ESCO : The Exhibit Supply Company

ESCO : The Exhibit Supply Company



ESCO : Exhibit Supply Company

The Exhibit Supply Co. Theatorium was originally located in the downtown "Diamond" area of East Liverpool, Ohio. In 1906, the company advertised film equipment and various electrical components. John Franklin Meyer founded the Meyer Printing Company in Chicago in 1901. "Frank" Meyer partnered with the Exhibit Supply Co. in 1907, printing theater lobby displays and arcade vending cards.

Exhibit Supply Co. - The Billboard, July 28, 1906

The first post cards from ESCO, commonly referred to as Exhibits, were advertised at $1.75 per thousand cards. The cards were randomly dispensed from vending machines for a penny each. The original 1907 catalogue included Cupid Love Letters, Horoscope Cards, Palm Letters, Puss in Boots, and Stereoscopic Views.

Show World, August 10, 1907

Frank Meyer became sole owner of Exhibit Supply Co. in 1910. By 1914, ESCO distributed slot machines, peep shows, and various coin-operated amusements. Meyer received royalties on patented game machines from a wide variety of manufacturers, including competitors.

ESCO vending machines were designed to dispense official Exhibit cards, printed every 30 days. In 1919, the Favorite Film Star machine sold out during the first day on the floor of the Apollo Theater in Harlem. The early photo cards included Movie Bathing Girls, featuring the Mack Sennett Bathing Beauties.

The Moving Picture World, April 5, 1919

The first Exhibit cards to feature professional boxers and baseball players were released in 1921. The 2011 Baseball series from The Topps Company includes a reprint of the 1921 Babe Ruth Exhibit. According to Topps, the baseball Exhibits "marked the first time the card itself was the product to purchase rather than a supplement or advertisement for a different commodity." From 1886–1930, baseball cards were commonly packaged with tobacco products or candy. The trend shifted following the introduction of Dubble Bubble from the Frank H. Fleer Corporation.

In 1925, Exhibit Supply filed a lawsuit against Louis Hurwitz and the United Post Card Company in Philadelphia. Hurwitz printed post cards that were designed to fit in ESCO machines. In 1927, the court ordered Hurwitz to print "Not to be used in Exhibit machines" on each card.

In June 1936, ESCO released Bambino, a baseball game that dispensed a prize ticket for every winning combination. The ticket mechanism and 10-ball game was designed to sell in territories that restricted gambling.

Bambino, Exhibit Supply Co. - The Billboard, June 6, 1936

During World War II, machinery production was diverted to the Allied effort. ESCO manufactured submarine radar equipment and various mechanical parts for the U.S. military. Meyer personally oversaw the development of an electro-snap switch to operate airplane weapon bay doors. Following the war, production continued under a separate division as the Electro-Snap and Switch Manufacturing Company.

Exhibit Supply Co., The Cash Box, March 27, 1945

The first pinball machine to feature flippers was Humpty Dumpty, released by D. Gottlieb & Co. on October 25, 1947. In March 1948, ESCO began marketing flipper conversion kits for older pinball games. In July 1948, the ESCO Chicago plant production area was doubled on West Lake Street. In November 1948, ESCO announced Morocco, a pinball machine featuring flippers and electrical kickers.

John Franklin Meyer passed away on November 9, 1948, at Huntington Sanatorium in Pasadena, California. Trade representatives from around the country attended the funeral service in Oak Park, Illinois.

1949 Exhibit Supply Co. - King Feature Comics

ESCO released the King Feature Comics series in 1949. The set features the first Superman arcade vending card. The black-and-white comic Exhibits are lithographed on thick cardstock suitable for watercolor painting. The King Feature Comics series was distributed as late as 1955.

1949 Exhibit Supply Co. - Comic Strip Exhibits - Superman

ESCO was the largest manufacturer of card vending machines during the first half of the twentieth century. The company printed over 14,000 different cards for a wide variety of subjects that included celebrities, musicians, pin-up models, vehicles, and missiles. ESCO produced about 390 different arcade games and coin-operated amusements.


