Saturday, May 25, 2019

It's All In The Presentation

After digesting Bowman in early 1956, Topps would ride the cresting age curve of baby boomers by cutting back on ancillary sets such as 1955's Double Header and 56's Baseball Buttons--the latter truncated as a result of said purchase--and concentrating on cranking out their regular baseball and football issues.  Simple card designs were the norm in the years following as the marketplace, devoid of any major competitors for a handful of years, was reset by Topps.

1959 though brought resistance from Fleer, who were able to snag an exclusive contract with Ted Williams and also brought out a big seller with a Three Stooges set. Topps, as usual, responded once it became clear measures had to be taken.  They added some (gorgeous) baseball and football cards to the back of their Bazooka party boxes and rapidly cranked up their PR and marketing apparatus.  The end result of the latter was the "Elect Your Favorite Rookie" campaign and the inaugural Rookie Banquet, held after the end of the baseball season.

Topps would really start bulking up their response to Fleer in 1960 and continue with a growing onslaught of extra sets and bonus inserts through 1963 before they prevailed against their Philly based baseball card issuing competitor in court and downshifted a bit in '65. During this period, yet another campaign was also waged, with Fleer offering ballplayers extra funds if they provided a copy of their Topps contract. Fleer was signing up players at a furious clip, although not under as many exclusives as Topps, at least at the major league level. Topps began firing back with their own campaign, this one primarily at more of an executive level.

The annual Rookie Banquets were one likely part of this campaign; I've written extensively about them and it's worth clicking over via the labels at right if you want to bone up. The other thing I think they did was start sending out Presentation Sets of their baseball cards every year. These went to various team executives, key ball players and other such luminaries.

Sy Berger is on record saying he gave presentation sets to Willie Mays and it would be very interesting to see what players actually got these from Topps.  Was it just superstars?  Of interest in particular in this regard, is Joe Adcock receiving a set in 1963, which was much later consigned to auction. Adcock, no longer a major name in the sport, was famously part of the 1963 Fleer set and is semi-short printed therein (replaced by a checklist, or vice-versa).  He is also in the second series of Topps that year. Coincidence?

Not very well known today, these sets were issued in five boxes annually, each with roughly 114-120 apiece inside and designated a "Limited Edition" by Topps.  Here's the breakdown by year of set lengths and how they divide out:

1959: 572 cards with 114.4 per box average
1960: 572 cards with 114.4 per box average
1961: 587 cards with 117.4 per box average
1962: 598 cards with 119.6 per box average
1963: 576 cards with 117.4 per box average

The boxed sets were all issued at once, like so:

It's a little hard to see but each box states "XXXXX Collectors Set 1959" with "XXXXX" being First, Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth as filled.  Here's a better shot, with one example from each year through 1962:

To state the obvious:

1959 Red
1960 Black
1961 Green
1962 Blue
1963 Brown

Here is the '63, with a couple of side views thrown in:

These have never been plentiful and a few sets (very few) were auctioned here and there in the 90's but most all have been broken up and only the empty boxes pop up now, and infrequently at that.  The reason these have all been pillaged is that the cards within are super high quality in general, although some pinching of the inner and outer-most cards has been noted by (lucky) prior owners.

Friend o'the Archive Don Johnson, who has seen several cards liberated from the 1962 boxes and owns a '63 presentation set, describes the presentation cards as "stunning, name the adjective." He goes on to say they are "a little smaller" (more on this in a second) but also "outrageously glossy and colorful".

The smaller dimensions seem to be the result of a different cutting method being used when compared to how the "regular" cards were sliced. Anthony Nex, yet another Friend o'the Archive, describes the cuts as a "bevel" and I have seen a couple of references to this phenomenon over the years.  The end result is some of these get rejected by PSA when submitted for grading as not meeting minimum size requirements.

I have also heard the gloss referred to as being similar to the gloss found on the 1980's Topps insert "All Star" and "Rookie" sets, which would make it very noticeable indeed .

A couple of auctions have featured mailing cartons that give a glimpse as to who might have received these treasures.  Here is a 1963 set with its Topps labeled mailer, slightly blurred address-wise by Heritage Auctions:

Here is a better view of the label:

Hamey, as almost none of us will recall, served as the Yankees General Manager from 1961-63, succeeding George Weiss.

Here's another 1963 set addressed to Clarence Campbell, the President of the National Hockey League from 1946-77:

O-Pee-Chee was issuing Hockey cards in Canada at this time, using Topps supplied materials, so maybe this wasn't as big a stretch as it seems. Friends in high places.....have influence in many corners. And to answer an obvious question, I am unaware of presentation sets for any other sports.

Keith Olbermann advises he recalls the son of Irv Kaze bringing Presentation Sets from 1961-63 to work one day in the 80's.  The elder Kaze was the Angels Director of PR in those years and those sets ended up with his son. A lot of these sets probably went directly to the kiddies in the house when dad got home from work.

Some slabs from PSA and SGC identify the entombed card as being from a presentation set. Here's a 1961 Bob Friend.  You can see that despite the many superlatives one could assign to these, at least one derogatory adjective, namely "snowy", can also apply!

There's clearly a lot more to learn about these sets and the ways they were manufactured and distributed. If you know anything, drop me a line.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

I've Got A Golden Ticket

Actually, I don't have a golden ticket, but somebody sure does now.  A full box of 1956 (really 1957 I'd say) O-Pee-Chee (OPC) Golden Coin was recently "hammered" on eBay for $1,282, US. I've previously discussed the oddity of Topps marketing this set in Canada and this wondrous artifact does nothing to really address specifics, but it's pretty sweet to look at.

