Saturday, January 9, 2016

I Am Not An Animal (Set)

Way back in 1989 Guernsey's conducted  a huge auction for what was, at the time, considered to be a large portion of Topps' stash of original artwork. This auction was highlighted by the offering of six original paintings used to produce the 1953 Baseball set, led by Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. We know now, thanks to oodles of auctions held in the last quarter century and the voluminous offerings of the Topps Vault that the Guernsey's auction merely scraped the surface. However, one batch of artwork in the Guernsey's catalog did not make sense.

Nestled in the back 40 of the catalog was this batch attributed to the 1951 Animals of the World (AOTW) set:

I've written about these paintings previously and to recap, thanks to a major media dustup about the violence and celebration of war in the 1950's Freedom's War set, which was then truncated immediately at least one series shy of completion, Topps President Joseph Shorin told the press in 1951 that a second series of Bring 'Em Back Alive, featuring the exploits of the famous adventurer and big game "animal collector" Frank Buck, would be issued instead of another series of Freedom's War but it never happened.

My guess is that by the time Joe Shorin made this announcement, Topps no longer had enough lead time on their license to produce a second series of BEBA. As many in the hobby know, AOTW numbering picks up at #101 and the thought is it replaced the planned 2nd series of BEBA. But what of the eleven cards shown in the Guernsey's catalog? They looked more like a sedate version of BEBA, which was quite a lurid set, but also in no way resembled AOTW.

Here are typical BEBA and AOTW cards for comparison; look at the action depicted on the former:

Now, thanks to a recently concluded Huggins & Scott auction, a number of new examples of this mystery set from the Guernsey's auction have surfaced:

You've got more action on these 28 examples than AOTW (which had none) plus at least two planned cards where someone very much resembling Frank Buck (but who is almost certainly not the famed adventurer) is depicted. On the other hand you also have a gorilla juggling a leopard!

So after seeing this latest batch I am wondering if they were from a planned set that was not related to either BEBA or AOTW. You can even see a coordinated design where a larger "portrait" of the animal is shown on each card along with an "action shot" background, much like the 1955 & '56 Baseball cards, so a later date of intended issue is certainly possible.

There are penciled comments and "in-series" numbering on the margins of some paintings and they are clearly done by a different hand than most of the the BEBA and all of the AOTW paintings.

Topps was probably in the final phase of pre-production on these but then something happened and the whole thing was scrapped.  Maybe AOTW sold poorly and spooked Topps, which would not surprise me, or if the paintings were more of a planned mid-decade issue the Bowman/Connelly acquisition may have intervened, but clearly this was a project that was intended to be issued as a standalone set or series. So we still have 39 mystery subjects out there to deal with!

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