Saturday, May 30, 2015

Century Mark

A very interesting lot of 1965 Topps Baseball Hot Iron Transfers sold in the recently concluded Huggins & Scott auction that ended on April 10th. There were 100 examples of 24 subjects, or 2,400 transfers offered. The centering makes it seem like they were cut on a good day at the Topps plant:

 I mean, those are fresh!

I'm not sure what the back story is on the find but clearly these are from a full series print run; there are 72 transfers in a full set so in a perfect world they would have been issued over three series.

The 1965 Embossed Baseball inserts also were found in packs this year. That was also a series of 72 and that issue took presumably three full series to distribute as well. Remember these?


Both sets would have been pretty simple to crank out but why did Topps feel the need in 1965 to keep enticing the kiddies? There just doesn't seem to have been a viable competing set.  The only thing I can surmise is that they were worried about the Federal Trade Commission decision on the series of complaints filed by Fleer would open the door for the latter to start selling MLB cards. 

The FTC did indeed rule against Topps on some, but not all of the complaints.  Topps was found to be in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act, just like the American Tobacco Company was back in 1911. Part of the decision ordered Topps to stop entering into contracts of more than two years length after November 1, 1964.  So I wonder if they were just trying to get as much out of the 1965 Baseball sales as possible.  It would ultimately be moot though, since the FTC decision was  overturned on appeal.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

What A Difference A Year Makes

Following up on my recent string of posts covering the 1973-76 Topps Annual Reports, I've found a few contemporary news articles from Sports Collectors News reacting to Topps' financials. SCN was a hobby newspaper put out by Mike Bondarenko from 1968-78 that, by 1974, was professionally typeset and printed bi-weekly with extensive coverage of the then-current hobby scene. It didn't have the advertising oomph of The Trader Speaks but it made up for it in articles and editorials. Here are a few tidbits about the mighty Topps Chewing Gum.

This first one is from the August 2, 1974 issue and the author (somewhat) bemoans the goings-on at Corporate HQ:


The fact that Topps was sold in 200,000 different stores is hugely impressive but if you do the math they netted only $220 per store in sales and a measly $10 in net profits! Still, things were looking mighty good thanks to Wacky Packages.

By the time 1975 had kicked into gear, things weren't looking so rosy as this May 23, 1975 article reveals:

International sales were definitely on the minds of the top Topps brass as the business landscape had changed dramatically for all but a handful of companies by 1975 thanks to the damage the Arab Oil Embargo did to the US and other select economies around the globe. The effect can be seen in the profits, which were down substantially while net sales had increased by almost $6 Million from the year prior.

Bondarenko started SCN when he was 16 (!) and I have to say by the time the mid 70's rolled around it was, the most professional looking hobby publication out there prior to the debut of Baseball Cards Magazine in 1981. Not bad for a twenty-something!

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Depending upon how often and in what decade you frequented grocery stores, the notion of Topps Wax Trays might strike a chord.  Originally introduced in 1952 to allow the selling of multiple packs as one unit  in the grocery stores and supermarkets of America, these would be used for decades by Topps. Technically, these were mere overwraps in the beginning as they featured wax packs overwrapped with clear cellophane but around 1957 (I think) the move to standard sizing seems to coincide with the flimsy cardboard tray being used underneath the packs.  Generally three or six wax packs would be in these and three would be dominant by the mid 1960's.

Here is an example from 1972:


I'm not really cataloging what was packaged this way but am trying to cipher what was shown on the underside of these.  Here is an example from 1974:

There are three elements obviously:  a numbered set of Sports Safety Tips, the Bazooka Joe and 1940's style girl pushing a premium and the curiously un-numbered Make-It-Yourself Games. It seems likely this came from a sports related wax tray but it's not a certainly as this 1979 Superman: The Movie tray hawks a Sports Card Locker:

Another intriguing tray back set of the era, but is it from Topps: 

I'm not sure what kind of tray these are from though; they don't seem cut down and the rounded corners look consistent.Those are being offered by Columbia City Collectibles by the way as Topps product, likely based upon the first five digits of the bar code.

