Saturday, July 27, 2019

Mystery Dating

Mile High Auctions recently featured a very scarce pack from either 1967 or '68 and while not quite a unicorn, it's pretty close.  I've posted here previously (click the 1967 Topps Baseball Punch-Out labels for more) about the 1967 Topps Baseball Punch-Outs  which were mostly sold in long cello packs containing two three card panels, a most unwieldy format:

Gotta love the ingenuity, although it seems to have been a limited release--not a test--but seemingly only issued in a few regions-one was around Baltimore, so these may have been printed by a specialty lithographer down there.

The commodity code reads 0-485-51-01-7. These codes commenced in the Spring of 1966, as Topps moved production to Duryea, PA while the top brass and non-production staff remained in Brooklyn and allowed tracking of the various product and components of same. Lonnie Cummins has decoded a good portion of what these strings of numbers mean (see The Wrapper issues #316 & 317 for a very detailed look) and using his method, we can decipher some of this:

0 represents the specific media, in this case the Wrapper

485 is the Product Line/Stock Number, which can be tricky.  These can be inconsistent within a specific issue that was issued over a long period of time (often in series) and would often be reused in later years for different products.  The first digit usually signifies the product line, with a 0 for a candy or gum issue (1 is used here instead for some sets). Generally a 4 is for Entertainment Cards, which includes Sports Cards, but oddball sets (and some regular ones) don't always follow the pattern and it's not clear why.  My own take is that it may represent which group within Topps was responsible for the set but I am not real solid on that. The last two digits are the project number, which reset every calendar year and was assigned once Topps brass gave the go ahead for a particular set or product.

51 is the Format, or Style and is thought by Lonnie to relate to the printing and/or packaging process, possibly even detailing the machinery used to wrap the packs.

01 is the revision number and starts at these two digits.  This means the first iteration.

7 is for the last digit of the year of conception (and likely copyright).  For the period of 1966-68-ish it's not uncommon for a test or oddball product to be issued the year after this digit indicates (or even later in a couple of cases).

Look, a code!

That reads: 1-485-35-01-7 and means:

Display Box-Entertainment/Sports Stock #-Format Code (unknown)-First issue (no revision)-approved 1967.

Now, here is where it gets intriguing.  I have long thought that the set was first issued in the above cello livery and then reissued in wax the following year after it was revised to remove some retired a handful of players that changed leagues or retired after the 1966 season (and seemingly Bob Gibson as well) but I think I got it backwards. Check out this sucker from Mile High:

The back tells the tale, as (almost) always:

The stock number is quite a bit earlier than 485, while the format number is not really decipherable it is different than 51 and this is a second revision wrapper, which is looking like it came out in 1967.

A proof for the wax box exists and it's dated (in pen, with illegible commodity number) on March 7, 1967

Given the sixteen product gap between issues I now think both versions came out in 1967 as the Topps stock numbers go into the 90's that year. The timing of the wax wrapped Punch-Outs looks like Spring Training or just after, then once the roster moves could be processed, the cello timing looks like mid-season.

I believe this is the only Topps set issued in this super elongated cello format. The wax likely held two "cards" as you need that many to play the game.  The auction listing stated the wax packs were not issued but I disagree as we are looking at a second revision wax pack. Maybe there wasn't enough profit there, or it was the test version but some escaped in wax and while the set is tough, there are enough out there that the extant subjects are slightly beyond normal test issue territory. The PSA pop report is sparse, which seemingly contradicts this, but a lot of the surviving cards have been "popped" and not graded.

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