Saturday, February 20, 2021

Letters Imperfect

Some correspondence from Topps has presented itself of late on eBay and what better thing to do than cadge some scans and share the results here?!

First up we get a dunning letter from Joel Shorin, son of Topps executive Phil Shorin and who would one day run the company himself:

Messinger's Variety Store (or more properly 5¢ to $1.00) was a mainstay for a very long time on Glasgow Street in Clyde, New York where Scottish influence once held considerable sway, so much so that the town was named for the river in Scotland.  It served the small town on the former Erie Canal about ten miles south of Lake Ontario from 1936 to 2001, or in other initials from mid-FDR to early-W, which is about 65 years if you're counting.  Clyde itself prospered as a stop along the canal, which opened in 1825, but its population has hovered around 2,300 souls for quite a while it seems. Clearly a letter mailed there without a street address would make it to Messinger's without much fuss in 1948 (and probably 1998!).  

Donald and Messinger his wife Thelma also had a variety store outpost in Williamson, New York until about 1974.  Here's a peek at the Clyde store's counter and candy racks from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on July 4, 1994:

The Messingers promptly paid up by the way, Thelma must have been in charge of the books:

If the invoice for the order was sent on September 9th, Topps must have been very much on top of their receivables!  Check out this sweet Topps bank deposit stamp on the back of the the check:

Many old checks in the years before electronic clearinghouses would admonish people not to fold, spindle or mutilate them. Perhaps one reason for this was due to the hole-stamped method of noting the check had been cleared and cashed.

Things were far more relaxed ten years later when this little gem was sent out:

That's actually the Topps letterhead, circa (early) '58.  I say "early" 1958 as "The Atom" on the front of each Bazooka penny tab was replaced by "Topps" mid-year.  Blony was the province of Archie comics, to wit: 

Yes, this rode along with a 1958 Topps Baseball Team Emblem premium! I covered those in February of 2010 and if you click through, you will see at least one 1958 pack insert promoting those had the new Bazooka gum tabs with "Topps" now prominent; perhaps as a preview or (more likely) already rolling out as Topps used up a supply of out-of-date letterhead.

Topps helpfully noted  on the flipside of this letter that several premiums could be yours for enough comics and/or change:

Those were pretty hefty buy-ins for the time and this seems like a direct marketing and audience survey form post-MLB stabbing westward as it took only a mere wrapper and SASE to get the original felt emblem premium.  They may have been burning off excessive stock of some premium items as well.

Is it just me or is e-mail just not as fun as postal letters?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Zorba The Geek

Today we explore a set that was as plain vanilla as any ever put out by Topps, 1962's Casey & Kildare. Aimed a young girls, this 110 card issue saw 55 cards of each heartthrob doctor reproduced in (sometimes) glorious black and white.  And it was mostly just those two-Vince Edwards as Ben Casey and Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Kildare-flying solo on most cards.

Ben Casey was a Bing Crosby Productions show while MGM produced Dr. Kildare and they weren't even broadcast on the same network. In fact I can't find a common theme other than the obvious medical settings, so the linkage is curious and I'm a little puzzled how Topps pulled it off. Each show ran from 1961 to 1966 and pulled decent ratings at first before fizzling out.

The Casey cards are a lot cripser in general appearance than the Kildares.  Here's Ben with Dr. David Zorba (Sam Jaffe in real life), the Chief of Neurosurgery at County General. It's a rare pose, showing Vince Edwards with someone else in the frame:

The backs are quite austere:

The crisp look of Ben Casey was not replicated by Dr. Kildare.  Cards can have a glossy or dull finish and it seems Kildare's are especially subject to being dull. The Casey's are almost like a photograph in feel while most Kildare's look washed out and yellowed and do not feel nearly as glossy.  I'm not sure if they were printed together on one sheet, or if there were two press runs using different materials but the look and feel is pretty obviously different on a vast majority of the cards:

Card nos. 19, 23 and 99 have checklist backs, which if unmarked are essentially the only cards in the set with any real value:

There's two wrappers, one (well, two actually) wax and one cello:

They are almost identical other than the obvious difference with cello vs. wax:

However, there is also a third type of wrapper, without ingredients, meaning they had no gum in them.  These may be test wrappers or something else intended for, say, a chain store buyer that didn't want to deal with confectionery items or had an exclusive elsewhere for candy and gum.  Go here to see this other wax wrapper; there's another small detail as well that's intriguing but I won't spoil it, just click over.

That cello is a miraculous survivor (it's the reason I decided to look at the set); I wonder though,  if the real miracle wasn't how many patients were saved by the good doctors but in how this survived in such nice shape.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Advertising Age

We'll be time-tripping to the 1940's this week folks, courtesy of some vintage trade magazine ads run by Topps.  BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd was (and is) offering these on eBay and while I snagged the one I wanted, the graphics on the others caught my eye for sure.

