Thursday, April 28, 2016

1973 Calbee Sumo Set

I'm usually a player at most sumo menko and card auctions when there are items that I don't have or I see something unique.  However, one set that I am far from completing and will likely not complete anytime soon is the 36-card 1973 Calbee Sumo Set.  Baseball Card collectors are probably envious as this is the one and only Calbee set ever printed of sumo wrestlers.  And for some reason that I'm still trying to figure out, this is THE MOST expensive sumo menko or card set in existence.  The average price for one of the more common cards is over $100 and the Yokozuna cards can bring easily $300-$400.  I can pick up 1800s menko for fractions of the cost that these cards command.  Additionally, there are menko sets from the 1930s and 40s that are much rarer than the Calbee set, but they don't come close to what collectors are paying for this 1973 set.  And these cards are always up for auction, although some more often than others.  I think it has to do with supply and demand as there are a lot of collectors that remember these from their childhood and are building the set now that they have more expendable income.  This set, like most of the cards at the time, are aimed at the older crowd and weren't marketed as menko or mini cards, which were really aimed at the kids of the day.  I've read on some Japanese blogs that the Calbee sumo card sales were a huge failure and that is why you didn't see any further sets produced.  I'm not sure why they wouldn't have been popular, but baseball cards were also sold the same way and must have been much more popular and profitable.  

These cards were issued in bags of potato chips and came one per bag and measure 2.25" x 3.25".  The rank at the time of printing represented the Nagoya 1973 basho.  Perhaps the most significant cards of the set are the #11, #32 and #33 debut cards of then Komusubi Takamiyama (American Jesse Kuhaulua) who was the first foreigner to win a tournament.  Although Takamiyama has other 1970s cards, these are by far his earliest.
Front and Back of #11 Komusubi Takamiyama

There is also an album that accompanies the set and is meant to hold all 36 cards.  It is unknown how to acquire this set, but likely from sending in payment as a special offer.

Front, Middle and Back of the Album

 Here is 36-card checklist:

36 – Ozeki Takanohana
35 – Yokozuna Kitanofuji
34 – Yokozuna Kitanofuji
33 – Komusubi Takamiyama
32 – Komusubi Takamiyama
31 – Komusubi Kaiketsu
30 - Sekiwake Daiju
29 – Ozeki Daikirin
28 – Ozeki Takanohana
27 – Ozeki Takanohana
26 – Ozeki Kiyokuni
25 – Yokozuna Kotozakura
24 – Yokozuna Kotozakura
23 – Yokozuna Kitanofuji
22 – Yokozuna Kitanofuji
21 – Yokozuna Wajima
20 – Yokozuna Wajima
19 – Yokozuna Wajima
18 – Yokozuna Kitanofuji
17 – Yokozuna Kitanofuji
16 – Yokozuna Wajima
15 – Yokozuna Kotozakura
14 – Maegashira Washiyuyama
13 – Maegashira Owashi
12 – Maegashira Hasegawa
11 – Komusubi Takamiyama
10 – Maegashira Kitanoumi
9 – Maigashira Yutakayama
8 – Maegashira Asahikuni
7 – Komusubi Kaiketsu
6 – Ozeki Takanohana
5 – Ozeki Daiju
4 – Ozeki Kiyokuni
3 – Ozeki Daikirin
2 – Yokozuna Wajima
1 – Ozeki Kotozakura

Someday when I have "conquered" the older stuff, I plan on completing this set along with other modern BBM sets.  Hopefully the supply will still be there when I decide to jump in and invest my time and money.


  1. Best of luck on building this set. Your Takamiyama is in beautiful condition... especially since it came out of a bag of chips.

  2. I'm afraid I might have to break down and start working hard on this set sooner than later. It wont get any cheaper I imagine.

  3. That is awesome - I had no idea Calbee ever did any sports other than NPB and J-League. I think there were "lucky cards" that you could get that you could redeem via mail for the card albums.

    This set sounds kind of like the 1967 Kabaya-Leaf baseball set in terms of popularity. Those cards always sell better than most of the older menko and bromide cards - even stuff that's a lot more rare.

    1. The lucky card could very well be the answer, although I haven't seen one yet. Am hoping to someday run across an advertising poster or something that might have more details.

      Yeah, this set does sound like the Kabaya-Leaf set. Supply and demand.