Saturday, February 20, 2021

Letters Imperfect

Some correspondence from Topps has presented itself of late on eBay and what better thing to do than cadge some scans and share the results here?!

First up we get a dunning letter from Joel Shorin, son of Topps executive Phil Shorin and who would one day run the company himself:


Messinger's Variety Store (or more properly 5¢ to $1.00) was a mainstay for a very long time on Glasgow Street in Clyde, New York where Scottish influence once held considerable sway, so much so that the town was named for the river in Scotland.  It served the small town on the former Erie Canal about ten miles south of Lake Ontario from 1936 to 2001, or in other initials from mid-FDR to early-W, which is about 65 years if you're counting.  Clyde itself prospered as a stop along the canal, which opened in 1825, but its population has hovered around 2,300 souls for quite a while it seems. Clearly a letter mailed there without a street address would make it to Messinger's without much fuss in 1948 (and probably 1998!).  

Donald and Messinger his wife Thelma also had a variety store outpost in Williamson, New York until about 1974.  Here's a peek at the Clyde store's counter and candy racks from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on July 4, 1994:


The Messingers promptly paid up by the way, Thelma must have been in charge of the books:

If the invoice for the order was sent on September 9th, Topps must have been very much on top of their receivables!  Check out this sweet Topps bank deposit stamp on the back of the the check:

Many old checks in the years before electronic clearinghouses would admonish people not to fold, spindle or mutilate them. Perhaps one reason for this was due to the hole-stamped method of noting the check had been cleared and cashed.

Things were far more relaxed ten years later when this little gem was sent out:

That's actually the Topps letterhead, circa (early) '58.  I say "early" 1958 as "The Atom" on the front of each Bazooka penny tab was replaced by "Topps" mid-year.  Blony was the province of Archie comics, to wit: 


Yes, this rode along with a 1958 Topps Baseball Team Emblem premium! I covered those in February of 2010 and if you click through, you will see at least one 1958 pack insert promoting those had the new Bazooka gum tabs with "Topps" now prominent; perhaps as a preview or (more likely) already rolling out as Topps used up a supply of out-of-date letterhead.

Topps helpfully noted  on the flipside of this letter that several premiums could be yours for enough comics and/or change:


Those were pretty hefty buy-ins for the time and this seems like a direct marketing and audience survey form post-MLB stabbing westward as it took only a mere wrapper and SASE to get the original felt emblem premium.  They may have been burning off excessive stock of some premium items as well.

Is it just me or is e-mail just not as fun as postal letters?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Zorba The Geek

Today we explore a set that was as plain vanilla as any ever put out by Topps, 1962's Casey & Kildare. Aimed a young girls, this 110 card issue saw 55 cards of each heartthrob doctor reproduced in (sometimes) glorious black and white.  And it was mostly just those two-Vince Edwards as Ben Casey and Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Kildare-flying solo on most cards.

Ben Casey was a Bing Crosby Productions show while MGM produced Dr. Kildare and they weren't even broadcast on the same network. In fact I can't find a common theme other than the obvious medical settings, so the linkage is curious and I'm a little puzzled how Topps pulled it off. Each show ran from 1961 to 1966 and pulled decent ratings at first before fizzling out.

The Casey cards are a lot cripser in general appearance than the Kildares.  Here's Ben with Dr. David Zorba (Sam Jaffe in real life), the Chief of Neurosurgery at County General. It's a rare pose, showing Vince Edwards with someone else in the frame:


The backs are quite austere:


The crisp look of Ben Casey was not replicated by Dr. Kildare.  Cards can have a glossy or dull finish and it seems Kildare's are especially subject to being dull. The Casey's are almost like a photograph in feel while most Kildare's look washed out and yellowed and do not feel nearly as glossy.  I'm not sure if they were printed together on one sheet, or if there were two press runs using different materials but the look and feel is pretty obviously different on a vast majority of the cards:




Card nos. 19, 23 and 99 have checklist backs, which if unmarked are essentially the only cards in the set with any real value:



There's two wrappers, one (well, two actually) wax and one cello:


They are almost identical other than the obvious difference with cello vs. wax:


However, there is also a third type of wrapper, without ingredients, meaning they had no gum in them.  These may be test wrappers or something else intended for, say, a chain store buyer that didn't want to deal with confectionery items or had an exclusive elsewhere for candy and gum.  Go here to see this other wax wrapper; there's another small detail as well that's intriguing but I won't spoil it, just click over.

That cello is a miraculous survivor (it's the reason I decided to look at the set); I wonder though,  if the real miracle wasn't how many patients were saved by the good doctors but in how this survived in such nice shape.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Advertising Age

We'll be time-tripping to the 1940's this week folks, courtesy of some vintage trade magazine ads run by Topps.  BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd was (and is) offering these on eBay and while I snagged the one I wanted, the graphics on the others caught my eye for sure.

The March 1940 issue of International Confectioner magazine brought us this little beauty:


I won one of these displays a while back and it's a sweet piece, made of Bakelite:


Theres a blonde verison as well and it seems a lot harder to find than the black ones, which pop up from time to time:


The flagship Topps Gum spawned several amusing ads throughout the 40's, including this gem from the July 1945 International Confectioner, and the "Don't Talk Chum, Chew Topps Gum" slogan even lasted a couple of years or so past the end of World War 2, a testament to its selling power:


Exactly two years later Topps, in the same publication, was pushing their Gum as a "changemaker" on store counters across the globe


The 1948 Candy Buyer's Directory showed just how well the new slogan was working:


Change (groan!) was coming though, as this Candy Merchandising ad from December 1948 succinctly shows:


We've seen that SSI slogan before and sales of various Topps products were pretty much booming at this point. The "changemaker" catchword was still there though and would be for another year at least. 

Bazooka was really the flagship brand now but still only available as a nickel roll and Topps took a leap of faith introducing their first "novelty" product, Tatoo gum, as it wasn't clear at all to them if a competing penny product would harm the sales of the "Changemaker".  It seems like that's exactly what happened though and once Bazooka went to their own penny tab in mid 1949, Topps Gum started slowly fading away, undergoing a conversion to a chiclet style that was a staple of military rations for another ten years or so but increasingly a non-entity as a retail product.

I like how this ad backstops the initial 1948 date for Tatoo as some Topps PR blurbs indicate a 1949 debut (commonly accepted issue dates are 1948, then 1949 with its bigger wrapper and even then more subjects came in 1953). The 1949 issue with its redsigned wrapper that used graphical instead of textual application instructions, if I'm not mistaken, no longer appeared in the little round canisters Topps used in the first decade of their existence, instead residing in a square bin-style box. In fact,1948 Tatoo was the only Topps novelty (their first, not counting five cent Bazooka) I could find that came in the round style used by Topps Gum

I suspect Tatoo was actually perennial through 1954 or so, or very close to it. Topps issued a very hard to find set of generic Davy Crockett Tatoos in 1955 (possibly into early 1956) until new tatoo issues started appearing in 1957 as Popeye debuted a new line that would usually feature the hottest kiddie TV cartoon or comic book stars of the day.  This trend lasted yet another decade before fizzling out and giving way to a newer style once again at the end of the 60's. If you issued three essentially identical versions of a cheaply produced product over a five or six year period, it must have bene popular, so why stop selling it?