Sunday, July 31, 2016

Civil War News (barely)

The Topps 1962 Civil War News set was terrifically popular in the schoolyard at St. Mary's in Nutley NJ back when they were fresh out of packs. Popular with my friends and I anyway. The nuns who taught us? Not so much. In fact if you were caught with any of these at school they went into the trash in pieces, never to return to your cigar box.

Now baseball and football cards were a different story. You could get those babies back from the not-very-aptly named Sisters of Charity if you asked nicely enough. At least with most of them. Now Sister Anastasia was altogether a different breed of nun. Lose any cards to Sister Anastasia and you lost them forever and likely got a call made to your home and possibly got a yardstick welt on your upper arm.

As I've noted recently I've been on a nostalgia kick. That's different than a vintage kick I think. I've been chasing sets I owned as a kid. The '62 Mars Attacks set will have to wait since I am involved in the latest Topps incarnation of it but I had a good time chasing Batman and now I'm tracking down these amazing Civil Wars cards.

These featured some pretty graphic artwork depicting scenes of imagined Civil War mayhem and death. They made a huge impression on us sheltered parochial school dweebs in 1962. Soldiers were shown being burned, shot, drowned, blasted apart, and my personal favorite, impaled on stakes. 88 cards were  in the set including the elusive checklist. Late Edit: Jon of A Penny Sleeve for your Thoughts snatched up a checklist on COMC for $4 in credit. I'll not be that lucky.

Much of the work on this set was done by noted comic/card artist Norman Saunders. Some background on the artwork is found here. Dean's Cards site has more background and a set checklist.

I don't remember specifically if I had the whole set as a kid. I doubt I was able to keep them out of Sister Anastasia's clutches long enough to put the whole set together. And I really had no intention of collecting them all now but as I dug around eBay and COMC I found that there were plenty to be had if you were willing to either pay through the nose for choice ones or just find battered ones on the cheap. I'm going the later route.

I found a seller in Canada who had a lot of 20 something of these and I sent him an offer. He accepted and I would up paying under a buck a card. The transaction ended up taking about two weeks and 12 emails to complete outside of eBay but that's another story.

The dealer was honest in his assessment of what was included in the group. Most were decent, probably grading at 'Fair' or maybe even Good'. But some were what he termed as 'brutal'. Here is one of the 'brutal' ones:

But most were perfectly acceptable for what I want to do, fill up the ten binder pages and flip through them. This one had been wet at one point but other than being a bit 'wavy' it's fine:

Her is one of the less gruesome battle scenes:

These next couple need an upgrade:

That may be the understatement of the year.

The Wall of Corpses is one of the cards that made an impression on me as a kid.

These next two are barely even filler. And upgrades are now on the way. This one of RE Lee is trimmed,

And this one is barely even a card.

A few more of the better ones in the lot:

The backs contained 'newspaper style' write ups which I wouldn't quote if I were looking for sources for a thesis on the Civil War. Just for grins I looked at a few backs and compared them to a couple of Civil War timeline sites. On some, like the Jefferson Davis card, the dates are correct. He was named as President of the Confederacy on February 18 of 1861. Others are harder to pin down as battles took place over multiple days, etc.

This next card back 'covers' a horrific train wreck that supposedly occurred in mid-September of 1863. I can't find anything online that would indicate it ever happened but there was a wreck in northern Mississippi in February of that year that sounds similar. 40 CSA troops died in that bridge crossing derailment. Make of all this what you will.

But I'm not collecting these to learn history. I'm collecting these for the fun of it and to hold on to a small piece of my childhood.

There is one card in the set that I remember having that really made an impression on me. I don't have a copy yet because I'm trying to get a fairly nice one. It's titled Painful Death. Here it is on another website:

My memories of the set don't include many of the individual cards. But I sure do remember this one. I'm looking forward to getting my hands on one.

At the moment thanks to a COMC purchase of another 20 of these I'm at 54 of the 88 cards with about 8 of those 55 badly in need of replacements. I guess I'm about half way there.

ANOTHER EDIT: I just noticed that I cut short that last paragraph. I was intending to mention that these cards came in packs with folded replica CSA  currency. There were 17 different bills including all the variations. I plan to pick up just one as a companion piece to the cards. And while this set is commonly referred to as 'Civil War News' set the 'official name was just called them Civil War bubble gum cards.


  1. Oh man - I need to add this set to my radar.

  2. Surprised to see these were Topps cards. The design elements are very similar to the World War II cards produced (in 1963 I think) by Phila Gum Company.

  3. Great content! I hadn't even seen about half the cards in this post before. I can see why the "Wall of corpses" would have made an impression on you as a kid. And that "Painful Death" card is just brutal.

    P.S. Thanks for the plug!

    1. Kind of wild that I was taking a break from typing this one and saw your post about the checklist. I NEVER see anything about this set and to come across that was a crazy coincidence!

  4. Boys loved this set? Nuns hated this set? In both cases, I can't imagine why... :-)

    The train wreck card seems just as likely to be inspired by the Buster Keaton film "The General" as by actual events...