Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ersatz Escapades

I was paging through the hefty tome known as Topps Baseball Cards The Complete Picture Collection the other day--you know, the one that shows all the regular issue Topps baseball cards that went through a  couple of editions in the late 80's an early 90's:

While I was on the page that starts with #289, Tommy Holmes, I noticed something odd.  Holmes's nameplate and signature block had a decided gray cast to it.  Here, see for your self, first in a side by side look with two other cards from the same page and then in an extreme closeup:

Look how gray the Holmes is compared to Astroth.  You can also see the moire pattern that fills the Holmes nameplate wheres the Astroth is pure white.  Holmes is one of the five players that elected to not be reprinted in 1983 when Topps put out their first reprint set. After the light bulb went off I checked the other four cards of these no shows and sure enough they all have gray nameplates.  Here is #20 and #22, Billy Loes and Dom DiMaggio, surrounded by some other cards:

Saul Rogovin at #159 also is a graybeard:

And to complete the theme, so is #196 Solly Hemus:

It's a little hard to see, depending upon your device but ol' Solly is Gray in the nameplate all right.

It's obvious what occurred once you look at them all; Topps used cards from the 1983 reprint set in producing the book!  Those sneaky so-and-so's didn't use real cards from 1952 for a major book showcasing their best known work product over a span of 40 years!

I guess I shouldn't be surprised....stay tuned for another look at some oddities from this book soon.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

RIP Friend

I found out last night that my longtime online friend and fellow blogger Chris Stufflestreet passed away suddenly on September 19th and am saddened almost beyond words.  Just about everyone in the online collecting community knew Chris, who was a gentle, friendly soul. I finally got to meet him at this year's National, where he was working at Irv Lerner's booth and had a couple of nice conversations with him. Here is a picture of him from what I presume is the 2010 or '11 National, with his daughter Melissa, taken (I think) by Brian Terjung:

His life revolved around his daughter and he was the ultimate proud daddy. He is also survived by his mother.

Chris maintained a number of blogs, some on the hobby and some on music.  Here are links to his two sportscards blogs:

And his two music blogs:

He would write ahead and then have automatic posts,publish every couple of days so some of his writing looks like he is still with us right now.  Perhaps that is as it should be.....  RIP buddy.......

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Boxing Match

In 1974, Topps achieved two firsts with their baseball cards.  For the first time, the entire set was available in one long series (although an experiment in 1973 resulted in some areas receiving packs for part of the year that could have all 660 cards).  Topps even inserted a flyer into their wax boxes to alert their retailers although the box flaps should have sufficed, as this old Mile High Card Company scan shows:

Then, in a move that was ahead of its time for them, Topps introduced a snazzy factory set that also included the year's sorta-standalone card 44 Traded Cards subset (hmmm, that's a third first!).  The box graphics are killer as these scans from the collection of Friend o'the Archive Steve Clark demonstrates:

The complete sets were designed to be sold by big department stores and in Christmas catalogs and the like. The fact there was no followup release in 1975 would indicate the idea was not yet ready for prime time.

Here is another MHCC scan that shows the factory goodness of the cards within, in all their zebra-striped, untouched minty glory:

I guess Christmas catalogs and Wish Books became passe around the time the internet too over the world but I used to really look forward to them coming in the mail every year!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Kookie, Kookie, Lend Me Your Poem

As threatened last time, another new discovery awaits today buckaroos!

As verified by the Topps Vault, a handful of sticker versions of 1965's Kookie Plaks have been showing up on eBay of late:

It's really impossible to tell from the scan but that is a sticker and the copyright on the front would indicate there was no printed back.  I wish a scan of the sticker back was available though.

The certificate of authenticity makes it quite clear what it is:

Kookie Plaks from 1965 are quite similar in appearance to the above sticker:

Similar but note the sticker has a T.C.G. copyright line on the front while the plak does not. The back of the plak shows us the copyright and also that is was mailable:

That back does not go with that front by the way.  Jack Davis did a lot of the artwork for the set but it actually was a creation of his circa 1959 as Kookie Plaks are just reissued Wacky Plaks from that year:

Again, not the right back for this front but the Wacky Plaks back has the copyright and is the template for the 1965 reverse.

Pretty wacky, huh?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Flash Of Inspiration

I have been keeping track of all the various Topps issues from their first sets of cards in 1948 through 1980 (the last year of the old curved, lower-case Topps logo and also the final year before the Fleer and Donruss baseball hysteria ensued) and would say on average I add a new set to the database maybe once a year these days.  So it was quite strange to find two new additions in the same week.

Now it may be that I just missed these sets the first time they were discovered as I have found that many eBay sellers don't bother to identify what year their wares first became known in the hobby but I am not seeing either one listed in any known guides.  I'll be a tease and put one set off for next time as it's a bit of a lengthy story compared to the bad boy I want to discuss today.

There are some eBay auctions being run over the past month or so with a set that is unnamed but which I have dubbed Funny Flash Cards. Only a handful of cards have been auctioned (none successfully) and there are, maddeningly, no scans of the obverses.  Here is one:

The artwork pegs it around 1968 to my eye and you can see the reverse answers a question on the front, hence my nomenclature.  It's hard to see but that bottom left indicia indicates 55 cards in the set.  There are some historical themes:

 As well as riddles, although this could be math-themed:

I would love to get some front scans.

