Saturday, October 26, 2019

2-D Or Not 2-D

Like many collectors of prime vintage material, I am enamored of the 1968 Topps 3-D Baseball set. It's a classic looking set (teeing up the 1969 regular issue card design by the way) which has the lure of Hall of Famers (Tony Perez and especially Roberto Clemente), local names (Boog Powell, Mel Stottlemyre) and a preponderance of Yankees within (Bill Robinson, Stottlemyre again comprising 1/6th of the issued set), aided and abetted by test issue status and shimmery, oozin' ah lenticular technology.  It could be argued that it's the most popular, well known and sought after test issued set produced by Topps.

I've certainly posted on it enough over the years (a couple of weeks ago was the latest one and germane to this discussion, so click on over) but when I recently took another look at some production materials, a couple of things jumped out at me.  I also dug out an old scan of a proof sheet from a Bill Goodwin auction many years past, to wit:

Color bar tests by the Topps printers are common enough but I've never really examined the color key along the left side before.  It seems like it should be related to the 3-D effect as it appears quite involved. I wonder if the key was also meant to covered in the final proofing stage with the ribbed material used to create the 3-D effect?

I think it's something akin to a "chromakey" (the green or blue screen background technology used as special effects film or broadcast backgrounds).  Also of note is the lack of the Xograph indicia on the card faces; not surprising as this proof sheet lacks the black color process.

Here is a more trimmed down proof of the same sheet, where the black process has been added and indicia is present..  Maloney and Fairly are shown with their "dugout" variations here:

Note Tommy Davis at center right and John O'Donaghue top center. Here is a second proof sheet, from an old REA auction:

This one has the lenticular coating applied, the two "no dugout" variations and also shows the Xograph indicia plus the pull marks often seen on the issued "no dugout" Maloney.  He's hard left in the bottom row here and my Swoboda card from this set also has pull marks; he's also hard left, bottom row present in the unfinished sheet so I guess we have found the production weak spot! Rick Monday in proof form is dead center and just below him is the variant O'Donoghue.

The unissued proofs being mingled with the finished ones is intriguing and it's worth noting the O'Donoghue variants (Yankee Stadium bleachers background vs. Yankee Stadium facade) as well.  I surmise they were looking for the best options once the coating was applied.

I believe both sheets are blank backed (i.e. unstamped by Visual Panographics), the REA one at bottom certainly is as they mention it in their description.

The 12 issued subjects appear across both sheets but there are Staub, Willie Davis (possibly a proof), Flood, Perez and Powell variants not represented, so I surmise at least one more proof/pre-production sheet was created. A hand cut "squared off" Clemente is known in finished form, so I wonder it it came from a third sheet taken home by an executive at Topps or Visual Panographics and cut up by Junior back in the day.

I am also pondering the thought some sheets were die cut after the test ran its course vs. them all being cut prior. At a guess, given the seemingly New York City-centric testing of this set, Topps did not die cut the remaining stock from sheets in Duryea and could have just done the whole thing out of Brooklyn post-test, knocked out quickly at the executive offices there and then back-channeled into the nascent hobby. Another possibility is they were die cut by Xograph in Texas.

There's about 650 PSA graded examples out there plus roughly 160 SGC's so it's a bit more available than many tests of the 60's-there's a high of 83 graded examples at PSA for the Davis and Fairly cards, with no distinction regarding variations for either. It's hard to tell due to re-subs but just extrapolating those graded figures and figuring there is also an ungraded population, I think each subject can be found in at least the low three figures (200-300), inclusive of variations. It's certainly not one of the tougher test issues in terms of quantities available. It is however, one of ,if the not the most, popular tests out there in the hobby.

I'm gathering scans of the variants involving Willie Davis, Flood, Perez, Powell and Staub.  They are not as obvious as the Maloney and Fairly Dugout/No Dugout variations so there's a fair bit of investigation to be done still on these five.  I'm also trying to cipher if there is another subject will pull marks along the bottom, which would lend credence to the third sheet theory. More to come!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Team Work

There is a unique proof sheet being offered in the latest highly football-centric auction over at BST, namely a 33 card block from the 1968 Topps Football Teams set -- in turn the insert for the 1968 Real Cloth Football Patches issue. I've briefly covered the patches before, scroll down to the middle of the post on the link if interested.

Here is this beauty, complete with the cutting guide lines:

Eight cards are double prints: The bottom eight cards in the first column are repeated in the top eight rows of the right column. The Packers, Saints, Jets, Dolphins, Steelers, Lions, Rams and Falcons are all DP's on this proof sheet. I'll get back to these shortly.

Here's the back for fun-looks like a final, finished proof:

Both sets were true hybrids as they included both AFL and NFL teams. The Real Cloth Football Patches, which seemingly had a rock solid pairing of "cloth" sticker and backing--an issue that would later vex Topps for the better part of the 70's--had all 10 AFL teams represented along with the 16 NFL teams of the time, plus there were letter and number patches that were half the size of the regular patches but came two to a card.  All told 44 patches can be found with some difficulty but since they used fanciful logos created by Topps, there would be no licensing issues at the time.

The Team cards are a different matter entirely and are much more difficult to track down. First off, there is no Bengals card, that team having just joined the AFL for 1968.  So instead of 26 teams, only 25 had cards in the black and white set (each measured 2 1/2" x 4 11/16").

The story is that the combined patch/card issue sold poorly and the excess (apparently all packaged up and ready for sale otherwise) was dumped in a landfill by Topps near Duryea.  Well, I believe that latter point as it came from an unconnected third party account but think the reason they got dumped there was because of the AFL/NFL combo being used.  Topps combined, for the first time since 1961, both leagues in their 219 card regular issue set in 1968 but did not use official team logos, instead using the ones replicated on the cloth patches. Players had their pictures taken with their uniforms reversed or having any team identifiers carefully hidden from view and any helmets had logos obscured in some fashion.

The B&W Team cards however, looks like formal team pictures and one-the St. Louis Cardinals-features their true NFL logo in the background. I have to think it possible there was some sort of overriding league related licensing issued that quashed the sets and caused the dumping of same; it was not like Topps just to dump excess inventory as they would find ways to reissue or re-use it.  I suspect they had to agree to destroy the remaining stock.  Just a guess but it fits. I also believe there are far fewer team cards available than patches, so Topps may have retained the latter and got them out there somehow later on. Friend o'the Archive Mike Thomas advises any Team cards he has seen have a gum or wax stain on the reverse.

Now, with a 33 card proof sheet, questions arise when a 25 card set is wedged within.  Check out this 99 card 1964-65 Topps Hockey Second Series sheet once offered on

The Hockey cards are also Tall Boys, i.e. the same size as the football Team cards. Topps almost certainly printed the football tall boys in a 99 card array as well but the question is: did they just repeat the pattern of SP's and DP's or did they make up each 33 card block differently?  I lean toward the 33 card proof array just repeating twice more on the sheet myself and existing populations plus comments I solicited from several advanced collectors support this idea. All in all I will say the SP's match up with my understanding of which cards are harder to find.

Here's the 33 card array:




Saturday, October 12, 2019

Semi Tough

One of the more fascinating, popular and somewhat studied byways of the 1952 Topps Baseball set is, of course, the high numbers spanning #311-407.  Planned to coincide with the 1952 World Series, the set is heavy with New York and Boston players -- more than half of the high numbers at 49 in total -- reflecting the main, limited distribution areas of the time. The highs followed on the heels of the semi-high numbers, a fifth series spanning #251-310 and the last one planned to be part of the now legendary 1952 set until Sy Berger allegedly/possibly/definitely talked Joe Shorin into issuing a sixth and final series (or "second" series as Topps referred to it at the time).

The highs fanned out from the Northeast, spreading south and west and some didn't hit the West Coast until 1953, but the general gist is sales were extremely subpar.  I believe there was vending produced too, although any Topps vending numbers at the time were miniscule. I have never seen mention of a penny pack or ten cent cellos for the high numbers and some highs were issued in a blue and red wrapper, distinct from the green and red wrapper that held cards from #1-310. This wrapper is probably the source for the stories of 1952 cards being found in 1953 wax packs. Conversely, Topps did sometimes use older wrappers for newer product, a practice they followed into at least the mid-1970's. There would have been returns for the highs from the wholesale jobbers, consolidators and direct accounts as well and Topps likely had a bunch that never left the warehouse floor.  

Topps kept their set counts lower in the following years and didn't issue a set as large as the 52's until 1957, when they matched its 407 cards, albeit without what we would call high numbers today. That was partially due to lack of players under contract prior to the acquisition of Bowman in 1956 and there may have been some gun shyness involved as well. The first set to really go all in again on high numbers would be issued in 1958, as baseball expanded to California, and they continued through 1972 (or 1973, sort of) in patterns that sometimes defy logic. Topps attempted to smooth out the availability issue of the highs in 1968 and '69 but 1970-72 resulted in traditional high numbers being marketed before they went to issuing all their cards at once following a phase-in during 1973. But make no mistake about it, the 1952 high numbers are the daddy of them all, in large part due what is assuredly a Sy Berger tall tale detailing how a couple truckloads of high numbers were loaded from Topps HQ on a garbage scow one day in 1960 or so, after various creative attempts to dispose of same failed, and towed out to the Atlantic Bight, where they became fish food.

Topps certainly could have hired a barge to dump their stock as there were ample dock facilities available to them at Bush Terminal, which commands a large stretch of the Brooklyn waterfront along Gowanus Bay.  There are, to my mind, several problems with the barge story though:

1) Topps would never have spent money to discard something they could have just tossed out or flash fried in the incinerator at Bush Terminal back in the day.

2) The excess 1952 inventory was probably not located at Topps HQ in Bush Terminal. rather, it probably ended up at one of their historical Brooklyn locations, all still in use as storage and distribution facilities during the Swingin' Sixties.  I would think either 60 Broadway (the Gretsch Building) or 383 3rd Avenue (the old Shapiro Candy plant) would suffice for such purposes and then whatever was left just sat around for several years until it was either rediscovered or someone came up with a plan, to wit:

3) Card Collectors Company, Topps preferred secondary selling market for leftovers and the like, and operated by Woody Gelman, ran out of the '52 highs by the late 50's.  They then restocked sometime after 1960 and were selling singles and full high number runs through at least 1968. That many highs being sold for that long?  They would have to come from Topps in such quantity, especially as they were already known to be hard to find by the time of the alleged dumping at sea.

4) Topps never tossed anything unless they had to.  They would just put it out in Fun Packs, or some other type of setup.  The one set I am aware of them dumping is the 1968 B&W Football Team cards, which look more and more to me  like they had to be destroyed on orders from the NFL.

So I call shenanigans on the barge story!

This all got me curious about the potential universe of 1952 semi highs and highs, so I did a canvass of eBay on October 4, 2019 which yielded some interesting figures.  Here's the raw data:

251 62 311 42 MANTLE
252 92 312 22 ROBINSON
253 80 313 51 THOMSON
254 100 314 23 CAMPANELLA
255 81 315 26 DUROCHER
256 107 316 27
257 57 317 22
258 83 318 37
259 87 319 31
260 84 320 30
261 72 MAYS 321 26
262 38 322 26
263 57 323 37
264 99 324 22
265 83 325 31
266 78 326 47
267 87 327 21
268 52 328 23
269 69 329 20
270 92 330 16
271 49 331 20
272 31 332 7 BARTIROME
273 36 333 37 REESE
274 28 334 22
275 60 335 13
276 35 336 38
277 41 337 39
278 53 338 25
279 57 339 14
280 25 340 24
281 36 341 23
282 30 342 23
283 54 343 27
284 55 344 33
285 67 345 24
286 48 346 38
287 25 347 22
288 61 348 26
289 20 349 41
290 41 350 34
291 53 351 38
292 67 352 28
293 61 353 27
294 36 354 17
295 27 355 29
296 27 356 28
297 48 357 19
298 49 358 48
299 60 359 17
300 50 360 28
301 51 361 31
302 51 362 16
303 43 363 41
304 45 364 37
305 42 365 48
306 53 366 45
307 31 CAMPOS 367 52
308 33 368 60
309 34 369 13
310 37 370 17
TOTAL 3,310 371 30
372 30
373 28
374 28
375 26
376 16
377 54
378 23
379 38
380 28
381 32
382 22
383 22
384 21
385 38
386 16
387 41
388 38
389 36
390 38
391 39
393 33
394 34 HERMAN
395 30
397 31
398 16
399 30
400 20 DICKEY
401 29
402 27
403 19
404 24
405 29
406 19
407 15 MATHEWS
TOTAL 2,776

There were between 25 and 107 of any individual semi high's available on the 'bay on October 4, vs. 7 to 60 of the highs. The decadal tranches reveal cards #251-270 were the extra prints in the semi-highs (seems like it should be four of them for every three between #271-310 but oddly it's not that smooth from the derived counts):

