The Cold War may be over, but collectors are still fighting to complete this "menacing" set.
Unveiled shortly after Communist forces invaded South Korea to begin the Korean War, the 1951 Bowman Red Menace set conveys the fears that many Americans had about "Red" rule.
The artwork on the 48 cards in this set features scenes from the Korean conflict and Soviet attacks, as well as air battles and important military figures. Concentration camps, slave labor and the consequences of an atomic bomb being dropped are also illustrated to reinforce the perceived evils of Communism. The set's third card - Slave Labor - encourages parents to read a U.S. government publication about the "cruelty" of Communism. The set makes it clear that Communists pose a serious threat to the democratic freedom of Americans.
While some may dismiss these cards as propaganda today, others insist that they accurately expressed the anxiety of Americans in 1951.
"Actually, history has vindicated this set," said Kurt Kuersteiner, webmaster of www.monsterwax.com and www.monstercards.org. "After the fall of the Soviet Union, a lot of the files that have come forward show that a lot of the "Red Scare" that had been dismissed in the American media for years had sufficient grounds for concern. It all sounded kind of absurd to some people at the time, and they always felt like it was exaggeration, but there was a very true cold war going on."
Bill Bengen, who owns the No. 3 All-Time Finest, 1951 Bowman Red Menace set on the PSA Set Registry, remembers being fearful of Communism as a child.
"The set reminds me so much of the fear of Communism that I had when I was a kid," he said. "This set really nails it in terms of the emotional content that we all felt back then."
Tom King, who also contributed to the 1949 Bowman Wild West issue, was one of the artists that worked on these cards. Reportedly using news reports for inspiration, Gordon Palmer, who was responsible for the text on the 1951 Bowman Jets, Rockets, Spacemen cards, penned the card backs for this issue.
Card fronts boast colorful artwork and no text, while the backs feature a card number, title and description of the scene on the front. The words "Children's Crusade Against Communism," as well as a white star representing democracy and a red star that stands for communism, are also pictured on the backs.
"It's a very, very colorful set and there are some truly beautiful cards," noted Bengen.
Backs can be found in tan or gray stock. Kuersteiner says that the different card stocks could be attributed to Bowman running out of one stock and resorting to the other. Another possible explanation could be that after a first print run sold out, the company used a different card stock to distinguish the second printing from the first, offered Kuersteiner.
Some hobbyists prefer to have the same-colored backs on all of their cards. So far, neither back commands a premium.
Cards were released in five-card, five-cent packs with bubble gum. Wrappers are pale blue and flaunt the words "Fight the Red Menace." The packs also showcase white and red stars.
"Packs are extremely scarce," said Marty Quinn, who owns the No. 1 set on the PSA Set Registry. "I wouldn't say wrappers are rare, but you don't see them on eBay every day either."
In 1995, non-sports card pioneer Bob Marks uncovered a display box that provided further explanation about the "Children's Crusade Against Communism" that's advertised prominently on the card backs. The bottom of the display box boasts a "Crusader's Oath" that reads:
"I believe in God, and in the God given freedom of man. I believe in the United States of America and the United Nations. I believe in government of the people, by the people, and for the people . . . I am against any system which enslaves men and makes them merely tools of the State. I pray for the people who must live under such a system. I pray that they may be delivered from oppression. I pledge my faith, loyalty and devotion to the cause of freedom for all mankind."
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