Saturday, January 19, 2019

1971 Chein Wastebasket - Buffalo Bills

by Jeffrey Miller

My latest literary endeavor has me collaborating with Buffalo Bills uber-collector Greg Tranter in chronicling many of the most interesting items from his massive collection of Bills-related memorabilia. Our book is as yet untitled but will feature somewhere between 60 and 75 items, including many one-of-a-kind pieces such as game-worn equipment, playbooks, and the like, as well as mass-marketed collectibles that are available to the everyday common fan.  It's very hard to describe the size and scope of Greg's collection, other than to say it is so large that it had to be donated to the Buffalo History Museum in order to be able to house it all and display just a fraction of it. 

Anyway, I have selected one of the chapters for inclusion here at the Pro Football Journal.  This chapter focuses on the Chein wastebaskets that were produced in 1971.  Chein made baskets for each of the 26 teams in the league at that time. 

The book is due for publication in the fall of 2020.  It is being published by St. Johann Press.


Despite depicting several very good football players, including Ron McDole, Butch Byrd, Paul Costa, Marlin Briscoe and, of course, OJ Simpson, what better, more ironic symbol could there be to represent the worst season in team annals than a Buffalo Bills wastebasket? Though a very colorful piece that would have been a hit with any young Bills fan in the era it was produced, this item now stands as a reminder of a very dismal time in Buffalo sports history.

The can was made by New York City-based J. Chein & Company, manufacturers of metal stamped toys, musical instruments, sand pails, noisemakers, coin banks and other collectibles. Founded in 1907, the company’s peak production years occurred prior to the first World War. In the late 1960s, as toy manufacturing was becoming more plastic based, Chein & Company began focusing on lithographed wastebaskets. In 1971, they produced their first line of NFL team-themed baskets, which included the Buffalo Bills. Sadly, the Bills of that season are noteworthy primarily for their futility, finishing with the worst record in the league (1-13), as well as in their entire 12-year existence. Offensively, the Bills wound up dead last in points scored and were shutout four times, while the defense surrendered a league-worst 394 points.

The 16" by 8 ½” basket is encircled by a green football field with yardage markers, goalposts and end zones, with Bills-themed red, white and blue striping at the top and bottom. The front of the can has "Players of the Buffalo Bills" printed in black inside a white shield that is outlined in blue. Above the emblem is the National Football League Players Association logo. To the right are headshots of each of the Bills offensive starters arranged in a standard T formation. To the left are the headshots of each of the defensive starters, depicted in a standard 4-3 defensive formation.

Co-author Greg Tranter recalls fondly the serendipitous moment he acquired this interesting piece: “I spotted this item in 1988 at a shop outside of Fenway Park in Boston, of all places. This particular shop had many sports items behind the counter that were in rows that were hard to see. I happened to catch this out of the corner of my eye and asked the sales clerk if it was for sale. It was! It had dust all over it and probably had been there for the seventeen years since it was made. It was a great find in an unusual place.”

Indeed! And to find one in one great condition is even more unusual, since these cans, constructed of low-gauge tin, were highly susceptible to denting and rust. It’s certain, too, that many of these baskets found their way, rather appropriately, into the nearest dumpster once the dreadful 1971 season had mercifully ended.

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