Saturday, December 30, 2017

Fugly Stickers

Mile High's recently concluded catalog auction featured a "sticky" lot featuring a black process proof sheet for the 1965 Topps Ugly Stickers. What I find interesting is that this is a 198 subject sheet, not the usual 132 or smaller sheet normally seen. The array is 22 x 9:

A spin through Chris Watson's Non-Sports Bible shows that 40 subjects each have 4 different names assigned to them but four have only a single name.  The single names (Doc, Granny, Tommy, Charlie) are not short printed, they just don't have any variation. The do however, share black backgrounds so it must have been too much trouble to change the names on those four.

Here's a couple of examples from one of the "Quads"-note the numbering:

Here's a "Single":

22 subjects are overprinted and you can see that the last 11 slots across the two top rows on the right half of the sheet (counting from the 12th column) repeat an extra time as do the top and bottom rows of the leftmost eleven. This means each half sheet is 99 stickers. I suspect this is due to the print shop setup for pressure sensitive stock at the time.

The back shows this is not a cardboard sheet; it looks like an acetate overlay to me.

It's a pretty neat item on its own but I like how it helps suss out the mysteries of the set.

See you in 2018-Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Double GOAT

A very interesting item popped up on eBay last month, namely an uncut sheet of the 1963 Bazooka All Time Greats set, an issue last discussed a year ago.  Since I don't have a Christmas themed Topps post this year (and continue to search in vain for a Hanukkah related Topps item) I figured some gold is the next best thing!

Feast your eyes:

It's easier to see if you click to blow it up but this is clearly a full sheet of 45 cards.  Since the set only had 41 cards, my first (and only) thought, was to check for double prints. As it turned out, it was quite easy as they all reside in order on the bottom row-look at the four rightmost cards there: Hank Greenberg, Dazzy Vance, Honus Wagner and Rogers Hornsby.

Using a matrix reference where the rows are lettered A through E and the columns 1 through 9, you can see the corresponding "first prints" of each: Greenberg is at position A2, Vance at B9, Wagner at B7, and Hornsby resides at C5.

Before seeing this sheet, I had always figured the missing subjects had been pulled over rights issues but the placement of the double prints all together at E6-9 makes me think the sheet could have been laid out this way to begin with. An alternative thought is that my initial theory was correct and the DP's are scattered in the rows above E and Topps went with those four as they were the four most recent cards to have been designed.  I lean toward the "deliberate' theory but really either is possible.

Have a nice Christmas all!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Fail Safe

Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins recently sent along one of the most stupendous Topps trade ads I have ever seen.  Dating to 1967 this ad details failed test issues-and there's a bunch!

It's easier to see if I blow up the photo:

I'll start at twelve o'clock:

Secret Agent Bubble Gum and Bubble Gum Shots capitalize on the interest in James Bond/Get Smart spy thrillers then sweeping the country.  A pen shaped piece of gum is not all that exciting, now is it?  It seems this would have been a good way to repurpose Get Smart Secret Agent kits but it's just a confectionery item. Bubble Gum Shots?  No thanks.

Going clockwise we get more confections. Fuzzies sound gross and Happy Hearts candy must have been a test for a Valentine's Day product.  Below them though we get to Captain Nice, a legendary rarity among test collectors.  I am freaking out over that box-wow!

The planes are Fighter Planes. They are even tougher than Captain Nice and I've only ever seen packs, never an assembled toy. As I have determined from my research, the planes date to 1967, just like the Captain.

Whistle Gum gives the purchaser a plastic flute I guess. The next item is a lot more interesting though-King Kong makes an appearance! Kong dates to 1966, despite a 1965 copyright as it's one of the first Topps sets to have a commodity code on the box.

Bag o'Baseball bubble gum is intriguing but looks like straight up confection. That leaves us with Nutty Tickets, another 1967 set which is tough but never struck me as being "test issue tough".

Ten items, ten duds!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Funny You Should Mention That

Topps was really cranking out great illustrated sets in the mid to late 60's, many featuring underground comix artists and a fair number of MAD Magazine contributors to boot. The effort and detail that went into these issues, especially the larger sized ones, is truly amazing.  One of the best is their 24 count Funny Travel Posters set from 1967.

The set, of course, was printed on poster stock, with each subject measuring 9 3/4" x 18 1/2". The stock is the type used by Topps in their standalone poster issues and not the cheap, recycled stock they used for their inserts.

The wrapper can be readily found these days:

You can even find a box with a little hunting:

The box bottom has the ubiquitous commodity code, which started showing up in earnest by late 1966 on most Topps products:

The posters, designed of course to be hung on walls, are harder to find than the wrappers but they are out there.  A full set was recently offered on eBay and I thought it would be nice to show a visual checklist as so many of the larger-sized Topps sets are hard to scan or otherwise reproduce.

That artwork is insanely well done for a set that retailed for $1.20 a box!

There is a great display of the Sing-Sing artwork (by Wally Wood) over at the Artwork Archive,  go check the site out as it's loaded with goodies, but in the meantime:

There is some commonality of themes with the 1965 Silly Stickers, which had 55 subjects, a good number of which also had a travel related gag, but Chris Benjamin's take that the posters borrowed artwork from the stickers is incorrect:

You can see though that the gimmick on the stickers was the use of a tiny word to change the meaning of the gag.

