Saturday, December 26, 2015

In Focus

Long time collector and Friend o'the Archive Larry Serota provided a bit of an early Christmas present recently, although as this posts we are one day past the holiday.  Larry was auctioning a lot of the small Topps Hocus Focus cards and was kind enough to fill in a few blanks in the checklist.

To recap, Hocus Focus was issued in two sizes, one measuring 7/8" x 1 7/16" (referred to as small) and one that was 1" x 1 9/16" (known as large), in 1955. While many old hobby guides have commingled the two checklists over the years, they share 96 subjects, with the small set adding an additional 30 that are not found in the large; numbers 1-96 are shown on the reverses of both sizes in a black circle and this numbering is the same in either size.

What can differ is the subset numbering as Topps created eight subsets for the issue: Airplanes, Baseball Stars, Movie Stars, Sports Cars, Sports Thrills, Westerners, World Leaders, and World Wonders. Only the Movie Stars, Sports Cars and World Leaders have the same subset count in both sizes. Topps increased the Airplanes, Baseball Stars, Sports Thrills and World Wonders subsets by five and added ten to the World Leaders to wedge the additional 30 card "high numbers" into the small set.

These "highs" were certainly issued at the same time as the "lows", given the likely 126 count array of the uncut sheet (18 x 7, matching Magic Photo of 1948-49 vintage). The subsets were not sequentially numbered, which was an early marketing trick employed by Topps before set checklists were issued in the packs. Small cards only came inserted in penny gum tabs while the large cards were lightly perforated (with dashes on the reverse as well) and sold in strips (I believe) of four plus three (or possibly two sometimes) cards in nickel packs, six cards per pack. Large cards should show signs of perforation/dashes on one or two of the long sides, which is a handy way to tell what size is being offered in auction and sale lots that have no other indication.

Larry recently offered 18 of these on eBay and was able to confirm the identities of 7 additional smalls above #96:

102 Paracutin
104 Vought Regulus
106 Douglas Nike
107 Basketball
115 Alexander Graham Bell
116 Kid Gavilan
123 Jefferson Davis

It's a bit odd Davis was considered a World Leader!  Here is a picture of the lot:

Despite Larry's checklist contributions, a number of subjects between 97 and 126 remain unknown. Still missing are a subject for #110 (its existence is known from an old auction) and anything at all about numbers 97, 98, 100, 101, 108, 109, 111, 117, 119, 120, 122, 124 & 125. I can't think of too many Topps sets with holes in their checklists at this point and certainly none that are cards (Topps issued a few sets of things in the 60's and 70's that were more toys than cards and some are not fully documented).

Also missing is #17 of the 20 Sports Thrills subset from the small high numbers. Here is #116, which is clearly #19 of that 20 card subset, the newly "discovered" card of Kid Gavilan, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Adam Warshaw:

If you collect boxing cards, you should check out Adam's site and related book, America's Great Boxing Cards.

In terms of dating, LarrySerota also noted Ted Kluszewski's card mentions his 49 Home Runs from the year prior, which was 1954.  Coupled with some other text and photographic details, plus the small wrapper copyright date, Hocus Focus is clearly a 1955 issue.  Many guides refer to the smalls as being issued in 1955 and the large cards in 1956 but as the reverse text does not differ between sizes among the first 96, this is clearly not so. I still think Hocus Focus was a bit of a somewhat large and loosely-controlled test issue by Topps given the size and price differences, not to mention the retro packaging and design.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Ol' Stinkeye

I was toying around with ideas for a Christmas themed post but could not findy any material I had not shared before. Instead, I decided to go "oppo".

The 1968 Topps Ugly Hang-Ups set has been discussed here once before, about three and a half years ago. I don't have a lot of new information but did track down two additional pieces of original Basil Wolverton art from an old Heritage auction. The first was designed to be poster #9; note the lettered suffix after the number, in this case "C". The suffixes seem to follow the numbering, I'm guessing in in groups of three.

Next up is 11D. It's a pretty intricate drawing but not even close to Wolverton's top work for this set that was tested but never issued at full retail. I dub thee Stinkeye:

Maybe that was to be called something like "Spaghettihead"?  I have no idea about 16F:

I mean, what on earth would you call that?!

Heritage also had an original Wolverton attributed to Batty Book Covers, also from 1968 but a product that actually made it to store shelves.  #5 in that set is listed in a checklist appearing on the wrapper as Wacky Packages but it's actually a Topps product montage.  

Here's another:

Still, there is another Wolverton original described in an auction listing as "Luntz Armstrong" in Batty Book Covers, amazingly also destined to be #5:

I'm wasn't sure where there two potential #5's, but this subject ended up as one of of the "Classroom Creeps" (there were 3) covers in the set, so one cover could have two numbers on the original art I guess. The name though, is nowhere to be seen:

That takes care of the drawing below as well!

The above and below drawings do not seem to match up with any Batty Book Cover Titles except possibly a series of three "Classroom Creeps" in the series.  It's hard to tell as issued examples are few and far between.

If you are interested, most Wolverton line art such as the above examples, routinely sells for about five grand! So as always, a bit more sleuthing is in order.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nixon's The One (Of Six)

More original 1953 Topps Baseball artwork has surfaced!

Goldin Auctions recently listed (and sold) six previously unknown issued paintings of primarily first series subjects but a high number was mixed in there as well.

The most interesting piece, least from a purely whimsical standpoint, was Minnie Minoso:

You can clearly see some of the glue remnants that mar so many of these paintings.  I'm curious as to why it's there though as Sports Collectors Daily recently ran a piece by David Cycleback that indicated the artwork was photographed and then a plastic negative was made before printing. A laborious process to be sure but not necessarily one requiring glue.

Here is a portrait of Hall Jeffcoat, deftly executed:

You want more characters?! Look no further than Bobo Newsom:

The three other paintings offered were of Danny O'Connell, Johnny Lindell and Willard Nixon and the latter suffered from a bit of paint loss. See:

We've previously looked at both issued and unissued artwork, most recently here.  Using the known subjects to date, we've obviously added six more. The previous math has changed somewhat as noted 1953 archivist and original painting collector Bruce McCanna has recorded sales of 153 different issued subjects (and that's possibly 156 as three were once noted as "seen" by the noted collector Bill Bossert). So about 56% (and possibly more) of the artwork has been found to date, plus at least nine unissued subjects.

It's doubtful we'll see any more big caches offered like the 117 Sy Berger unleashed on the world in 2010 through REA, although I suspect that mini stashes like the Goldin hoard still exist and likely are being introduced into the hobby when former Topps executives pass away.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

(Football) Game, Set, Match

As luck would have it, a nice series of scans of a full set of 1971 Bazooka Football has found its way to the Main Topps Archives Research Complex, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive David Halpen.  So what better way to present a visual checklist than to show these babies in box form.

You can see a couple of the boxes don't exhibit the ubiquitous cello tape used to "seal" them.

This was Bazooka's second, and last, foray into football cards on the back of their party boxes.  The first was quite different of course, being the "big boys" in '59 (that I have yet to blog about).  Topps did not have an actual NFL license at the time, so no logos, helmets or uniforms that could show any trademarks were allowed.

The end of the Bazooka back panel sets in 1971 was unfortunate.  It looks like Topps (and O-Pee-Chee, there was a '71 Hockey set as well) were reacting to inroads being made by Fleer (and a few lesser lights) on the sports side before Topps decided to issue an IPO in 1972 and eliminate a lot of superfluous costs before the offering went public.  Too bad, since I've always thought the box back sets were quite nice.

Go check out David's site, he has scans of TONS of neat stuff!