The Florida Find

One of the first Post cereal football panels I purchased was from long-time collector Kirk Robinson in 2000.  It was a short print Grape Nuts Flakes 16 oz. panel.  When it arrived, I was disappointed that the print registration was off considerably.  Kirk was gracious enough to take the panel back and traded it for other panels in a deal worth more than the original.  I had no idea at the time, but that Grape Nuts Flakes panel could well have been included in a group that has become part of Post cereal football collecting lore.

Several years later Kirk relayed a story of buying a Post cereal football set from Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen shortly before Christmas 1984.  The mint man had purchased a large number of Post cereal panels and cut them up to make sets.  Kirk said the cards were overall pretty nice but that many had print registration problems.  Not long after getting his set in the mail, Rosen called Kirk and asked if he was happy with the set.  Thinking bigger picture, Kirk let the registration problems pass but proceeded to ask Rosen if he had any of the panels left.  Paraphrasing Rosen, his reply went something along the lines of “Why is everybody asking about panels?  I might have (messed) up here!”  Rosen did acquire some more panels and Kirk picked them up from him at a southern California card show a few months later.

There has been a legend in Post cereal football collecting circles about a large number of panels known as the “Florida Find.”  Not many details came with the story other than a huge collection of Post cereal football panels came out of Florida at some point after the card collecting hobby took off in the 1970s.

In early 2018, I was e-mailing with Mark Kemmerle, another Post cereal football collector with varied interests, and wrote about the Florida Find story.  He wrote back with:

“I wonder if Rosen's find of Post Cereal boxes came from Dan Wells, who made the most incredible find of all.  He bought a garage full of cards -- all sorts, including regionals like Johnston Cookies, etc. -- from a retiree who'd bought and sorted tens of thousands of cards into these very long cardboard boxes, which I presume were either fabricated or custom made.  Rosen used to sit behind Dan's table at card shows and sort out multiple mint sets from Dan's stock.  Dan was an English professor at the University of South Florida's St. Petersburg campus whom I'd met first at record shows.  I don't recall his having Post Cereal stuff, but you never know.”

Early in 2020 I was reading a digital book by Brian Powell titled “Never Cheaper By The Dozen” about regional and food issue cards.  In one chapter, Brian was discussing the difficulty he had in acquiring a 1963 Post cereal Roger Maris card that was printed only on the back of a 16 oz. Grape Nuts Flakes box, when the name Dan Wells popped up as having sold thousands of Post cereal panels to Alan Rosen in 1984.  Brian was using a book written by Alan Rosen as reference for the Dan Wells story.  Bingo!  The Florida Find was real!

Here is the text from Rosen’s 1994 book, “True Mint”:

True Mint Florida Find

In October 2020, I posted the story above on the Vintage Football Community message board hoping that a long shot might come in and somebody from that membership might have knowledge of Dan Wells.  Soon I found that Tom Reid, Mr. Mint’s traveling partner to Florida, had passed away more than a decade ago.  Thank you for that information, Fred McKie.  That lead was gone.

Within a day or two, Carl Lamendola posted information about a group of 88 (the number actually turns out to be 92 but the Sotheby’s listing had the number at 88) Post cereal football panels that had sold in the 1991 Sotheby’s auction that was famous for the price paid for a T206 Honus Wagner (yes, that card) by Bruce McNall and Wayne Gretzky.  (An aside here: Fred McKie was one of the first owners of this particular Wagner card. It last was auctioned by Robert Edward Auctions in August 2021 for $6.6 million.) There was not only a Post football panels lot auctioned that day, but also huge lots of 1961 and 1962 Post baseball panels, a 1962 Post Canadian baseball panel lot and a 1963 Post baseball panel lot that didn’t make the reserve amount and sold later.  The Sotheby’s catalog described the football panels as mint.  All of the Post cereal panels had been consigned by James Copeland, well known in hobby circles for amassing a tremendous collection of rare cards during the 1980s.

Soon Ken Marks posted that he had been in contact with the high bidder in the Sotheby’s auction and owner of the panels to this day.  He was told “that the panels originated with a former Post company worker.  With retirement this gentleman moved from West Chester to Florida.  At some point he made arrangements with Mr. Mint to buy the panels, and Mr. Mint went down to Florida (with Tom Reid) to complete the purchase.  They came back with 20 suit cases full of panels.  And started cutting them up to make mint sets.  Before doing that, Mr. Mint pulled out the best panel of every cereal size/flavor and set (them) aside (for both baseball and football).  And those set-aside panels were later bought by Copeland (through a middleman named Greg Bussineau who was apparently Al's middleman on his major sales).”

I had tried sending a couple of letters to people named Dan Wells with addresses in the Tampa area in March 2020.  One came back as not being the correct Dan Wells and the other was never returned.  On October 20, 2020 I sent another letter to a third Dan Wells near Tampa.  Ten days later a handwritten letter came back that said:

Dear Robin,

I am the Dan Wells you are looking for.  I obtained the Post cereal panels in a large purchase in 1983 from a local man who had collected them in the New York city area in the 50s and 60s.  He had kept them in an aluminum shed and when a storm caused a large tree branch to fall onto the shed piercing the roof and letting rain pour in he decided to part with the collection.  He named his price and I paid it.  I then contacted Al Rosen and he flew down to Fla. with Tom Reid and they bought the Post panels and single cards.

