Saturday, February 4, 2023

Wintry Mix

There's a bit of an update to last year's NYE post regarding the 1960 Venezuelan Baseball Tattoo issue, thanks to Josh Alpert, who is the foremost collector and chronicler of the 1959-68 efforts Topps made in that country.  He's offered his take on the set, as it's comprised so far at least, and his comments are illuminating. He's also provided scans of the other eight known  players, which I will show below his comments.

As to the roster of US players, Josh says: "I would imagine they originally produced all the stars - Mantle, Mays, Koufax, but my guess is they are all long gone.

The timing of the issue is probably 1960, with this as part of his reasoning: "Colavito was traded to Detroit April 17, 1960. If they were a 1961 issue, I would think he’d have been drawn in Detroit colors, not Cleveland’s."

Josh also had a very interesting observation as to the scarcity and packaging: "In the US, the tattoos were sold as a stand alone product with a piece of gum. The Venezuelans almost certainly didn't have the machinery to mechanically package the tattoo around a piece of gum. I think this explains the smaller size of the tattoo, it corresponded with the size of a piece of gum, and they were packaged with a piece of gum (as they advertise), probably wrapped in cello and sold individually. This seems more plausible to me and helps explain the extreme scarcity. Almost no one would have kept them if they came with a piece of gum. Someone buying a single piece of gum would have likely opened the gum on the spot and either thrown away the wrapper and tattoo, applied the tattoo, or used the tattoo for the spent gum. They don't have nearly the collectability as the cards, it's likely no one even gave it a thought to collect them- except at least one person, clearly, who collected them intentionally and saved a small handful that we know of."

And now, the new/old scans:


Bob Allison won the 1959 American League Rookie of the Year voting as a member of the old Washington Senators.  He's not thought of as a big star today but he certainly was during the first half of his career. Note there is no production rip in the tattoo, unlike the American versions.


Amaro presents a bit of a conundrum.  The Tatoo set was produced in Venezuela but he was Mexican and played in that county during his winter ball days.  Mexico wasn't even a participant in the CWS until 1970 but as it turns out, from 1961 to 1969 there was no Caribbean World Series after Castro dissolved all the professional Cuban leagues in 1961.  Amaro is one of the three known players to only appear in the Venezuelan Tatoo set. His inclusion is curious if the set was only marketed in Venezuela but there's no evidence of any other country being involved in the distribution.


Another big name at the time, Colavito's Cleveland colors prevailed, per Mr, Alpert, despite his trade to Detroit at the start of the 1960 MLB season. Topps being Topps, even if the set was issued after the 1960 Major League season ended, the colors may have been left alone. But going with the year of U.S. issue seems apt as well.

Drysdale made his first MLB All star team in 1959, so was a solid choice. The staining and unique paper loss along the bottom right edge match up almost exactly to the Allison example above.

Fox was  another well known player who had a fabulous 1959 season that led to the AL MVP award. Total no brainer.


Killebrew finally put things together in 1959, so the set ended up with two Senators players!


His nickname was the "Dominican Dandy" so it's pretty clear where Juan Marichal pitched in winter ball. As pointed out in the original post, Luis Arroyo, the third non-U.S. checklisted player in the set, pitched for Puerto Rico.  I would expect some Venezuelan League subjects were included in the set but so far none have surfaced.


Another no brainer for inclusion to my mind, Mathews was destroying MLB pitching season-after-season by the time 1960 rolled around.

Hopefully an Early Wynn scan will pop up soon.  Josh Alpert has just advised a Vic Power has now shown up, so he's a second Puerto Rican born player that was not in the U.S. set and some other subjects have just been identified as well, too late for this post (watch this space). 

Here is the latest checklist then, 11 in number and I have been advised they generally measure 1 3/16" x 2 1/4", which is smaller than the U.S. version's dimensions of 1 9/16" x 3 1/2", with some variance in the size possible:

Bob Allison
Ruben Amaro (Venezuelan only)
Luis Arroyo (Venezuelan only)
Rocky Colavito
Don Drysdale
Nellie Fox
Harmon Killebrew
Juan Marichal  (Venezuelan only)
Ed Mathews
Vic Power (Venezuelan only)
Early Wynn (photo seen, not the tatoo)

You can take this link with a heaping amount of salt as it's from Wikipedia, but it details MLB players who have appeared in the Caribbean World Series, although far more played in the various Winter Leagues. There's a lot more to be uncovered regarding the Venezuelan Tattoo sets but it's just part of a larger history that's still revealing itself.

