Saturday, May 8, 2021

Master Of Disaster

Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has been going to town on researching obscure Topps sets, packaging, printing anomalies and any number of things that I like to do as well but often don't have enough time to pull off.  He's recently undertaken the cataloging of a set that never was, which we are both now calling Dangerous Animals.  This name acually dervies from a recent auction description seemingly devoid of any factual evidence that this was the name of what would have been a killer 1950's Topps set but I think you'll agree it fits.

Lonnie has created a visual checklist of all 64 known images from what was almost certainly intended to be the second series of Bring 'Em Back Alive. Fate, however, intervened and an extremely benign set called Anmals Of The World served instead as the high series to what was one of the best sets Topps ever produced.

Dangerous Animals art first appeared in the 1989 Topps Auction catalog, mis-identified as Animals Of The World artwork.  That sloppy description slowly and steadily irked me and I've previously voiced my complaints in this regard. The set though, was seemingly close to completion as this original art piece shows.  Note Woody Gelman's red crayon 27 in the circle at lower left and a remnant of a penciled "28" above:

There were pencil notations on some other pieces as well indicating numbering.

That seems to be a Buck lookalike shooting this aggressive creature but who knows?  Topps may have waited too long and their license from Frank Buck's estate expired, or they just got cold feet and went with Animals of the World instead.

Lonnie thinks the Dangerous Animals set would have topped out at 100 subjects.  Here's the 64 he's found to date for your enjoyment, with sourcing:

I'm not sure Frank Buck would have found any living Glyptodons or Mosasaurs in the wild!

Dinosaurs and Mammoths, oh my!

Hopefully more of these turn up someday along with more of the story!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Funny How That Works

We last covered the rather obscure proof/possible test issue called Funny Flash Cards in January 2018 and Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has shared some new tidbits.

Lonnie writes there is a "USPO listing, showing first use as April 10, 1968, even though Topps Vault says 1970. That first use date and the factory cut cards make me think this might have actually been tested, but probably a very, very small distribution."  The 1968 date previously attributed from an old auction listing is therefore confirmed. Lonnie continues "Also, I have images of some acetate overlay proofs from Topps Vault that definitely name the set 'Funny Flash Cards', as well as the box lid artwork."  

Here's the U.S. Patent Office Listing Lonnie tracked down; you can see how the Topps Vault may have mistaken the published date of the listing (1970) as the issue date and shows what I assume was a pack or display box  graphic.  It took a little while back in the pre-digital age to get stuff together! The USPO also handles trademarks in case you were wondering.

Here is the acetate, likely for some display box art:

Given the lack of a wrapper, sizer of the cards and the advanced state of preparation, if it was retail tested it could have been in clear cello packs like Twiggy was, although some tests by Topps have never given up their delivery systems to us latter day collectors and investigators.

This is Lonnie's slightly updated checklist of the 33 known cards, which also corrects a row placement I managed to screw up (reversal of rows H and J). Before we dig into his updated checklist, here's the proof sheet that Lonnie's placements detail with the questions first, then the much more colorful answers following:

Front (Question)
Reverse (Answer)
Position (Reverse)

Nature Studies
What Animal Is Hairy & Can't See?
A Baboon With His Eyes Closed!
A1 (33)
What Was Sewards' Folly?
Mrs. Seward!
A2 (33)
If John And Sam Share 6 Apples, And Sam Gets 2, What Does John Get?
A Punch In The Eye From Sam!
A3 (33)

