Saturday, December 4, 2021

Splendid Swat

Well more deep diving into my stash of old hobby publication tearsheets has yielded a couple of sets I had long forgotten about.  In fact, they showcase two of the biggest superstars the game ever had.  Yup, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams both got a short and odd treatment from Topps in the 1990's.

"Babe Ruth" was broadcast by NBC TV on October 6, 1991, which was a couple of days before the MLB Playoffs began.  Babe Ruth the card set was produced by Topps for the producer of the movie, Lawrence Lyttle and it seems only 500 sets were printed.  The 11 card set mostly features actors, as one would expect, but there are two noteworthy exceptions.  Pete Rose, two years on from the lifetime ban that derailed his surefire first ballot HOF election, played Ty Cobb:


Ironically, Cobb and Tris Speaker (both of whom are certainly in the Hall of Fame) each ended up as teammates on the Philadelphia Athletics in 1928 as a result of a game they had bet on toward the end of the 1919 regular season. Dutch Leonard and Smokey Joe Wood were also in on the action but they had already left the majors by the time the matter came to light in 1926.  American League President Ban Johnson and Tigers owner Frank Navin paid off Leonard, who had damning correspondence implicating all four players, in what sounds like a successful blackmail scheme.  

The Commissioner's Office was duly informed toward the end of 1926 and the two players were forced to resign (Cobb as Tigers player-manager with Speaker in the same role for Cleveland).  The scandal was not exactly squashed but it was certainly covered up by Landis, Johnson and Navin.  Cobb and Speaker were both released as well, with Ty going to play for Connie Mack in 1927 while Speaker ended up with the Senators before joining the Athletics for 1928, which was the last active season for both men. Inspired casting, I say!

The set however, does include a Hall of Famer in Rod Carew, who served as the hitting consultant for the movie.

As his write-up noted, Stephen Lang played the Babe:


Topps would do things like this on occasion and such sets would have been used as part of a promotional package or even as a thank you to certain people involved with the making of the movie.  The checklist is like so:

1. Babe Ruth - Sunday, October 6th-NBC

2. Stephen Lang as Babe Ruth

3. Bruce Weitz as Miller Huggins

4. Lisa Zane as Claire Ruth

5. Donald Moffat as Jacob Ruppert

6. Neil NcDonough as Lou Gehrig

7. Pete Rose as Ty Cobb

8. Rod Carew-Baseball Consultant

9. Ruth and Mgr. Huggins

10. Ruth in Action

11 Babe Calls His Shot

Topps got to use their "40 Years of Baseball" logo and the set looks pretty sharp!

As for Ted Williams, when I said short and odd at the beginning of this post, I meant it.  On December 15, 1995, at the dedication of the Ted Williams Tunnel, which connects Logan Airport to the city of Boston (and was part of the infamous "Big Dig"). Williams had been driven through the tunnel as part of the opening ceremonies by the governor of Massachusetts and once they arrived at Fenway Park an invitation-only luncheon was held.  Attendees received a 13 card set sponsored by Boston Sand & Gravel Company as a favor, which featured 12 cards produced by Choice Marketing but also sported a single card made by Topps.

And what a card it was:



Naturally, it was card #9, although I believe it was used as the "header" for the set:



It's reported 3,000 sets were produced and the Williams is definitely easier to find than the cards from the Babe Ruth set.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Witch Craft

Well both Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving have come and gone, save for some leftovers but Friend o'the Archive Jeff Noll has come up with a Trick or Treat retail box for our post-prandial viewing pleasure. We last saw this style of box the day before Hallowe'en of course and now we can have a much better looksee.

It's in rough shape but these are extremely rare, so you take what you can get:



Love the graphics! Note the 49 cent price stamped on the box.  In fact, that was was a dime above suggested retail! Topps must have sold these for about 23 cents at most when averaged out (60% was the standard wholesale (jobber) rate, although terms were 2% net, so prompt remittance meant you only had to cough up about 22 cents per. If you assume a 48 box case (an eduated guess, I have no hard information) then that was a mere $11 or so for what amounted to 2,880 cards-yikes! That extra dime per box was a pretty healthy uptick for the retailer who stamped this one.