1980 Baseball was the last product issued with a cardboard tray.  Topps switched to a floppy cello in mid 1980 and then by the time 1981 Baseball came out the wax packs had been replaced by clear cello's, usually with 12 cards (and gum).

There must be a lot more tray back cards out there; I plan to keep looking and if anyone out there has some scans, send 'em in!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

We Liked Ike, But When?!

Regular followers of this blog and those who have read my book know that Topps issued a set of 33 coins in 1948-49 depicting the Presidents of the United States (and one featuring the Capitol) and then repeated this in 1956-57, although the design changed and plastic was substituted for metal. I've always been bothered by there being no 1952-53 version of the set (Golden Coin), especially since Eisenhower was a newly minted Chief Executive at the time. I've just acquired the complete contents of a '56 pack that I think helps support the idea a set was issued following the 1952 election.

Here is the all encompassing 56 setup:

As always, the wrapper states it was distributed by O-Pee-Chee in Canada but manufactured by Topps Chewing Gum in Brooklyn.  This dichotomy will repeat, as we shall see.

The It Happened To A President inner wrapper is correct as it features the red and black version associated with the 1956 issue:

Our first anomaly shows up in the form of the inner tray and gum, the latter of which disintegrated completely about six seconds after I opened the mailing package:

Here is a closer look at the tray, which measures about 4" x 2 1/4", not counting the flip up edges; it's completely petrified at this point, you could kill somebody with it easily enough:

And therein lies the rub as the inner packaging from what I have read and researched is supposed to be a cardboard envelope that looks like this in 1956:

Compare that to the 1948-49 sleeve:

I have no doubt the plainer sleeve is the earliest of the bunch as the slogan and design clearly mark it as such. 1949 wrappers have the 1949 date prominently displayed on them so that's a no-brainer for dating purposes. Plus the '49 coins have the text back; in 1956 they used a shield with a large ordinal number within:

We also have this curiosity, from a couple of scans I picked up along the way:

Sooooooo....the question is when did Topps decide to push the 2 for 1 deal?  Was it after returns of the 1948-49 coins came in (and they did come in as Topps sold bulk overstock in Billboard Magazine in early 1950) or when a 1952 edition came out?  I have to think the yellow "eagle" pouch is from 1952 if the black, plain tray is from '56.  I'd love it if a scan or example of the "2 coins" made itself known.

There is yet another disconnect, namely this big Bazooka insert from the 1956 version:

That was clearly wrapped around the black tray from the look of things.  Bazooka Joe was a 1954 invention, so could not have come with an earlier Golden Coin set. But why is there a U.S. address for a Canadian product?!  I admit to being a bit baffled at it all.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Action Traction

It's been quite a while since I posted here on the 1973/74 Action Emblems, which were an attempt by Topps to circumvent negotiating with Major League Baseball for the right to use team logos on their cards.  Topps instead created their own logos in what can only be considered an act of corporate hubris.

As noted previously, there were three types of stickers issued: the main, original cloth, glossy and then a cardboard version that may have been a proof (but which may have found its way into packs). The cloth versions seem to suffer from an excess of adhesive and that may have caused Topps to switch to the glossy format. I finally landed a glossy sticker and can now show the characteristics:

The front shows a clear score mark between the top and bottom stickers:

The back is white sticker stock.  For some reason I expected tan but it's clearly not:

Compare that to the reverse of a cloth sticker:

The excess adhesive leeched through enough to make the sticker backing somewhat transparent and you can see how the front "floats".  The front shows the same effects as well:

I've wondered a few times why Topps issued such a set and then issued it again.  Perhaps they were competing with Fleer, which often had team logo sets out on the store shelves.  It's a strange issue.