JFK *** LBJ vs. Goldwater *** RFK 1963-1968
By Joel P. Bevan ©2006 for The Wrapper Magazine
Herein is a short tale of three trading card sets: John F. Kennedy (1963) and Johnson VS. Goldwater (1964), both by Topps and also Robert F. Kennedy (1968), produced by Philly Gum.
There are several common characteristics to these three sets. They all have a political theme. They are all in black and white. They all have a succinct and politically indifferent text on the reverse sides.
The JFK set has 77 cards. The first card, (#1), has a picture with John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. I find it most intriguing that this exact picture is used also as the last card (#64) of the Johnson/Goldwater set.
I really wonder if someone at Topps actually made a deliberate choice to thread a connection between the sets or if it was just a fluke.
At no time do any of these cards attempt to excite drama or intrigue. Rather, they are more of a quiet, studious series of still pictures which in their own way spotlight four man from recent US history at the height of their political influence. Thus stated, even though produced at the apex of their respective histories, no hint of climax is to be found in the cards regarding their respective futures. In other words, The JFK and RFK sets were both released before their assassinations and the LBJ/AU H2O cards released before the actual November 1964 election results.
Let me give another example from the JFK set, card 68, it looks like this:
JFK is staring affectionately at Jackie in the back seat of a limousine. The text blandly states: "President Kennedy and the First lady leave a formal dinner hosted by French President De Gaulle."
Now that is fine, but if one knows the truer history around this picture it takes on more glamour. It was like this; the USA and France were at a desperately low point in their relations. Charles De Gaulle had a pathological loathing of all things American. JFK and his staff arranged for President Kennedy to visit France and De Gaulle begrudgingly invited him to a gala event. JFK unleashed his secret weapon. Jackie Kennedy, who spoke fluent French, charmed De Gaulle at the event. A noticeably improved change in relations between countries began almost immediately. Now look at the picture again and you can see why maybe JFK is staring so proudly at the First Lady.
In 1964 I began to collect political pins. I already was collecting gum cards, albeit in a disorganized manner. However, the Johnson VS. Goldwater set went right by me, and I never saw it for sale or knew anything about it. The 64 cards do a decent job of displaying both men, their spouses, some boyhood pictures and also photos of other big shots. Nowhere does the set dip into the vituperative and vicious nature of that campaign. I can remember it well. The media and the Democratic Party made Barry Goldwater into a maniac who was itching to use the A-bomb and who would destroy civil rights. On the flip side, ugly anti-Johnson campaign pins sprouted, one with a very pregnant black girl on it, saying " LBJ's The One." Likewise, a small red book circulated (a copy of which I still own) with the "quotations of Chairman LBJ."
Here is a picture of card 45 from Johnson VS Goldwater
In the passage of time, I think Goldwater emerges as the more interesting character, My parents went to see him speak in 1964 at Madison Square Garden and my mom said he was very handsome and impressive in person. In contrast, even as a kid, I had LBJ pegged as a cornball.
The RKF set is almost nothing. Every (55) card is just another picture of RFK, no family, no events except for one picture with the pope in it. The set is very forgettable.
There is ever so much more one could write on these sets. I would suggest collectors try and buy them complete and not collect as singles.
Joel P Bevan (mailto:Crusader1951@sbcglobal.net)
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