Saturday, April 4, 2020

No. 1 In '71

Today brings a peek at a very obscure single card Topps issue that honored Bowie Kuhn, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball from 1969-84.  If you follow this blog you probably know about the card and I  made brief reference to it here previously:

No doubt it's a Topps card...the question before us though is when it was issued.

The card has generally been attributed to 1969 (PSA's choice) and in some cases 1970.  However, a little sleuthing revealed those years are both, in fact, incorrect.

I found a blurb from the July 8, 1983 issue of Sports Collectors Digest that offered a couple of tantalizing, albeit fairly non-specific, clues:

OK, seemingly vague and hopeless but if you input "Kuhn" + "Newark" + "Saints" + "Sinners" + "Dinner" into, you get a nice result:

That is from The News of Paterson, New Jersey and the article was in their December 29, 1970 issue.  On January 26, 1971 Commissioner Kuhn was honored at the Robert Treat Hotel (now a Best Western) and that is indeed the date of "issue".  I've seen estimates of between 100 and 300 copies of this thin card (almost paper, really) being produced  and when I checked the capacity of the hotel's ballroom I found a maximum of 1,500.  However, it looks like the current ballroom could be a later addition to the hotel; and I suspect the 1971 version held fewer people.

No matter how big the ballroom was, these are difficult, although not impossible, to find. The date however, was not.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Jungle Trail

The long-arc Topps test issue story is one that gets pieced together slowly.  Often some original Topps production materials comes up for sale or auction that fills in a hole, other times an old bit of hobby literature or sales catalogs helps write or rewrite some of the story.  Today the former as a recent eBay auction gave a glimpse at the 1968 Superman In The Jungle issue; a test set in the United States but an ordinary release in the United Kingdom.

I've covered both versions of the set previously here along with the even scarcer US puzzle insert that came along for the ride and as far as US Topps test issues go, this is one of the more difficult ones to find.  As far as new information, it's not much but it does reveal how Topps could turn a loser domestically into a salable items overseas.  Thanks to Woody Gelman's Topps filing system, we can finally see this gorgeous Norman Saunders conceptual point-of-sale piece that was featured in one of Chris Benjamin's Sport-Americana Non-Sports Guides of thirty odd years ago:

Benjamin, though, did not show what was written along the bottom. The left side is plain enough: "Co-op sheets". On the right though, a little zoom is needed:

That red crayon is in Woody Gelman's hand.  It says "Products" and then someone crossed it out.  I take this to mean the test failed or that some type of licensing deal went kaput, which we already know due to the rarity of these, and that it wasn't getting filed as planned. This scratched out word helps explain, I believe, the meaning of "Co-op sheets".  The co-op must be the cooperative arrangement had with A&BC Gum in the UK (and which company Topps was about to decimate with a series of strategic and legal moves).  The A&BC issue of Superman In The Jungle is readily found, as are the associated puzzle pieces, while the US test is often found in either proof form or very crudely printed and/or cut "finished" form.  Here's a finished type card to illustrate the latter point, it's a raggedy scene:

You can see there were registration issues with this card, it must have been a reject sheet from when the test was printed.  The back isn't in register either and as we have recently learned, they were done first and likely in a separate location so it's a bit of a headscratcher:

I've seen just enough of these to think at least one sheet was cut up in this manner, likely by a kid of a Topps executive.  

The final proofs I've seen are all blank backed but the fronts are very colorful:

There are various color stage proofs out there as well but they pale in comparison.

My last look at these cards showed a painting of the US test wrapper.  I've now found an actual one and I'll sign off with it today:

Saturday, March 21, 2020

The Dating Game

The slow train-a-rollin' dating of the 1968 Topps Basketball test set continues.  You may recall Keith Olbermann's article here about 3.5 years ago, pointing toward a 1967-68 date vs the more commonly accepted 1968-69. The later dating is likely the result of the 1969-70 regular issue being thought to come on the heels of the test cards.  Well, a recent Heritage auction has given even more credence to the earlier dating (which is not in doubt).

Witness the test card of one John Joseph Havlicek:

 Here is the photo used to make the card up, according to the description Heritage wrote:

I didn't scan the whole things as the photo is annoyingly off kilter in the holder but the PSA label sort of purports this as well:

Now, all of that verbiage could mean a couple of different things and I'd like some back story on the actual production photo, which is likely undated and unwritten upon according to Mr. O, but take a look at the back:

Two things stand out to me:

1) the date of October 6, 1966 which is likely the date the photo was snapped; and

2) the "2 3/4 in" notation.

I have a card from this set-Jerry Sloan, and the top to bottom measurement of the photo on his card is 2 7/8 inches:

So, close but not an exact match.  Still, Topps was experimenting and anything is possible but it also seems that the photos vary in height from card to card.  From the original Olbermann post here, we saw this pair:


Hard to tell for sure but it looks like the Beatty picture is a hair shorter than that of Bridges.

So this doesn't really change anything but it does give us a neat collectible!

Saturday, March 14, 2020

Separation Anxiety

Some cool and unusual sightings on the interwebs over the past several weeks that didn't really seem to mesh into coherent discrete subjects are the focus today pilgrims.  See if you can cipher the theme!

A lot of the innovative Topps sets of the 1960's and 70's were actually kind of swipes of earlier things, many from the 1930's where I assume they held some sway over Woody Gelman. Check out this 1934 ad, bottom left to be exact:

Yup- that's an antecedent to Pak o'Fun, which became a 1969 Topps release of some current difficulty in assembling, seen here in uncut sheet form at Heritage Auctions:

Good luck with this set, I'm still 5-6 cards short and a couple can't be found without the finger holes punched out. Talk about a mish-mash of things!  Laugh-In Necklaces, Funny Doors, You'll Die Laughing, Flying Things and Foldees are just some of the other sets being sucked in here (or jettisoned out, as the case may be).

