Monday, May 31, 2010

Gray Area

As we journey into 1959, Topps was starting to standardize how they printed their baseball cards. 1958 saw a real slapdash final series (6th) and what I believe were four 110 subject printings made to look like five 88 card series prior. After their efforts to conclude that season's set, the Topps braintrust look have have really started planning out the best way to issue their cards.

I found a 66 card proof sheet on my hard drive that is the key to seeing how the 59's were printed:

You will note this block of cards spans 66 numbers, from #375 (Niemann) to #440 (Burdette). The checklists on the back of the team card in '59 would have us believe the 4th series ran from #353-429 and the 5th series from #430-495, so this group is smack dab in the middle. #495 was also the last number in the 1958 set, so I think that was an intentional move by Topps as they were going to expand the set by 77 cards for '59.

However, the high number series in 1959 was printed as a 66 card run:

identifiable by the black number block on the reverse, as well as the cream stock:

Compare this with the last card of the prior run, with a green number block and gray stock:

From #1-506 the blocks are green, as was the text; I think the black looks much better. I wonder if the ink color was changed when Topps started printing the 1959 football cards, which also have black ink and may have been a move to expedite printing of the omega and alpha series of each respective set.

The gray stock also helps us pin down the production cycle as cards 199-286 can be found with either type of stock. This once again point to a 110 subject press run to start the year, followed by an 88 subject second run to get to #198. 88 cards again through #286 and the another 88 gets us to #374. Since we know #375-440 is another run (totaling 66) then we have a 66 card gap to get us to the true high number run starting at #507. This gives us print runs as follows:

1st 110
2nd 88
3rd 88
4th 88 *
5th 66 *
6th 66 *
7th 66

I have a sneaking suspicion that Topps printed some combination of the 4th, 5th and 6th runs above together so have marked them with an asterisk but don't have the uncut sheets to prove it. They end up at at #440 though, through the "5th" run, which trues up in the real world as the previews would get get too far past the press runs otherwise. This is where they caught up in 1958 as well. I have to think a bit more about the implications of two 66 card semi-high series being printed separately.

The Checklists give us a fictional account:

1st #1-88
2nd #89-176
3rd #172-264
4th #265-352
5th #353-429
6th #430-495
7th #496-572

No matter how you look at it, the checklists on the back of the team cards showed series that only existed in the minds of the creators of the cards. Look at the 7th Series checklist to see:

Those black number blocks begin after 11 with the green blocks if you go by the official count. I do not believe those 11 cards from #496-506 were printed with the rest of the high numbers but if you are selling cards the kids are already buying those 11 before the last series comes out. Boy, I'l l bet they wanted to complete that run badly!

Here is a checklist card from the third printing (the card stock variation run):

And just for fun here is the 3rd Series checklist with an error with the two rightmost columns are transposed:

You get the idea. Topps was using the Theory of Checklist Relatvity once again but with a bit more forethought than in '58.

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