Were these rejected test sets?  Am I missing something glaringly obvious?  I ran some scans by Friend o'the Archive Bill Christensen and he had not seen them before and he's seen a lot of obscure stuff!  Anyone out there know?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Continental Drift

Well cowpokes, we are all finding our way back to work and school following another summer, aren't we?  Yet another summer gone and all that left are memories, perhaps of a nice family trip.  Recently I stumbled across an eBay auction with an old edition (Vol 3, No.2) of The American Card Collector, a collector zine put out by Dr. Lawrence Kurzrok, who we have run into here and there.

What I liked about this particular issue is that it describes a trip Woody Gelman took to Europe in the Summer of 1953. It's a brief article and Woody is really just providing a little commentary on the various trading card sets he encountered on the Continent but it's amusing nonetheless:

I wonder what ideas Woody took back with him?  Certainly he noticed things that would turn up in later Topps sets. We also find out that Dr. Kurzrok collected tarot cards!

Thursday, September 6, 2012


Here's another look at a Topps competitor of yore....

Within a year of Warren Bowman leaving his namesake firm in the middle of 1951, the gum line there transitioned to a division of Haelan Laboratories, Inc.  That name was chosen by the new board of directors and would start appearing on Bowman cards and packaging within less than a year. Bowman eventually would prevail on  lawsuits against Topps for contract infringement with dozens, if not hundreds of baseball players and was seemingly ascendant in 1952 and '53 before getting sucked into a financial vortex primarily caused by the relentless pace of Topps and the killer instinct of the Shorin family.

By 1955 Bowman was a shell of what it once was and the gum division was sold to a local Philadelphia firm called Connelly Containers, headed by John Connelly. Their baseball wrappers that year still referenced the Haelan Laboratories name:

You can see the Haelan indicia running along the right side of the wrapper above.  The nickel wrapper belied Bowman's money woes as they were stuffing nine cards in a nickel pack trying to outsell Topps:

Bowman whiled away the interregnum between baseball and football seasons with a clever issue called Magic Pictures.  You can see how the name had changed to Connelly Containers on the wrappers by then:

Magic Pictures may have led Topps to develop Hocus Focus in 1955 so that they had a competing "play" product in the market.

The final Bowman release of 1955 (and all time) was their football issue. It too carried the Connelly Containers credit on the wrappers:

I like the "Union Made" stamp-there's probably a story as to why it was on there.

It's not on the penny pack though:

Topps did not have a football release from 1951-54 but sensing the end was near for Bowman, issued All American Football and flooded the marketplace in 1955. Their instincts were correct and in February 1956 Topps purchased Bowman from Connelly Containers for a reported $200,000.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lucky 13

Well serendipity is at play here as we head into September kids!  As our faithful readers know, the research staff here at the Topps Archives Main Research Complex have been trying to figure out the intricacies of two intertwined checklists that cover the Large and Small versions of the 1955 Hocus Focus issue. Thanks to the recently concluded August 2012 Legendary Auction, a major chunk of this puzzle has now been revealed.

While lacking in scans of the entire lot (and more pointedly, back scans) the auction listing nonetheless seems to point to 126 as the set length for the small (also called "1955" cards in most guides, vs. 1956 for the "large" cards,even though both sets are from that year).  In a ginormous lot that included uncut strips, developing paper and numerous singles, no less than 15 numbers above #96 were listed, including one we can identify as #113 Amelia Earhart as she was mentioned in the listing:

These fifteen cards include three numbers already known and when all the numbers from the lot are checked off the list, reveal 13 numbers still to be identified (although many,many more subjects remain unconfirmed by a scan in the small set).  These are: 97, 98, 100, 101,108,109, 111, 117, 119, 120, 122, 124, 125.

Furthermore, by using a little inference, the subset totals can now be determined.

There are eight subsets in Hocus Focus: Airplanes, Baseball Stars, Sports Thrills, World Leaders, World Wonders, Movie Stars, Sports Cars and Westerners.  I have been able to confirm that the first five of these have differing totals when you compare the small cards to the large ones. Airplanes, Baseball Stars, Sports Thrills and World Wonders all have five more small cards than large and the World Leaders subset adds ten subjects to the small version.  That yields 98 cards over five subsets.  The other three subsets, Movie Stars, Sports Cars and Westerners total 28 cards (7, 10 and 11 respectively).

If you add 28 to 98 you get 126 and since that does seem to be the total number of subjects in the small set, those last three subsets remained static in both versions (although I do not know if the numbering within each subset differs between each) and I have marked them with an asterisk in the summary below:

"1956" "1955"
96 126

This makes a lot of sense now and I am 99% confident the small set is 126 in length. It's still hard to get back scans of the small cards;I presently have 13 of them, 7 of which are Baseball Stars.  Of those, only five are numbers above 96.  In contrast, I have back scans of 81 of the large cards.

It's hard to believe that a Topps set from 1955 still has holes in the (two) checklists but that is the case here as Hocus Focus slowly gives up its secrets.