Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Dirty Dozen-ish

Here's a little bit of bang for the Fourth folks! I've been tracking down a few things during our forced pandemic pause and recently focused on the 1951 Topps Major League All Star cards, specifically the trio of unissued rarities that are among the rarest cards of the post World War 2 era.

I found a very old Collectors Universe thread from 2003 by a poster called murcerfan that stated (I have lightly paraphrased and slightly corrected spelling and grammar):

Mastro sold the big 3 from the current all-stars set in 1999.

Another loose and low grade example of Konsanty was sold by them in a big lot of Connie's and Currents in 2000 (might have been 2001). Here was Bill's write up back in '99:

In 1951 Topps produced a set of die-cut Major League All-Stars to complement their Connie Mack All-star issue. Both sets were supposedly to contain 11 cards, but the 'current" seemed impossible to complete due to three cards which never surfaced. In time, hobby pioneers were able to ascertain that these cards of Jim Konstanty, Robin Roberts and Eddie Stanky were never publicly distributed and that all known copies could be traced back to Woody Gelman, Topps' Art Director. No definitive explanation has ever been offered for their scarcity and Gelman who died in the early 1970's never offered an answer, so the mystery continues.

Few examples are known. Larry Fritsch and Barry Halper have sets of all 3. Both these "sets" have considerable glue damage from being mounted in Gelman's albums. Fritsch's on the back and Halper's on the front. Another "set" turned up several years ago with significant creasing. This group was hand cut and had no die-cutting. This leads us to believe these were not final production and were likely salvaged by a Topps employee....

John Rumierez (forgive me John) is the only fortunate collector in the history of the world to ever obtain undamaged copies. Many years ago a walk-in at a show sold John two of the three cards in high grade (Roberts and Stanky) but no explanation as to their origin was offered (or John didn't ask).

Finally Frank Nagy obtained a set of eleven from his pal Gelman back in the 50's. The die-cuts and card fragility worried Nagy so he scotch taped the backs (with two layers of tape that won't come off, I might add!). To add insult to Injury, Nagy stored his cards in a pile and the tape on the back eventually stuck to the fronts and caused some paper loss, although not severe. Mastro met Nagy in the 70's and they had a good laugh about that tape on one of Bill's visits.

So we have a grand total of 14 of the unissued current all-stars in the hobby.


OK, that's a bit messy, a key point is off  and I think the count above is actually 15 but it's instructive nonetheless. Let's unpack all that verbiage.

The conventional hobby story I've heard is Nagy got a set of 8 from Topps then wrote Woody to ask about the missing cards, which I guess he knew about, and Woody sent him a trio. All 11 at once or 8 then 3, it really doesn't matter as either way the story is he got his trio from Woody/Topps.

Then there are three confirmed examples numerically graded by PSA.  All three were sold by Legendary Auctions in 2010, with the Stanky and Konstanty going to Keith Olbermann, while Roberts ended up in another collection. I have to believe it remains there or has only transacted privately since.  It appears though that there was an intervening private sale before 1979 of these three and they ended up with Barry Halper as they were shown in various editions of the Sport-Americana Baseball Card Price Guide for several years (at least the first six).  Here is a shot of each of them from 1980's Second Edition:


Note the staining on the left border at knee height.


Stanky (a helluva player and the 1950 NL leader in WAR, retroactively determined of course) has staining mid uniform around the area of his left arm and chest and at the bottom of the card.


Note the connecting nub at the top and bottom of Konstanty (the 1950 NL MVP in case you were wondering how he ended up in this set) and there is a very hard to see fleck of cardboard missing atop his left knee.  The reproduction in the guide is pretty muddy but this was 40 (!) years ago. All three graded examples  have the nubs but these are the most pronounced. The nubs show these were all Baseball Candy production pieces.

These three were eventually slabbed by PSA (and it's how they appeared in the 2010 Legendary auction).  Thanks to Friend o'the Archive Kevin Struss for the scans:





I have a scan of Stanky's reverse in the slab (below) and without (not shown but a recently sent Keith Olbermann image of the liberated card confirms its the same one):



Note the tape (and old "sticky" photo album residue) but this wasn't likely Nagy's originally for reasons that will be apparent momentarily. Here is the PSA 2 Konstanty:





That's a lotta glue! On the obverse, the Roberts and Stanky stains match the Halper cards shown in the Sport-Americana guide and check out the missing cardboard on Konstanty's left knee, also a match.  The Konstanty is a PSA 2, as is Roberts while Stanky is a 1, I assume due to the tape being added (as opposed to glue?). Amazingly, it also was sold on eBay in 2006!