Exhibit Supply Co. - The Billboard, August 13, 1949

In the 1950s, gum manufacturers Bowman, Fleer, and Topps began aggressively competing over licensing rights for athletes and celebrities. ESCO plant manager Chester Gore became company president in 1957, and sole owner in 1960. By 1964, Topps had signed nearly every active baseball player. The last ESCO card vending machines were manufactured in 1966. Exhibit cards continued to be printed as needed to fill orders. In 1966, Topps forced ESCO to stop printing players with exclusive contracts. Gore later reprinted cards from Baseball's Great Hall of Fame in 1974 and 1977.

In 1977, ESCO was sold to trading card dealer Paul Marchant. Some arcade machines were converted to accept quarters before the entire inventory was sold. The last cards issued by Exhibit were two Baseball's Great Hall of Fame sets in 1980. ESCO was dissolved in 1985.

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The TV and Radio Stars series was distributed throughout the 1940s and 1950s. The American Card Catalog reference is W409. The TV and Radio Stars printings are categorized by variations of the "Made in U.S.A." font. According to Paul Marchant, “Chester Gore made changes at random with no pattern." TV and Radio Stars cards are included in The Jefferson R. Burdick Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The series features cards for Bud Collyer, the first actor to voice Superman and Clark Kent, and Lois Lane actress Joan Alexander. Collyer and Alexander starred in The Adventures of Superman radio program and the animated shorts produced by Fleischer and Famous Studios. A cropped variant of the Bud Collyer card includes "Superman" under the salutation and facsimile autograph.

Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) A - Bud Collyer Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) B - Bud Collyer Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) - Joan Alexander

Bud Collyer appears with actor and singer Bert Parks on an Exhibit card for Break The Bank, a quiz show that aired on ABC Radio from July 5, 1946, until September 23, 1949. Parks and Collyer co-hosted the radio and televisions broadcasts for ABC beginning October 22, 1948.

Bert Parks is best known for hosting the annual Miss America pageant from 1955–1979. Parks served as the main host of Break The Bank from 1948–1957. Collyer made appearances as co-host and emcee on Break The Bank from 1948–1953. Bert is misspelled as "Burt" and both actors are mislabeled on the Exhibit card.

Exhibit Supply Co. - TV and Radio Stars Exhibit Cards (W409) - Break The Bank



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Bueschel, Richard M. and Steve Gronowski. Arcade 1: Illustrated Historical Guide to Arcade Machines, Volume 1. Hoflin Publishing Ltd., 1993, pp. 246, 252, 256.

"Coin Units Bow at Show Nov. 27 - 30." The Billboard, vol. 61, no. 48, 26 November 1949, pp. 142, 172.

"Exhibit is still producing for Victory." The Cash Box, vol. 6, no. 2, 27 March 1945.

Exhibit Supply Co. Catalogue, Exhibit Supply Co., Chicago, 1929.

"Exhibit Supply Kit Offers Ops Flippers for Older Machines." The Billboard, vol. 60, no. 10, 6 March 1948. p. 100.

"Exhibit Supply To Carry On Fine Tradition Under Batten." The Billboard, vol. 60, no. 26, 26 June 1948. p. 109.

"Founder of Exhibit Supply, J. Frank Meyer, Passes Away." The Billboard, vol. 60, no. 47, 20 November 1948. pp. 88, 108.

"Ticket Device for 'Bambino'." Automatic Age, June 1936, p. 100.

"Trade Dignitaries Gather for Final Tribute to Meyer." The Billboard, vol. 60, no. 48, 27 November 1948. pp. 158, 167.

Vrechek, George. "A look back helps understand Exhibit Supply cards." Sports Collectors Digest, 13 September 2017.

Vrechek, George. "Exhibit Supply Company ends its reign in 1980s." Sports Collectors Digest, 27 October 2017.


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