Well, enough kvetching......let's talk 1967-ish Topps Baseball Punch-outs!
After what looks like a full production ramp up that was killed just before test marketing in 1966, Topps revamped and greatly (understatement of the year) expanded the offering for 1967. Whereas we have 14 cards featuring 28 players in '66, the 1967 Topps Punchboards (or Punch-Outs, the wrapper and card backs differ) were sent off into the Summer of Love with a possible 86 players and just under 200 permutations presented in crisp, elongated cellos and mysteriously distributed wax packs.
I have shown 67's here before but always like showing off my Cleon Jones:
American League players had red backgrounds while all of the Senior Circuit players were draped in black like Cleon. Here is one I used to own, taped on one side which made me think it may have been a Topps file copy at some point:
We'll get to the perforations in a minute. The back tells you how to play the game (greatly simplified and made more cost effective than it was the year before) but also gives us a clue about the size of the set:
"Nearly 200" different lineup cards is the veritable truth. Veteran Topps test collector Larry Serota has been tracking this set for years and has some significant observations. He has found there are 86 Team Captains and 195 different lineups. Good grief!
When you consider this is a set that is only a step up from a typical Topps test issue in scarcity (it was likely issued in a few, select locales), Larry' s collection of 192 out of 195 possible cards is one of the more amazing hobby feats I can recall.
Let's start by examining the most commonly issued format. Still occasionally found in their aboriginal state of three vertically connected cards, these babies were gumless, ten cent cello packs with two full panels, or six cards; likely a foray by Topps into the world beyond the corner candy store. Here's a few now, apologies for not having the source:
We'll get back to the cellos later.
Now, our man Larry has observed over 1000 panels (oh, yes he has) and found that each three card strip has lineups unique to that particular grouping. Here is a shot of a still-unopened pack that shows a three card strip:
That would be a red AL card under the middle of the wrapper and presumably the other strip below it would reverse the pattern. What Larry is getting at is that the lineups do not repeat on different panels, which is a remarkable feat of design by Topps when you get down to it.
Now Larry has not stopped there; he has determined that if you are a Team Captain in this set, you almost always appear more than once, albeit with a different lineup. Larry figured out that each Captain appears on from 1-4 different cards, as follows:
Yes, there are three pose variations: Frank Robinson as a Red (almost certainly an honest mistake) or Oriole, Matty Alou facing left or right and Roberto Clemente with a slice of stadium behind him, or not. These all are three lineup players. There are also cropping differences in some of the Team Captain photos. All of this is reflected in the lineup counts. If you are keeping score at home there are 14 Team Captains with a single lineup, 41 with two, 25 with three and 6 with four.
The five cards shown as N/A are bonafide red herrings according to Larry. Grote's asterisk indicates he never should have been on the Standard Catalog checklist (my bad, I actually caused that error) which leaves the thorny issue of Brooks Robinson, Campy Campaneris, Bob Gibson and Roy McMillan. I am warning you now, I am making some serious guesses on the manner of distribution from this point forward.
Gibson in particular has vexed collectors for years but appears to be chimerical, as do the other missing Captains. If you discount McMillan, who appears in the '66 set and could be a mistake on an old checklist, that leaves B. Robby, Campy and ol' Gibby as orphans on the list. Larry feels they do not exist, as do other advanced collectors. He does concede they could all be part of a single panel, which fits the observed lineup phenomena as it would appear they are not on any other lineups. It would also give us 66 three card panels, which would be a righteous number in the Topps universe, but I merely speculate. Each of these three would be a single lineup Captain if actually printed, I have to think.
Prior posts have shown a reconstructed box but our correspondent John Moran, reporting from the wilds of the internet, culled out a wax wrapper from 1967 (it is likely an OPC version) in an old Mastro auction:
That is a rare wrapper friends. Rumor surrounding this set is they were issued in the Baltimore area. I have long thought certain odd-sized Topps test issues were printed in Bawlmer; I lean towards the Punchboards in that regard.
The kicker to all this is that John found evidence the ten cent cello packs were marketed in 1968. This could explain the persistence of hobby wisdom that this was a '68 issue. This flat though, clearly shows a March 1967 proofing process for wax. Looks like a multi-year issue is a distinct possibility, which could account for our three pose variations and cropping differences. I also wonder if Team Captains with three and four lineups beneath them were reprinted for the '68 season. No real way to tell at this point but it's an intriguing idea.
Topps must have had huge plans for this set but it most certainly did not sell well. While it may have satisfied Sy Berger and Woody Gelman's nostalgic impulses, it does not seem it caught on in '67 or '68. You can find these cards with some digging, although major stars and single-lineup captains will run you quite a bit of dough. Punched out cards can also be had, for a fraction for the cost of intact boards. Personally, I think this is a great set!
UPDATE 1: John Moran was kind enough to send a scan of the 68 long box, just wider than a three card cello: