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.

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