Saturday, March 28, 2015

Space Patrol

Of late I have been looking into various third party printers and manufacturers used by Topps over the years. In addition to their two main printers for mainstream sets (Lord Baltimore Press from the late 40's through the early 60's and Zabel Brothers from the early 60's through the 90's) they used at least one "overflow" printer, especially in the 1960's as the baby boomers were buying cards faster than Topps could make them. The evidence points to Stecher-Traung Lithograph Corporation (later Stecher-Traung Schmidt Corporation) of Rochester, New York as the overflow printer and they seemingly also printed cards for Topps in a Connecticut branch as well.

Here's an interesting hobby side note-Schmidt was the printer of the 1909-11 Obak baseball cards, which are some of the most beautiful cards ever made, and certainly printed a host of other sets before and between World Wars 1 and 2. Stecher-Traung was known more for their seed packets and fruit crate labels, which were also works of art. One of the places we frequent on vacation in Vero Beach has a large display of their labels in the lobby.  Here is a good example of one:


The Osborne Register Company did some "minting" for Topps from about 1948-52, especially the earliest versions of the Golden Coin issue.

Topps had a Japanese manufacturer for certain novelty items in the 1960's and early 70's but some U.S. Customs issues may have curtailed that relationship. That is definitely a work in progress on my end,  However, I have seen many references to a Canadian Manufacturer Topps used to make its 1964 and 1971 Baseball Coins, a firm called Space Magic Ltd. of Don Mills, Toronto, Ontario. This would be fairly close to where O-Pee-Chee was headquartered in London and it would make sense that Topp's Canadian partner would have been able to source a manufacturer for them.

Pretty much any baseball collectors knows about these colorful coins, which are printed on light aluminum, have rolled edges and came inserted in packs of Baseball.  Here's the 64's:

The 1964 coins were printed on large 255 coin sheets, as this Leland's auction from February 7, 1992 shows:

You will note there is no reference to Space Magic, so it's a bit of a leap of faith that they were manufactured by them,  However, I think it's correct once you look at this next item.  For instance, this largely uncatalogued set of 20 Batman coins from 1966 bears the Space Magic Ltd. name:

There was no second series incidentally. That blueish color looks like a dead match to me.  The coins are pretty pedestrian and used the very mundane comics artwork of the time to cash in on the TV series but the shields used to house the coins are spectacular:

Holy crap Batman!

The 1971 Baseball Coins were probably issued in three groups, each having 51 coins.  51 is interesting because it divides evenly into 255, so five complete series could be run on a full sheet. Here is one of the 51 coin series sheets in proof form

There are a number of other aluminum coin sets out there, most from the 1960's.  The 1962-63 Salada Football Coins, the 1963 version of Salada's Baseball Coins, 1962-63 Shirriff  Hockey Coins (Shirriff was owned by Salada), 1965 Old London Baseball Coins, and probably a few others I am missing.  I suspect Space Magic Ltd. made them all, even though not every one divides neatly into a 255 coin production sheet.

I have not found too much on Space Magic Ltd. so maybe one of our Canadian readers can provide some insights.  I will keep looking though.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Catchup Mashup

I haven't done a catch up post in quite some time, so if you missed short updates on prior posts, this is your day! I'll proceed chronologically...

1949 Topps Play Coins of the World

Friend o'the Archive Bill Christensen has passed along some color variations via scan:

Yellow, blue and green all seem to have lighter toned variants.  Whether this was planned or the result of die running low at the end of a "minting" is hard to day but I lean toward the latter.  I particualarly like the light blue.  Anyone else out there have some color variations they can share?

1962 Topps Hockey

I've shown this before but given recent revelations about the 1962 era aluminum plates, here is one of the color process plates in aluminum for the 1962 Football set, compared to the regular issue card:

The 1962 aluminum hockey proofs have a little bit more of an intriguing story now, thanks to Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann, I'll let him explain regarding these:

...[they] include the answer to one of the great riddles of Topps editorial choices. That set has 66 cards of just three NHL teams. There's a coach and at least one goalie depicted for the Bruins and the Black Hawks, but the Rangers have a card of one goalie, no coach -- and a trainer.

The trainer card, Frank Paice, always bothered me. A trainer? Instead of a coach? Well sure enough, on the aluminum and paper proofs, the explanation is presented. Paice had nothing to do with the absence of a coach card. His photo is identified as "MARCEL PAILLE - GOALIE." An understandable photo ID mistake, apparently discovered too late to do anything more about than make the card into one of Paice!"

Here is Paice the Trainer:

The 1962 backs must have been pasted up first then, I'm not sure how many guys have been called a stickboy on a hockey card but it must be in the low single digits:

1962 Topps Hockey Bucks

I find the early Topps Hockey issues fascinating as there were so many little twists and turns, a boatload of inserts and packaging oddities, all for some very short sets.  Recently an uncut strip of twelve 1962 Hockey Bucks was rung up on eBay:

If you want to know why there are so many miscut vintage Topps inserts, this is a good indicator. When I was editing the above shot, I realized the top edge was perfectly aligned horizontally.  You can see the right-tilting curl very easily in this scan.

1967 Topps Blockheads/1988 Topps Pee Wee's Playhouse

I recently linked some of the activity cards in Pee Wee's Playhouse to some earlier Topps issues and while I didn't include this in the post, I think there is a basis for comparison.  Here is one of the most gorgeous artworks from the Blockheads issue, which I have also shown before:

First of all, the idea that such an intricate painting was used to create very short run Hallowe'en issue in 1967 is mind-boggling! Really, look at this thing, it's insane! Now here is a clear derivation, although in rough form, from Pee Wee's Playhouse.  Not an exact copy but I suspect the Pee Wee's Playhouse artists were looking at some older Topps archival material, possibly unearthed as the iconic 1989 Guernsey's auction of Topps production material around the same time:

Blockheads, by the way, featured artwork from Wally Wood and Basil Wolverton of EC Comics and Mad Magazine fame, with Norm Saunders doing the finished paintings. Crazy!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Metal Shop

Running off a sheet of cards at the printers would seem like a pretty mundane task these days. That's not the case of course but like anything else it seems like it happens almost effortlessly these days. It isn't and never really has been all that easy and there are a lot of processes involved before the final product spins out of the press.

One part of one method, namely offset lithography printing,  involves the use of thin aluminum plates, which have the images being used to make the cards (or anything else really) etched on to them.  If I have this right (and this is a very simplified explanation), the plates are dampened with a water based solution then inked in the press. The ink ends up adhering only to the "dry" areas to be printed, as the solution prevents ink from adhering where it is applied.  The inked portion is transferred, or offset, to a rubber roller, making a reversed image before being rolled over the press sheet.  This is done for each color pass.

The plates cannot be "wiped" once used, they have to be melted down and remanufactured.  As you can imagine, a lot of aluminum has to be destroyed for any type of meaningful recycling to occur, ergo when it comes to Topps, there are few aluminum plates floating around.  That is, unless you are talking about 1962.

 Take this 1962 Kansas City team cards (#384):

In order to print it, you needed this first:

Compare that to this 1962 Football plate, which has corroded to a degree:

When you look at the card this plate produced you can see that the Baseball plate has an additional element, namely the team name is visible in the black oval. Therefore, it must have been used to produce a different color than the one for Chandler. The inset photo is missing as well; that would have been added during a different color run.

A large find of 1962 aluminum sheets was noted in an SCD ad in  the January 31, 1986 issue where Mid-Atlantic Coin Exchange was selling 1962 Baseball Green Tint plates (second series). They also had a number of 1962 Hockey plates as well.  All of these had been cut from the original, larger aluminum sheets used to make the cards. However, at least two partial sheets have survived from the Hockey run:

You can get a good idea of how vivid these were in the unfaded areas (which look like they had something like a paint can on top of them for years. 

Plates even exist for promotional material, like this one for the 1962 Baseball Bucks set:

I'm not certain how these all came to survive.  It's not like today where Topps sells or uses as inserts the plates that produce the cards. Given that the green tint plates were in the '62 mix, it seems plausible Topps required the plates be returned to them as that run was not produced in Philadelphia. Or did Topps also sub out work on the Football and Hockey sets that year? No matter where they were printed, it's clear these sheets never got melted down.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

King's Ransom

Another Topps Presentation Board has popped up, this time featuring the one and only Elvis Presley.

We've looked at these boards before, which were prepared for pitch meetings at (or possibly by)
Topps when new sets were being contemplated.  This latest one, offered by BMW Sportscards is quite nice as these things go:

Sometimes there is a number on the reverse, indicating where in the sequential order of the presentation the specific board should appear.  That does not seem like it is happening here:

The concept for the cards, at least at this stage, was pretty spare:

You can see how the lettering and red bars were pasted on. I actually like the design and it doesn't clutter up the picture. 

Topps, of course didn't get to produce an Elvis set, that was done by Donruss with a busier and more varied design:

It's too bad Topps didn't get to produce an Elvis set as it would have closed the circle with their late 1956 offering, which was also their first set in the now standard size of 2 1/2" x 3 1/2":

The 1956 version of Elvis (the singer) is a little closer to the era I most like when it comes to his music, the Sun Records years.  If you ever want to check out the primal Elvis, Sunrise is a great little release.