833 251-260 84.3
727 261-270 73.7
415 271-280 42.5
437 281-290 44.7
478 291-300 48.8
420 301-310 > 3,310 43.0
253.5 311-320 26.4
269 321-330 27.9
239 331-340 24.9
291 341-350 30.1
279 351-360 28.9
360 361-370 37.0
301 371-380 31.1
304 381-390 31.4
260 391-400 27.0
219.5 401-407 > 2,776 23.0

It further works out to 55 semi highs on average compared to 28 highs (I accounted for the DP's of #311, #312 and #313), or almost exactly a 2:1 ratio. If you factor three missing cards in the 401-407 range, that comes up to about 285 on an estimated count extrapolated out to ten cards in the tranche BTW. Furthermore, the PSA pop reports show several hundred of each high number have been slabbed. I would think there is a bit of a skew toward a higher percentage of high numbers being listed on Ebay vs. semi-highs and also in the pop reports but the 1952 highs can certainly be found without much of a problem. Your experience may vary, especially if you want a certain card in a certain condition, but they are out there.

Popularity certainly seems to be a big driver with the highs.  They were hard to find in 1952, could eventually be found at Card Collectors Company (or more accurately "Sam Rosen" prior to Woody's Step Father passing away on New Year's Eve 1958) and eventually saw a rebirth in the 60's at CCC.  Woody really amped up the CCC presence once he took over in 1959 and was a big advertiser in The Sporting News, Boys Life and other publications, raising visibility of the hobby and the 1952 high numbers. The other thing driving them could also be appearance-they look super, at least to me.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Cloth Makes The Man

Topps spent a fair bit of time getting their cloth baseball stickers down in the 1970's.  Finally seeing the official light of day in 1977, there were materials tests undertaken in 1970, 1972, and 1976, plus a series of 1973--74 Cloth Emblems that spanned a few sports, not to mention the 1968 Football Paches and some non-sports issues. I'm not sure why it proved to be so difficult for Topps to work up proper specifications for the national pastime, those '68 Football Patches have held up remarkably well, although most of the press ended up being rescued from a Pennsylvania dump along with the black and white Football Team cards test issue they were packaged with. And let's not forget their 1949 Flags Of All Nations/Soldiers Of The World issue which used a similar cloth-like material.

I've covered the 1970 and 1976 cloth stickers previously and the former are famous hobby rarities, while the latter are not.  The 1977 set needs no commentary today, it's still found in abundance and is, to my mind, quite nice. I may do a post on it shortly as the checklist/puzzle cards that came with it are harder to find and kinda neat as well.

I remember seeing a few of the 1972 Cloth Stickers at shows in the 80's in uncut form, which is how all of these have entered the hobby. I'm sure they came via a Topps back door somewhere, possibly in the outflow of Card Collectors inventory following Woody Gelman's death in 1978, and which took some time to disseminate as the earliest mention of these I can trace so far is from 1981. The sheets were fairly reasonably priced back then, not so today due to the Roberto Clemente In Action being included in the array and a lot of times you find them with the plain sticker backing gone or discorporated.  Some are missing a slice across the top of the sticker as well. Still, they are pretty cool.

Unlike 1970, which came from a specific half sheet section and 1976, which was Frankensteined by Topps using only Duffy Dyer and Bob Apodaca, the 33 sticker run spanned two Topps half sheets from the 3rd series in 1972.  It also includes partials on either edge, echoing the 1970 version in this regard:

I don't know why Topps took things to test from across two sheets like this but it's quite common in their history.  Here's a  look at some real estate from a normal 3rd series sheet:

You can see how the imaged cloth sheet was just the bottom three rows of this section - Topps printed 66 cards from each 1972 series on one half sheet and 66 cards on the other, with the DP checklist for the next series on all but the high number sheet (132*6=792-5 DP's=787 card series) in '72. The top row is interesting as well as the stickers I have seen with the slice taken off the top seem to come from that row, which is indeed short on this regular issue sheet as well. This could truly be coincidental as I'm not sure why a card board version missing real estate would be replicated in cloth.

Here is the checklist:


Four Hall of Famers and Willie Stargell In Action and Sparky Anderson are partials on the uncut sheet....what could have been!