What's Wrong With This Sentence: "On My Vacation In Philadelphia I Had An Exciting Time."
Nobody In Philadelphia Has An Exciting Time!
B1 (33)
If Your Friend Had 14 Marbles And You Took Half, What Would You Have?
A Black Eye!
B2 (33)
What Never Strikes Twice In The Same Place?
A Mets Baseball Pitcher!
B3 (33)
Can You Draw A Straight Line From New York To Chicago?
Yes, If You Have A Very Long Pencil!
C1 (33)
What Is Whale Oil Used For?
For Oiling Whales!
C2 (33)
When Did The Civil War Come To An End?
When The Last Shot Was Fired!
C3 (33)
Why Did George Washington Cross The Delaware?
It Was Too Cold Standing In The Middle!
D1 (33)
Why Were They Called "Rough Riders?"
No Talcum Powder!
D2 (33)
Why Did People Before Columbus Think The World Was Flat?
In Those Days It Was Flat!
D3 (33)
Who Was The 10th President Of The United States?
Who Cares!
E1 (33)
Nature Studies
What Is A Hippo?
A Fat Hippie!
E2 (33)
How Much Dirt Is In A Hole  3 Ft. x 3 Ft. x 5 Ft. Deep!
None, You Idiot! It's a Hole!
E3 (33)
Between Whom Was The Battle Of Bunker Hill Fought?
Between A Fellow And A Girl In A Parked Car!
F1 (33)
Form A Sentence With The Word Paradox.
On Our Farm We Have Four Chickens, Six Geese and a Paradox!
F2 (33)
Out Of The Mouths Of Babes, Oftimes Comes What?
F3 (33)
What Shouldn't People In Glass Houses Throw?
Wild Parties!
G1 (33)
During The Boston Tea Party, What Did The Colonists heave Overboard?
Their Dinners!
G2 (33)
Nature Studies
How Can A Charging Rhino Be Stopped?
Take Away His Credit Card!
G3 (33)
If Mrs. Smith Makes 10 Spinach Cookies, And Gives One To Each Of Her 6 Children, How Many Will Be Left?
Ten!  Who Would Eat A Spinach Cookie!
H1 (33)
Why Was General Lee Buried At Arlington National Cemetery?
Because He Was Dead!
H2 (33)
Social Studies
What Do You Call A Man Who Takes Apart Live Bombs For A Living?
An Idiot!
H3 (33)
In The War Of 1812, Who Said "Don't Give Up The Ship?"
Someone Who Wasn't On It!
I1 (33)
Scientists Get Oil By Drilling Oil Wells, How Do They Get Gas?
By Drinking Beer!
I2 (33)
If Two's Company And Three's A Crowd, What Are Four And Five?
I3 (33)
2 Pints Make A Quart; 4 Quarts Make A Gallon. What Does A Gallon Make?
A Drunken Brawl!
J1 (33)

If You Had 18 Apples And You Ate 12, What Would You Have?
One Heckuva Stomach Ache!
J2 (33)
When Did Nathan Hale Say "I Regret That I Have But One Life To Give For My Country?"
When It Was Too Late!
J3 (33)
If You Had 6 Packs Of Cigarettes With 20 Cigarettes In A Pack And You Smoked 2 1/2 Packs In One Day, What Would You Have The Next Day?
Such A Cough!
K1 (33)
What Did Isaac Newton Learn When The Apple Fell on His Head?
He Should Change His Seat
K2 (33)
Why Did Our Forefathers Leave England?
To Get Away From Our Foremothers!
K3 (33)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Fields Of Screams

BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd was nice enough to loan me some old tobacco journals a little while ago to pick through for Topps-related content and they did not disappoint. While I continue to search in vain for any American Leaf Tobacco Company ads (some mags were from the 30's), Bazooka and its early ad partners certainly were present and accounted for. I've included one a little further below I think many of you will like.

Topps took advantage of radio in advertising Topps Gum (which had a jingle I'm still searching for) and also Bazooka on the Abbott & Costello Show. I've shown this original piece before but it gives you the setup perfectly:

 A&C had been on NBC Radio for a five year run before switching over to ABC in the fall of 1947.  A couple of months later they launched a Saturday morning show for the smaller fry and that is where Topps parked their radio ads for Bazooka.  Topps Gum was marketed to adults and would have been hawked on the traditional, evening show. 

Both of their ABC shows are described in the references I have as "sustaining", which means they had no national sponsor but instead relied upon a little meager, often  local "spot" advertising or merely network promos to remain on the air.  Sustaining shows did not necesarily have long lifespans but the "plug" for Bazooka seems to indicate the Abbott & Costello Show had some national revenue generated via Topps buying "spot" advertising. Given that they aired their last children's episode on March 26, 1949, this ad from the April 2, 1949 edition of "The Tobacco Leaf" Topps must have been in at the kill:

A&C's evening show only lasted about ten weeks after the Saturday show aired its final episode and television was about to change everybody's lives whether they liked it or not. I actually have a transcription disc of one Abbott & Costello radio show with a Bazooka plug but have no way to play it as it requires a special turntable that plays "inside-out" and no audio files have yet turned up on YouTube or the Internet Archive but I keep digging.

Topps was about to come around on the idea you could have multiple price points on a confectionery products but at the time the above ad ran, the penny Bazooka tabs we all knew and loved were not yet in the market.  That referenced DC advertising campaign was also widespread and lasted slightly over two years, running from mid-1948 to mid-1950.  These two ads were running in a couple of dozen DC titles at the same time the above one appeared:

Yes, 1,800 colleges to choose from, meaning those pennants were printed on demand!

