The General Sportcraft Company Ltd. was founded in 1926 by Walter Holdstein. Its first ad to appear in Topics was for the Feb., 1934 issue and featured the imported French Reina ball, “the official ball of the New York Table Tennis Association” that would be used in their 1934 National’s. With the coming of that event, however, the ad momentarily stopped in April, then was picked up again in the May-June issue and continued though the May, 1935 issue. Since the Reina ball would not be used in the 1935 USTTA National’s, General Sportcraft, whose address was still Madison Ave., New York City, advertised in the June, 1935 issue the French Barna ball.
The new 1935-36 season, however, brought no ad in Topics. (Perhaps because New York’s Charlie Mintz was distributing Barna products.) Indeed, it wasn’t until Oct., 1938 that Sportcraft was back—and again advertising the Reina ball (“Packed in the Blue-White Tube”). Then for the 1940-41 season, and three decades hence, absent again.
After Stellan Bengtsson won the 1971 World Singles Championship, Sportcraft and Stiga were back (General Sportcraft now out of Bergenfield, N.J.) with monthly ads beginning in the Sept.-Oct., ’71 Topics. The following season, in the July-August, ’72 issue, Sportcraft’s Stiga Table Tennis Robot, “an extremely useful teaching tool,” gets a nod—and later, at the 1974 Oklahoma City U.S. Open, General Sportcraft will donate one of their Stiga Robots for a drawing among the entries.
In 1973, the Second Annual Association of College Unions-International (ACU-I) Table Tennis Championships were held for both men and women thanks to a grant from Halex-Sportcraft-Stiga Tables—a grant that would also be forthcoming for years to come. Topics listed the participants from the 30 different colleges and universities, ran a story by Tournament Director Richard Gage, and showed a photo of General Sportcraft’s Sales Promotion Manager Bill Mammen presenting Men’s Singles winner Mitchell Sealtiel his trophy. The article gave special thanks to General Sportcraft “for their generous financial support, individual paddles [Alser, Johansson, Bengtsson Mark V line?] for all the participants, tournament balls [Halex], individual men’s and women’s replica championship trophies, and the permanent women’s singles revolving championship school trophy” (TTT, May-June, 1973, p. 5).
A large Stiga ad in the July-Aug., 1973 Topics emphasized that the ’73 World Swaythling Cup Champs, the Swedes (including ’73 World Doubles Champs Bengtsson and Johansson), the first Europeans to win the Cup in 20 years, all used Stiga bats. As did Chinese World Singles Champion His En-ting. Back in 1969 General Sportcraft had become the “Exclusive” Distributor for Stiga paddles; later it designated itself the “National” Distributor for Halex balls.
In the last issue of Topics for 1975, General Sportcraft had a striking ad: a Stellan Bengtsson bat (with his photo on the handle) floated in space-white with a t.t. ball on its face; the ball was in the shape of the planet Earth, the side facing the reader showing much of North and South America. That was followed next issue by a magnified 3-star Halex, the English ball that would be used for the 1977 World Championship in Birmingham, England.
As I close Part I here, I note that we’ve read about Stiga bats and balls, and that in the 1970’s Stiga nets and barriers were used at both U.S. Opens and Closeds. As for Stiga tables, perhaps, in time, they too will find a market in the U.S.?