The precise dating of Topps sets and those of other issuers is, to my increasingly cluttered mind, primarily a vestige of baseball card collecting, where determining the year of a player's rookie card appeared has a massive impact on value. Sports are, of course, determined by their seasons and for the most part an issue date for a specific set from the last 75 years can be ciphered quite easily. Peek back earlier than World War 2 though and it's not always so simple, even for baseball and football sets. As for non-sports, for certain sets it's difficult to figure out exact issue dates well into the 1960's and even into the 70's on occasion. Compounding things is the propensity of Topps to sell hot sets over more than a one year period or something they issued across the "New Year's Divide".
Popeye Tattoo and its two (or four-stay with me) subsquent offspring is a perfect example of both effects. The original tattoo series has been described as being issued anywhere from 1956 to 1958, with the latter date seemingly the consensus. Here is the original series wrapper:
It's not dated of course, just the King Features Syndicate and Topps copyright lines appear. However, I'm pretty sure it was a 1957 issue that was sold well into 1958. Take a look at the box, or rather two pieces of it-rather stunning I'd say when the top graphic is blown up-but sadly the only display remnants I can find:
By 1960 Popeye was airing on 150 stations nationally and described as the most popular syndicated cartoon show in the country. Topps was on it before that though and I've already detailed a jobber's invoice from March of 1960 covering the "New Series" of Popeye Tattoos.
Between that and the American Card Catalog, where Gelman was an editor, giving 1959 as the year of issue, I think it's safe to say these indeed debuted that year. This all suggests a 1957-58 window for the original series and 1959-60 for the second.
Now we come to Popeye's Mystery Color Tattoos. Rights to the theatrical cartoons were controlled by Paramount but don't forget that Popeye was first a comic strip, where the rights were owned by King Features Syndicate. KFS commissioned 220 new shorts, made just for TV, to debut in the 1961-62 season. Popeye was still a hot, hot property and Topps of course wanted to remain onboard while perhaps freshening up their product a little:
I like how Topps subbed in a fish on the wrapper application graphic! That fish appears on the underside of my example, whcih I think was a salesman or promo verison as there's no production rip at the top:
Again, no date is found on the wrapper but the Third American Card Catalog Update, compiled by Buck Barker, appears in the February 1, 1962 issue of the Card Collectors Bulletin and clearly identified the mystery tats as being a 1961 issue, 13 lines down:
Given how the tatoo series would have been timed to the TV season, it seems logical this was a 1961-62 release.
Many thanks BTW to Friend o' the Archive David Kathman for providing definitive dating of this ACC update, which was inexplicably described as undated in Chris Benjamin's compilation pamphlet. There's another great tidbit on the page as well, namely confirmation that Civil War News (see line 14) was indeed issued in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of hostilities between the North and the South in 1861. Every source I've seen describes it as a 1962 release but clearly it was not if Barker had it pegged as a 1961 issue.
I did mention four additonal Popeye tattoo series, didn't I? Having covered a duo, that leaves two still. Well here is one from Venezuela:
Intriguingly, the wrapper sizing is far smaller than the US version of the original series which measured out at 1 5/8" x 3 3/8". The Venezuelan wrap is only 1 1/8" x 2 3/8", or the size of the original 1948 Topps Tatoo wrapper!
Finally, Popeye and Topps reunited in 1966 with this new/old wrapper:
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