I'll keep updating as more information comes in.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

A Colorful Past

Topps ran vigorous ad campaigns for their early products as they plowed profits back into the company to encourage growth.  Ads for Topps Gum were legion in various magazines, buses and subway cars in the 1940's and Bazooka joined the fray in 1947 with the launch of the nickel roll.  When the first Topps novelty project, Tatoo, was unleashed in 1948, there was no letup.  Let's take a look at some of their ads for the product launch today.

Color was the name of the game as Topps used multiple hues on the gum itself: 


I haven't been able to track down the specific titles yet but that sure looks like a centerfold from a comic book. (UPDATE-it's actually  a 1/3 page Sunday Comics ad per Mark Newgarden) The year would be 1948 and it may have run in some Fawcett titles, based upon an early alliance with Topps, but I've had no luck so far with further tracking.

They ran trade ads as well:



It may seem strange but "As Natural As Freckles" was surely coined to drive home the idea that Tatoo was a safe product, which it was as there are still to this day regulatory requirements for inks that come into contact with any food items (they have to be vegetable based and thus limit the color palette). The window streamer is colorful too, of course, and is a fairly close match to the center spread ad above. Sorry for the left/right divide, it's not stitching properly in my graphics editor:



But for me, the best promotional piece for Tatoo is this one, even though it ties in other early Topps products:


Now that is one colorful ad!  The Party-Pak Topps Gum canister at upper right was a short lived product, eventually replaced, albeit not in kind, by the familiar 20 and 25 piece Bazooka party boxes that were ubiquitous in supermarkets and groceries in the 1950's and 60's.  Party-Paks were sold at Sears candy counters from the looks of things in these two photos provided by Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins, although I'm sure it was offered in many other locations:


I'm not positive and it's a little hard to count but I believe there were 60 pieces and at a guess the suggested retail price was 49 cents.  Check out this other Sears photo, which shows the 1948 Tatoo canister (100 count) at right and the Party-Pak, which is clearly smaller and is seen a little left of center.  There's a nice run of Bazooka nickel rolls on the counter below them too:


Tatoo was also offered in something called a Tourist Pouch but the only time that's ever come up, so far as I can tell anyway, is in an old picture, presumably from a sales sheet, that was reproduced in one of Chris Benjamin's Sport Americana Non-Sports Guides. You can see it says "Tatoo Tourist" on the side of the retail box:



Tatoo sold well enough that it was slightly reconfigured in size for confectionery vending machines of the day (the 1948 original was for counter sales only) and then saw yet another relaunch a scant few years later, attributed to 1953 but that date is hobby lore at present and not confirmed. The "1953" issue was in an obviously larger size and this all bears further investigation. And then beginning in 1955 Topps started keeping a brand or two of mostly character-driven tattoo sets in circulation well into the 1970's. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Some Jive In 1965

I generally spend the end of a calendar year reorganizing things at home and on and in my various devices and cloud accounts. True to form, I've pulled up some things sent to me in years past that I never got around to discussing at the time.  Today's excursion in exhumation takes us back almost 60 years, to the 1965 Topps Baseball set. 

This was the final Baseball set Topps packaged out of Brooklyn and its always been one of my favorites, with some really nice photography, excellent use of color and a pleasing blue reverse.  I managed to unearth a full 1965 proof sheet featuring 5th and 6th series cards from an old REA auction that went for a relative song.  Here she is:

This behemoth is blank backed and is a little beat up but I'll bet it framed up really nice.  There are seven discrete rows of players, so we have a 77 subject sheet, meaning there's some kind of extra or short printing going on and sure enough, that's how things turned out.

Using the player "heading" each row, like so...

A Bateman
B Blanchard
C Drabowsky
D Bertaina
E Shaw
F Alou
G Jackson 

...we get the following pattern of rows:

Left side (A Slit):

A
B
C
D
E
A
F
G
B
C
D
E

Right Side (B Slit):

B
C
A
F
G
B
C
D
E
A
F
G

That yields the following distribution:

4X Rows: A B C

3X Rows: D E F G

In terms of Hall-of-Famers making an appearance on this sheet, Luis Aparicio (#410) is the one 3X print, the rest (Al Lopez, Carl Yastrzemski, Harmon Killebrew and Willie Stargell) are 4X subjects.

There is another twist though.  I note the 5th Series Checklist runs from #353 to #429 while the 6th Series Checklist spans #430 to #506.  This is why REA describes this as a 5th and 6th Series sheet since the numbering plays out as follows:

361 (5th Series Checklist)

368

371-385

387-446

So that's two stand-alones, 15 cards before the next missing number occurs (386), then a 60 card run to land at 77. The 5th Series Checklist is easy enough to explain as it originally appeared on the prior press sheet, which would primarily have included the 4th Series plus a smattering of cards from the "5th Series" here.  This is because Topps lagged their checklists when compared to the press sheets by "previewing" the next series, which meant some cards from the later series had to be printed with what was ostensibly the prior series.  I have to admit I thought it would be cleaner than this with consecutive numbers missing but in sure Topps fashion, it's not and seems a little sneaky to me.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out Kid

OK, today's title is a total Christmas Story cop, with the holiday season firmly in the rear view even, but as we shall see, it's apropos.  I've been mining my old G-mails for content that will span a couple of special projects and am finding all sorts of treasure, much of it from BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd.  Today's adventure brings us a Bazooka Premium Catalog, with a distinctly rugged and masculine tilt.

Dating from 1955, kids could mail away for these and get a better look at some of the premiums offered, although most of these seem beyond anything offered on the newly launched Bazooka Joe comics:


Those illustrations offering fabulous prizes were no joke, there's some major stuff within, much of it apparently military surplus:

We've seen the folding camp knife before and it would appear again and again over the years.  It wasn't a Topps exclusive, there must have been millions of these floating around, with a nameplate that would allow for branding by any entity.  Things get progressively sharper through, that sheath knife looks lethal and that axe looks like it could get you through any kind of wilderness campaign or viscera. For 1,125 comics it should, yikes!

A clear escalation occurs when we get to the last page and what looks to be the world's best cap gun, requiring a mere 1,875 comics.  The notation about choosing a a boy's or girl's leather craft set in no way diminishes the adolescent male vibe here and things conclude with some heavy metal; this surely one of the most industrialized premium offers ever seen from Topps:

The cash to comics ratio in force certainly had some reasoning behind it and you can get a rough idea of how much premium "overhead" was calculated for every piece of Bazooka, also bearing in mind they had some very nice retailer and wholesaler premiums on offer for the adults. Dividing $3.75 by 1875 yields .002 cents per penny gum tab, ignoring the 45 comics also needed to seal the deal.  The ratio on the craft kits though, .75/375 is also .002 though, so the cost of acquisition must have been baked in to any and all Bazooka products.

I did some sleuthing on the Ramar Jungle Gun and the history is an interesting one. Ramar of the Jungle was a syndicated TV program that originally ran from 1952-53 (or '54, sources differ), airing 52 episodes in all, then it was shown in reruns through the end of the decade and beyond.  Four movies were spliced together from the TV footage, two of these premiered in 1953 and the other two in 1955 and there was extensive merchandising as well.  There's a lot more to the story, which I'll leave to others, so the Bazooka offering therefore reflected an active toy campaign tie-in.  The cap gun was really something to behold:


I was thinking some of the offerings in this catalog were sourced from other companies and offered at a higher "rate" than the military surplus items but their yield is also a .002 rate, as are the craft kits. The master Topps strategy here in terms of the cash-to-comics ratio indicates they must have done some heavy duty math to get to the numbers used in the catalog.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

A Child's Garden Of Turf

Well, the final week of the NFL regular season concludes tomorrow and what more opportune time to explore an obscure Bazooka package design set called A Children's Guide To TV Football.  Issued in 1971, presumably due to the launch of Monday Night Football the season prior, ACGTTF represented a new direction of sorts for Topps after they killed off the printing of baseball cards on the back of Bazooka party boxes and fumbled an attempted football card set thereon, all in 1971.