Abbott & Costello continued to make movies and of course had a syndicated TV show for two seasons running from 1952-54. Their best known routine is obviously "Who's on First?" but that's been played to death and I find this clip from the telly a lot funnier personally:

"Good night to everybody and good night Paterson, New Jersey!"

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Pop, Pop, Pop

I stumbled across a bit of an oddity involving Bazooka the other day and since it's something I've never seen before, figured I'd throw it out there to see what might stick (*groan*). 

In 1977 Topps introduced the Bazooka Lollipop. It sold for a nickel and according to a source I found, tasted like bubble gum (which sounds fabulous, actually):

15 comics worth of premium power for five cents?  Deal! Ring Pops were coming, though and I'm not sure where this particular product lies in the evolution of those persistently top-selling Topps pops. As I detailed a couple of months ago, Ring Pops were either introduced in 1977 or 1979 but I can't find a source to confirm this either way. I suspect their introduction was closer to 1979 than 1977 and perhaps this lolly was a precursor or even a test. Or just a failed, separate experiment...

(EDIT 4/19/21): Lonnie Cummins advises Topps filed for a Ring Pops trademark on March 17, 1975.  I suspect that is the date to allow for test marketing purposes.  It would seem then that 1977 is probably the operational year full retail commenced.  If the Bazooka lolly was a test, it wasn't for Ring Pops.)

Ring Pops became (and remain) a monster seller for Topps and they have also been selling Bazooka Pops, which have a bubble gum center, for many years now.  The 1977 Lollipop though, had no such chewability within and echoed back instead to some very early Topps products.  I'm not sure which came first but it was one of these two products, one with a Christmas theme and one with Western flair:

I lean toward Rudolph being the uber-Topps lolly as there was a 1948 movie followed by the massive  smash hit song recorded by Gene Autry that hit number one during the holiday season in 1949. The luractive but fleeting licensing deals for the franchise would probably have occurred prior to one of those events, so I make it either '48 or '49.  I cannot make out that copyright on the box and have never seen another example where the indicia might be deciperable.

As always, there's a chance Topps played catchup with Rudolph and Hopalong Cassidy was the first one in 1950, the year Topps procured a license as Hoppy-mania kicked in over his chopped down kiddie flick rerun fare that ended up as the number one filmed show on TV.  But I don't really think so.  Here's Hoppy again.

Topps had Santa Claus lollipops ready for 1951 and possibly also the year following but they shut down their Candy Division at some point soon thereafter and have to confess I'm not exactly sure when they made a pure candy play again, although it was well before the Bazooka lolly saw the light of day.

Saturday, April 10, 2021


Time-travel Saturday kids as we revisit the late 40's and early 50's! 

Topps, in their primordial bubble gum days, planted four comic sets inside of their early one cent Bazooka wrappers: Spalding Sports Show (by Willard Mullin), Historical Almanac (finally properly named after all these years and previously mid-identified as not only Famous Events but also This Date In History), Know Your Sports and Famous Events. Thanks to a recent Love of the Game Auction (hi Al!) and a bit of additonal research, I've been able to determine that the Mullin set and Historical Almanac (which featured a calendar page showing a specific date in history) were printed together in 1949 and appear to be the first comics in what was then the debut of Bazooka one-cents tabs that year.  Furthermore, I now know Famous Events is not calendar-page based and seems to have been printed in 1950 along with Know Your Sports.

They're unfortunately all cut down but in order from the top: Famous Events, Know Your Sports and Spalding Sports Show, all from LOTG:

Shiny was their outside packaging:

Here's Historical Almanac, for reference, from BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd:

It's extremely doubtful all dates can be found and Shep says at least one repeats. None of these are easy to find, so it's all a big mystery as to how many subjects can be found from each series. The fortune on the bottom was a persistent Topps trope for many years with Bazooka comics of all sorts.

Moving into 1951 now, Friend o'the Archive Rob Lifson sent this pic along awhile back, which held penny packs of 1951 Blue Backs and came on the heels of the first series of Red Backs, which in turn were all part of the Baseball Candy set. I've never seen a box with this sticker before and Blue Backs as a whole are about twice as hard to find as Red Backs. As you can see, this was a Topps file copy as there is a stamp indicating it was to be returned to Woody Gelman. These packs actually had caramel in them and should not be confused with the Doubles packs that were reissued without candy a year later by Topps.

Speaking of Doubles packs, a hoard of them were found in bulk in 1983 at a Philadelphia jobber's warehouse and a large supply of them entered the hobby.  The July 8, 1983 edition of Sports Collectors Digest succinctly explained it all:

There were 120 packs per box, so roughly 12,000 packs were unearthed, mostly of Red Backs. I was lucky enough to buy a pack of these, $11 was the price if memory serves.  Still have it too and you can clearly see a Red Back lurks within:

I suspect Bowman got the Baseball Candy set shut down in mid-production, or at least managed to get the distribution stopped in the Philly area, although I've never been able to prove it.  Something clearly happened to it though.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, I just love the pre-1952 history of Topps as it's all just so unpredictable!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

A Killing In Milling

I was lucky enough to pick up a Spearmint Topps Gum five-cent box recently which not only complements my Peppermint pack but also allowed me to glean some additional information as to how Topps provided confectionery products to the U.S. Government for various military field rations.

The original field rations from Topps were one cent gum tabs, some slightly in differing size from the retail Topps Gum tabs that they made their name on before and after World World 2. When Topps Gum went from a traditional "flat" chew to a "chiclet" style around 1950 (once Bazooka penny tabs proved their staying power) some similarly sized one cent packs also held two of their flagship's chiclet-style, candy-coated "nuggets" (wafers?).  These also seem to have been used for field rations into the 1950's. See here for the deets.

Topps also introduced a nickel pack of this smaller, minty gum in the 1950's, likely after they got keel-hauled in court by the American Chicle Company for ripping off the look and style of not only Chiclets packaging but also that of Clorets. The pack was sized to fit into cigarette vending machines (remember the Shorin family's fortune was originally built on tobacco) but it could also handily nestle in with various field rations in each kit:

There's been anecdotal evidence of these being military ration components previously (alluded to when I bought my Peppermint pack a few years ago) but this one comes with a pedigree:

Not sure what all of that means (maybe no caffeine is indicated by the crescent moon?) but it's like a Topps commodity code on steroids!  Here's the all important box bottom, with more details:

Van Brode Milling was a packager and distributor of military rations for years as near as I can determine and they had a subsidiary that seems to have perfected the plastic spork. The auction listing describes the rations as being Viernam-era and I e-mailed the seller for some details.  He came back with these carton scans but not a year of issue and that manufacturing date under the burst test information sure looks like March 1957 to me, although it's hard to read.

Multiples of five seem to be a US military ration "thing" and there some that mention "tens" as well.  Anyone out there familiar?

What is odd to me is that the pricing remains on the Topps packaging.  It seems like it doesn't belong but as we have learned with Topps, the unexpected is very much expected!

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Who's Who?

Here's a peek at the Topps Art Department's responsibilities circa 1977-78 that shows just how much detail went into some of the artwork used on their display boxes. The box in question housed 1978 Baseball wax packs and you probably know it on sight:

Topps was masterful at deploying images on their display pieces that almost looked like actual players. Yes, I'm looking at you "Barely Bench", "Maybe Martinez" and "Counterfeit Carl"! (NOTE: 5/11/21: The "Barely Bench" mug belongs to Joel Shorin, per an anonymous comment just received, and I have to say it's pretty darn obvious now that I look at it again!)

The side panel was a little more generic but that batter has no clue how to lay down a bunt:

What looked like a laydown by Topps though, was actually anything but. Check out this proof of that side panel art sold via REA a while back:

"Ted" is Ted Moskowitz, the assistant art director under Ben Solomon and that is his boss's handwriting indicating "fixative" will be needed.  Fixative spray adds a protective layer to paints and inks and it looks like the rest of the box art was essentially done at this point but an annoying sheen was still present.  

The height of the original was greatly reduced in the final version above but there was certainly latitude in how much could be excised given the background striping. I'm not sure why the targets are cockeyed but imagine they've moved over the years.  The art looks like it's about ten years older than the issue date, especially compared to the box top art which certainly looks more modernized.  This almost looks like a piece created for internal mockups that eventually found its way to display boxes.

Ben Solomon essentially had his own ecosystem at Topps in terms of the art mechanicals and worked in conjunction with New Product Development (NPD) under Woody Gelman and Len Brown.  Their influence on the company's visual imprints informed about five decades worth of Topps products.

EDIT 3/28/21: A tip o'the baseball cap to Mark R. Pekrul for info on the Rivers-Morgan photo Topps hijacked for the bottom right corner of the box top and split out Joe Morgan to the upper left, making him look like a very ill Johnny Bench. Voila: