Saturday, March 26, 2016

Popsicle Stars

1963 brought us the 55 card Topps Astronaut Pictures set, which captured the nascent U.S. space program's "Mercury 7" Astronauts at a time when the entire country, especially kids, was outer space crazy. I grew up during this period and can tell you the entire country was captivated by astronauts and rockets in the 60's, which was exhaustively chronicled in the existing media of the time.

The set, colloquially just called Astronauts in the hobby,  was produced quite cheaply by Topps as they used official NASA photographs and created a card back that was a simple 3-D picture.  While I'm not actually covering that set in detail today (or possibly ever, since it's so well documented) since I'm here to discuss Popsicle cards, I will show some scans for comparative purposes and direct you here if you want to read a little more:

See, 3-D!

Just like the Tarzan 3-D issues a decade earlier, except those had the 3-D images on the front of the card (a good idea, said no one ever). Each five cent wax pack came with a pair of 3-D glasses; no penny packs were issued due to this requirement:

The wrapper was almost spectacular but marred by the intrusive advert for the 3-D glasses. Here's a proof of it:

Astronaut Pictures was reissued in a slightly different format a short time later. Topps cut a deal with the Joe Lowe Corporation to include small packs of the cards with Popsicle brand ice pops. Now the intrepid among you might recall Woody Gelman's association with Popsicles, which directly led to his employment at Topps as he had created Popsicle Pete, a mascot for the brand that caught the attention of Topps President Joseph Shorin in the late 40's. So like many things in the Topps universe, that deal was probably enabled due to past relationships.

Understandably, Popsicle did not want to include the glasses in their packaging, which looked like this and is just glorious in its colorful simplicity:

This is the same style packaging used for penny packs at the time by Topps.  I believe three cards came in each Popsicle pack.  But what to do about the backs if no glasses were provided?

Topps came up with a solution that kept the NASA provided fronts but took the back design from their Space Cards set of 1957, replicated a year later in Target: Moon, and came up with this:

Note the card number has been excised from the redesign as it was on the front of the card but some Topps indicia is displayed; this was not always the case with 3rd party products. Compare this back to the original Space Cards reverse from 1957:

The dating of Popsicle Space Cards seems to be problematic if you look at every reference available but it's actually quite simple.  The Joe Lowe Corporation was bought by Consolidated Foods Corporation in 1965 and was fully assimilated into the mother ship. The original Topps issue was from 1963 so I feel quite comfortable dating the issue at 1964.

The Popsicle cards are harder to find than Astronauts cards proper and go for at least double the price. They were not identified in the ACC Updates until the May 1, 1971 Catalog Additions were published and carry an F253 designation.

Saturday, March 19, 2016


Topps went a bit format crazy starting around 1967 right through the time they went public in 1972. All sorts of crazy mediums and sizes were used for their increasingly esoteric line of products, not the least of which was oversized posters.

On the baseball front, Topp first inserted posters into the regular Baseball packs in 1967 with a set of 32 appearing in two series of 16. These were much smaller than the posters that would follow and I only mention them here as a point of reference for in 1968 Topps followed with a standalone issue of 24 oversized posters:


As you can see, these were quite large at 9 3/4" x 18 1/8" (approximately as I find these have shrunk a little after almost 50 years in the wild).  The posters are printed on paper similar to that of the 1967 inserts, a very cheap stock that will likely disintegrate another 50 years from now.  The flimsiness of the stock causes these to separate at the horizontal folds and they must be handled with care.  There is not a whole lot to like about them actually, other than the poses.

They came in this pack:

It's a little obscured but the product code ends in an 8, clearly marking these as a 1968 issue. You can see one poster and a stick of gum were offered for a nickel.  No big deal except two years later we are confronted with this:

That is a 1970 product code and the design essentially is the same as in 1968.  We do have a price increase to a dime and a move to Duryea noted on the wrapper (both in line with how Topps was doing things at the time) and now multiple posters are included in the pack (two I believe).  These are the same posters as in 1968 and clearly the full run of 24 was included, which is odd because two major subjects had retired in the interim (Mantle and Drysdale) and numerous players had changed teams. In addition, it is quite strange Topps reissued a baseball set two years after the fact with gum as their previous pattern was to make any such reissues non-confectionery in nature so as not to run afoul of their various contracts.  Perhaps their deal with the MLBPA in 1968 gave them the right to do this. It's worth noting some but not all team logos on these posters are obscured. The whole setup is strange and I wonder what markets these actually appeared in.