 The box has some slight wear but for something that's eligible for Social Security, it's looking good:

You can clearly see the OPC tagline on the box flap:

Inside, everything is bright and shiny:

The packs clearly show their Canadian origins:

The contents of a pack like this have been examined by me previously (I actually opened one!) so all matches up. Compare this with the indicia on the 1949 wrapper:

The bottom of the "1956" box shows that while the packs and gum were manufactured in Canada, Topps sent the displays north:

The bottom graphics compare favorably with another set, 1956's US Presidents,  althoughtha particular issue is all US of A:

I can't see that US Presidents were ever issued by OPC, which leads me to a theory.  I've often wondered why there is no reference to a 1952 (actually it would be 1953 to include Dwight  Eisenhower) Golden Coin set in any guide or article I've run across. My prior thoughts (see the links above or labels off to the right of this post) that there was one still stands and I suspect the "1956" OPC issue was merely a way for Topps to dump excess inventory.  We'll probably never know but I think that's what happened.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Trips To Win

Last September I posted an image of a 1955 Topps Baseball uncut sheet that sold on eBay.  Said sheet was recently re-hammered at Love of the Game Auctions and I have a much better image of it now.  In fact, a shot of the back was also included by LOTG owner and sometime DJ Al C. and it seems we have a bit of a mystery on our hands due to this.

Here's the front shot-I love old uncut sheets, don't you? This was the first year Topps used 110 card half sheets:

You can plainly see that there is a pattern of 50 cards running across five columns left-to-right.  This pattern repeats perfectly across the next five columns and then the fourth column gets triple print status.  The array of numbers runs from 3 through 109, so there is clearly a second sheet or half sheet that must fill in some of the missing numbers; it's an open question whether all 60 (assuming a run of 1-110) were addressed on that sheet or if there were still gaps that continued into the remaining print runs (my money is on the latter). Another uncut sheet (OK, half sheet) exists that matches the above but is clearly from another source.  In addition the above sheet and the "other" sheet both have at least one hand cut long edge.

You may (or may not) recall my post describing a while back the 40 card quadrant that the same year's uber-rare Baseball Stamps were derived from:

Those run from nos. 6 thru 108 and to complicate things, there is an alternate 40 card block that subs out at least two of the subjects shown above.

Robert Edward Auctions had a 110 card sheet featuring an alternate to the above quadrant in a very old (1993) auction, which I regret does not come with truly legible features:

It's hard to tell but the above has 10 single printed columns and one that is double printed (the rightmost one replicates the column fifth from the left). Hank Aaron (#2) and Ted Williams (#47) can be spotted easily in those columns (third from the bottom and bottom, respectively) and I can clearly see Billy Herman (#19) near the middle of the sheet (7th column, 5th card down) and looking at it more closely thanks to that, you can see that the 6th, 7th and 8th columns repeat the  same three columns from the color LOTG sheet (which in turn replicate columns 1,2 & 3 at LOTG).  And I'm pretty sure I've seen a muddy image of a sheet with four Wally Moon's so there are shenanigans galore occurring!

It's a right mess.  In addition, take a gander at the reverse of the LOTG sheet-it's miscut compared to the front-see the line of stats across the top?

These surviving sheets are likely nearly-final proofs but usually front to back mis-alignments result in an upside down "out of phase" look to the reverse.

Let's see: a maximum of 150 cards across two 110 card half sheets would leave a balance of 60 players (not counting the four missing high numbers that were pulled by Topps) to complete a planned 210 card set but there are not 150 different subjects across the two if Herman is any kind of standard candle. Topps was stretching things out in 1955 as Bowman trotted out 320 cards by repeating certain parts of prior series on later sheets and/or they were running out sheets with open slots anticipating problems with Bowman over certain players.  I'm guessing Topps printed off four different runs, all of which were skip numbered to a degree.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Dice K

Well the near impossible has happened and a recently concluded Mile High Auction has given us the three cards missing from the Topps Dice Game Visual Checklist: Dick Groat, Norm Siebern and Bill White. Groat, in fact, has given us confirmation that the set was not from 1961 but rather that it dates to 1963, albeit based upon 1962 statistics.

Here's the missing three:

If you compare Groat's Cardinals duds to Bill White's, you can see Topps airbrushed a St. Louis logo on his cap and eradicated any mention of the Pirates on his uniform top (which is clearly the vest style favored by the Buccos at the time). Groat was dealt to the Cards on November 19, 1962 and Topps often used to work on their test and in house sets around New Year's.  The player selection still screams 1962 due the the 16 All Stars and two near misses depicted but the Groat airbrushing clearly indicates 1963 as the intended date of "issue".

Mile High had some thought too on the writing seen on the backs of some Dice Game cards, namely that they depicted tweaks made by Topps R&D  after having the game played with by kids (there's the lab setting I mentioned last time). It's possible I guess, but probably not what occurred.

Groat was not a guy with a lot of home run power (39 lifetime regular season dingers) but maybe you would want one to be a possible outcome.  I dunno......

Another interesting thing-the two subjects that I had only as oblique shots (Davenport and Mazeroski) were the the other two cards offered by Mile High.  These five also have darker toning than many I've seen and also have all of the cards known with writing on the reverse. No staple holes are defacing these either - they have been together in the world for quite some time. That will probably change now.