Saturday, October 17, 2020

The Organization Men (and Women)

Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann sent along a really neat Topps item recently and I think you'll all agree it's one of the more amazing pieces to be discussed here. I've previously shown an example of Topps Jamboree, a newsletter designed for the wholesalers and jobbers Topps relied upon to distribute their products but this particular item seems geared to the far-flung Topps salesmen around the US.  I'll get into dating in a minute but let's gawk at this wonderful piece first.

Here's a nice shot of Topps HQ in Brooklyn and a letter from Sales Manager Hugh Spencer to kick things off:

I can't find a good reference to John Dromey, at least the one who would have written the below piece but he wrote for an industry trade magazine called International Confectioner and that's where this story originated, in a longer form:

Take Mr. Dromey's exhortations with a grain of salt in places.  I'm not sure about the American Leaf Tobacco Company (ALTC) being the largest wholesale tobacco company in the US but they did have an impressive presence nationwide, or at least east of the Mississippi River.  Their scale is hard to measure though as so little is available on the company. The "Profitable Sales Aid of Silence" tagline though is 100% accurate-it's how the Shorin's operated for decades, i.e. letting their products do the talking.

The referenced real estate venture had at least one very major hiccup in 1933, when the building housing the ALTC (and apartments on the upper floors), a joint venture of their father's with another family (the Rabkin's), went bust and 7 Debevoise St. was foreclosed upon. This act makes the comments about ALTC reasonably suspect to my mind as well, although prior to the Depression things may have been quite rosy in both empires.

The filling stations though, which went by the American Gas Stations (AGS) moniker, are much more quantifiable. They certainly were doing well enough to get bought out by the Standard Oil Co. of New York (Socony) or what we would now call Mobil, in 1938, although latter day family accounts and those of certain associates differ on just how well things were going. 

A 1939-40 New York City tax photo documents one such station; all seem to have been located in Brooklyn  although I have a recent report of one possibly being in Queens.  This may be one of the few photos showing the operation as any other tax photos I could find showed the switch to Socony had already occurred. AGS sold Socony products so the oil major must have had a pretty good idea of what they were buying.  Around fifteen AGS station existed at their peak.

Similar chains around New York City such as Sobol Brothers, were also being gobbled up at this time by much larger companies. AGS should not be confused with the American Oil Company (AMOCO), which was originally a brand of Standard Oil's but got trust-busted into an independent in 1911.  They later re-associated though and both Standard and AMOCO stations co-existed for many years before various mergers somewhat reunited them. The AGS stations were rebranded as Socony's after the deal closed and I'd imagine would have been filtered down to Mobil stations eventually. One location was still active (as a BP IIRC) until five or six years ago and one or two others may still be service stations.

The "American" theme, which featured red, white and blue prominently, would be reflected in Bazooka's livery once the product was launched in 1947.

Now we get to some Shorin's.  I think I've only seen one other picture of Ira and maybe two of Abram over the years. Joe looks like Joe and Phil looks like a super-villain!

We see some offspring next.  Joel Shorin would end up as President of Topps and Phil Shorin's role must have been expanded at some point (I'm not as up to speed on the third generation as I am on the original nuclear families). Check out young Sy Berger!

The references in Berger's bio lead me to think this newsletter is from the second half of 1948 as I believe his first son was born earlier that year and the other jobs described match up with that dating. Eddie Shookoff's son gave me a valuable interview for my book and I believe Mel Bohrer was a car pool buddy of Woody Gelman and Sy Berger's for many years. I suspect Phil Jr. and Sy also interacted quite a bit as Berger had some involvement in procuring premiums from Japan after the war. Charles Zubrin also featured prominently for decades at Topps. 

I want to match up some of the initials of the secretaries below to some Topps correspondence I have but it's a back burner item:

As the "Changemaker" is still front and center and with no reference at the end to the penny tab version of Bazooka (that being a mid-1949 effort), I think my latter part of 1948 date estimate stands up pretty well. 

These "house organs" are hard to find and I have no idea how long this publication ran. I'd love to find more copies of this one and Topps Jamboree.

Saturday, October 10, 2020


I'll take a slight pause on the Tatoo posts today as it's a lot to take in over four straight weeks like I originally planned and the topic is perhaps best served with a  break in between.  Instead, here's a little treat that, to me, was a completely unexpected find.

I'm doing a very deep dive on Woody Gelman right now and one of the things I have learned is that his stepfather, Sam Rosen, who ran the forerunner of Card Collectors Company, was the most renowned match cover collector in the United States after World War 2.  But the best part is, I think Woody (or more correctly Solomon & Gelman) looks to have designed a matchcover for him.  This is an awesome piece of work:

That is from 1949, when Solomon & Gelman were in full force and in the throes of doing work for Topps. I know this because it's quite specifically dated:

R.M.S. stands for the Rathkamp Matchcover Society, the oldest phillumenic organization in the world, and still going strong! Sam was being feted at their annual gathering in 1949 as their Outstanding Collector of the Year. I am advised this was Sam's normal look at the time, scanning the ground for match covers as he walked around. 

Here is Sam's business address, which later housed the precursor to the Card Collectors Company. He was in the garment business and this building's location, which I know well, is a match (sorry...that's a groaner) to that nabe :

He was in a lot of match cover organizations! I found an article describing how he got his start phillumenically speaking (boredom essentially) over at the Immortal Ephemera site. Impressively, he had only started collecting match covers six years earlier! He and Woody weren't blood relations but two massively accumulative collectors like them must have had some sort of compounding effect on each other.