1971 brings us north of the border, where O-Pee-Chee issued a modern rarity, the Bazooka NHL package design set, shown here with some Bazooka Joe and the Gang wrapper roll footage:

Back to something a little more weird, here's some uncut strips of the 1976 Fancy Pants, a truly problematic issue to find these days. Those tops are sliding off the backings, as is the case with many sticker sets of the era:

A dozen years later, although it seems more like that many light years, from an issue that cops from Pak o'Fun, these activity cards from 1988's Pee Wee's Playhouse are hard to find for a more modern issue. This is primarily due to horrible collation I think.  I bought two boxes years ago and ended up with 35 copies of one of the activity cards-yikes!

Finally, while I almost never post about post 1980 issues (rule already broken above), here is a Topps Heritage homage to the 1969 Decal inserts from 2018 that I think looks sweet:

What comes around goes around again, sometimes more than once!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

All Pins Wise And Wonderful

Strap in for adventure today kids-we are going to take a peek at Topps Wise Guy Buttons!  Actually, we're going to look at three potential issues of the set, all in different sizes but first, some background.

The most well-known issue of this 24 button set hails from 1965. Two inches in diameter with a circular pinback, these are quite readily available and seem to have been a popular, confection-less issue attributable to that year.  I'll get to pictures in a minute.

What's odd is that John Neuner's US Wrapper Guide, which was the Rosetta Stone for that type of stuff, listed a 1961 issue date for the set. Other references I saw referenced "large" six-inch pins with no specifics.  So clearly something was up.  Then to top it all off, I purchased a Wise Guy Button that was 3 3/4" in diameter somewhere in the middle of this whole mess that stumped a few people.

Well, I finally managed to get ahold of the large version, which is, in fact, 5 3/4" in diameter and scanned all three sizes together:

I regret the smallest one does not match the other two in subject but here's a scan I nipped from Todd Riley's Non-Sport site of the confirmed 1965 2" button:

Obviously the artwork on the small and medium buttons matches, or does it?  I see slight differences but that's common enough with Topps.  However, I have to say the medium one looks like it's a knockoff based upon the smudgy printing and unkerned spacing of the letters.  But what of the large one?  Its art is somewhat cruder and not all that much of a true match to the other two, especially due to a lack of color, although the medium looks a bit light on the fleshtone to me.

Here's the backs:

The large has a clasp pin that looks proper and Topps used paper backs on their Go-Go Button set that is (possibly not) from 1969. So the large pin could be legit but I reserve judgement and it may, in fact, be a circa 1960 Funny Button (a set that is lacking in details beyond a ten cent wrapper proof from what I can tell). The medium pin has a funky back and an actual safety pin inserted in the slot.  I had thought that the original pin was replaced but I think it's just as likely the whole thing is bootlegged.  The only sure bet is the two inch pin from 1965! All say Japan on them along their respective rims.

So I'll put to you dear readers-anybody out there know anything about the medium and large pins? What, if anything, was actually issued by Topps in 1961 and in what size?

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Wrong Way Kids

Did you ever get that mixed up feeling?  You know, when you can't quite put two and two together, or things just seem a little bit off?  Well you're not alone as it would sometimes happen at Topps.

First up, we have a 1977 Topps Football card with a 1977 Charlie's Angels puzzle back:

No stats on this back:

I believe that is a little bit of Kelly on the left side of this series 2 puzzle, three pieces up and two left from the bottom left corner:

(Courtesy, although it originated with Friend o'the Archive--and your humble blogger, Larry Tipton)

Compare that with this 1979 Topps Baseball card of Al Oliver, where the back is whack:

Unlike Kelly, this back is a "wrong way", usually seen when the sheet is inserted in the wrong direction when the fronts got printed.  As we have seen previously, the backs were printed first. You will note here the reverse is from the 1978 set, which confirms the "backs first" story I think.

What I believe was happening was a few odd sheets of leftover backs sitting around Zabel Brothers or the like were used to print off the first couple of sheets on a new press run to check that everything was A-OK.  Once the first press run was done, there would have been leftover backs from the current set to use, so no more backs from other sets to start the presses.  I have to believe this is how a lot of upside down or mis-aligned backs were printed.  They would have then entered the hobby as cut up scrap or, sometimes, a handful would make it into the packs. Whether or not the latter was due to some playful shenanigans on the night shift, I cannot say.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rubbed The Right Way

A little while back on the Net54 Baseball Forum, there was a neat little thread in the postwar section started by Larry Tipton, who so far as I know, is the only person to ever have a card grade named after him ("Tipton" or "Tipton Mint" signifies a real beater).  Larry posted an alternate back to a 1961 Magic Ruboff, which I have to confess I had never seen before. What's even cooler though is that it turns out this alternate back reveals the Ruboffs were issued in two series, or perhaps more correctly, two sets.

You know these, the paper inserts (the first ever in Topps Baseball actually) show humorous caricatures of ballplayers with colorful nicknames and fanciful team emblems:

The typical reverse is textual:

Alternatively though, there was a back that looked like this:

Those are all Larry's. This graphical variation is a lot harder than the text based reverse but finding out that the emblems came in one "set" or another is an intriguing bonus.  Were both 18 emblem sets issued together? I tend to doubt it after seeing this. Here's the same graphic but it's the other set:

(courtesy Cliff Bowman)

Now compare to the 1965 Football Ruboffs where the pinking shears must have been lost by Topps!

These also came in a set of 36 (8 AFL and 28 College teams) but note there is no "set" distinction:

Four years after the fact, Topps resurrected the instructional artwork-only in Brooklyn!