We know the jobber rate thanks to some Topps promotional verbiage; 1956's Jets is one confirmed occupant and the key to knowing the suggested retail price:

(Courtesy Lonnie Cummins)

I'm not sure if that Airplane Picture Cards bit peeking through the cello window was just a paper insert or just there for the photo but it's too big to be a penny pack.

Here's the back view, a little more intact than the top:


Very simple elements convey the Hallowe'en theme quite nicely.

The end view is pretty plain but there was no mistaking what time of year these were inteded for:


Per Jeff, thesese boxes measure up like so: 2 1/8" x 8 1/8" x 3 7/8", the first number being the height. He further advises there are no product codes or other markings anywhere on the box.

From what I can tell Topps had given up on Christmas themes after about 1953 and Valentine's Day livery doesn't seem to have come around for a few years still, so this must have really been a big seller, even with the discount pricing.  Topps provided cardboard displays too for larger buyers, those profit margins must have been scary!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Ersatz All Folks

Hey kids-kind of a "so good it could be real" post today, so hang on for a fun ride!

Here's a couple of esoteric Topps sales stimulators I found from an old Morphy Auction some time ago.  These are of the neater items I've seen in the ersatz-promo vein.  The first is a "Baseball Certificate" which very much resembles an admission ticket of yore-because it actually was one!  It's hard to read but it indeed bestowed a granstand seat to the bearer.  This may have been from a Bazooka contest but I'm having trouble tracking which one so perhaps it was instead from a distributor contest, something Topps ran with regularity.

Next up, we get this fantastic item from two years later, hawking the first Topps Baseball inserts (Baseball Stamps) and the standalone albums used to house them:

That was clearly designed to look like a Western Union telegram and given that Thanksgiving is almost upon us, this one seems apt to show as an example (plus it was sent on the exact day I was born!):


Western Union killed off telegrams on January 27, 2006 in case you were wondering why you hadn't received one lately!

Topps would up their game considerably in 1962 with faux fiat currency.  I can't find any promotional material for these, which doesn't mean there wasn't any of course, but it's MIA right now.

Baseball Bucks came first and were an entirely separate product from the flagship Baseball, sold in one and five cent retail packs.  This is a typical example, tilt and all:


The change of seasons brought Football Bucks of course, which might be the most miscut-prone issue Topps ever produced.  These were pack inserts with the regular issue Football set:


And if you lived in Canada Hockey Bucks also saw daylight once a pack of Hockey cards was opened, although they had a decidely North of the Border look. These are not the easiest things to find:


Still tilted after all these years!

Saturday, November 13, 2021

On The Roads

While I am still unable to locate anything at all from the ur-Shorin company known as American Leaf Tobacco Company, new (to me) items from their successor company American Gas Stations keep popping up. Today it's a thoroughly magnificent circular touring "wheel" chart:


It's fairly large, measuring 10 1/2 inches in diameter and fully functional, although I doubt very few of the routes given are viable anymore. With only four AGS locations shown, I can date this item to circa 1934, which is when the Shorin family had at least four corner service stations in operation; they would end up with about fifteen of them before Socony (now Mobil) scooped them all up as they blotted out smaller competitors in New York throughout the 30's and early 40's.  

Here's some better detail, although the size of this sucker makes it a little difficult to get everything in the shot (the above is from the eBay auction):


One of those two California trunk lines would still be recognizable to modern travelers, although you would be hard pressed to use it now for its original purpose.  I'm referring to Route 66, which still begins in Chicago and ends in Los Angeles, or vice-versa. The second would be the older Lincoln Highway, which actually ran from New York City to San Francisco but was more of a series of interconnected roads (and occasional almost-roads) rather than a planned highway like 66 was.

The back had a reasonably organized list of the various destinations you could reach:



Here's some more detail; I note "Interstate" has a totally different meaning these days!


I'm not sure how these wheels would have been distributed but they certainly could have been a premium-style "loyalty" product given to the more free-spending customers of the day or even retailed along with other maps, such as they were, at the time. No matter, it's a fabulous piece of a fast-receding American past.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The First Christmas...

 ...Fun Packs! And it seems appropriate to look at Christmas just after Hallowe'en, although I'm a bit of a piker as my local Home Depot stores have had their holiday displays up since mid-September.

Among the many mundane tasks I undertake to keep this blog and my related research going, I sporadically scan (or download if I can) pertinent articles from various hobby magazines, auction catalogs and the like.  I'm in the midst of a monster scan-a-thon of almost 340 issues of The Wrapper and I've already extracted a ton of great articles and ads just from the first 77 issues.  

But this one took the (fruit) cake, from issue #51 (May 15-July 1, 1985) as Wrapper King John Neuner describes buying Topps Gum tabs in 1949:


You will note he specifically mentions the Fruit flavor.  Well that is interesting as the only example of a Fruit wrapper that I have ever seen came from Chris Benjamin's' Sport Americana Non-Sports Guide, whcih featured this singular image:


I can't make out the copyright date but suspect it's 1946 as the wrapper style matches the other flavors (Spearmint, Peppermint, Cinnamon and Pepsin) from that year and by 1949 Topps had converted to selling Chiclets style gum in their non-Bazooka penny tabs (2 pieces per pack) [Update Nov. 8, 2021-it is indeed a '46, see postscrip below]:



I'm not 100% sure but think only Spearmint and Peppermint survived the transition period. Dig that LBP (Lord Baltimore Press) logo on the back's waste area!

Getting back to the Fruit wrapper, I have to believe it came from Neuner's collection.  1939 Ginger wrappers have popped up (2 tabs and a wrapper at last count) so the Fruit variety seven years hence is presently the holiest grail for Topps Gum.

Notice too the sell sheet that makes up the article's background art shows the last round retail canister Topps sold their tab gum in, for the original 1948 issue of Tatoo. By 1949 they had switched to true display box format, which would have elimiated the need for overboxing each canister in a shipping carton.

The Stop 'N' Go (aka License Plates) set is, other than 1955's Hocus Focus series of 126, the hardest gum tab card issue of them all. I suspect it had only just been introduced when Topps switched over to the larger, 1950 version for the reissued Stop 'N' Go set (and the slightly renamed Flags of the World-Parade) and pulled the ol' retail plug. Given the paucity of surviving cards I doubt it even saw a vending issue like X-Ray Roundup --and I suspect Flags of All Nations-Soldiers of the World-- which can be found with relative ease.  

The story does not end there though, as Neuner saves the best for last, describing a "Santa's Fun Pack" (per the header card but with no illustration provided, alas, he had picked up for what looks to be $420, or a little less if the Fun Pack was dicounted (can't tell):

That backdates Fun Packs to 1949 and not 1950 as I had previously thought.  

For the record, it's not clear if all the products he listed could be found in Santa Fun Packs.  That Hocus Focus is Magic Photo of  course and Pixie is X-Ray Roundup. The theory was, if the card set failed, the gum name (Hocus Focus, Pixie) could live on I guess.

OK, who's got a Santa Fun Pack to show?!

Postscript Nov. 8, 2021 - Lonnie Cummins reminded me that he now owns a Fruit wrapper and I believe it's likely the one shown in Benjamin.  Embarassingly, he had sent me scans of it awhile back, which I promptly misfiled!  So here is the 1946 Fruit wrapper in all it's considerable glory, with a tip of the Topps cap to Lonnie:





Saturday, October 30, 2021

Witch Switch

With Hallowe'en literally just around the calendar corner it's an apropos time to look at some mid-60's Topps spookiness, don't you think? I'll point out that while I've posted some of these images previously, I've never undertaken such a comprehensive look

Topps started themed Hallowe'en products in 1950 I believe, when they introduced a very early Fun Pack:


Those were all 1949 gum tab issues and it's certainly possible the "College Pennants" (Varsity Football, a.k.a. Felt Backs) could have made the Hallowe'en cut in '49 as my research indicates they were really timed to the Rose Bowl and the Holiday/New Year's period. So I make it a 1950 "repack" (the ad is identified as being from 1950 in any event) but allow such a configuration could also have existed the year prior, perhaps without Varsity being included. I have to believe most of the packs in here were languishing as Topps had already slightly jumbo-ized three of them (Tatoo, Flags and License Plates) by 1950 and some were even in a primordial 1949 Fun Pack (more on that next time out). Either way, you can see that Fun Packs had already been branded by the time the Hallowe'en theme was added to the topper.

That's taken from a 1950 brochure that Topps put out advertising their Hallowe'en-oriented products, here's the full page:


Time to bulk up on some Bazooka too! 

Now, a question-is Trick or Treat Bubble Gum just repackaged Bazooka or something else?


The Candy Division, which was "all in" on lollipops at the time, also had their own fun planned:


I like this configuration, which seems to suggest a counter display but it doesn't asnwer the Trick or Treat question....aaargh!!!!:


I'm not sure when this box was marketed but, as per some solid research by Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins, it probably contains 1956 Jets cards, so 1957 feels right:


Lonnie has deduced this as the ad copy reads just like the verbiage used to hawk Jets:


By the late 50's L'il Abner was getting into the act but even Dogpatch's finest denizen couldn't answer the Bazooka/Trick or Treat question either!


In 1959 Topps seems to have finally figured out that you could theme card sets to various holidays; witness Funny Valentines and You'll Die Laughing, both of which debuted that year and that holiday-skewed theme became somewhat perennial in one form or another until the 70's.

As we progress into the 60's, Topps was still well-oiled on the Hallowe'en promotional and advertising front:


Here's what I believe is the full 1965 Hallowe'en brochure:


That's a rather optimistically sized Bazooka roll, given what I recall being in my treat bag around that time! My haul was considrably more prosaic when it came to gum, much of it resembling what came in these:


The "Trick or Treat" theme from the 50's lived on but was being refined by '65, as you can see in the top two panels.  Bazooka seems to have survived while the themed Trick or Treat Bubble Gum did not.


Fun Packs had also been rejiggered by 1965, although the newly-styled "Trading Card' packs below have at least one antecedent from the year prior:


I do recall getting Bozo "fivers" in later years and they were a big favorite.  

Now here's a nice display setup for the bigger outlets:


It's the 60's, so bubble gum ciggies were still quite in vogue and were a staple of my trick-or-treating years for sure:


For 1966 we get this little Billboard story, from the July 2nd issue, showing just how far in advance Hallowe'en commenced in the confectionery trade (Topps content is in the middle of the last column):


That is a very competitive playing field! The Chicago dateline makes me think this news came out of a trade convention, as does the blurb in the lower left.

Here's a selection from the 1967 Hallowe'en brochure, which will be our landing spot today:


I guess the "door-knobber" was designed for apartment buildings and the curmudgeons who always hid in a darkened house every October 31st, despite that fact you could often hear them milling around inside or see their TV's emitting a ghostly light from the den:
Finally, we get this magnificent piece of fun, which included 1966 Batman cards and 1967 Baseball among the Bazooka and --upping the ante considerably from two years prior,--bubble gum cigars!  


Holy cow!!

Saturday, October 23, 2021

Are You Ready For Some Football Salesmen Samples?

I realize that Baseball Salesmen Samples get most of the attention whe it comes to such things but Topps issued these little teasers for most, it not all, of their standard card sets through 1967 or so and the 1963 and '64 Football samples below are one such example:


Pretty sweet, right?  The proportions on these "three-strips" always seem just right to me, probably due to some extension of the "golden ratio" or some similar type of aesthetically pleasing combination of length and width:

The reverse is quite wonderful:

That "special feature" may have been fun to rub off as a kid but it certainly bedevils modern day collectors!

Sometimes samples got cut up, probably by a wholesaler's or retailer's kid:


Still nice but I really prefer my strips unsullied.

1964 brought this; I have to say I'm not a fan of this design as I want to cut along the stars, which resemble dotted lines to me:


1964 was an AFL only affair for Topps, a big leap of faitth in a way but I'm betting the contractual rights were cheap.  I like the back better than the front:


Too bad these ended prior to 1969-the first series Football cards from that season would have looked stupendous given their full bleed borders-this uncut sheet certainly gives you an idea though:

It still pains me that Topps added white borders to the second series and it seems like a real head-scratcher. Ah well.......