Saturday, September 25, 2021

Hit Parade

Topps was very much focused on entertainers as they launched what we now call standard sized (2 1/2" x 3 1/2") cards in late 1956. Elvis Presley was the first set issued in this now ubiquitous format and the majority of sports and non-sports sets followed thereafter in rapid succession. This card and related press sheet sizing dictated set counts to a large degree as the familiar 12 row by 11 column half-sheets debuted.  Sometimes (and properly) called "slits" but commonly thought of these days as an "uncut sheet", these became the default for Topps, with variations and other groupings such as short prints and double/over prints usually following the "rule of 11" as a result. You need two half slits to make a full sheet up and in standard sizing that results in 264 cards being arrayed across the A and B slits. In 1957 this all came together (or maybe apart!) in a diverse set called Hit Stars.

While some guides indicate the 88 subject set has 33 overprints, this appears to be based upon an erroneous assumption that the uncut sheets were produced in an 11 x 11 array, yielding 121 cards per slit. I'm not sure why the sheet was assumed to be set up that way but it may have something to do with several sheets from various sets that have surfaced from 1957-58 over the years that are ultimately missing a row. It would be very strange if Topps had pared back to a 121 card slit at this point and to me, as I will explain, it's clear the Hit Stars was originally to have been 99 subjects in length. This theoretically would have yielded--you guessed it--33 overprints! 

We'll see how it's known the original set length was truncated in a minute but if there are indeed 33 overprints (and I am not convinced of this due to PSA pop reports), then it's likely due to the original configuration of 99 cards being abandoned vs. an 11 x 11 array being deployed. A simple mathematical exercise shows that could (and I stress "could" not "would") have resulted in 33 extra slots across each slit (99*2=198+66=264). My own thought is Hit Stars repeats three times across both slits in classic ABA BAB pattern, where each letter represents a discrete 44 card block. And I will also point out the 11 x 11 arrays were used for smaller sized cards like Scoop and not those of standard size.

The set itself has a pretty good mix of movie stars, TV personalities and recording artists-including a large percentage of cards devoted to African-American singers, who were not necessarily considered "mainstream" at the time- and there are a hefty number of record labels, both large and small, represented amongst the Recording Stars. Some very big names are included and the entire set is a veritable Flexichrome wonderland. 62 Recording Stars kick off the set and Elvis reappears after his '56 Topps solo stint:

Elizabeth Taylor was certainly rounding into"A" List celebrity status at this point in her career and a good "get" for Topps:

Some subjects appear more than once (4 posthumous cards for James Dean!) and a couple are considered both Recording Stars and TV/Movie Stars.  Here's a good example of that in Debbie Reynolds, first seen on #17 as a Coral Recording Star:

The reverse confirms the count of 62 Recording Stars (Frankie Laine repeats too in this sub-grouping and Alan Freed is included as well, even though he was a DJ):  

Ms. Reynolds also concludes the set on card #88, clearly as a Movie Star:

But look at this-she is number 26 of "37" Movie & TV Stars (and don't forget that includes James Dean with his four appearances):

Well 62 + 37 definitely equals 99 so something clearly happened to truncate the set 11 cards shy of the promised number. At a guess, rights for some planned subjects never matarialized or a studio or two pulled their stars.  No matter, the Topps math just didn't add up!  Go figure!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

One Of A Kind

Topps has produced all sorts of "affinity" and "event" sets over the years, including some I doubt have ever been documented anywhere.  Collectors of a certain age might recall the late 70's Burger King branded baseball sets for example but there's many more, some of which are quite hard to find. I've covered some here already, such as the somewhat infamous Bowie Kuhn card issued for a Saints & Sinners Dinner held in New Jersey in 1971 and the Frank Cashen card they prepared in his honor when the New York Sports Commission named him as their "Sportsman of the Year" in 1992 and threw a luncheon to fete him.

Then there is the 1990 George W. Bush card that may or may not have had a handful of wayward examples snuck into packs (and which had at least two issued versions, one more glossy than the other).  That card's story has been told often and elsewhere; you can read up on it here and also explore some of the related links. It's gotten pretty pricey these days in case you are thinking about buying one.

There's some others though. Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, co-owners of the New York Football Giants were given the solo treatment in 1997 and 1998 resepctively as they were honored for their election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Mara) or efforts raising money for Ronald McDonald House (Tisch).

The Mara card can be found with a little hunting, the Tisch not so much.  Here's Wellington, an original NFL owner's scion BTW:

There's nothing sweeter to this Giants fan than that trophy he is cradling. Love the back too:

As for Mr. Tisch, we'll let this news article do the talking (I think it was from Sports Collectors Digest):

Another fun one is Paul Rudd, who not only got a card but an entire pack in 2014 as the Royals made the first of two back-to-back World Series appearances.  They beat my Mets in 2015 but I'm showing this one anyway:

Check out the 1975 copyright!

(images courtesy Simeon Lipman)

There's more of these out there, including a Slugger's Wife card of "Darryl Palmer" Topps produced for the movie, which may or may not have been a prop and I need to do some more research on that one and a couple of others.  Stay tuned on those, just not sure when.....


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Stack In Black

I am on a basketball kick of late, there's no doubt about it. And what better set than to take a peek at than one of my all time favorites, the 1971-72 Topps Basketball Trio Stickers!  I collected the 1970, 71, and 72 Topps Basketball sets quite heavily as a kid and 1971 was a real boon year for me. As a result, I had a boatload of the Trio Stickers and drove my parents crazy sticking them everywhere, especially the little team logos. Of particular interest to me that year were the ABA regular issue cards and insert stickers as I was mad for the league and in particular the NY Nets. None of these, as you can imagine, survived as the years zipped along.

The black borders of the Trios mimiced the Baseball cards issued earlier in 1971.  I put together a set quite some time ago and enjoy it just as much as I did as a kid, although all my stickers now remain unpeeled and unstuck!  So I was quite pleased to find this uncut sheet image in an old Huggins & Scott auction and add it to my collection of partial sheet scans.  And then it got.....weird.

This is the A slit and it's got a  LOT going on in this 7 x 11 array:

Logo sticker heaven!  Now the full set is comprised of 46 numbered stickers, where each little 1/3 slice of a full sticker has a number (so three per "card") and the logo sticker has a number as well.  In addition the ABA cards have an "A" suffix after their numbers.  There's 10 full stickers of ABA'ers: 7 trios and three variants of the logo stickers.  The ABA run spans numbers 1A though 24A.  

NBA stickers are numbered 1 through 46, with 15 trios and a lone logo sticker.  So that's kind of weird, right?  Why three ABA logo variants and none for the NBA? Well I think it had to do with the number of teams in each league. The ABA had ten teams for the 1971-72 season and the NBA 17. So Topps jumbled up the ABA logos, essentially drawing attention away from the "repeats" on each sticker.

Here's an example:

Some germane and not so germane points. I saw most of these teams play and usually up close at the Nets home arena for most of the season, The Island Garden, which essentially looked like a high school gym and was possibly the worst major sports venue in the United States at the time, although personally I loved it.  

They moved to the Nassau Coliseum as the season wore on but you would get sweat on you from the players if you sat close enough to the court at Island Garden.  After a game you could wander onto the court and mingle with the players and get autographs. Not so at the Coliseum.  I still have some of the stubs from Island Garden:


A year prior to the stickers but you can't have everything.  The End Court seating was literally pull out bleachers! I was 9, so I guess I just fit in between the assigned spots! I saw a real circus there too around this time, with a full sideshow (sword swallowers, fat lady, the whole nine yards).  I'm sure it was a broken down, decrepit place at the time but it shines brightly in my memory and always will.

While I'm at it, the Carolina Cougars logo sticker above is great but not my favorite version of it, that being this one:

OK, back to the set. You could also peel off and stick the ABA logo and even the main splash at upper right.

The NBA logo sticker had all 17 teams represented along with the official league logo (as always, modeled on Jerry West) and splash:

That upper right Celtics logo has always bothered me.  Why didn't Topps just make two ABA logo stickers and two for the NBA, leaving intact the 4x4 grid on the latter? The answer may be that the arrays we see must have been due to the need for die cutting, as Topps would need to line up the ABA logo stickers in one column (or row, depending) due to the differing configuration when compared to the NBA logos. But here's the kicker: there's 8 impressions of the three ABA stickers (22A, 23A and 24A if you're playing at home) on the sheet but 14 of the NBA! I'm not even sure what to call that, a Fourteens Print maybe? 

So what will we see on the B slit then?  Presented here in two pieces, one from the Topps Vault, the source of the other lost to time, the full array can almost be extrapolated with a little effort:

I can't make it out but that looks like Ben Solomon's scrawl at upper right in the waste portion. We have to extrapolate the bottom five rows across four columns but again, the die cutting requirement makes me think there's no mystery to it.

Those sheets can get a little eye-boggling, so here's what I came up with across both slits:

All the ABA and NBA trios appear five times across both, except for trios headed with numbers 34, 37, 40 and 43 which appear only four times and are short printed by 20% compared to the other trios-these are the only true short prints in the set and include stickers of Oscar Robertson, Wes Unseld, Connie Hawkins, Lew Alcindor, Billy Cunningham and Wilt Chamberlain.  There's 28 NBA logo stickers (#46) and 20 ABA, with 22A being overprinted at twice the rate of the other two ABA logo stickers (23A and 24A).  99 NBA stickers and 55 ABA stickers make up the 154 slit slots.  Looking at it that way makes it seem quite organized in fact.

Here's something interesting as well, the next year O-Pee-Chee used the trio format for a series of 72 Canadian Football League subjects; here's a peek at an uncut sheet portion:

Neat, huh?!  I'm not going to get into these (well, not yet maybe) but at least one uncut slit is known and it has some oddities as well, although OPC did not make up team logos for the set.  Whew!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Pretty Fly (For A Tighty-Whitey Guy)

Robert Edward Auctions, as I am sure you all know, is home to some wondrous offerings each and every time they unleash a catalog on the world.  Their recently concluded August auction was no exception.

While Topps test issues ebb and flow, Mantles tick up and Wagner's continue to go for unimaginable sums, there's usually a lot or two with things I've never seen before. This time out it was a cardboard Topps Gum display, mostly still full of product and not round like their canisters nor made of bakelite like their more durable displays. I didn't bid (and the lot went for some relatively big bucks) but boy was I tempted.  Check it out:

I suspect Pepsin ended up stranded in some of those displays, long after the other flavors ran out!

So here's the thing-most of the New York City wrappers I am familiar with had a very prosaic slogan ("No cost has been spared in giving this wholesome and delightful gum every quality that would add to your enjoyment") in the little slug on back whereas these say "Only Natural Flavors".  They switched to a Brooklyn, New York wrapper later in '39  (I think, it could have been the other way around or both co-existed for some reason) and then all the 1946's I have seen just say Brooklyn.  So this is something uncommon and REA advises they can't see any dates on the wrappers.

These came in a sleeve (also undated) with a Fruit of the Loom hanky (!) and ten free tabs:

Seems weird right?  Well, if my hunch is right these gum tabs, display and box hail from 1942 as there are metal and cardboard canisters out there with that copyright date.  A handkerchief in 1942, during World War 2, was probably a little bit of a bigger deal than it is now and some of the sales premiums Topps offered were aimed at "Mrs. Retailer" so it does make some sense. The question that remains uanswered though is-are they, or any wrapper at all, available with Topps Gum, coprighted 1942?

Check out another wartime sales premium item, 1/2 a Topps Certificate with a "U.S. Victory Stamps" tear off tab:

Look at the offered prizes, hot items in some quarters then, I'm sure:

It's pretty amazing Topps could offer all of this with a war raging and rationing occurring but even more astounding to me is this little detail:

At some point during the war, or just after, Topps advertised a return to "Natural Flavors" but I'm not really sure when that occurred now. This is all getting curiouser and curioser! It seems like most certificates started coming out approximately 18 months prior to the expiration date (in this case September 30, 1945), so at least through 1943 it seems there were still no artificial flavors to be found in your standard Topps chew.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Triple Double (Slight Return)

For reasons that are, as yet, unclear to me, I recently decided to target the short prints from the uncut sheets containing the 1970-71 Topps "Tall Boy" Basketball set.  I've always liked the cards and collected them as a kid (and now, as an adult) and had scans of two of the four half sheets that make up the set.  Friend o'the Archive John Moran provided 15/18ths of the other two (Huggins & Scott also had a hand) and I can tell you it's a very strange way to print a set, at least the first series.

Mind you, the SP's are all well known so here's the straight dope:

That's the A slit of the first series.  Here's the B:

Series 2 A Slit:

Series 2 B Slit-Mr, Moran advised the three missing rows are just repeats:

First series first.  Here's a schematic I made of the A slit:

The subjects shaded in blue are double prints, the yellow subjects along the bottom are all single prints.  Note the there are two 2nd Series Checklists on this slit and it features both the front white and black letter variations indicating the 1970-71 season.  Dese are dem:

Backs are the same for both:

So each variant second series checklist is esentially a single print! The B Slit has the same array but with all different subjects:

That makes a 110 card first series, with 88 double prints (2nd series checklists be damned!) and 22 single prints.  The 1st Series Checklist is a true double print:

When we get to the second series sheets, things, as you might have surmised already, change.  Herewith the A slit:

Here's the B:

It used to be the highs (commons at least) were 50% more in price than the lows.  If that's the case, less high numbers would mean those triple prints are not quite as "triply" as they array suggest.  Maybe more like 2.5 Prints!