In between all this, as I want to be thorough, Topps offered a team poster issue in 1969 that was a little bit larger than the 68's and printed on much better stock.  I've already discussed those here so no need to repeat myself. An insert similar to the 67's also came in the 1970 Baseball packs and featured a better design and somewhat upgraded stock when compared to the 1967 issue. Again, this set, which was 24 in number, is not the focal point here and only a point of reference.

Amazingly, no baseball poster set was issued in 1971.

Topps saved their best for last and in 1972 offered a gorgeous 24 subject, borderless poster set printed on thick stock:

Pictures don't do these justice, the colors are extremely vivid. These are roughly the same size as the 1968's but they hold up much better.  They used to be much harder to find as the 72's look to have been a somewhat limited release.  What's happening lately though is that the 68's are commanding higher prices, perhaps because so many are deteriorating and the survival rate for the 72's would seem to be much higher, or maybe there was a find of the latter issue. 

The packs are like so:

Once again, it looks like two posters and gum came inside. Like all of the short Topps baseball specials, the set is loaded with Hall of Famers.

I'll leave off with some poster porn. In the first, you can really see the difference in paper stock between 1968 and 1972, while the bottom scan is just kind of neat.  You also get a Mantle collectible with the 1968 box (no offense Joe) so I wonder who graced the box of the 1970 reissue?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Shafer Is The One Gov To Have When You're Having Only One

The never ending election season is on many minds at the moment and while I stay away from politics on this blog, there are a few Topps themes that touch on such matters.  Today we travel back in time fifty years to the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial election of 1966 and the successful campaign of Ray Shafer.

I've known about a campaign item Topps put together for Shafer for a few years now but until last month I had no inkling of what it was.  Now, thanks to Friend o'the Archive Terry Gomes, we can take a look at one of the strangest Topps pieces of all time. Here is what I assume to be a one card set:

Terry grabbed the scans herein from an old eBay auction that he, sadly, did not win.  Here is the back:

Now the fact that this thing has finally come up for air is pretty amazing but what's even better is that these were distributed in wax packs with a stick of gum!  Here, look:

I have no idea how many of these were produced but the survival rate for such a pack must be absurdly low.

I own a postcard from the campaign which I don't think was produced by Topps. I have no clue who printed it as there is no information detailed on it that would help suss that out.  

I've obscured the addressee but the left side of the PC back is quite revealing.  I suspect Shafer had a huge hand in luring the Topps plant from Brooklyn to Duryea, which not coincidentally opened in 1966, so the card "set" may have been some kind of soft payback by Topps:

Shafer served a single term; he was barred from running again under an old statute that was later changed.

Saturday, March 5, 2016


I'll conclude our mini arc on the various styrofoam flyers Topps issued in the 1960's and 70's with Marvel Flyers. The set was obviously designed to supplement the Marvel Super Heroes cartoon that debuted in the fall of 1966 and ran for thirteen weeks in its first run.

It's an extremely colorful set as these images from show:

You can see the plastic clip may have come attached already to the body of the plane.  Spiderman and Iron Man were one of five main, recurring characters on the cartoon.  The Incredible Hulk, Thor and the Prince Namor the Sub Mariner were the others.  I suppose Namor was added to provide a little variety, allowing the use of underwater adventures as the other superhreoes were air and land based essentially.

The wrapper shows the Human Torch:

As we'll see on the back though, not all of the Fantastic Four made it to styrofoam:

No Mr. Fantastic or Invisible Girl?  Yikes!  And Dr. Doom even made the cut:

I just wish they had included the Red Skull! Marvel novelties are quite popular right now, with all the movies and TV shows featuring their superheroes, so it's no surprise some of these go for pretty big bucks.

I'll leave you with this gallery shot; it shows all the plane bodies and as you can see, some were not really main characters:

You'll be forgiven if you don't recall The Angel or The Wasp. And the spelled Daredevil wrong!

Still, it's a very nice set commemorating a very bad cartoon. Even as a kid I could tell it was cheaply made.  Give my Bugs Bunny any day!