that is North philly digs, and the agency moved to a big industrial structure at 5324 phibìc 10th Street in the gray area wherein Olney and Logan mix together. Opened in 1930 by the Philadelphia & reading Railroad, the long, narrow structure lie surrounding to 2 of its lines (both currently operated through SEPTA) and also had many recently served as an industrial scale bakery.

Fleer effectively maintained a multimillion dollar syndicate on American bubble gum till after human being War II. In 1947, a young firm out of Brooklyn referred to as Topps started production ~ above Bazooka balloon gum, cutting into Fleer’s market with a patriotic red, white, and also blue wrapper and a attractive comic strip in every piece. Climate in 1952, the upstart company collection the conventional for the modern baseball card.

Birth of the Baseball map Business

With a handsome architecture for the front and a set of stats and personal information ~ above the back, the 1952 Topps collection crafted the theme still used today. Mickey Mantle’s card from that set is, after Honus Wagner’s 1909 American Tobacco agency card, the second-most an useful baseball map of all time. In 1956, Topps bought the end its only real competitor, Philadelphia’s archer company, and developed exclusive contracts with a bulk of active MLB football player for usage of their likeness on cards sold with gum. Those two distinctions would notify several lawsuits over the next three decades.

In 1959, v Gilbert Mustin Jr. Currently its president, Fleer take it its very first crack in ~ Topps by signing an aging Ted Williams to an to exclude, contract. In fact, the contract was so exclusive, the whole 80-card set was that Williams in various phases that his career and life. In 1960, they created a “Baseball Greats” set, the first throwback collection of that kind, featuring Williams and also the likes that Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and also Connie Mack.


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Rube Sr., career .234 batter, father of Rube Jr. | 1963 Fleer map #50


Over the following two years, Fleer ongoing to produce the “Baseball Greats,” brief runs each of expert football and also basketball, and also non-sports cards such together the Three Stooges and also Gomer Pyle, but after the Federal trade Commission agreed through their 1962 allegation the a Topps monopoly, Fleer take it the danger of creating its an initial baseball map set. In 1963, that signed reigning MVP Maury Wills and also a grasp of ballplayers favor Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax to non-exclusive contracts and created its very first run of 66 balloon gum cards. However, bad sales discouraged Fleer native continuing, and in 1965, the FTC overturned its decision on the basis the cards can be marketed with things various other than gum, or nothing at all. For companies with identities rooted in gum, this mattered much more than selling just cards. The complying with year, Fleer marketed what contracts it had amassed ago to Topps, which by this time was managing the nascent significant League Baseball football player Association and its ceo Marvin Miller.

In 1975, Fleer ramped increase its case again, filing a federal antitrust suit against Topps and also the MLBPA in the united state Court the Appeals’ 3rd Circuit, in Philadelphia. The case dragged on till 1980, once Justice Clarence newcomer ruled that Topps “unlawfully restrained and also monopolized trade,” opening the method for Fleer to begin printing baseball cards again. A 3rd competitor, Memphis-based Donruss, rode the coattails that Fleer’s success and additionally began production in 1981.

While the lawsuit play out, Fleer had to complete with another huge new competitor: soft bubble gum. V Life Savers’ debut of balloon Yum in 1975, soft bubble gum do an immediate impact on the vault success of Fleer’s much-firmer Dubble Bubble and also Topps’ Bazooka balloon gums. Chiclets’ parent company American Chicle answer the following year with Bubblicious, and also with a product that carried together soft balloon gum, baseball, and also novelty, Wrigley launched big League Chew—shredded balloon gum in a pouch—in 1980. Fleer’s an initial foray into soft balloon gum was v Gatorgum, using Gatorade’s orange and also lemon-lime flavors to “quench thirst” in a stick of gum. The tart and also squishy gum was only moderately popular, and it to be discontinued in 1989.


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1981 Fleer cards featured the 1980 World series champs | 1981 Fleer card #657


Baseball Cards’ 1980s gold Years

Fleer baseball cards, meanwhile, were simply taking off. Along with Dubble bubble production, the Olney plant taken on card cutting and also packaging operations. (The map sheets were published elsewhere and shipped come Olney.)

Packs the their an initial series in 1981 featured a pole of gum, the product Fleer had actually long been finest known for. Topps appealed the 1980 antitrust ruling, though, and also successfully do the instance that they might maintain exclusive packaging of cards and also gum together. The next year, Fleer changed the rod of gum through team stickers, i m sorry Topps then sue them for, calling the stickers a “sham” designed come bypass the exclusivity agreement. The suit settled out of court but made both providers recognize the value in the cards themselves as greater than the gum.

Still, Topps ongoing to command the baseball card sector through the early ’80s, and it wasn’t till 1984 the the field came closer to gift level. The 1984 Donruss set, featuring the rookie cards of Don Mattingly and Darryl Strawberry, to be a hit v collectors and remains renowned today. Later on in 1984, Fleer authorize its an initial ‘Update’ set, with in-season enhancements and trades. Through the very first printed cards that Dwight Gooden, i get it Clemens, and Kirby Puckett, it confirmed Fleer’s seriousness in the baseball map business.

In 1986, Fleer scored a coup as soon as it got a license for the NBA and produced its premier operation of basketball cards. The set, special the rookie cards of Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, is thought about by collectors a masterpiece, and Jordan’s card alone fetches about $5,000 in great condition. (One “perfect” problem went because that $100,000!)


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Still, baseball drove the collectors’ sector throughout the 1980s. Indigenous ’84 with ’87, the baseball cards placed out by Topps, Fleer, and also Donruss continued to battle one an additional in edge stores, card shops, and conventions, v Score involvement the vain in ’88. Then it all changed.

Upper Deck’s inaugural collection in 1989 was the first all-in brand the a designer baseball card. Based in Yorba Linda, California, top Deck intentionally went ~ the higher end of the market, and given Ken Griffey Jr.’s immediate popularity the summer, upper Deck’s profile soared alongside his, as it to be the only company to function Griffey in its consistent season baseball map series. Fleer, Topps, Donruss, and Score all had actually to record up in their upgrade sets months later.


Incidentally, 1989 also witnessed Fleer’s biggest notoriety: the Billy Ripken card. Where his brother Cal is just one of baseball’s all-time greats, a hall of Famer who played every solitary game because that 16 continuous years, Billy Ripken was only an day-to-day player for 5 years, a job .247 hitter. However he’ll be forever psychic by baseball collectors. His 1989 Fleer map featured a do Ripken slyly smiling, v “FUCK FACE” written clearly on the knob the his bat. Long blamed on part anonymous clubhouse prankster, Ripken finally fessed up in 2008 that that to be his own autograph. In Fleer’s scramble come recall and also print a “corrected” (censored) variation of the card, they inadvertently fed the heat by actually producing several different versions, every one a collector’s item. There’s even a net site committed to the card and also its variations.

After top Deck: Fleer’s final years

Forty years after his initial endeavor into sports cards, Gilbert Mustin Jr. Witnessed 1989 as a great time to cash out. Mustin marketed the agency that boring his grandfather’s surname to an same firm led by a former Donruss executive because that $75 million. The firm, called Charterhouse same Partners, took Fleer public the next year, and also in 1991 they exit its answer to top Deck, “Fleer Ultra.”


Marvel Entertainment purchase the Fleer share from Charterhouse in 1992 for $286 million. The year, Marvel relocated Fleer’s governmental staff native Olney to mount Laurel, brand-new Jersey. Marvel then bought Skybox, one more ’90s sports card newcomer, because that $150 million, and linked the two to kind Fleer/Skybox. In 1996, report losses of nearly half a billion dollars, Marvel filed because that bankruptcy protection; the manufacturing facility at 10th & Somerville closed, all card productions to be contracted out, and Dubble bubble production moved south come Mississippi. Fleer VP Ted Taylor contributed a collector’s column for the Daily News and penned a fond epitaph for the old manufacturing facility when the closed, yet he did not mention the parent comic book company.

Marvel marketed Fleer/Skybox to the founder of Rite aid in 1999 for $26 million, less than 10% of what that paid because that Fleer just seven year earlier. In 2003, sensing a mistake, the new owners shopped Fleer around and received an offer of $25 million from top Deck. Fleer declined. By mid-2005, through $30 million in debt, Fleer ceased operations and an assignee ran an auction to sell off Fleer’s assets. The win bid, for $6.1 million, come from top Deck.

Upper Deck quiet manufactures brand-new cards, yet has added high-end collectibles prefer autographs and game-worn jerseys come its repertoire. Together the grandaddy the the bunch, Topps likewise still to produce cards, but in its ideal 21st Century initiative has included a mobile phone app which combines the historic look that baseball cards and also the modern-day infatuation v fantasy sports. The app, referred to as Topps Bunt, update player cards and fantasy scores in actual time.

Fleer’s final home in Philadelphia, in ~ 10th & Somerville in Olney, currently serves numerous uses, through a automobile wash and tire shop, one auto human body shop, and also a wholesale candy retailer all operating out that the building. SEPTA’s Fox follow line trudges the train monitor on the south side that the building, while 3 other regional rail present whiz through on the other side.

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Marvel sold Dubble balloon in 1998 to Concord Confections, which five years later was to buy by Tootsie Roll. Tootsie role still to produce Dubble Bubble; the “Fleer” message in the logo’s crown has actually been replaced by “America’s Original.”

The phibìc Philly building where Fleer make Dubble Bubble to be demolished twenty years ago. A new mixed-use residential-and-retail building now fronts 10th & Diamond and includes a hookah bar aimed at holy place students. It’s dubbed Hubble Bubble.

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A CSX freight train rumbles previous the former Fleer manufacturing facility on the old reading Railroad line | Photo: Bradley Maule


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Chiclets, Dubble Bubble, and baseball cards carried the Fleer name through an ext than a century; this sign in Olney is all that continues to be | Photo: Bradley Maule