Saturday, October 3, 2020

All Lined Up

Continuing on from last week's attempt to corral and checklist the related 1948, 1949 & 1953 Tatoo issues, a fair number of original art pieces from the set have survived. These little plain ink drawings fall into four main categories:
  • Matching known issued subjects
  • Likely matching as yet unidentified issued subjects
  • Subjects probably pulled from release
  • Red Herrings
Some if not all of these originated from the Topps Vault. The first category is not something I'll rehash too deeply here except to note that Topps assigned a number to each drawing it sold, as memorialized on the corresponding COA.  These range from #1-202 (at least) and one number repeats for unknown reasons.  I've not seen any "mirrored" images in the art proper (not that I expected to) so Topps merely copied a piece of original art to issue it a second time in altered format. Theoretically, anything that was to show properly words or numbers once the tatoo was applied would be "backwards" on the artwork.

This brings us back to the question of how many different subjects exist.  The 1948 and reissued 1949 set (slightly larger in dimension) presumably contain the same advertised 100 subjects.  I base this on the idea that when Topps reissued their 1949 Flags of All Nations/Soldiers of the World and License Plate sets a year later in a larger size, the used the same art. It gets a bit harder though with the 1953 issue ( in a larger size again than 1949's release) which was advertised as having 150 subjects. I have some thoughts on the issue dates as well, which I'll get into in a future post.

We also have other questions that arise. Did the first 100 subjects get reissued with 50 additional ones in 1953? Are mirrored subjects included in the Topps counts? Are the "official" counts believable?  Where a subject was issued in one orientation and there is corresponding line art in the opposite one, does that mean both versions are possible to find as an issued Tatoo? You can see the problems with trying to figure all of this out!

Then there is the matter of the 1981 24 Tattoos set, which reused art from these sets and others that Topps issued in the 60's, especially 1962's Monster Tatoo.  Those will be looked at next time I re-engage (I'll break this up a little for ya next week) as there is a lot of (fertile) ground to cover there.

Here is an example of an issued Tatoo and the corresponding artwork that obviously matches it. The Totem Pole is a mirrored subject as both left and right looking variants were issued.  These also show how spot color would be applied differently on each "mirror," making me think they are all included in the Topps set totals:

Topps Vault assigned that line art number 76.

I've identified 21 pieces of original art, of which four were probably not part of the set, another that was seemingly was intended for display box or advertising art, and three or four that may have been rejected.  In addition, Chris Benjamin in his Sport-Americana Guide to the Non-Sports Cards No.2 showed 28 subjects in his overview of these sets but for most part I can't tell if they were actual Tatoos, or original art (I suspect the latter). In any event, while only a handful of the Benjamin illustrations match issued Tatoos and I will not treat them as art here as I used his "unmatched" examples in part one - I assume he knew what he was talking about!

Here's the art-with the Topps Vault numbering in brackets. Some may have been rejected, they are marked on the price with a penciled X. Others are cutouts and don't follow the pattern of rectangular artwork with lightly penciled border lines (which I don't always show in my scans).

Aircraft Carrier (118) - Likely rejected.

American Indian Portrait (85)  - Possibly not from Tatoo 

Cloud with Puffing Face (107) - Possibly not from Tatoo. Boy this one looks familiar 
from somewhere else but I can't place it at present.  Any thoughts out there?

Elephant (110) - Possible Woody Gelman handwriting, hard to tell.

Empire State Building (109) - Possible Gelman scrawl again. 

Football Punter - From BST Auctions, no number associated.  
However, we get a nice glimpse of the back:

Frankenstein (86) - I believe this is from 1962's  Monster Tatoo

Leopard (2)

Lion Cub (115) - The pencil comment says "Not Cartoon" with
remnants of an "X" so I think this was rejected.

Marching Band Drummer (54)

Outboard Motor Boat (112) - That scrawl is not Woody's.

Pirate with Dagger (1) - Note small whited out area.

Purple Heart (117) - I believe this was an original Tatoo as it's in 24 Tattoos

Seabird on Anchor (97) - Possibly rejected, can't tell if that's an "X" or not. This seems 
like it should be a military insignia or logo but I can't quite place it.

Sedan with Chrome (86) - Not sure what's going on above it though.

Shark (111) - Notes off to the side may not be "vintage" but these are the holders Topps Vault used.

Sportscar (113) - Positioning of two other subjects seems to be penciled.  
"Medal of Honor" above and "Ford Jet" below, or is the bottom one describing this drawing?

Strongman with Banner - I believe this is a drawing intended or used for display and/or advertising purposes. The pencil notes say "Solomon & Gelman - 1 neg. glossy same size"

Tarzan (108) - The dark border appears unique, I wonder if this was meant for 
another set?  Lightly titled in pencil, not in Woody''s hand.

Uncle Sam (98) - Serious eyebrow action, likely rejected.

United Nations (105) - The Secretariat Building, which dominates, was not inhabited until 
August of 1950, so this may have been an added "150" subject or for something else.
It's an oddity as well with the glue remnants and lack of rectangular art board.

Wrestlers (114) - Pencil says "Rocca", not sure if this was intended for another set, rejected or what. It almost matches a 1955 Hocus Focus subject featuring Rocca but it's not the same image.

I think that's 12 that are Tatoo subjects, so added to the 123 other, we are at 135. Many more to come if my theory about 24 Tatoos proves out next time we meet a couple of weeks hence (taking a brief Tatoo break).