The March 1940 issue of International Confectioner magazine brought us this little beauty:

I won one of these displays a while back and it's a sweet piece, made of Bakelite:

Theres a blonde verison as well and it seems a lot harder to find than the black ones, which pop up from time to time:

The flagship Topps Gum spawned several amusing ads throughout the 40's, including this gem from the July 1945 International Confectioner, and the "Don't Talk Chum, Chew Topps Gum" slogan even lasted a couple of years or so past the end of World War 2, a testament to its selling power:

Exactly two years later Topps, in the same publication, was pushing their Gum as a "changemaker" on store counters across the globe

The 1948 Candy Buyer's Directory showed just how well the new slogan was working:

Change (groan!) was coming though, as this Candy Merchandising ad from December 1948 succinctly shows:

We've seen that SSI slogan before and sales of various Topps products were pretty much booming at this point. The "changemaker" catchword was still there though and would be for another year at least. 

Bazooka was really the flagship brand now but still only available as a nickel roll and Topps took a leap of faith introducing their first "novelty" product, Tatoo gum, as it wasn't clear at all to them if a competing penny product would harm the sales of the "Changemaker".  It seems like that's exactly what happened though and once Bazooka went to their own penny tab in mid 1949, Topps Gum started slowly fading away, undergoing a conversion to a chiclet style that was a staple of military rations for another ten years or so but increasingly a non-entity as a retail product.

I like how this ad backstops the initial 1948 date for Tatoo as some Topps PR blurbs indicate a 1949 debut (commonly accepted issue dates are 1948, then 1949 with its bigger wrapper and even then more subjects came in 1953). The 1949 issue with its redsigned wrapper that used graphical instead of textual application instructions, if I'm not mistaken, no longer appeared in the little round canisters Topps used in the first decade of their existence, instead residing in a square bin-style box. In fact,1948 Tatoo was the only Topps novelty (their first, not counting five cent Bazooka) I could find that came in the round style used by Topps Gum

I suspect Tatoo was actually perennial through 1954 or so, or very close to it. Topps issued a very hard to find set of generic Davy Crockett Tatoos in 1955 (possibly into early 1956) until new tatoo issues started appearing in 1957 as Popeye debuted a new line that would usually feature the hottest kiddie TV cartoon or comic book stars of the day.  This trend lasted yet another decade before fizzling out and giving way to a newer style once again at the end of the 60's. If you issued three essentially identical versions of a cheaply produced product over a five or six year period, it must have bene popular, so why stop selling it?

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Red Light District

Well the NHL is back but things are still quite a bit wonky out there, so why not take a peek at the ur-Topps Hockey set today!  Why not indeed, it's gorgeous:

I've covered the 1954-55 Hockey set here previously and figured it's high time to lok at some original artwork.  I'm going off memory for some of this as the Vintage Hockey Forum shutdown has impacted my ability to document things properly but here goes anyway (and please contact me with corrections).

First though, some hazy "facts"-according to hockey hobby maven and Friend o'the Archive Bobby Burrell, the cards were transported into Canada whole, where they were cut and paired with some O-Pee-Chee bubble gum in wrppaers produced north of the border.  I recall seeing an accident involving a truck carrying the sheets somewhere near Detroit (London Ontario, home of O-Pee-Chee is about 120 miles Northeast of Detroit) made at least one news report but as noted, no dice on the source at present.

The 60 card Topps set only included the four American teams while Parkhurst, the main competition in Canada, had all six in their 100 card set (they switched to just the two Canadian teams after this for a spell).  The Topps set is more abundant these days than Parkhurst's by at least a 2 1/2 to 1 ratio on a card-to-card basis if you go by PSA's numbers and they are not difficult to find generally, although top grade examples are rare due to the full bleed borders.

Bobby Burrell advises no Topps cards were sold in Boston, Chicago or Detroit.  It seems possible that the New York City area saw some being Topps HQ-land and all but I can't imagine they sold too many that way.  The March 20, 1959 Card Collectors Co. Catalog #10 offered singles and sets ($3!) and I'm assuming the offered cards did not readily flow back across the border (even allowing for Detroit "black market" activity).  A year later the price had doubled in the catalog and then they were gone. Topps may have had sheets held back, or they had cut the cards already for sale but either way, Woody Gelman had 'em. Fun Fact: -Topps would cut sheets specifically for CCC (and presumably for its antecedent, Sam Rosen) and also pre-sort the cards they sold to Woody:

Several years ago (decades really) the original art from the hockey cards were offered on a team-by-team basis and they went for a song (again, from memory).   The artwork, as you can imagine, is stunning, as this scan nicked from Heritage Auctions shows:

Here's the card for that art, I just love the flying ice:

The backs are superb as well and the All-American red, white & blue scheme seems like a pretty overt choice to me:

Here's four Red Wings, likely remnants of the 15 player team painting groupings:

Friend o'the Archive Mark Newgarden indicates there was a lot of touch up work done on these but either way thay are fab an whatever they did to them at Topps sure worked!

Saturday, January 23, 2021


We visit Pennsylvania today kids, courtesy of our friends at Topps and a piece of their history that remains in the Keystone State and one that escaped.

