Over the years I have been researching the history of Topps and their card production, there have been tantalizing hints of printing done by a firm called Zabel Brothers Lithographers of 1620 N. 5th St., Philadelphia. Well, last weekend at the National I was able to get the back story and for all of their Brooklyn heritage, most of the cardboard memories created by Topps over the years came not from the Borough of Churches but rather from The City of Brotherly Love!
Founded around 1895, Zabel Brothers was a large and well known printer of sheet music in the 20th century. According to Irv Lerner ("The Ring Man"), who has been actively chasing, collecting and selling Topps cards since 1959, Zabel Brothers printed cards for Topps from the mid 1950's through at least the early 1980's. Their involvement came to light in an article about 1962 Topps Green Tints that appeared in SCD awhile back.
The '62 Green Tint story is well told in SCD and I will not get into it here right now, except to note I believe, but have not yet confirmed, the firm in upstate New York that actually printed the greenies was the Strecher-Traung Lithographic Company, who were eventually bought out a few short years later by Schmidt Lithographic, the same company that made the 1909-11 Obak cards.
While I do not have much interest in the 1980's portion of the story, I am curious as to when Zabel Brothers started printing cards for Topps. Mr. Lerner does not believe they produced the 1951 Baseball Candy issues and we already know that in 1954 the baseball cards were printed by the Lord Baltimore Printing Company of Maryland. I would hazard a guess that the 52's and 53's were printed by that same firm or another firm that was not Zabel Brothers.
In 1955 however, Topps went from 200 card press sheets to 220 card sheets, which were also used in 1956. It is possible due to the change in sheet size that 1955 is the first year Zabel Brothers started doing the work. It is also possible 1957 could mark the beginning due to the change in card size to what is now called "standard". One other possibility is 1959, when it seems to me production exploded and the card stock became noticeably slicker.
Not only did Zabel Brothers print the baseball issues, they printed everything else too, with the exception (possibly) of some test issues and odd-sized cards. Uncut sheets would be delivered to the Topps plant (Brooklyn prior to late 1965, Duryea thereafter) for cutting and inserting into the packaging. I have thought for a while that a lot of the uncut sheets in the hobby today were unused, unsuitable or otherwise damaged sheets from a prior series or set used as top and bottom cushions on the pallets during shipping . These sheets were used to protect the cards actually being cut for packaging from the banding that held the stacks together. These protective sheets were then discarded by Topps but picked up by various parties who literally saved them from the city dump.
I am not certain at all if Zabel Brothers also produced the wrappers and boxes, nor if they created the Topps advertising in this period but will try to find out. Basically, just about every card made for Topps over a thirty-plus year period was produced in Philadelphia. I have to suspect they also printed cards for Fleer and Philadelphia Gum. I am not so sure about Bowman as their connection with the George Moll Agency may have led them to a different printer.
I googled the street address of Zabel Brothers but it looks like the building is gone and the neighborhood is being reclaimed by the weeds, alas. So much hobby history was created here and now nothing remains:
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