What I don't get is why Topps had the bizarre array for series 1. If they were seeding the first series sheet with a couple rows of second series cards and then "lagging the checklist" it would make sense.  But that didn't happen, they went with 110 (well, 109 with the 2nd Series Checklist duo) and 66.  They could have just done two 88 card series and given us 11 extra prints per slit. The only explanation I can come with is that Topps made it harder to find the 22 Single Prints on purpose.

I actually posted a proof (purportedly from the 1989 Guernsey auction) with the two SP rows ahile back-it seems Topps ultimately segregated them, one row per slit but I wonder if similar proofs for other years and sports hold this type of clue regarding short printed cards in a series?

I can't find that proof in the auction catalog but I'm told a lot of items were ultimately sold that never made the catalog.  Or the little plaque is wrong but it's a bummer as I wanted to see the hammer price.  Oh well...

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Leaf Of Absence

An interesting short article crossed my transom the other day and while I have managed to misplace the name of whoever provided it (possibly Lonnie Cummins or Keith Olbermann, sorry that I lost the handle gents!) it makes for an interesting read, despite its brevity:

I found several other sources for the article and all were dated May 4, 1949, so the suit against Leaf Brands by 272 players was filed smack dab in the midst of the baseball (and baseball card) season.

The Leaf Baseball set of 1948-49 defies easy conclusions.  98 cards were issued in skip-numbered fashion, ending at #168. 49 cards are far easier to find than the other 49, which are fiendishly difficult and could even be considered infamous for their scarcity. The biographical detials on the cards make it clear the set came out in 1949 but cards from both the easy and difficult sections can be found with a 1948 copyright or a 1949 (but not both, there's no 1948/49 variants).

Here's a card with a 1948 copyright, detailing Hermanski's 1948 season; there is a version of this card without the last letter of Hermanski's last name that is scarce and expensive and he's a perfect mataphor for this set, which had very little quality control but some really bizarre color arrays:

Here's a 1949:

There is no real cohesion between 1948 or 1949 copyrights and the various short prints scattered throughout the issue, it's a real mish-mash. The set is a riotous mess: there's print errors, color mishaps and the whole thing looks like it was designed by a fifth grader, but it's loaded with Hall of Famers and very expensive cards, including rookies of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. It's an important set in the scheme of hobby things.

Getting back to the suit, the six named players are in both the 1948-49 Leaf and Bowman sets:

Leaf #        Player        Bowman#

   31           Brissie            41

   26          Chapman        112

   22            Evans            132

  128           Rosar            138

   32            Spahn             33

   29             Valo               66

The interesting plaintiff to me is Buddy Rosar, who is a short print in the Leaf set. If you need a reason for half the set to be short printed in the extreme, a lawsuit or restraining order vs. Leaf could be the reason.

Two other things that jump out at me from the article:

1) The inclusion of PCL players in the suit.  I think this indicates the Bowman PCL set had already been issued by the time the suit was filed, seemingly in early May. If not, it was certianly something that was imminent.  Was Leaf planning to include PCL players? It might explain how they planned to fill in some numbering gaps but I'm not sure of any impetus other than that Bowman was signing up Coast League players.  The "open" classification for the PCL wasn't granted until 1952 so that wasn't the key factor but the league did draw well in 1948, so maybe it was just related to natural expansion of distribution to the west coast.

2) Jack Bendon, who may have been an agent of Capital Sales on behalf of Leaf, was domiciled in Philadelphia.  There is a strong connection to that city among the three 1951 Topps Major League All Stars that are extreme short prints (and key postwar rarities) which were likely never issued in packs.) Of those three, Konstanty and Roberts were Phillies and Stanky was born in Philly. I assume Bowman, also domiciled there, was hyper-vigilant and possibly assisted the plaintiffs in the Leaf suit.

City of Brotherly Love?  Not when it came to Bowman and their competitors!

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Numbers Game

Following last week's post, I thought I would take a stab at estimating how many 1952 Baseball high numbers Topps actually produced. It seems impossible but there's some information that can be used to give it a whirl.