So the Halper examples are the sole residents of the PSA pop report for the trio, with the three Authentic examples not appearing anymore . Actually only the Roberts could still be in the Registry as in addition to Stanky, Mr. Olbermann has also liberated the Konstanty from its plastic tomb. I suspect the same happened to the Authentic examples after REA sold them in 2018. So other than Roberts, the Halper trio went to Keith Olbermann and the CU Forum description is therefore a little wonky on his two.

The Gelman trio of proofs are likely the ones REA auctioned in 2018 in PSA Authentic holders.  They have not resurfaced at SGC or Beckett holders so they are in their natural state presently. More on these a few paragraphs down.

A reprint trio with finished backs was offered (as such) in 2014 at Net54 Baseball.  These are seemingly from a different source than the Halper examples as there are no nubs (Stanky's "dirt" though seems similar to that on Halper's example but he has no bottom stain) and appear die cut but I think these are just cleaned up Halper examples as the missing paper from Konstanty's knee seems in place, as does the dirt on the left side of Stanky's uniform.


Now we get to a Stanky reproduction that looks like it came from yet another source:


That's a known fake (it has raw cardboard back and is actually not die cut, that is a photo of the original) but note the extra creasing between Stanky's legs, the uniform dirt near his right shoulder (not on his left side) and lack of staining on the bottom border.  Do the other two from the trio also exist from wherever this sprang? At least one MLAS fake was found along with this one that had both red and blue printing on the reverse but I can't recall which player, even though I saw it in person. This could be that fake or its sibling but I can't tell. Maybe this was from Fritsch?

Finally, let's get to the actual proof examples mentioned above.  In December of 1981, The Trader Speaks had a very interesting auction from Card Collectors Company:


It looks a lot like Richard Gelman was auctioning some of his late dad Woody's collection.  No matter, this is the only display ad I have ever seen for the trio in my entire stash of old hobby publications.

In the Spring of 2018 REA auctioned a trio of proofs in PSA Authentic slabs that seemingly matched the CCC auction descriptions:




As you can see these were blank backed, showing the white stock used to produce the Blue Backs and Major League All Stars in their sole press run, so clearly cut from a proof sheet.  If you see one with a non-white, raw cardboard reverse, it's a fake.

So, to recap a whole bunch of my findings over the years, the Red Backs and Connie Mack All Stars were apparently printed together along with the Team cards in two press runs.  The first was on a dingier stock, the other on what I call a brilliant white stock that remains so to this day. The Blue Backs only came on the brilliant white stock, as did the Major League All Stars.

My belief is the initial run of each as sold in the nickel packs Baseball Candy included all cards printed in red, with the dingier backs, so, assuming any packs still exist and someone would open one, you should only find Red Backs, Teams and Connie Mack All Stars together. Blue Backs and Major League All Stars should likewise co-habitate but Teams may have also been inserted with these despite their red print backs (more below on this). I'm not sure if the smaller cards were on the same sheets as the larger ones but this scrap clearly shows contemporaneous printing of both sizes tied to ink color on the cards and how the initial idea was to have panelized pairs:



The larger Connie Mack All Stars, Major League All Stars and Team cards were essentially inserts for the smaller cards and all were initially sold under the Baseball Candy brand.  I think Topps planned to market a kind of "immersive" experience with Baseball Candy, will all large components enhancing the smaller ones when the game was played with them; why else originally market them all under the same name?  I suspect the Connie Mack All Stars were intended to face the Major League All Stars when the game was played with the smaller cards but the virtually non-existent Topps marketing campaign never got this across and my take is legal problems--probably an injunction halting sales- shut down the entire shooting match as the Blue Backs were being sold along with the second run of Red Backs.

The Team cards are a bit of a head scratcher as to why they were included, no matter the overall intent of  the Topps marketing strategy.  It would not surprise me if it was part of an out of the box legal ploy to show they had issued cards of all players but then the set got shut down.  Perhaps the missing seven Team cards would have been issued with a second press run of Blue Backs but this is all pure speculation on my part. There's enough smaller cards out there to suggest Baseball Candy sold well and the need for a second press run of Red Backs seems to confirm that too.

What's odd looking back almost 70 years now is why certain players were included. A little bit of investigation though shows the player selection wasn't really off the mark and in addition Topps may have had limited options given their player pool in 1951.  Like Stanky and Konstanty, whom I touch on above, the other two seemingly bizarre choices for inclusion in the set were Walt Dropo and Hoot Evers.

Dropo was the 1950 AL Rookie of the year and Evers had an excellent campaign in 1950, receiving some AL MVP votes (as did Dropo). Evers was also a stellar athlete and from what I can tell all these decades later he excelled in center field.  Injuries were his biggest problem, plus a late start due to military service but he was considered a good enough player to replace Ted Williams in left field for the Red Sox when the Splendid Splinter was recalled for active duty in May of 1952 during the Korean War.  In fact, he was traded for Dropo as part of a blockbuster deal in June 1952 that brought him to Boston from Detroit (and which also included another MLAS, George Kell). So three of the eight regular issued subjects in the set were in the same trade!

Circling back to the matter at hand and as noted above, I am presently unsure if the Team cards were issued with the blue backs or which version (dated 1950, or undated) came with which run of Red Backs or even if some got held back to be inserted with the Blue Backs. There could certainly have been a mixing after the first Red Back/Baseball Candy run was sold and even some legal strategy in the timing of of issuing dated or undated versions.

Later, bagged "sets" of Red and (possibly)  Blue Backs were sold, but they appear to have been an aftermarket product and the large cards within may not have been representative of the original packaging. You can click through the links on the right if interested in more details, noting some information in the earlier posts has been amended. There were ten cent "cello" packs as well sold under the Trading Card Guild rubric; these did not come with gum and could have had some the larger cards in them. Penny packs of Baseball Candy would only have the smaller cards within; Doubles packs were 1952 reissues with out the caramel.

I decided to look at PSA and SGC pop reports to see if there were any clues in the pop reports and indeed there were.

Looking at small card panels and large cards, PSA shows a 82/18 percent Connie Mack All Stars vs Major League All Stars count and essentially the same split on Red Packs vs. Blue Backs, strongly suggesting they were marketed together by color. The Teams have an overall pop of 911 and for the dated vs undated varieties it's roughly a 50/50 split, with a little variance from team to team. The overall PSA pops for all Baseball Candy subsets as of June 27, 2020:

Red Backs: 15,117 (may include panel count)
Blue Backs: 7,356 (may include panel count)
Teams: 911
Connie Mack All Stars: 836
Major League All Stars: 183

That's very close to a  2:1 ratio for Red Backs vs Blue Backs, underscoring the extra red press run. The total of Teams vs the two All Stars sets is also quite close, roughly within 10 percent.  This could mean the Teams were packed with both colors of Baseball Candy panels. Don't forget they and the Connie Mack All Stars are also found with both dingy and brilliant white backs.

SGC has counts that mirror these results somewhat:

Red Backs: (site does not display sums) but 167 panels
Blue Backs: (site does not display sums) but 60 panels
Teams: 223
Connie Mack All Stars: 444
Major League All Stars: 67

The red vs blue panel mix is a bit off from PSA but SGC does not get nearly as many subs. The Connie Mack All Stars and Major League All Stars also match at around 87/13 while the Teams count  vs. the die cut cards is only 44/56, which doesn't track at all with PSA.  If I remember correctly, early on in the slabbing wars, SGC was able to holder more oddly sized cards at first due to their ability to create custom inserts on the fly. Beckett did not have a lot of graded examples but their overall numbers match the findings at the other two. I didn't include their Red and Blue Back counts but did count the big cards.

Combining the large card counts from both PSA, SGC and Beckett yields 2,766 examples graded like so (rounded figures):

Teams: 1,182 (43 percent)
Connie Mack All Stars: 1,326 (50 percent)
Major League All Stars: 258 (7 percent)

Toting it all up and assuming all trios began as just that, while not knowing what John Rumierz's two examples look like and assuming there was always a matching trio that explains the "loose" Konstanty, here's what I have come up with, detailing my best take on provenance for each.  I assume the die cuts did not survive at the same rate as the Teams but we'll never untangle that one.

Roberts: 
1) PSA 2 die cut -Woody Gelman/??/Halper/2010 Legendary/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
2) Raw die cut- Woody Gelman/Nagy (double taped back)/Mastro 1999?/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
3) Raw die cut "nice" - Rumierz show walk in
4) Raw die cut/back glue  - Woody Gelman/Fritsch/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
5) PSA A "Good" Proof - Dec 81 TTS CCC ad/likely 2018 REA/Current Whereabouts Unknown 

Stanky:
1) Former PSA 1 die cut  - Woody Gelman/??/eBay/??/Halper/2010 Legendary/Olbermann
2) Raw die cut- Woody Gelman/Nagy (double taped back)/Mastro 1999?/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
3) Raw die cut "nice" - Rumierz show walk in
4) Raw die cut/back glue  - Woody Gelman/Fritsch/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
5) PSA A "Good" Proof - Dec 81 TTS CCC ad/likely 2018 REA/??/2019 Goldin/Current Whereabouts Unknown 

Konstanty:
1) Former PSA 2 die cut  - Woody Gelman/??/Halper/2010 Legendary/Olbermann
2) Raw die cut- Woody Gelman/Nagy (double taped back)/Mastro 1999?/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
3) Possibly "in the wild" (was this separated from the Rumierz walk-ins?)-Mastro 2000 or 2001/Current Whereabouts Unknown
4) Raw die cut/back glue  - Woody Gelman/Fritsch/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
5) PSA A "Good" Proof - Dec 81 TTS CCC ad/likely 2018 REA/Current Whereabouts Unknown 


A tip of the hat to Anthony Nex and Al Richter for background on some of the Mastro auctions. Many questions remain on Baseball Candy and the "Big Three" MLAS but they helped solve a couple already.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Bazooka Blast!

It's a grab bag of Bazooka this week kids!  Here's some Bazooka eye candy I think you will all enjoy.

Wesley Morse drew Bazooka Joe comics for Topps for less than a decade (1954 debut) and then they figured out how to stretch is work even more after he died in 1963-his drawings ran until 1982!  It looks like he did some other work for Topps as well, take a gander at the line work and style on this envelope:

(courtesy Jeff Shepherd)

I'm not positive but I think the 2 cents US postage metered rate ended sometime in 1958, so this looks like a mid 50's envelope.  That traffic cop looks just like an amalgamation of Sarge and Herman from Bazooka Joe,  doesn't it?


I recently found a true date attribution for the Bazooka U.S. Presidents package design set.  It was described in Woody Gelman's Card Collector as a 1962 issue and I think in the few guides that covered it over the years but it's from 1960. That makes total sense given it was a presidential election year.



In 1969 Topps experimented with a foil Bazooka wrapper on what may have been a test of a nickel roll twin-pack (dig the markdown from Grant's), harkening back to the product launch in 1947:


I have no idea why they did this, nor why they brought back the sepia comics of yore:


Finally, on the heels of last week's waxy insert post, I thought I'd revisit this 1973 Bazooka comic inserts showing how Topps would sometimes gyp the kids with an ad instead of Bazooka Joe and His Gang:


Stay safe out there folks!

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Wax On, Wax Off

It's funny what's turned up in Topps packs over the years: plain white gum separators through the mid-50's, cello wrapped caramel in 1951 and a string of contest and premium offer cards in the late 50's into 1960.  Topps then moved into more familiar inserts starting with the 1960 Football cards, which for the most part ended in 1971 for Baseball and Football. In retrospect these were clearly sales stimulators so long as costs allowed. In 1967-69 though, something else made an appearance that not too many folks know about.

Ads, specifically in-house ads for upcoming inserts and sets, are what came in certain wax packs these three years. The first one I'm aware of is this little bit of wax paper from 1967, roughly the size of the era's penny Bazooka comics:


Love the Tigers player and his knowing look!  My research, which is admittedly a bit limited as I am just in the training wheels stage when it comes to the series-by series specifics of vintage Topps wax packs, shows the Pin-Ups were issued throughout the season (they are known in 2nd, 5th, 6th and 7th series cello packs for sure), so I'd imagine these were found in 1st series packs.

QUICK SAME DAY UPDATE:  I found this commencing with the Classified Ads in the March 1972 Issue of The Trader Speaks.  Same pitcher, slightly altered facially and on the uniform and I suspect Woody Gelman had a hand. He appeared, along with his battery mate, in TTS until the last Dan Dischley published issue came out in September 1983, save one or two occasions):



1968 brought an ad for the Game cards, complete with cursory instructions:


From Mantle, Mays and Aaron to Campy, who was a helluva player but not in the same zip code as those guys, and I suspect at least one other player, if not more, was named (see batter's ankles and feet at the top). The Game cards seem to have started showing up in 4th series packs, so these would be from the 3rd series. However, that wasn't all. The 6th and 7th series wax packs carried two tones of Football preview:


These are noticeably larger (much taller) than the Baseball waxy inserts and according to Darren Prince's 1993 Wrapper and Pack Guide, came in 6th and 7th series packs. Dig the commodity codes and fold lines - were these printed and actually folded in with the wrappers?! 1968 was the first combined NFL/AFL set issued by Topps and they clearly intended to make a big splash.

1969 seems to be the end year for the waxy inserts, possibly due to rising costs; remember, ten cent "cello" packs debuted this year to mimic the Baseball wax in a large scale pricing experiment and the dime wax pack debuted for real with the '69 Football release (and some Non-Sports issues).  Friend o'the Archive Dave Schmidt sent me a scan of the installment from '69 as I have not yet found one of these (the others are from my collection):


The Deckles debuted in Series 3 but there were also the Decal inserts in 1969 so it's possible another  ad insert exists for those.  Prince has the Decals ("Magic Rub-Offs" actually) as appearing in 2nd and 5th series packs so I'm not sure what's going on with that.

I've also just gotten this one in from across the pond, it's from Topps UK:


That little, oddly-fonted ID number off to the right says "UK 24" which didn't help with dating but I found a Footballer wrapper from 1979-80 over at the awesome Nigel's Webspace that helped zero in on it:


Sorry for the murk, I found a better scan of the offer, which is not an exact match to the insert but fairly close:


While being fairly non-conversant with the ins-and-outs-of the English First Division teams of the time, I did know Celtic & Rangers were both from the Scottish League so I had to do a little research. The last season Topps issued Scottish League cards was 1979-80 (in their own set) and the English League teams (first and second division) were in the set this wrapper enclosed. so the timing fit. I then found 21 of the 22 first division teams that played that season on the insert, missing only Bolton, which was by far the worst team in the league and ended up relegated (and likely just ignored by Topps UK) along with Bristol City and Stoke, both of which made the scarf cut as a booby prize I guess. This waxy insert must have part of the Bazooka Joe comic series over in the UK in either 1979-80 then, or the next season if they were burning off excess premiums.



Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Berger's Baltimore Barge Balderdash

I've been reviewing a small mountain of old hobby publications these past few months and am presently in the midst of a mid-70's run of Sport Fan, which was put out for many years by Bob Jaspersen.  If there was ever a hobby 'zine that resembled a gossip sheet, I suspect Sport Fan would be case #1, although most publications of the era had a lot more personal notes in them than anything put out since the mid 80's. Reports of specific cards at specific prices changing hands were commonplace and a lot of convention and gathering photos were taken with collectors wives' portrayed in the pictures the accompanying articles and not just in Jaspersen's publication. Hell, I would have loved to have attended some of those mid 70's soirees, some were even held in taverns!

One of the more common features in Sport Fan (and other hobby pubs of the day) was massive coverage of collector's conventions, which often ran on for three or four very informative 8 1/2" x 11" pages. By 1975 the larger gatherings were garnering media attention and the Sixth Annual Mid-Atlantic Sports Collectors Association (MASCA) show held the last weekend of April outside of Baltimore was no exception. The show was well extremely well attended and brought at least one notable figure to town: Sy Berger, Sports Director of Topps.

Berger was interviewed on Convention Eve by local radio host Ted Patterson on WBAL and this may be where the legend of the 1952 Baseball High Numbers getting dumped at sea began. Sport Fan has the front page scoop:


As readers of this blog know, I do not buy the story and have been looking for its origins for some time now. It's possible Sy trotted this tale out prior to this but the next day (4/25/75) the Baltimore Sun ran a piece highlighting it (and Sy) that would certainly have given it legs with the hobby and without:


I'm surprised he didn't add something about cement shoes to further embellish the narrative! Also, it's 97 cards in the series but that's a minute point. Bonus chestnut in column one's penultimate paragraph: the 250,000,000 cards printed annually story, first promulgated around 1959 IIRC. Classic shot of Mr. Berger though!

I have nothing against Sy and in fact consider him a true innovator, a fantastic PR ambassador for Topps and an astute businessman but for reasons I've discussed here previously just can't believe this tale and have to think it was all "corporate PR" fluff as he was certainly a man to toe the company line. No matter, the 52 highs are legendary and so is Sy!

This will be my last mid-week pandemic post and the blog will be returning to its standard, weekly  Saturday posting schedule. Hopefully it's been a little bit of a diversion these past couple of months for some of you.

Friday, June 12, 2020

A Series Of Fortunate Events

We're half a day early as I screwed up my scheduling of posts!

There's a really good thread going on over at Net54baseball.com about the 1963 Topps Baseball set and how the series stack up SP and DP-wise.  I won't immediately ruin for you, here's the linky dink.

While we are on the subject, here is a 4th series half sheet from '63, a thing of beauty:


It's a great set to study as the color scheme of the cards made it necessary to invert half of them to facilitate printing; the inset circles also are symbiotically tied to the main color at the bottom of the card as well.  This, coupled with the Topps practice of pushing the next series checklist onto the current sheets made for an interesting observation or five by the Original Poster, one Kevvyg1026.

Herewith the executive summary:

  • The idea that the last (7th)  series started at #523 is incorrect
  • The idea that there are short prints in the last series is also incorrect.
  • The idea that short prints could occur in anything other than multiples off 11  is wrong (we already knew this here at the blog)
  • For whatever reason, there is one subset of 11 cards that were "extra prints" in the 5th series. Other than the 1st series, which traditionally held 110 cards (109 plus an extra checklist) in this era, the rest of the series work out to either three impressions of each card over a full 264 card sheet (series of 87+1 extra checklist=88) or four (series of 65 + extra checklist=66) except for the 5th which has 77 (76+1) cards.  For some reason a row was double-printed in this series. Those 60's Topps 1st series runs usually had 22 extra card per half sheet, but the quantities were so high you can't tell the SP's from the DP's.


Here's the likely series breakdown (you would need the sheets to be 100% confident), kudos to Kevvyg1026 for figuring all of this out:

Series 1: 1-109 (110 cards incl. extra checklist)
Series 2: 110-196 (88 cards, ditto)
Series 3: 197-283 (88 cards, ditto)
Series 4: 284-370 (88 cards ditto)
Series 5: 371-446 (77 cards, ditto)
Series 6: 447-511 (66 cards, ditto)
Series 7: 512-576 (66 cards, ditto)

These won't actually match the series configuration son the printed checklists by the way:

Series 1: 1-88
Series 2: 89-176
Series 3: 177-264
Series 4: 265-352
Series 5: 353-429
Series 6: 430-506
Series 7: 507-576

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Holy Sheet!

I've been rolling through a ton of old hobby publications of late and am presently in the midst of The Trader Speaks (TTS) issues from 1978.  TTS of course was owned by the recently deceased Dan Dischley (a New York City cop who sometimes used his connections to go after hobby fraudsters) and was the pre-eminent hobby 'zine of its time until being overtaken by Sport Collectors Digest (SCD) in the early 1980's as the entire structure of selling and marketing baseball cards was changing.

197 issues of The Trader Speaks were published, with all but the last 18 under Dischley's stewardship. The first edition came out in November of 1968 and once the fifth issue came off the presses it followed a fairly set format, first with checklists and updates of same then more and more short articles.  It was punctual (almost unheard of at the time), informative and opinionated. Dischley published 179 issues including a special "Convention" issue for a three day show held at Shea Stadium in August of 1978 and never missed a month.  There were practically exponentially expanding numbers of shows occurring at the time and perhaps the most fertile time of hobby growth was from the Summer of 1977 through the Fall of 1978. A lot of this was aided and abetted by the appearance of the Sports Collectors Bible in 1975 and a couple of other early price guides.  Jim Beckett also conducted two price surveys in this time period, with TTS dutifully publishing the results and by time of the Shea Convention the modern hobby had been born.

Lew Lipset, a name familiar to all of us grizzled old collectors --and certainly a few ungrizzled ones-- very quickly became a major dealer (and eventually cataloger) in the mid 70's and by 1977 had a regular TTS column called Lew's Corner that was pretty entertaining but served the real (and dual) purpose of tracking pricing of star cards among other things. Hobby price guides and the Beckett surveys had mostly focused on full sets and certain series within those sets and while dealers had been warming up to the idea of what we would now call superstar card pricing since the early 70's, Lew was one of the first guys to discuss and embrace this idea. He had some other neat observations as well and today I'd like to focus on one in particular, which came via letter to him:


Most readers under the age of 50 or so probably do not recall the glorious messes that were usually referred to as "junk stores" but along with antique shops, classified ads and "trading post" periodicals (TTS was modeled after the latter) they essentially comprised the eBay of their time and even the smallest towns always seemed to have a handful of good to great ones ones. Meyer's sure seems like a classic junk store but also one that gave us a lot of Bowman oddities that have survived to this day.

I'd wager a good chunk of the handcut 1949 Bowman PCL cards circulating today originated from Meyer's and were just overlooked by the writer of the letter. There are unusually high amounts of the pre-1953 Bowmans out there that are print oddities, such as this Murry Dickson from my collection, that could have come from the shop as well:


Bowman's 1949 PCL cards are now thought to have had some distribution on the west coast, both in their own packaging and also (possibly) mixed in with the MLB cards for a very, very short period of time. While still difficult, there are found more readily today than they were in the 70's, when they were widely considered to be among the toughest of all postwar issues. Lew's concise comment the prior month says it all:


The PCL cards have been steadily demystified over the years and while still a bit pricey, you could assemble a couple of sets with ease just from current eBay listings.  Don't get me wrong, they are not easy but the PSA pop report has 569 showing, or around 15-16 of each on average and interest in PCL issues is not what it used to be.

Here is the concise history of TTS publishers in case you were wondering:

Nov. 1968-Sept. 1983: 179 issues (Dan Dischley)
Oct. 1983-March 1984: 6 issues (Sonny Jackson)-mailing list then sold to SCD's parent company
June 1989-May 1990: 12 issues included in copies of SCD




Saturday, June 6, 2020

Here's An Idea

I'm in the midst of an extended series of posts that will probably begin to see the light of day in the next couple of weeks so today's effort is not going to involve a lot of heavy lifting.  I thought it would be fun to look at some of Woody Gelman's filing system today, namely the Idea Books he kept at Topps.

Woody had an extensive filing system and I'd imagine a pretty good amount of space at Brooklyn HQ by his notebooks, ephemera and whatnot.  He thought of this as part of his "idea retrieval" methods, which in a way are what the internet became well before anyone outside of ARPA or Bell Labs could grasp such a concept. Unfortunately, instead of being kept intact, these notebooks have been looted and pillaged over the years with all the pages and files being scattered across the hobby landscape with reckless abandon, stymying any hope of getting a complete picture painted. And so we have scraps...

Here's a neat one, possibly the earliest I've seen, 1955's Hocus Focus (large):


It's a little fuzzy and the infamous Woody all caps scrawl makes it even harder to read but above IDEA it says "Published" and the Item is "Photographic".  The Subclassification is "Hidden Pictures" and the See Under line has the set name.  This would not be consistent throughout Woody's long tenure at Topps, although he appears to have used mostly the same Idea page for his entire tenure with the company while inconsistently filling in the blanks. Having said that, the one I'll show next does not have any of the lined items off to the right, which looks like they tracked reaction from some group or groups of people (Topps execs, kids?) and some progress detail, which seems to be blank on most of the ones I've seen. I wonder if they kept a "clean version of some sets to show prospective licencees?

Here is "Copyright Merch." of a "test series", namely King Kong from 1965 (I have it as either '65 or 1966 but no matter this seems to cinch it at the earlier year), that got pulled when Donruss got the licensing deal.


Tattoos? Got ya covered (sorry) with 1967's Dr. Doolittle, unclear why it's not "licensed merchandise" though:


I'll close with perhaps the most interesting one of all:


"Inserts Types" is what this is, and yes that is a 1964 Topps Giant Size Sandy Koufax cropped excerpt shrunk down to the size of a 1969 Deckle. This makes me think the original idea was to do this almost-great insert in color, which would have been stupendous.  I suspect color would have been a bit more expensive though, in a year of chaos and cost (a lot of pictures had to be takes once the MLBPA agreed to an enhanced deal with Topps and due to the expansion that year). No clue what 27-B means though in the Progress Record.

Pretty neat, eh?

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

White Letter Day

1969 saw a 20% increase in the number of major league baseball teams with the addition of the Seattle pilots and Kansas City Royals in the American League and the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres in the Senior Circuit, all of which siphoned players from other rosters in their respective leagues. The entire sport probably seemed like it was on the move when that season's Baseball set was being planned at Brooklyn HQ. Coupled with this, Topps had been embroiled in a dispute with the Major League Baseball Players Association, who were boycotting Topps after Arthur Shorin told Marvin Miller he didn't see his "muscle" in negotiations of licensing fees. That little problem didn't resolve until a large portion of the cards had already been composed.  It was a tough year to get everything straight (a challenge even in quiet ones) and Topps ended up up with a very interesting set, definitely shored up by a solid design.

In the area of challenges, 23 cards from the 5th series (#426-512) ended up with the player name entirely in white letters, where either the given name or surname was supposed to be yellow. Here is the list, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Bob Fisk; anything else was intended to look the way it did, white letter-wise at least. For the corrected version, substitute yellow for white.

440a Willie McCovey (last name in white)
441a Dennis Higgins (last name in white)
444a Joe Moeller (last name in white)
447a Ralph Houk (last name in white)
451a Rich Rollins (first name in white)
452a Al Ferrera (first name in white)
454a Phillies Rookies (names in white)
461a Mike Epstein (last name in white)
464a Dave Marshall (last name in white)
468a Pirates Rookies (names in white)
470a Mel Stottlemyre (last name in white)
471a Ted Savage (last name in white)
473a Jose Arcia (first name in white)
476a Red Sox Rookies (names in white)
482a Jim Gosger (first name in white)
485a Gaylord Perry (last name in white)
486a Paul Casanova (last name in white)
491a Twins Rookies (names in white)
493a Wes Parker (last name in white)
500a Mickey Mantle (last name in white)
501a Tony Gonzalez (first name in white)
505a Bobby Bolin (last name in white)
511a Diego Segui (first name in white)


Huggins & Scott have come up with a partial 5th series sheet (and a very informative partial proof) that contains the entirety of the issued white letter subjects and it's a neat little bit of Topps visual history. See the Mick in slot 5 five of row 2 for white-on-white confirmation.


REA had a repaired version with the correct yellow letters awhile back for comparison, although it's a bit fuzzy (sorry):


The white letter variant partial does not show the 4 repeating rows (replicating the top four rows) so it's unclear if the white letters were on both impressions of the duplicated subjects (the other half sheet would have the middle four rows from the one sheet at the top of the other then the 88 card iteration below) from H&S.

Also of note are the ten All-Star cards--not because they have variants but because the back of them has the Pete Rose puzzle on this proof:



However, the blank front of this proof is where the good stuff is.  Check out this extract:



There's your press run green light date: April 11, 1969, with 85,200 sheets run (I presume 264 full sheets) or about 22,250,000 cards -  about a quarter million of each subject.  But of course there were other press runs so the actual number printed would be much higher.


Saturday, May 30, 2020

Not So Simply Super

I don't know about you guys but I've spent some quarantine time ciphering out various Topps puzzles.  The biggest one so far (literally and figuratively) has been 1970 Super Baseball.  I'll spare you most of the number crunching and give you what's known and what's not.  I've been corresponding quite felicitously as well on this matter with Friend o'the Archive and uncut sheet super sleuth John Moran.  I'll get back to Mr. Moran after presenting some colorful scans, graphics and (B&W) numbers:

My interest was piqued by a partial (and torn) uncut sheet featured recently by Huggins & Scott:


I'm sure there's a great story behind this and it looks a right mess but very importantly it includes the gutter separating the two half sheets that make up the full press sheet.  Each sheet side, actually called a slit, has 63 cards: Slit A on the left and Slit B on the right. I call this sheet "HS1"

A long time ago I thought the full set of 42 appeared three times across two half sheets (42*3=126 as does 63*2) but that has turned out not to be the case.  Here is a proof sheet I call "HS2" and you can guess the origin:


REA had an uncut sheet sheet as well once:


I dub thee "REA", although I note I can't find the sheet over in their archive right now after going back to grab their site link.  Still, that's the name for our purposes! I believe it says SLIT B on the right edge between Bosman and Yaz, which was also helpful.

And then this one I found from a long forgotten source some time back, call it "PROOF":


However the problem with proof sheets is they show a specific area of sheet real estate but not necessarily where on the sheet the proofs ended up residing. So I began anew with HS1 and then turned to the others.  I came up with a schematic which I show here in two parts-here's slit A:


Those two left columns will be our focus momentarily.  But now Slit B, for which I use columns labeled AA through II just to make things harder (not really):


As for the colors, which you see show interlocking segments of the from the scans I inserted above (and also how the torn sheet bridges the gutter), here is the legend:














The Bench in I7 is technically "Unknown" but a safe bet so I've treated it as part of the confirmed array.  The four "Inferred" cards in gray follow sequencing that also seems right so they too are treated as being in the array.

I then added up all the impressions for each subject and got this:







































The results, pending the 14 "No Idea" slots for the A&B columns give us some reference points to fill in same:
  • #38 Powell, known since almost the day the set was issued as a SP, as per the June 1971 issue of The Trader Speaks, although the first references I've found in TTS relating to possible short prints go back to the September 1970 issue. If you do the math, it's about 6 cents per card except for Boog, who adds $1.50.


Except for Powell, all the known SP's appear twice so far across the two sheets, again noting we are missing 14 impressions.

1   Osteen
2   Bando
5   Seaver
36 Brown
37 Robinson
38 Powell (1 only)
39 Davis
40 Williams

Four players appear four times across both:

15 Niekro
16 Howard
29 Yastrzemski
30 Fregosi

Everybody else has three impressions across the 112 presently known positions. And note the way those pairs stick together numerically in the count and also on the B Slit in Columns AA and BB.

Now let's get back to Mr. Moran.  We both feel the A and B columns will be locked in as pairs, although you will see in a second (and from the B Slit schematic above) that Powell may not fit this pattern. I have a theory that the eight known SP's appear no more than twice across both sheets while John thinks some may appear three times and have production related shortfalls.  We do agree on the following three potential pairings though...

13 McCovey & 12 Clemente (more below on Clemente)
19 Stargell & 18 Mays
34 Rose & 33 Gibson

That would bring Clemente, Gibson, McCovey and Rose to four impressions, Mays to 4 and Stargell to 3 but that's an uneven pairing and may not fit. Possibly McLain & Mays could be paired, making each a "quad."

The Clemente is on the top edge for sure (we also know on the bottom) as this cinches it and a McCovey appears to be as well in some scans from Mr. Moran. Check out all the real estate above Roberto's image in this scan:


McCovey is similar up top, just not as much white on this example compared to the Clemente:


Here now is where our theories diverge. Here's my take:

4 Aparicio & 3 Killebrew (we both agree on Killer actually)
7 Freehan & 6 Dierker
21 Santo & 20 Horlen
38 Powell & 42 Agee (unmatched I know, but we agree on Powell-I think).

John thinks:

5 Seaver & 4 Killebrew
38 Powell & 37 Robinson

He thinks possibly (making each 4 impression subjects):

9 Harper & 8 Bench
11 Brock & 10 McDowell

My "final four" theory preserves my "SP twice only" thoughts while John's is more based upon PSA pop reports. Mine brings Aparicio, Dierker, Freehan, Horlen, Killebrew and Santo up to three impressions each.  His brings Killbrew & Seaver to 3 and unbalances Powell (2) and Robinson (3). My Powell-Agee pairing is bothering me though.  It could be "Powell-Robinson, or Agee-Staub...or no second Powell at all; he is definitely the spanner in the works. The B Slit has pairings of 40-39 and 37-36, neatly leaving #38 Boog outside the operating pairs sequence.

OK, I have clearly been driven mad by lack of human contact!  Anyway, the thought was to let the readers have a go at it and see if anything pops up.