There were 12 box backs created, some primarily text-based:


That's pretty basic, even for this period at Topps, where they were gearing up for their March 1972 IPO. That first public offering of their stock had been preceded by a massive consolidation of their various family business and co-ventures, among other costs saving moves and I suspect this set was part of the associated belt tightening. Here's the commodity code:


I had originally thought this set came out after the 1971 Bazooka Football cards but that set's box has the same commodity code, which is....interesting:




The front of the box allowed for either option:


Compare this to the 1971 Baseball box and back:




I'm not sure what the -02 box looked like but note this is the year Topps had planned a 48 card Baseball set for Bazooka, then pared it down to 36 subjects.  There's no box associated with the longer set but it's entirely possible I'm missing an interim one that was prepared but never deployed. 

ACGTTF is really hard to find so my question is, did Topps also plan to issue the Children's Guide initially then pull back and go with a traditional football set? Or were they just not considered worth saving, being so esoteric?  Both? Neither?

Here's another:


And yet another:



I have not been able to find all 12 subjects and the checklist I have so far is sparse and represents only the above three specimens:

No.1 Football Lingo

No. 9 Officials' Duties

No. 12 Officials' Signals

You will note the set derives from a Grosset & Dunlap book (published in 1967) called Football Lingo, written by Zander Hollander and Paul Zimmerman, with illustrations by Jerry Schlamp. Hollander wrote 8-10 sports related books a year, many of them annual paperback guides in his Complete Handbook series and if you are a certain age you may recall them being offered by Scholastic. Hollander also wrote for Howard Cosell when the nasally one received his first big broadcasting break and that connection to Monday Night Football is an intriguing one in light of this set. 

But Schlamp is our link here as his illustrations look to be adorning the Officials' Signal box but not necessarily the Officials' Duties box. I base this upon the similar Basketball Lingo book cover art and you can see why as the ref on the latter looks a lot like those officials on No. 12:




There is a Baseball Lingo book as well, of course; check out the look of the ballplayers:


I've only seen multiples of the Football Lingo Bazooka box and wonder, after considering all of this, if this was a set designed on spec and then rejected by Grosset & Dunlap?  It certainly could have been a failed test as well but the sharing of the commodity code with the 1971 Bazooka Football set makes me think it's possibly the former. Topps was not shy about getting rejected products out into the world, it just took a little time and stealth.

I know at least one full set exists, thanks to a recent auction (which I missed, curses!) but the lot description only showed the box fronts for some reason. Hopefully one of our readers won the lot and can advise accordingly.


Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Winter's Tale Or Two

Good stuff here today kids, as a smattering of 1960 Topps Venezuelan Baseball Tattoos surfaced recently, which is a akin to a Brigadoon sighting I'm sure. Previously, I was aware of a Don Drysdale example and I think two others were out there but that's not confirmed. Obviously, they are scarce as hell.

Luis Arroyo was one of the subjects in this batch but here's the thing, he doesn't appear in the US checklist:


Here's the outside, which is a much batter scan than the roached out Drysdale I posted in 2013:


So the obvious questions are:

1) How many subjects are in the Venezuelan set? (the US set has 96 subjects)

2) How many subjects from the major Caribbean, Central and South American Winter Leagues did Topps create for the Venezuelan release?

At a guess the Venezuelan Tattoo set contains less than 96 subjects (of which only 55 are actual ball players in the US release).  My reasoning is that, since Topps did not replicate their entire 572 card 1960 Baseball set for release in the country, issuing only 198 cards (essentially the first two series), why would they issue a full tattoo set AND add players?  As to who was added locally, well who knows at this point? Much more information is needed and they would add a couple players to replace checklists in the card sets, but now I see there is another question:

3) What year saw the release of the Venezuelan Baseball Tattoos?

If you look at Arroyo, he was essentially a journeyman in the U.S. until 1961, when he plied his screwball into a monster year for the Yankees and finished 6th in the MVP voting as a relief pitcher! However, a native Puerto Rican, he had played locally since 1946 and appeared in 19 seasons overall in his native country, beginning with Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.  He later appeared numerous times with the ostensible Puerto Rican National teams in the Caribbean World Series. In 1948 he began his U.S. Baseball odyssey and despite a 1955 call-up to the Cardinals that led to an All-Star nod and, of course, his 1961 breakout year, Arroyo mostly bounced up and down until 1963 and also in-and-out as he sometimes pitched summer ball in Puerto Rico instead of playing in the minors. 

He was a big deal in the Caribbean and quite well known in the Winter Leagues and their associated World Series tournament but did Topps make up a tattoo because of that or because of his big 1961 season with the Yankees?  If the latter, it points to this being a 1961 or even a 1962 release, which seems quite possible given the straddling of calendar years for their Venezuelan issues.  A full checklist might help answer all three questions but I'm not too optimistic we'll ever see or develop one fully. What we do have is the following:

Ed Mathews, Nellie Fox, Rocky Colavito were in this latest batch, photo ID-only Early Wynn and Juan Marichal are also not in the US checklist but alas, without a scan right now. Marichal and Mathews are said to have have two known examples, per Joe Morris, who tipped me off to all to this. So this is the ur-checklist, all of seven (ten) subjects in length at present (Update Jan. 2, 2023-Friend o'the Archive and advanced collector Larry Serota advised of two additions to the checklist, Bob Allison and Ruben Amaro and thinks the set was issued after 1960 as a standalone, with a cello overwrap). (Update Jan. 5, 2023-HArmon Killebrew is now a confirmed subject):

Bob Allison
Ruben Amaro (Venezuelan only)
Luis Arroyo (Venezuelan only)
Rocky Colavito
Don Drysdale
Nellie Fox
Harmon Killebrew
Juan Marichal  (Venezuelan only)
Ed Mathews
Early Wynn

I'd love to see some uncut sheets from the U.S. release but cannot find any presently.  That might help narrow down how many subjects were produced in Venezuela.  Or not!

Happy New Year all!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Siren Song

Well, I tried my darndest this year but I don't have any new things to show that relate to Christmas from our good friends at Topps.  Early efforts made by the company to sell Christmas themed items around 1950-53 seem to have gone poorly and much of what I am aware of otherwise consists of things like corporate greeting cards. So instead I've turned to good old Bazooka Joe and a bit of an anomaly involving everybody's favorite mascot.

Check out this Bazooka Joe Club Membership kit ephemera:



The anomaly may be easier to spot when the introductory letter is blown up:


Yes, "Young America's Favorite" Bubble Gum was being used with the A&BC plant address in Essex, England!  Topps had previously done this "YAM" thing with Bazooka in Canada too, as part of their packaging and promotions in that country.  You would think it should say "Young England's Favorite", right?

Based upon the mailing address on the letterhead, I make this out to be be circa 1970-71 or so, when Topps was trying to kill off A&BC after zombie-fying the venerable UK company they had done business with for years. It could be a little later even as A&BC lost this plant to a fire around 1972 or 1973. Topps took the company over by 1975, calling Bazooka the "World's No. 1" but also switched to a different Essex address, so it can't really be later than that. 

The "whistle" or siren ring is missing from this lot, but it looked like this:


The membership card looks like it had the cipher for the secret code used in the letter:




I took the liberty of translating it, although it's a real Ralphie Parker moment in actual fact (hey, I got a Christmas reference in after all!):

TELL FRIENDS YOU JOINED MY MAGIC
 CIRCLE CLUB
URGE THEM TO JOIN IN THE FUN TOO 
ATTRACT A MAGIC CIRCLE OF GOOD FRIENDS
                    
Oh, fudge! 

I think there was a pin in this kit as well, despite it not being mentioned in the letter:


So, that's a bit of shambolic marketing by Topps I'd say! No surprise, they often did things like this.

Merry Christmas everybody!

UPDATE 12/27/22: The comic insert advertising the Magic Circle Club just popped up on eBay: