Monday, 30 March 2015

Rocket Fuel - (Volume 2 Addition)

Recently a lot came up on ebay that perfectly illustrates one of the greatest things (in my opinion) about CFL collecting. If you spend time looking for CFL material you will, on a regular basis, come across rare, obscure, curious and quirky material that has yet to be catalogued, despite the best efforts of people like myself and those ardent collectors across the country who spend time sharing their collection information and images with me.

While it should come as no surprise that previously uncatalogued vintage material will surface from time to time, it can and does also happen with material that was issued at the absolute peak of market media hype during the overheated sports card boom of the early nineties. Which brings us to Rocket Ismail, the subject of a great deal of that hype when the Bruce McNall, Wayne Gretzky and John Candy owned Toronto Argonauts signed him out from under the nose of the NFL, the league that basically invented hype.


Ismail's career was short in the CFL but notable as he helped the Argonauts capture the 1991 CFL Grey Cup and was the subject of a controversial incident in 1992 when he tried to stomp on an opponents head during a game. He was also a spokesman for various products including Pepsi as the screen grab from his Pepsi commercial above shows. In the commercial his blinding speed rattles the components of a city street as he streaks by (including dislodging a coke vending machine) and he stops and grabs a Pepsi from their vending machine and informs the consumer that Pepsi is "Rocket Fuel".

The Pepsi / Rocket Fuel sponsorship was also evident on a series of plastic cups available at Toronto area Subway restaurants featuring Ismail. The cups were issued in 1992 and he is shown in his Argonaut uniform but without the helmet logo as the CFL was apparently not one of the licensee's for this issue. The rear of the cups include facts and statistics about Ismail and two of the three known cups mention his CFL accomplishments as well.

I don't have a complete set of decent images for the items but the other two known cups are partially shown below.

It would seem likely that some sort of other advertising material would have accompanied this promotion, either in store posters or perhaps coupons or menu flyers with Ismail's name and image on them, but so far these have not surfaced. I was not aware of the cups when Volume 2 of Collecting Canadian Football was collated so they were not listed. When regional CFL related material is produced promoting local stars (even one as prominent as Ismail), it is very difficult to discover the issue even a short while after it appeared, unless some enterprising collector in that market makes a point of saving the items and associated information, or somebody throws it up on ebay at some point.

But then that is why all of these undiscovered items exist and are periodically uncovered to help keep the hobby of CFL collecting constantly fun, challenging and rewarding.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

After the Game Enjoy a Cal!

One of the great categories of items to collect that will be covered in the planned future Volume 4 of Collecting Canadian Football - Publications and Ephemera, is schedules. These come in a huge variety of sizes and forms issued by hundreds of different organizations and sponsors, often with killer vintage graphics. This is one area of Canadian football collecting where, with a little diligence a collector can reasonably expect to unearth pre-World War II items from time to time.

Sometimes a company issued schedules for many years and one of these fascinating series of items will be previewed here. The Calgary Brewing and Malting Company was a long time sponsor of the Calgary Stampeders team with regular advertising in the game programs from the team's very first season. Illustrated here is the center lineup page from a 1948 home program showing the distinctive buffalo head Calgary logo. The advertisements featured their ginger ale products which the alcoholic beverage brewer had begun to produce during the short period of prohibition in Canada.

As early as 1954 we see the company producing an attractive schedule for the Western Interprovincial Football Union that was folded twice to provide 3 panels per side. One side typically contained the results from the previous season's games and the other side contained the schedule for the current season with spaces for the owner of the schedule to write in the scores. There was a lot of information packed into the available space including the top scorers from the previous season and great advertising and football graphics.

The schedules were issued every year and starting in 1958 they were expanded to multiple pages in a little booklet that was like a mini media guide crammed with interesting info.

By 1961 the schedule was changed to W.F.C. for Western Football Conference as noted on the schedule pictured below. Although the company was absorbed by a larger brewing conglomerate in 1961 the schedules continued to be issued until at least 1964 with the last buffalo head logo appearing in 1963. The historic brewery site in Calgary is now the focus of a redevelopment battle between those interested in saving the heritage facility and those wishing to redevelop the prime real estate the buildings occupy.

Schedule collecting can be very easy on the pocketbook as teams and businesses give the schedules away for free every year to promote the product. Even when purchasing older schedules on the secondary market they are typically among the lowest priced vintage collectibles that a hobbyist can acquire. But these gems are highly sought after and you can expect to pay relatively high prices for any of these items, especially the multiple page ones. Because they were designed to be written on, schedules that are unmarked will also command a hefty premium. A late fifties unmarked high grade schedule recently sold on ebay for $150 USD!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Got a Light? - (Volume 2 Addition)

These days it is hard to find a convenience store that still sells matches, but of course for most of the 20th century matches were extraordinarily commonplace, especially before the health dangers from smoking were well publicized. Because businesses soon realized that matchbooks were ideal mobile advertising platforms that consumers would pull out and look at scores of times per day (at least until they died of lung cancer), all manner of commercial enterprises were soon illustrated on matchbook covers.

This extended to sports teams in most leagues, despite the inherent contradiction of athleticism versus smoking (and of course tobacco cards is where the sports card industry first established itself). Especially prevalent before World War II, there were hundreds of matchbooks featuring players for baseball, hockey, NFL football and basketball issued during the thirties and forties by such companies as the Diamond Match Company. Many regional team player sets were also produced and if you add the generic team matchbooks as well as local businesses that helped to sponsor their services by associating themselves with the various sports (including many college athletic programs), there are literally thousands of sports related matchbooks to collect.

Not so in the world of Canadian football, in fact the number of matchbooks I have seen relating to Canadian football teams or players can be counted on the fingers of one hand (although more undoubtedly exist). This matchbook featuring the Winnipeg Arena referenced the Blue Bombers as well as other Winnipeg sports teams, even though the Bombers played next door to the Arena at Winnipeg Stadium. It dates from either the late fifties or the early sixties and is currently the only known generic team matchbook.

Recently the Ebay wayback machine unearthed these two gems relating to three Toronto sports personalities including Canadian football hall of famer - Joe "King" Krol of the Argonauts. Krol partnered with notable local Toronto boxing and baseball athletes to open the Mercury Club which was apparently one of the more popular nightclubs in town during the fifties. The items are still available on Ebay today, indicating that perhaps the $75 US asking price per matchbook is a little too steep.

Another matchbook that was player focused (and was the only one to be listed in Collecting Canadian Football Volume 2) was also manufactured to advertise the local eating and drinking establishment owned by Canadian football hall of famer Bob Simpson. As with the Toronto matchbooks Simpson's relationship to the Ottawa Rough Riders is not explicitly noted as the team is not named on the matchbook. The matchbook dates to the late fifties.

The final known matchbook is advertising for a Montreal Chrysler car dealership and features a third Canadian football hall of famer, John "Red" O'Quinn. Here O'Quinn's accomplishment as GM of the 1970 Grey Cup winning Montreal Alouettes is noted. The format would suggest that perhaps other Alouette management or players might also have been featured on these matchbooks.

If any blog readers have further examples, either team or player related in their collections I would love to hear about them.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

A Mania for Decals?

One of the macro categories for Volume 3 will be Stickers+ which would include decals that are a specific type of adhesive label that is generally made of a type of clear plastic material that can either be stuck on to flat surfaces face up or face down on glass so that the image is visible from the other side of the glass, like car windows for instance. Decals are generally applied by wetting them which activates the sticking agent and once positioned they then dry onto place.

It would seem pretty hard to believe today but apparently during the sixties the popularity of decals was such that a particular decal producing company "Decalcomania" was so active that they actually had branch offices in multiple Canadian cities. What these companies produced in the way of decals that allowed them to grow such an expansive business was primarily directed at commercial advertising but of interest to CFL collectors is the attractive and varied decals that they produced for many of the league's teams.

Decals are most commonly found for the B.C. Lions and the company used to advertise their Lion decals in the game programs, but other decals are known for the Stampeders, Alouettes, Rough Riders and Argonauts and it would seem likely that they might have been produced for all of the teams.

Note that the decal reverses have the local branch offices of the company (or possibly franchisees) listed with the local address. In some cases the company was used to produce decals that promoted another local companies business and their relationship with the local football club, such as with the Ottawa Natural Gas suppliers shown below.

In some cases another companies name appears on the decals along with Decalcomania, and in other cases very similar looking items have a different company name that might have been successor firms to Decalcomania in a particular city. These decals are pretty popular as far as non-mainstream collectibles go and some can fetch pretty high prices on ebay as they were meant to be used so not too many survived to the present day.