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The Saltwell Files, Vol. 1: A Bonanza of Vintage Sports Merch Catalogs

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I recently received a note from a reader named Ed Hartig, as follows:

I am the historian for the Chicago Cubs. Some time ago I worked with a former Cubs employee named E. R. “Salty” Saltwell, who worked in concessions. We were cleaning out his old files and came across some merch catalogs from the ’60s and ’70s — mainly NFL (because Salty’s tenure dated back to when the Bears played at Wrigley Field) but also a couple from MLB.

Not wanting to toss anything out, I’ve had them in a box for a couple years now. Would you be interesting in seeing them?

Obviously, I said yes, so Ed very generously sent me a package filled with amazing old sports merch catalogs and one-sheet promotional fliers. Much like the catalogs I’ve shared from the collection of Kevin “Gashouse” Cearfoss, these were wholesale catalogs intended for the trade, not retail catalogs for the general public. But the ones from the Cubs exec were mostly older, from a more ragtag era of sports merchandising. Collectively, they paint a very entertaining portrait of what those days must have been like in the sports merch biz.

I’m going to share these items with you over a series of posts, beginning today with a bunch of one-sheets and brochures for a variety of different products. Let’s start with…

NFL Chocolates

In 1964, a confectionary firm was selling officially NFL-licensed foil-wrapped chocolate footballs. Here’s their pitch letter, plus a one-sheet and price list:

NFL Stadium Seats

NFL Director’s Chairs

NFL Tailgating Kits

Gotta like the company name “West Bend Thermo-Serv, Inc.”

NFL Plush Dolls

Never seen this one before. Looks almost scary! “Will sit erect” — ahem.

NFL Sideline Capes

I love the NFL shield used at the top of this one. Inauthentic, obviously, but communicates the brand and gets the job done.

NFL Team Posters

Paintings by Dave Boss. Interesting that the front of the one-sheet is black-and-white, but then they have a color photo of the retail display on the back.

NFL Player Posters

Some of my friends definitely had some of these when I was growing up in the early 1970s.

NFL Tees and Sweatshirts

So interesting that they were still using illustrations instead of photos for these items in 1972. Fashion illustration would soon disappear altogether a few years later.

Also: Note the Browns logo on the final sheet.

Belt Buckles (all sports)

I love this company’s logo (look at the lower-right corner of the first page). Also: The facemasks on the NFL buckles look so truncated!

MLB Golf Balls

MLB Clocks and Pocket Watches

MLB Patches

The manufacturer refers to them as “embroidered emblems,” but that’s just a fancy way of saying “patches.”

MLB Caps

Has anyone ever heard of a baseball cap manufacturer called KM Pro? They’re new to me, but they were apparently making MLB caps in the 1970s, and a quick eBay search suggests that their vintage caps are now pretty valuable.


Faaaascinating stuff, no? Please joining me in thanking Ed Hartig for sharing these incredible artifacts with us!

And this is just the beginning — there’s a lot more to the Saltwell files, and I’ll be sharing more of that content with you in the weeks to come. Stay tuned.




Super Bowl Preview Preview

The annual Uni Watch Super Bowl Preview will be published tomorrow on my Substack. As usual, it will feature lots of uni-related storylines and subplots regarding this year’s Super Bowl teams, plus the annual micro-granular data from Super Bowl savant Jay Braiman. It’s a doozy!

You can receive this article in your in-box tomorrow morning by becoming a paid subscriber to my Substack, which I hope you’ll consider doing. Thanks!

Comments (34)

    I’ve never heard of KM Pro, but did buy a red/blue Red Sox cap in the 70’s from Roman Pro, ordered through the Sporting News. It had a leather sweatband.

    Roman Pro and KM Pro are directly related, with Roman providing the embroidery to KM until they closed, and Roman then picked up the manufacturing portion. Since Roman created the team logos for team caps when they were current, their replicas in the 80’s and 90’s were PERFECT. link

    One of my classmates in second grade had one of those Yankees belts. The class photo is a snapshot of the polyester ’70s.

    Regarding those NFL Player Posters, I had the Falcons’ Tommy Nobis poster up on my home-office wall up until about six months ago, when it was so yellowed and torn that I finally gave up on it after what was likely nearly 50 years of service. Way back when, my brother also had the Eagles’ Ben Hawkins poster.

    Do kids even hang sports posters anymore? By the time I was a teenager up until I left for college, my bedroom (very small) was plastered with them everywhere … including the ceiling! I took photos and have them in an album somewhere …

    Good times.

    I love that Lions logo on the Director’s Chair advertisement. I am not a Lion’s fan, but I have always been a fan of their Honolulu blue and silver colors and traditional uniform sets (definitely NOT the black sets!). I wish they would just go back to their traditional look, it was the best in the NFL, and they keep messing with it.

    I agree and there was something very “automotive” about the Lions’ logo that was perfect for Detroit. It was almost a combination of the 1960s Mercury Cougar and Ford Mustang emblems.

    The directors chairs, while awesome, has a maddening amount of inconsistency. There are chairs with:
    -The team’s non-helmet logo (Bears, Lions, Vikings, 49ers)
    -The team’s helmet logo, but not on a helmet (Falcons, Saints, Chiefs)
    -A reproduction of the team’s helmet (all other teams)

    I don’t know if the actual order form allowed you to choose which option you would prefer.

    I remember those solid football chocolates. If they’d get even a tiny bit melty and then re-harden, the foil would be an absolute nightmare to peel off.

    I remember the Packers poster with the 1930s lettering – had that one – but I was confused looking at the baseball items trying to find the Brewers until I remembered “oh yeah … American League back then.”

    There’s more than one team I would say this about, but seeing the Cardinals’ uniforms from that time just reinforces how terrible their current set is. So simple, yet so nice looking.

    I’m not sure the NFL posters shown in that ad are reproductions of Dave Boss paintings. Those are the 1970 posters. The Dave Boss posters came earlier. He did the first set of NFL paintings in 1965.

    Great post today – thanks for sharing Mr. Hartig

    My favourite is the old letterhead – from the days when you had first-page letterhead that took up half the page, had a colour sketch of your building, etc. My dad’s company in the 1960s had that and it was so cool.

    I also love the stadium chairs. I remember bench seating as kid and we had foam pads to keep our butts off the metal benches, but I can’t remember ever being allowed to bring big metal chair things into the stadium.

    These seats were sold to the Teams, not the general public. The teams concession would “rent” them for $1 per game, or something.

    Looking at the Chocolates, the inflation over time is interesting. In 1964 $6.40 for a dozen NFL Branded Chocolates. In Today’s money, that’s $61.27.


    Sports Illustrated had a page in every issue that you could order NFL posters from–game action shots with no player or team name and no maker’s mark of any kind. As a pre-Seahawks football fan I fell in love with the Steelers just as they started winning, because of family in Pittsburgh and their perfect uniforms, and had every player they offered covering my walls. Even then I got it: “Why does that Oiler in the background have a blue helmet when they wear white ones?!?”

    Would be interesting to know how product licensing was handled back in the day. From the looks of the Regal note it appears to be something that was handled by the individual teams as opposed to the league. I do know that the leagues really started to police their brand during the mid 1980s.

    The quality of the vintage belt buckles is incredibly rugged. It makes my day any time I see one, the more peripheral the team, the better. In 1984, I helped run a sports-oriented kiosk in NH called Pennant Fever: licensing was very fast and loose, and people never complained about the pricing. It couldn’t be more different than what it has become.

    Salty Saltwell was a disaster as the Cubs’ GM (1976), but weren’t they all? He traded away Don Kessinger, Andre Thornton, and Bill Madlock. But all that was business as usual for the Cubs of my youth. Nonetheless, his collection of materials is fun to see.

    The Thornton trade brought back Steve Renko and, truly, one of my all-time Cub favs, Larry Biittner, with the double i in the name.

    Once, the OF-1B Biittner came in to pitch as a mop-up. The TV graphic read, NOW PIITTCHING LARRY BIITTNER. ; – )

    Salty was a “company” man. He knew that he wasn’t prepared to be the GM … especially as the free agent era was just beginning. Salty was 20 years from his days as a business manager in the minors, dealing with player’s, contracts, trades … but Mr. Wrigley asked him to take the job, so he did.

    That it ended like it did was not unexpected.

    This is another treasure trove that has comt your way, Paul. I especially like those Dave Boss posters, there is something alluringly mythical and heroic about the way the players are depicted.

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