Ya gotta hand it to Topps, they really would go all out for their posters and similarly sized sets.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Can't Salute Ya, Can't Find The Flag

Six years ago I posted about some test issue envelope "wrappers" containing the 1968 Topps Basketball or 1970 Topps Flags Of The World Cards.  Parts of my observations were informed by some messages from Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins, who has now sent along some key additional information on the latter package:

"I was the person who "discovered" the Flags of the World test material. I was living in Queens, NY at the time and would frequent Mike Carbonaro's comic shop in Forest Hills, NY, as well as purchase from him at NY card shows. Mike's shop, like most back then, sold not just comic books, but also trading cards and other pop culture material; I always looked for the trading cards. One day while browsing, I saw a stack of the "Flags of the World" 1956 cards, along with several envelopes and samples of the "Money of the World" inserts. This would have been around 1990, but I do not remember absolutely. I had no extra money to spend at the time, so I asked Mike to bring the material to the next comic show, which was happening in a couple of weeks. I purchased everything he had, and to the best of my knowledge, nothing had sold since I first saw the items.

          I do not have access to my notes from the time, or the material anymore, but I believe there was a total of about 70 to 80 some-odd cards, 12 or 13 money inserts, and 5 or 6 envelopes. I kept one of every unique card, money insert and the best envelope for my collection, and sold the dupes at the Parsippany Non-sports show to dealers like Bob Marks (a friend of mine) and Mark Macaluso. "

So this is a small source for a tough test issue. Lonnie believes the collection just "walked in" to the shop at some point.  He continues:

"Anyway, the info I want to pass along will completely change your view of this envelope and test issue. Firstly, the hand-written number on the white (not tan) envelope was not a test commodity number. Of the 5 or 6 envelopes, I believe all had hand-written numbers on them of the card numbers they held, written by the lucky boy or girl who originally purchased (or received) them back in '69 or '70 and used to "store" the cards. The numbers were in sequence; 1-15, 16-30, 31-45 (Color photo from Hakes' auction -, 46-60, 61-75 (scan from The Wrapper) and finally, 76-80." 

There are only 77 flag subjects in the 1970 set, plus five separately numbered Dictionary subjects, which were on the same stock and had a similar appearance, so the numbering scheme from 1956 makes sense. It does not appear the Dictionary cards made the test set, which also makes sense. Here is the scan from Hake's (I missed this item somehow, I get all their catalogs but whiffed I guess on their July 2017 offerings)-it's clearly a white envelope which has toned a bit over the years:

Their lot  description read: "... is a test issue, 3.5x4.5". This is a paper envelope w/glossy sticker applied to the center. Same basic art as the standard 5¢ wrapper but with additional image/text for "Extra Inside! Money Of The World" but this concept never made it into production for this set. Moderate wear, inked numbers on top margin. VG." 

Back to Lonnie:

"The card numbers were for the original 1956 Flags of the World set, which were the cards contained in the envelopes. My memory is not that good, but I think I had close to 2/3rds of the complete set. They were Indistinguishable from the original '56 cards, so no good way to tell they were test cards other than I knew they came from the envelopes. My theory is Topps was actually testing the "money" insert idea, not the cards themselves, and probably used either left over proof sheets (would have only taken 2 or 3 sheets to fill a couple of boxes) they had in archive, or did a small print run from the '56 films. I guess the '70 Flags of the World cards themselves either were not in development yet or not ready for testing. Using the '56 cards, which were over-sized compared to the modern standard, is why I believe they used an envelope instead of a plain wax wrapper; their wrapping machines could not handle the larger cards.... My theory is that Topps only used the envelopes for over-sized or odd-shaped items that could not be wrapped on their machines."

That is very, very weird.  I have a theory myself after reading Lonnie's comments, namely that when Topps swept out their scattered Brooklyn warehouses around 1966 they found some of the 1956 cards, which were too large to use in Fun Packs. Since Topps never got rid of anything before trying to sell it a half dozen times, they used the Giant Size FOTW cards for the currency test. Curiouser and curiouser. But the artwork on the wrapper is a match for the one from 1956!

"There was (if memory serves) six unique pieces of money, with the rest dupes. The test money is very, very different from what ended up in the '70 retail set. It was almost exactly like the "real" money it was based on, and the final version was obviously "phony" money and could not be confused as the real thing. I guess the test was successful since they went on to release the '70 set with the money inserts."

What Lonnie says matches what I have heard, namely that the test version of the Money of the World was too realistic and had to be changed. They also dropped the Money Of The World name for the regular issue.  However, when researching the retail wrappers for this post, something interesting showed up:

Here is the US/Canadian hybrid style wrapper, used by Topps for many issues in the 60's and 70's:

It's tucked under but the production code is: 0-400-87-01-0.

The Flags cards (they are also stickers of the "self-application" kind but the stock is like that of a card) that came within looked like this:

Clearly made in the US of A.

However there is a Canadian only version of the packaging as well, with pricing:

I have to assume this back (fronts are identical) came in the above wrappings:

I am wondering if the regular set was reissued in Canada, although Lonnie thinks not.  And to make things even more Topps-like, there are five Dictionary cards.  I have two, both are US only but the Non-Sports Bible clearly shows a Dictionary card that has the multi-lingual reverse.  Here's my US style Dictionary card:

They are rare so finding a English/French back may take a little bit of effort.  Now, speaking of rare, I can't find a good scan of either the test or regular issue foreign currency insert, although Todd Riley has some of the latter over at his website. I understand the former but considering the 1970 Flags set itself is pretty mainstream and somewhat available, the lack of available inserts is puzzling.  Here is a proof from Topps Vault, you can see the face says- NON-NEGOTIABLE, so that is clearly not the test issue:

There's clearly more to be uncovered about this set, components and test counterparts. A tip of the hat to Lonnie for his insights.