Ten million leftover 1958 Basketball cards, as noted in August 7th's post, are one indicator of what could happen when a set didn't sell (we don't know the total amount of those produced though) but Topps had to give testimony and provide sales figures in the Fleer-FTC case in the early 60's and the latter totals were unearthed within by the late Bob Lemke some time back:

Here's the table:

Topps FTC Sales Figure Table Lemke.jpg 

I'm not so sure Topps just combined the gum and non-gum figures.  Topps had good reasons to keep the lines segregated and I'm taking their numbers at face value for purposes of this exercise. 

Here''s a 1952 Baseball high number wrapper, just for the sake of showing it.  The upper's part's blue area was green for the five series that came before the sixth:

Topps wholesaled their product at 60% of list price, 2% net, so it 's going to work out to be slightly less that 60 % but whatever. BB cards without gum (vending & cello), from what I have been able to determine for later years, would have totaled no more than 10% of production at any time and of course far lower than that for 1952. 

If 5% was the "no gum" figure (and remember no one cent or cello packs were issued for the highs and vending is probably non-existent as well, or close to it), they made $840,000 from Baseball card sales in 1952. Even if they did have some vending sales, 5% is a good fudge factor just due to imprecision when a press run was printed, roundig of the figures provided to the FTC, etc. I do think the N/A entries are due to Topps not having the specific breakdowns as they were tracked as part of something that encompassed an entire line, not just baseball.  Anyway...

A penny a pop puts that at 84 Million cards produced and at .60/cent per pop it's 140 Million cards if my math is right.  

Then you have to account for production of each series compared to the whole set and I'd estimate that at roughly:

20%  Series 1
25%  Series 2
20%  Series 3
20%  Series 4
10%  Semi Highs
5%    Highs

There are some comments I've read over the years that the semi's were printed at 50% of the series before, same with the highs, i.e. half the rate of the semi's. We'll never fully know of course but that seems essentially correct based upon the populations seen today, assuming more high's than semi's are submitted "organically" due to their higher valuations. Not all series had 100 cards either so it's going to be imperfect no matter how you try to figure it but the FTC figures are as as good as we'll ever see for Topps sales figures of the era.

5% of 140 Million is 7 Million Highs.  Divide by 100 and it's 70,000 per card, plus another 70,000 for the DP's: Mantle, Thomson and Jackie Robinson. So maybe 140,000 Mantle cards were printed. Put another way, a full 200 card press sheet (i.e.  two 100 card slits) with that amount of Mantle's would have a production run of 35,000 sheets.  That strikes me as being eminently possible for a single day or two's Topps baseball press run of the time.  

If, by some miracle, 40,000 Mantles got dumped by Sy Berger - like I somewhat jokingly estimated last time out - then Topps actually sold a good chunk of the highs, maybe 70% or a little more of them, which doesn't seem too bad and certainly not the disaster Sy Berger asserted. 

Feel free to run your own calculations but please check my math too!  And yes, they would have shipped cards to Venezuela by sea I'm sure. I'm highly doubtful there were tugs and barges going to South America back then, so it was likely break-bulk shipped (i.e. pallets lowered into ship's holds by crane). It's an ocean voyage, not inland to boot (or a few miles out to the Atlantic Bight), and so much more dangerous.  It's also not the way you would want to do it due to many stops being needed to refuel, even if theoretically possible.

And just revisiting last week's commentary, here's the other thing-there was a City of New York Dock a block away from Topps HQ with an internal Bush Terminal Railroad connecting to it.  City of New York Docks were/are used for many purposes, one of them being loading of garbage onto barges for disposal. Why would they have needed to use trucks to get the cards to the barge?  The schematic is here if you want to check it out.

Back to it now-the big question is whether or not the Mick's lived on after the CCC fire on March 30, 1975.  I suspect many did but check out these population totals first:

PSA: 1,771

SGC: 558

THIS IS MOSTLY ALL MAJOR CONJECTURE HEREAFTER: That's 2,329 Mantles and who knows how many "crack and re-subs" are in there, maybe 15%?  More? That brings it down to about 2,000, maybe less but let's say 2,000. If 140,000 Mantles were printed, and assuming more raw ones exist than are slabbed, then only a small fraction survived, no matter what actually happened out at sea, at the landfill or in the blazing Card Collectors Company warehouse on March 30, 1975. More Mantles get graded of course, compared to say Bobby Thomson, and I doubt my usual WAG of 3x for early 50's raw cards applies to Mickey.  It's possible, given the star power of this sucker, more are graded than not but if it's a 50-50 proposition, there's about 4,000 Mantles out there, or about three percent of the number printed.

Imagine what they would be worth if he wasn't a double print?!