The escapee first-I recently picked up this sheet sheet of Topps shelf labels that looks like it might have covered their full retail confectionery line from 1978 or so:

I was able to roughly date this piece, measuring roughly 11" x 14", due to the lack of additional Ring Pop flavors and the curved Topps logo, which was killed off for 1981. Ring Pops were introduced in 1979 (some sources say 1977) and are still made by Topps in Scranton, Pennsylvania; these messy and sticky bits of faux jewelry may be the last product they haven't outsourced. This is where the magic happens:

Sure hope they fixed the "t" in that logo! (EDIT 1/24/21-I just found a reference in the 1976 Topps Annual Report that this 33,000 SF building had been acquired and was expected to begin candy production by the start of the second half of their fiscal year.  The Topps Fiscal Year ran from March 1st so presumably it was purchased in 1975 and began production by October 1976).

I was surprised to see the former Bowman flagship Blony on there but I suspect that it was still a popular regional brand in the Philadelphia area and environs, if not Pennsylvania proper and parts of the region to the southwest once considered coal country. I certainly never saw it on Long Island.

Here's a help wanted ad from the Scranton Times that appeared last August that indicates Ring Pops are considered a Bazooka Candy Brand these days even as the iconic bubble gum is now manufactured under license:

Maybe there's still an opening, although employee reviews seem decidely mixed.

I never heard of The Pits or Munchy Mummies but was a major consumer of Gold Rush back in my younger days.  The little bags were useful for storing small objects and coins. I have no idea if they still make it but would be sad if it turns out they don't. This was The Pits:

Grubbits has all the deets on Munchy Mummies. Other than those two and Blony, I believe I sampled at least one flavor of every brand on the sheet as a kid!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

A Tale Of Two Berts

A recently concluded REA auction had a pretty sizeable offering of 1969 Mod Generation Stickers original art. You can click on the appropriate labl to see but I've shown a half dozen or so of these previously.  A couple of the originals have already been shown here so I'll skip those and there's one little headscratcher as well.

There's nine to show.  Here's Bert:

All well and good but this is also Bert:

It looks like a second Bert label was created and incorrectly applied as that particular elephant-flared individual is known as Louis in the set.  Charlie is pretty far out man:

Is Herb looking for some herb?

Judy, Judy, Judy....what kind of instrument is she holding?!

Personally, I've always liked mini-skirts:

Why does Paul have a cane?

Meanwhile Pete is really groovin':

Maybe Phil's playing along?

The set was definitely a period piece and at this point I think all the actual flower children are in their 70's (or worse). A lot of nostalgic fads have come and gone only to be reignited a generation later but it seems to me the hippie fashions did not really re-appear in the 90's.  Maybe Pete and Phil are playing an elegy.....

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Vertically Oriented

Here's a couple of interesting art pieces to kick off the New Year.

These two original artworks were used for the 1969-70 Basketball Ruler inserts. Hal Greer leads things off:

That pencilled "62" indicates his height, as shown on the finished insert:

I may have mislabeled my scans as I thought these came from REA but a search of their site says no.  Oh well, here's our next subject:

Thats's Nate Thurmond, although his head may have been Frankensteined.  Here is the insert in all it's glory, not sure why his height (6' 11'-yikes!) is not shown on the artwork like Greer's:

The Greer's reverse is blank but Thurmond's has some vintage Woody Gelman scrawl:

The Rulers were one of the more innovative Topps inserts of the era. There's 23 in the set with one subject (Bill Russell) pulled to screw up the math leading to 24 since the number of subjects in the set was printed right on each ruler!

There were a mere 14 teams in the NBA during the 1969-70 season, so some teams ended up with an additonal subject or two.  Here's the checklist:

1. Walt Bellamy (Detroit Pistons)

2. Jerry West (Los Angeles Lakers)

3. Bailey Howell (Boston Celtics)

4. Elvin Hayes (San Diego Rockets)

5. Not Issued

6. Bob Rule (Seattle Supersonics)

7 Gail Goodrich (Phoenix Suns)

8. Jeff Mullins (San Francisco Warriors)

9. John Havlicek (Boston Celtics)

10. Lew Alcindor (Milwaukee Bucks)

11. Wilt Chamberlain (Los Angeles Lakers)

12. Nate Thurmond (San Francisco Warriors)

13. Hal Greer (Philadelphia 76ers)

14. Lou Hudson (Atlanta Hawks)

15. Jerry Lucas (Cincinnati Royals)

16. Dave Bing (Detroit Pistons)

17. Walt Frazier (New York Knicks)

18. Gus Johnson (Baltimore Bullets)

19. Willis Reed (New York Knicks)

20. Earl Monroe (Baltimore Bullets)

21. Billy Cunningham (Philadelphia 76ers)

22. Wes Unseld (Baltimore Bullets)

23. Bob Boozer (Chcago Bulls)

24. Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati Royals)

Topps maybe could have gone with Lenny Wilkens to represent the second of the Supersonics, although at 6' 1" he would have been the shortest player in the set (which is Greer)  but a guy named Bob Rule was probably too much for them to pass up  In fairness, Rule was a very solid player, a 1969-70 All Star, averaged over 24 points a game that season and was coming off his best campaign as a result: