Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wise Guys

One of the hobby backroads less traveled that's ripe for further investigation leads to buttons and pins, especially those produced in the 1960's and early 70's. This applies not only to Topps but the other producers of the day, although my interest certainly is with the former.

About a month ago I picked up what I thought was a 1965 Topps Wise Guy Button:

When it arrived I noticed it was much larger than a traditional Wise Guy, measuring 3 3/8" in diameter vs. the standard 2" for the issue.  I also noticed the back was pretty chunky:

It's a two piece button, although the safety pin replaces the original clasp, which I found a likely scan of over at Terapeak:

I can't find any information on the larger pin.  Like the 2 inch version it only has a small "JAPAN" printed on the rim. The late wrapper king John Neuner has a listing for the set from 1961 but I think that's wrong for the big button and he just whiffed on the 1965 set. Here's the 1965 issue from an old Legendary auction:

Friend o'the Archive Bill Christensen thinks the larger buttons came after the smaller ones due to the two piece back.  I think it's possible as the small ones have an edge on the underside of the rolled rim that is very sharp and which is eliminated on the two piece design:

So just when did the larger version come out and how did Topps market it? My master list of Topps issues does not have anything on it resembling the larger pin and I have not had any luck over at Net54 or looking through NS guides.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Disgustingly Yours

Topps hit a creative peak after the move of their production, packaging and warehousing facilities to Duryea, PA in 1966.  I don't know if the move freed up resources as they consolidated a half dozen buildings scattered around Brooklyn or if the Creative Development team just went bonkers but in a roughly five or six year span ending in late '71 or early 1972, mainstream (Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood) and underground artists (Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith) were producing a stunning parade of illustrated sets for the company.

Topps had always used high grade artists since their earliest days of selling cards (Al Capp for instance) and even got a young Robert Crumb into the mix in 1965 (Monster Greeting Cards). Some of their 1950's output really shows off this work but things took off along with the Space Race as packaging, set design, "playability" and innovation all came to the forefront on the non-sports side. Even cards and packaging they were producing for the four major sports were noticeably edgier and dramatic in this period. There were intricate in-house proofs, test issues, premiums and more being produced at a dizzying rate. It all came to a crashing halt once Topps elected to go public and started cutting expenses in 1972 but for a short while it was pretty amazing.

Topps committed to a stretch of sets with die cutting and wearability in mind, often centered on Hallowe'en. The Get Smart Secret Agent Kit, Blockheads, Topps Pak 'o Fun to name but a few and today's subject: Disgusting Disguises.

Issued twice, first in 1967 and again in 1970, Disgusting Disguises featured 24 large, die cut cards to be punched out and worn like a mask or otherwise about the head and then adorned with various, generally creepy stickers, helpfully packaged with the cards and numbering 27 in total.  I never saw these as a kid but they would have been an awesome find if I had:

The cuts on these things are horrible from what I have seen but that looks like Basil Wolverton artwork to me.  The card backs had instructions for you:

But get this, each back illustrated the mask on the front-no generic instructions for the small fry here!

Three of the masks will look familiar if you collect Pee Wee's Playhouse cards from 1988, click the link and see:

The Stickers were also in large format:

I found an uncut sheet scan (likely a partial) of the stickers while I was researching this post, you can see the extra prints pretty easily:

I have scans of a couple of proof sheets of the cards but they are pretty rough:

The box is a classic:

C'mon, that kid is fierce!

It's a great little set and clearly meant to be retailed around Hallowe'en, a subject I'll be exploring here and there this fall.You can see 'em all at:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Philadelphia Storied

I've recently been able to close a loop concerning the sale of Bowman Gum to Topps in early 1956. When I was researching the Modern Hobby Guide a few years ago, it was a surprise to me that Warren Bowman had left his namesake company in May 1951 to develop real estate in Florida. The Board of Directors ultimately changed the name of the company to Haelan Laboratories a year later and by the end of 1952 a local Philadelphia businessman named John Connelly was added to the board, likely because he provided capital to the company. Here is the face of the man who sold Bowman to Topps:

You can see the Haelan branding on the back of this 1952 Pee Wee Reese:

This was contracted and initialized to B.G.H.L.I. by 1953:

I've covered most of the story in my book and in a Wrapper article a while back but a lucky break put a thread about a 1948 Blony (Bowman's flagship bubble gum brand) shipping carton in front of me the other day over at Network 54's Vintage Non-Sports Forum and with a quick response from Mike White, who owns the carton in question, I was able to get a scan of the bottom:

My research had previously found Connelly had a stint as vice president and sales manager during World War 2 at Container Corporation of America (CCA) before starting Connelly Containers.  I had always wondered how he stumbled onto Bowman and the connection with CCA certainly seems to answer that question. Connelly ultimately used his haul from the Bowman sale to gain control of Crown Cork & Seal in 1957, which made cans and bottle caps and made him a very wealthy man. When he stepped down in 1989 the company was worth almost $2 Billion dollars. He passed away in 1990 but his charitable foundation lives on to this day.

I also was able to find an article from this past January in a magazine called Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred about the Connelly family horse farm in New Jersey (still there) that dug into his background a little more as I was googling CCA, so all in all it was a pretty fortunate turn of events

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Blankest Year

One of the lines I straddle as a type collector of Topps cards and certain ephemera is the one dividing third party premiums from first party Topps product. It's easy in some respects-I don't go after Bazooka premiums such as the infamous Exploding Battleship:

But what to do about something like this poster:

The premium poster actually integrates with the regular issue cards and vice versa! If you were a kid in 1974 you opened up a pack of football cards and mostly got this:

Then every couple of packs or so a team checklist card (almost) like the one above popped up:

We'll come back to the premium offer momentarily.

The back of the team checklists had all the rules for the game on the card backs:

Topps also worked 50 cards into a Milton Bradley game called Pro Draft that year, so they were very focused on breaking out of their normal marketing routines. Now about that premium offer for even more team checklists:

Now you can clearly see two different Football Action Posters were available. The first matches our Oilers team checklist above while the second was like so:

This is a little strange-Topps could have advertised the premium posters on the team checklists inserted into the packs but instead used the wrapper flaps:

I'll point out they seem to be mixing up their posters on the ad flap!  No matter, it's still pretty neat how everything was working together.

Now, about those team checklist sheets.  Did you notice the dotted lines around most of the Chargers card?  That's because you had to cut them apart!  And not only that but we get a pretty scarce variant in that the mail in cards were blank backed:

Pretty convoluted, I'd say.  I would love to show some pictures of the two posters and accessories but don't have any scans.  Anyone out there with them?

More to come on mail-in premiums, stay tuned....