At the end of the occupation the plethora of Japanese baseball cards ended. For an unknown reason, baseball menko’s popularity diminished resulting in few issues from 1953 to 1955. Bromide production continued, although the number of sets also declined. This era did include two bromide sets honoring the 1953 Major League tours of Japan. Among the depicted Major Leaguers are Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Eddie Mathews. From 1953-55, the most common cards are game sets issued as inserts by Yakyu Shonen and Omoshiro magazines.
Candy (mostly gum and caramel) cards also became popular in the mid-1950s. Often printed on thin paper and distributed regionally, few of these cards survive making it difficult to recreate checklists for these sets. As a result, no candy set from the 1950s has been fully cataloged. Based on surviving examples, Kobai Caramels seems to have been one of the largest producers of candy cards. Asayama Fusan Gum, Seiko Gum, LiLi Gum, and Cisco Carmels also produced baseball sets during the early 1950s.
In 1959 and 1960 Jintan printed cards on very thick stock that contained the starting nine players from each team. The most popular gum cards are probably the 1964 Morinaga cards. This postcard-size issue comes in two styles: Standups (which can be folded to standup in the same manner as 1964 Topps Standups) and Top Stars (non-standups). Both have vivid color pictures on the fronts and information about the player on the backs. The standups set contains 14 cards while the Top Star contains 11 but some cards are quite rare with only a handful of known examples.
In 1956 a new type of menko emerged. Often called “Tobacco-sized Menko” by American collectors, these cards are rectangular menko measuring 1 13/16 by 3 inches with player photos on the front. This style dominated the Japanese card industry from 1957 to 1964 when they abruptly stopped.
These cards were usually packaged in envelopes made of newspaper (one card per pack) and these envelopes would be strung together by running a string through a hole punched through the top of the envelope. These bundles are known as taba. Purchasers would pull a pack off the taba. About a half dozen cards in each taba would be stamped with the number 1, 2, or 3 on the back. These are known as prize cards. The drawer of a prize card could choose an item off a poster-sized display sheet. Third prize was usually a pair of cards, second prize an uncut group of four cards, and first prize an uncut sheet of 12 or 16 cards. These prizes were often cut into individual cards by children so hand-cut cards with uneven boarders are common.
Research is ongoing but so far nine major menko manufacturers have been identified: Doyusha, Yamakatsu, Marukami, Marumatsu, Marusan, Marusho, Maruta, Maruo and Maruya (“maru” means round or circle in Japanese -the original shape of menko). To date, 65 “Tobacco-sized Menko” sets have been cataloged and at least a dozen more sets are known to exist. Most of these sets contain approximately 40 cards, although a few sets, such as the 70-plus card 1957 Yamakatsu set, are much larger. Since most sets contain a small number of cards, stars are emphasized and many bench players have no cards.
In the mid to late 1960s, several American servicemen imported a number of these sets in quantity. These cards can still be found at major card shows - often in the oddball boxes. The most sought after “Tobacco-sized Menko” are any of the 40 different 1959 Sadaharu Oh rookie cards, and hard-to-find Americans such as Larry Doby and Don Newcombe.
1961 Marusho Menko prize display sheet
Candy and Gum Cards
Bromides and Game Cards
1962 Doyusha menko taba
Japanese Baseball Cards 1953-64