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The Untold Story of the 1958 Alifabolaget Pelé


Ryan McCormick
Working Draft:  July 7, 2023

Among soccer collectors, the 1958 Alifabolaget Pelé is widely exalted—the iconic card of the world’s most popular sport.  But unlike the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle or 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan, little has been written, much less disseminated, about the bite-size (1.25” x 1.85”) card that sold for $1.3 million in 2022. 1  The Alifabolaget Pelé has a rich story that deserves to be told.  

It’s no accident that a Pelé card stands alone, atop the soccer hobby.  Pelé is the soccer eminence against whom all past and future soccer stars will be measured.  Chosen by the International Olympic Committee as the greatest athlete of the 20th century, Pelé’s name is synonymous with the sport he revolutionized.  

After scoring five goals in the semifinal and final of the 1958 World Cup at the youthful age of 17, Pelé was declared a national treasure by the Brazilian government to ensure he would remain in Brazil.  His mere presence could stop wars.  In 1967, a 48-hour ceasefire was observed during the Nigerian Civil War so that Nigerians could watch his electrifying play on their native soil.  His achievements and records on the field are too long to list. But it was infectious smile and love of the game that made him a cultural icon the world will not forget.  

The roots of the 1958 Alifabolaget Pelé trace to 1902 when Swedish entrepreneur and businessman Anders Lindahl (1860-1932) created the Lindahl Factories Corporation (“AB A. Lindahl’s Fabriker”) in Stockholm.  Lindahl was a master of marketing and created captivating campaigns to persuade middle-class Swedes of the need for the company’s various, questionable concoctions, including health salts, salves, ointments, cold-fighting lozenges, nutritional supplements, detergents, and confectionaries. 2  He introduced his largest commercial success, the carbonated beverage Pommac, at a 1923 world fair (Jubilee Exposition) in Gothenburg, Sweden.  Lindahl marketed Pommac as “the beautiful drink of the 25 fruits,” and “the taste of summer.”  it remains popular in Sweden today. 

The Alifa Company (Alifabolaget) was the sales and marketing arm of Lindahl’s enterprise.  Erik and Frithiof Lindahl continued the family business after the patriarch’s passing in 1932.  Creative marketing remained the Lindahl family’s calling card.  In 1936, the company produced a 275-card set commemorating the stars of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, including four different cards of African-American track and field legend Jesse Owens.  Identified as “Alfa Olymp-Skylt” in the PSA registry, the small (1” x 1.75”), black and white cards were included individually in packages of Alfa’s caramel candy (“Alfakolan” or “Alfa Bobbykola”).  The back of the cards include information on the athlete and the tag line, in Swedish, “Don’t just ask for candy, ask for Alfa.”  As of July 2023, only 175 of the Olympic cards have been graded by the major grading companies.

Around the same time period, from 1936-1938, Alifa produced a set of 150 Disney cards that it also packaged with its candy.  In 1941, Alifa produced a run of 200 film stars entitled “Alfa Filmkolaskylt” that included John Wayne, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, Lucille Ball and others.  Shortly thereafter, Alifa’s card production ceased as World War II intensified and paper was in short supply.  Alifa relaunched sports cards in Sweden with the inclusion of soccer cards in packages of its throat lozenges (“Alfa-pastill”).  

From 1949 throughl 1961, Alifabolaget produced 1702 different sports cards.  From 1949 through 1952, the cards were black and white.  Most of the cards were photos of professional players from the major Swedish soccer clubs.  Alifa introduced color photos in 1953.  The company added hockey cards to the series in 1955, and created a special 18-card run of famed Swedish boxer Ingemar Johanson in 1959.  Alifa also produced a series of Olympic cards in the mid-1950s in commemoration of the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games.

The Alifabolaget cards of the 1950s have much more in common with the tobacco-era cards of the early 20th century than the soccer stamps/stickers/albums prevalent at the time in Europe and Latin America.  The cards included 8-10 lines of text in black, green, blue, or red text.  One card was included in each box of its “tasty, refreshing” Afra-pastill lozenges.  

In 1958, in commemoration of Sweden’s hosting of the World Cup, the Alifa Company produced a series of 35 international soccer cards.  The series consists of 31 players and four team cards from the four World Cup finalists:  Sweden, West Germany, Brazil, and France.  The cards are numbered 615 through 650.  The Alifabolaget Pelé card is #635.  As of July 5, 2023, 133 copies have been identified and graded.   The World Cup release also includes a popular Brazil team card.  

Card #635 portrays young Pelé in the blue Brazil jersey worn in the final game.  The blue shirts were hastily purchased and patches were sewn on just days before the game because both finalists (Sweden and Brazil) wore yellow kits.  The back of the card, in Swedish, pithily reads, “PELÉ, left winger, the WC tournament’s youngest player at the age of 17. Perhaps not so strange that he cried when the WC final was won against Sweden.  Has received many professional offers but remains in Brazil for the time being.”  

While the lemon-flavored Alfa lozenges had limited appeal on their own, the Alifabolaget cards of the 1950s were popular among Swedish youth at the time and continue to have a following among Swedish collectors.  They are affectionally referred to, and most easily found online, by the term “Alfa-bilder,” which translates to “Alfa images.”  A 1977 flood of Alifa’s headquarters in Angelholm, Sweden reportedly destroyed the company’s stock of old cards. 3  Today, the cards trade regularly on Tradera, Sweden’s version of EBay.  The Swedish book Alfa-Boken by Bror Haars offers a pictorial history of all 1702 Alifa cards.  The Alfa name was acquired by a new owner in the 1990s, and for several years, the company has produced modern, autographed cards of current Swedish athletes.  

For avid soccer fans, it’s no secret that collecting Pelé cards is a daunting, and at times overwhelming, task.  Pelé was the first truly global sports superstar.  Collectors have identified at least 19 different Pelé stamps/playing cards/hand-cut cards from the 1957-58 time period, when Pelé was just emerging on the world stage—not to mention the thousands of different Pelé cards produced since that time.  However, the Alifabolaget’s vaulted status above others is well-deserved.  It was issued by the Word Cup host country’s dominant card manufacturer.  It was released in a coherent and cohesive set of World Cup cards the featured the individual players for the top competing teams.  Rather than a one-off production, the Alifa Company was a consumer brand that enjoyed 12 years of consecutive sports card releases.  The cards were sealed in packages and distributed at retail outlets.  The distribution format was similar to the tobacco/gum model that vintage card collectors know, understand, and appreciate.  

Pelé passed away this year after a long bout with cancer, leaving behind a legacy as a hero, ambassador of the sport, and humanitarian.  With the passing of time, Pelé’s status as the global sports icon of the 20th century will likely endure, along with collector appreciation for his 1958 Alifabolaget card.

[1] Rich Mueller, Million Dollar Pele: Soccer Rookie Card Sets New Record, Sports Collectors Daily (Feb. 12, 2022).

[2] Dr. Lauren Alex O’Hagan, Scam Science: The Case of Biomin, ‘Your Daily Energy Source’, Graduate Journal of Food Studies (Oct. 24, 2022) (“In fact, A-B. A. Lindahls had a reputation of dealing in somewhat dubious products, including the quackish antiseptic wound ointments Lazarin and Lazarol, and the powder Röda Björn.”).

[3] Haars, Bror et al, Alfaboken: Till Minne Av Bilderna Vi Aldrig Glommer (1994) at 8 (title translation: The Alpha Book: In Memory of the Images We Will Never Forget).

In full disclosure, the author is the proud owner of a very low grade 1958 Alifabolaget Pelé, along with several other hobby-relevant vintage Pelé cards.  


Pele - Alifabolaget.jpg
alfa box back.jpg
Pele - Alifabolaget back.jpg
Alfaboken book.jpg
Alfa box 2D.jpg
1936 Alfa Jesse Owens front.jpg
1936 Alfa Jesse Owens back.jpg
Alpha pastill box.jpg
alfa ad.jpg
1958 World Cup final program.jpg
ginger rogers.jpg
Alifabolaget share certificate.jpg
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