History of Japanese Baseball Cards

Japanese Baseball Cards 1953-64

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 and game-card production continued, but the number of these sets also declined. From 1953-55, the most common cards are game sets issued as inserts by Yakyu Shonen and Omoshiro magazines.

1957 Colorized Menko

Menko

In 1956 a new type of menko emerged.  Often called “Tobacco-sized menko” by American collectors, these cards are rectangular, measuring 113/16 by 3 inches with player photos on the front. This style dominated the Japanese card industry from 1957 until they abruptly stopped in 1964. The earliest Tobacco-sized menko were black and white but soon colorized photos predominated.

To date over 85 “Tobacco-sized menko” sets have been cataloged and at least a dozen more sets are known to exist. Many of these sets contain approximately 40 cards, but some are much larger. 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 finder 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 16 or 20 cards.  These prizes were often cut into individual cards by children so hand-cut cards with uneven boarders are common. 

Menko Taba

Menko Prize Card

Menko Display Sheet

​In the late 1950s, two stars emerged who would transform Japanese ball. The first was Shigeo Nagashima, known as Mr. Giants and considered Japan’s most popular and greatest player. The second was his teammate Sadaharu Oh, who would become the world's home run leader. Because of there were many menko manufacturers at the time and each produced multiple sets, there are over 60 Oh rookies. 

Shigeo Nagashima and Sadaharu Oh Menko

Tobacco-sized menko also include a number of foreigners (called gaijin) who played in Japan. Among these are three rare cards: 1962 Chunichi Dragons teammates Don Newcombe and Larry Doby, and an error card of Cuban-born Chico Barbon that actually depicts Jackie Robinson.

Gaijin Menko

Candy Cards

Candy and gum cards continued to be produced I the early 1960s. Unlike the candy cards of the early 1950s, these later cards were mostly produced on thick stock.

Candy Cards

Contact Rob Fitts

Header Image Provided by