However, the Post panels I remember were all, or almost all, baseball not football panels.  There were many dozens of panels overall, so maybe I'm not remembering them very accurately, but that's all I can tell you.  The gentleman I purchased the collection from was a delivery man for a food company and he had many people saving the back panels for him.  Nobody could have eaten so much cereal by himself.

Glad to help,

Dan Wells

P.S.  I wish I had saved some of the panels for myself.

A second letter was dispatched to Mr. Wells asking whether these panels had adhesive and handwriting on the back identifying which Post cereal product the back panels were on originally.  Adhesive would verify that these panels were sold in stores and didn’t come directly from the Post Carton & Container factory.  A few weeks later, a second letter showed up in the mailbox.

Dear Robin,

I apologize for taking so long to respond to your last letter.  I hope it didn’t affect your work on the history of Post Cereal panels.
I cannot tell you the name of the old man I bought the collection from but I can verify that the picture of back panel writing you sent is indeed from that person.  Any panels around the country that have that writing on the back are from this collection.

He also had a few single player full size panels but after he showed to me (one was Mantle) he lost them — probably throwing them out with the newspapers.  I can only imagine what they are worth today.  I don’t remember if there were any football players in the collection, but the Mantle is what obviously caught my attention.  Alas, I never saw it again.

As to the other questions  — I think there were adhesives on some of the back panels.  Also, I remember Mark Kemmerle very well.  I used to see him at the record shows.  I believe I bought Richie Valens’ Concert at Pacoima (Calif.) from him.  I still have it.  Good luck to you, and if I can answer any more questions — just ask.  I’ll be quicker to reply next time.

Dan Wells

At this point a quick summary may be helpful:

  • Dan Wells bought a storage shed full of cards and Post cereal panels from a former food delivery truck driver in 1983 in the Tampa, Florida area

  • Alan Rosen bought cards and Post cereal panels from Dan Wells in 1984

  • Rosen wrote in his book that he bought “thousands” of panels, enough to fill five suitcases, on the fifth trip to Florida to purchase cards from Wells

  • Wells confirmed that the panels had handwriting on the back identifying which brand and size cereal the panel came from

  • In his first letter, Mr. Wells states that “the Post panels I remember were all, or almost all, baseball not football panels.”  As shown above, Kirk Robinson bought about 25 panels from Alan Rosen in 1985.  Kirk still has some of those panels today and they have the handwriting on the back identified by Dan Wells as that of the food delivery truck driver.  In addition, the complete Post cereal football set that Kirk bought from Rosen had many cards with writing on the back.  It can be concluded with little doubt that there were Post cereal football panels in the group Dan Wells sold to Alan Rosen. Shown here are two examples of back panels with identifying handwriting:

    Panel Identifying Labels
    12 oz. Post Toasties label 10 oz. Sugar Coated Corn Flakes label
    Post Toasties 12 oz. top flap label Sugar Coated Corn Flakes 10 oz. label

    Rosen wrote in his book that on the fifth trip to Tampa, he and Tom Reid came back with five suitcases full of Post cereal panels, including at least 1,000 1963 Post cereal baseball panels.  Would thousands of panels fit in five suitcases?  At an average suitcase size of 30” x 20” x 8” and an average panel size of 8” x 10” and 1/16” thick, 4800 panels could be packed in five suitcases.  Even considering Rosen’s penchant for hyperbole, “thousands” of Post cereal panels actually made the trip out of Florida in 1984.

    Mr. Wells said that most, if not all, of the panels were baseball—he didn’t remember the football panels being in the group.  Yet, Kirk Robinson’s Post football panels and set purchased from Rosen at about the same time had the back panel handwriting identified by Mr. Wells as coming from the group he sold to Alan Rosen.

    But how many of those panels were football and not baseball panels?  Again, a little math is helpful.  If, as Rosen had in his possession after his purchase from Dan Wells, almost every different back panel of Post football cards, he could have made two sets from 86 panels.  A single set requires a minimum of 47 panels.  So it would take 219 panels, being as efficient as possible, to make five full sets of 200 cards.  In addition to the 25 panels Rosen sold to Kirk Robinson, he sold others to different people.  One of those was Jerry Blum, whom Rosen identified to Kirk.  Kirk purchased 20 panels from Blum.  Kirk said he also chased down panels from other sources Rosen told him about, so there were maybe a couple dozen more panels obtained from those people.  If the group of 92 panels that sold in the 1991 Sotheby’s auction are included as part of the total number of Post football panels from Dan Wells’ find, it appears that there may have been around 400 football panels purchased from Wells by Rosen.  Compare that to maybe 4,000 or more Post baseball panels from Wells’ group and it is less than 10% of the whole group of panels.  It would be easy to see where Mr. Wells would more readily remember the many baseball rather than the relatively few football panels.

    Did the group of 92 Post football panels sold in the 1991 Sotheby’s auction come from Dan Wells’ panels?  Without any input from the present owner of the panels as to what is on the backs of the panels, it is difficult to make an accurate assessment.  Kirk Robinson has pointed out that the handwriting on the backs of the panels was very light and in pencil.  It seems that it would be very easy to erase writing such as that and not leave much in the way of telltale signs.  Rosen could have pulled the best of the panels and set them aside, as the current owner believes happened.

    Could it have been that the food delivery truck driver, who appears to have worked in Westchester County, New York (rather than the city West Chester in eastern Pennsylvania) which included White Plains and Post’s parent company General Foods, obtained unused cereal boxes from the General Foods headquarters?  Could these have been the panels in the Sotheby’s 1991 auction?  These questions were posed to former Post employees Terry Faulk and Bill Rothney.

    Terry’s reply:

    First, the cartons were produced in the C&C (Carton & Container) plant directly across the street from the Post Cereals complex (five production buildings in Battle Creek, Michigan).  Although separate Divisions, both were part of General Foods Corp. and obviously had a very close relationship.  I worked in both quality control and production from 1965 to 1971 and the manufacturing processes would have been the same as 1962.

    There are a few possibilities how this could happen:

    1) They could have been sent to White Plains (GF headquarters), but it is doubtful that it was a huge quantity.
    2) They could have been stolen from C&C or Post; again unlikely.
    3) They were removed from scrap; damaged cartons (machine jams), used cartons that did not pass QC inspection (e.g., too much glue on top closure).  However, this would take time and employees could not have done it in quantity.

    Also, the way the plant was laid out, it would be very difficult to obtain the cartons from all five production buildings.  (Note: Meaning that not every brand of cereal necessary would be included to form the group of 92 panels or the five complete sets made from panels by Alan Rosen.) Lastly, it would not be permissible to take a large quantity of cartons.  It’s possible, but…

    Bill’s reply:

    Not sure I can shed any light on the Post Cereal back panels, but I'll share what I know and have heard.

    I found a lot of about 400 Post BB back panels in the late 1970's.  These were from a person in the Research Dept. at the manufacturing plant that produced the cartons for Post.  I worked there also, but didn't start until 15 years after the cartons were produced.  This person originally had entire flat cartons (never used) but had cut the backs off the rest of the cartons to make them easier to store.  He kept a few of the box fronts also, but most of the fronts were discarded.  Lots and lots of certain back panels, but none of many others.  These were from the Research storage room at the plant and were discarded when they finally decided to clean it out.  The gentleman I purchased them from had decided to save them instead of throwing them out.

    We had a "sister" plant in New York that produced the Jell-O cartons in 1962 and 1963.  I've heard stories from people who worked at that plant, of climbing all over pallets of cartons in the plant's warehouse, looking for cartons to put sets together for Marketing folks and executives at the Corporate offices in White Plains, NY (Westchester Co.).  Not sure if something like this happened with the Post BB & FB promotions, also.

    Many years ago (1980's) when I was in White Plains offices on a business trip, I stopped into the Marketing Library and looked at some of the microfiche of the various cartons.  I made Xerox copies of what I could find - I still have the copies.  I asked what they did with the cartons after they were photocopied and the librarian said they were sent to a storage location (climate controlled) to preserve the condition and color of the originals.  Not sure where this storage location was, but General Foods, Post, and Kraft had several sales, mergers, and consolidations over the next 20-25 years, and I'd assume someone raided the archives over the years.  This could also be a source of some of the complete cartons, when they surfaced.

    I've also heard some of the same stories as you, that some of these marketing folks retired to Florida and took some of these cartons with them.

    Based on Terry’s and Bill’s information, it seems only remotely possible that the food delivery truck driver had a direct method of obtaining unused Post cereal boxes that would not have had either adhesive or handwriting on the backs of the panels.  It appears that unused flat boxes were not regularly delivered to the General Foods headquarters in White Plains.

    It seems most likely that the panels in the 1991 Sotheby’s auction were ones that did follow the path of being collected by the food delivery truck driver in the early 1960s to the Tampa, Florida area after retirement and ultimately to Dan Wells and Alan Rosen.  Quite possibly some of the panels did not have any writing on the back or it was light enough to be erased and undetected after that.  It would not have been out of character for Rosen to save the best panels and sell them later as a group for a premium as was done in the Sotheby's auction.

    Of the 400 or so estimated Post football panels from the Florida Find, less than 200 survived the “panel massacre” as Kirk Robinson has referred to Mr. Mint’s Post cereal panel cut up to make sets.  If the 92 Post football panels in the 1991 Sotheby’s auction were also deducted from the group in the Florida Find, the number drops again to around 100.  Kirk probably acquired another 50 or so from Rosen and other sources and sold or traded several of those years ago.  That may leave somewhere around 50 unaccounted for panels that could be in collections somewhere today.

    If you own some Post cereal football panels, it would be great to hear from you if any of those panels have handwriting on the back that identifies the brand and size of the cereal. Please e-mail me with that information.