Saturday, April 29, 2023

Highly Anticipated

Well it's definitely spring auction season around the hobby and all sorts of amazing things are being offered, often from long term collections or holdings that are being broken up. One of the more interesting aggregations of items I've seen so far concerns Topps shipping cases, which hail from the Larry Fritsch warehouse and were recently gaveled at Collect Auctions.  Fritsch still sells cards to the public but have been using Collect to auction various vintage items from their immense inventory. Generally, I prefer not to pick images from a single source for my posts but this was such a concentration of cases, I couldn't resist. Let's look at some Baseball offerings.

Here's a 1970 Baseball vending case:

The move of production from Brooklyn to Duryea, Pennsylvania in 1966 led to an the accompanying change of manufacturing information on their confectionery packs around mid-1969. However, items like vending boxes that had no gum often showed their origin as the latter.  

Now, the fun part as the packing code reads: 311601. Deciphering that using the "Cummins method" we get July 16, 1970. While it's certainly not clear exactly which series was packed using this code,  a reasonable guess, with seven distinct series in 1970, would run from the 5th to the 7th series.  However, it appears the good workers in the Fritsch warehouse have solved this riddle for us:

That "T70-7" suffix, may not be 100% definitive given the vagaries of storage in such a joint but I spent two years working in a shipping warehouse during college and once you opened a case to pull product, the remaining items never went anywhere else. So I make this to be a high number shipping carton with about a 95% level of certainty.

If this is indeed a high number case, then Topps Baseball packing dates for series 1 likely start in January. That makes sense, with a new series coming out roughly every month and I can attest Football cards were showing up in the stores by me as a kid by the middle of August and they were always started after Baseball concluded.. The initial release date for sports products seems to have crept earlier and earlier as the years passed - 1952 Topps Baseball didn't roll of the presses until the latter part of February.  IIRC by the early 1980's, December "prior" saw the first Baseball cards of the new season.

Next, we do get a little mystery.  This is described as a 1970 Super Baseball case.  It's a cool one, dig the Pete Rose graphic:

OK, first things first.  It's an X-out case, meaning  it was non-returnable. Topps would also mark the boxes with big, black magic marker X's but this is the first one I've seen where it's stamped on a shipping carton. The packing code date is January 21, 1971.  Wait, what?! Well the same wrapper and I believe the same box (or the majority of the graphics at least) were used for both the 1970 and 1971 releases of this product. As January seems very early for a supplemental issue, which generally seem to have been tied to the baseball season already being well underway, given the X-out, this seems like 1970 overstock being sent to Fritsch. Also, note the address has switched to Duryea on the shipping carton.

1973 also presents an anomaly:

Well, you can see the problem if you've been parsing the codes along with me.  January 17, 1974 seems to be the packing date but if you look just above it, part of another code can be seen.  I think that's the original packing date, which comes across July 11 (and I assume 1973). Maybe this case was never shipped originally, or used for a repack with markered X-out boxes. There's some extra bits below the 1974 stamps as well, possibly marking this as non-returnable as no X code is seen.

Here's a final Baseball case, from 1975:

At last, a code that makes sense: February 13, 1975.  Huzzah!

Saturday, April 22, 2023

What Have You Done For Me Philately?

We've been looking at 1952 for the good part of a month now but today let's travel 22 years into that future for a look at the 1974 Topps Stamp Albums. Continuing a tradition started in 1961 and 1962, where stamps were inserted in regular issue Baseball packs and a separate, large album was sold for ten cents, their second full-fledged effort at producing a stand-alone set of baseball stamps (1969 saw the first), was a colorful affair. Packaged as a self-contained combo of a handful of stamps and a mini album (one for each team) for a mere dime, the 1974 release should have been a hit based upon past experience and results.  

Except it wasn't and vast mounds of uncut stamp panels, in a 2x6 array, survived, often found with tightly cropped ends. Up until five or six years ago complete stamp production runs of the 24 different panels, all with close cropped left ends, could be found on eBay for a relative pittance, presumably from a never-folded large stash, and always offered in a nice, neat stack. As you will note, there are but ten players for each team, so this means 48 subjects were double printed. Complete sets in full or partial panel form are still offered, as are incomplete production runs of 22/24 full panels, with the best two HOF-subject rich panels removed. Mostly these seem to be partially disincorporated stock or pack contents, as the original stash, which was always sold in full 24 sheet production run form, seems to have dried up.

As for the albums, they are tough items today, especially if the team has one of the ongoing hobby superstars on its roster (think Ryan, Rose, Yaz) and it's not exactly clear what caused the obvious population mismatch between stamps and albums today. I've addressed the 1974 set previously but recently found some production items that are interesting.

First though, let's take a look at what was being sold. The pack is a typical one used by Topps for tests at the time and with no pricing (that would have been on the generic test boxes).  The assumption is these were sold for ten cents but with no extant test boxes or scans available, it's not certain.  In fact, Topps may have attempted a higher price point, or even multiple ones, dooming, or perhaps skewing, the test:

As mentioned above, the stamps were colorful and surviving panels usually found with the left ends cropped so tightly that no border is visible.  As the wrapper states, a dozen stamps were inside these were folded twice vertically. The pack inserted panels usually. have a typical wavy cut along the top and bottom borders, whereas the "stash" panels are symmetrical.

This is from the stash:

That's a fabulous sheet of course, as I count six hall-of-famers! This one is from a pack, surf's up with that wave!

You see that kind of cut, or worse,  on Bazooka Joe comics all the time.

As for the albums, whereas Topps used a somewhat drab orange color scheme for all the 1969 mini albums, they went with a much more eye-catching palette in 1974:

The facsimile signatures on the back page revealed who would be found with a space for affixing within:

Proofs are known:

That appears to be a proof for colors matching.  I think this one is too, even though both seem to have full color:

This gives you a flavor of the interiors:

The table of contents is a really nice touch:

The failure of this set put the kibosh on similar future issues of this ilk, until Topps introduced sticker and album combos in 1982, bringing in a  new style of small, sticky novelties.. 

Saturday, April 15, 2023

What In The Wide World Of Sports Is Going On Here?

There I was, surfing the web, when I saw her, a red tinged beauty; she looked disorderly, wild.  I knew she was trouble but couldn't turn away....OK, I'm no Raymond Chandler but we do have a Marlowe sized mystery on our hands today folks.

I was recently pulling images of uncut 1952 Topps panels together for my April Fools Day post about salesman samples when I came across one that blew up my basic understanding of how the landmark 1952 set was issued.  It's been assumed by everybody and anybody that the six series were issued like this, with one appearing every month or so beginning in late February or early March:

1st 1-80
2nd 81-130
3rd 131-190
4th 191-250
5th 251-310
6th 311-407

Nice and orderly, planned in ordinal progression, with iterations of ten prevailing, excepting the last series, known by hobbyists as the high numbers and referred to by Topps at the time of issue as the second or "new" series.  Easy, peasey, right?

Well, maybe things weren't so orderly after all.

These are the main production facts for each series that I can actually verify:

  • The first 80 cards can be found with black or red backs. (thanks, Capt. Obvious!)
  • Panels of 25 or fewer cards have been seen.
  • A mostly complete proof sheet exists of the 2nd series, showing 50 different subjects.
  • The 3rd series can be found, rarely, with gray backs in addition to the far more common white.
  • The 6th series has three double prints.
Here's some panels from the 1st series, the first is from REA of course and has some great detail on printing dates:

That is the top left corner of one of the slits, all nice and neat:


Here's another, from the Spring 1982 issue of Baseball Cards magazine: 

Two quads, which look to have been cleaved from the same slit (hard to see here but the cuts line up) and also suggest the sheet was designed in 5 x 5 sections as the right side does not really line up the neatlines (the black line around each image) when compared to the left.  And we wonder why there's so many miscut cards!  Anyway, these run:

41-50 (with the Sain/Page pair that led to flipped backs in at least one press run, but hold that thought)
51-60 again

So this represents the last forty cards of the first series (hold that thought too), with one double printed row. We know Topps used two 100 card slits for 1952, so the double printed row makes sense as a total of four rows would need to be double printed to have the half sheets work out, seemingly two per slit (yup, hold that thought).

Friend o'the Archive John Moran sent along the next three panels.  The first is the most complete:

That reads:  

66-70 again

This could be to be the right side quad from from the same slit as the one above it. Next up is this bad boy:

This one sure looks like it's from the bottom two rows of a slit.


Now we get to one that's hard on the eyes, it looks like printer's scrap of what would I think would be from a proof sheet (more on this below) but the order of two passes can be discerned:

Of the cards where you can see more of the subject than not:

37-39 (Snider, Westlake, Trout)
27-29 (Jethroe, Priddy, Kluszewski)
57-59 (Lopat, Mahoney, Roberts)
47-49 (Jones, Page, Sain)

These are overlaid with portions of the second series run, so clearly the first series cards were on a waste sheet, likely just to run off some ink before printing the actual proofs:

117-119 (Lollar, Raffensberger, McDermott)
127-129 (Minner, Bollweg, Mize)
87-89 (Coogan, Feller, Lipon)
97-99 (Torgeson, Pierce, Woodling)

It looks like a third impression, a very misaligned part of a name, is also visible on Page/Pierce proof.

Here's that second series partial proof sheet.  It's low res but you can definitely tell who's who:

It's a little incomplete on both the left and right sections but if you cobble the rows together across both "slits" you get the entire 50 card 2nd series layout:


Each side extrapolates to a five row repeat.  This all makes perfect sense.  However, in 2017, REA auctioned this little sucker off, and it defies all logic:

If you're still with me, that's:



The logic has always been that since the black backs run from nos. 1-80, with the Page and Sain errors was corrected, the black run continuing then with those two having their intended backs, then a third run, solely red backed, finished off the series. Based on this, it should stand to reason those first eighty cards were printed together and formed all of series 1. Another bit of logic has been that the cards run in sequence from x1-x0 in each row.  That's definitely not what we're seeing here. And they are most certainly red backs:

You would really need to see the full, two slit press sheets for each series to be sure of what's what (maybe, this kind of upends that idea) but man, I have questions...Did Topps start mixing in second series cards with the first series?  Why are the sequences seemingly mismatched on this panel? Did they only do it once they started printing the red back series 1 cards? Did they do this through all of the first five series?   Were these intended for a different use than wax packs? 

And still more questions.  There's been a video circulating of a Canadian TV show looking at the "Sportscard Phenomenon of the 90's" that has a number of interesting segments (and a bewildering John Candy cameo):

If you go to the 20:00 mark, you will see an unopened box of 1952 Topps Baseball nickel packs was uncovered at the OPC plant in London, Ontario.  The box was later described by Mastro Auctions in their April 22, 2004 auction catalog as being from both the fifth and sixth series, the latter being the high numbers of course.

Well, OK-I'm not sure there's any way to prove both series were sold together even by looking at some of the slabbed packs and even then there's no guarantee as to how that box was put together. Did Topps just mix fifth and sixth series packs for Canadian distribution? Maybe US distribution too (remember the Mr. Mint find had semi-highs and highs possibly from the same shipping carton)? Did someone at OPC assemble a box from whatever was on hand and just leave it behind? 

Plus, you know, can you even believe Mastro?

I've got some further thoughts on all of this but I'd like to hear from the readers here if any more hybrid panels, packs and boxes are known in 1952.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Keep On Semi Truckin'

Ah, the 1952 Topps Baseball set. Topps allegedly planned to stop their semi-inaugural issue after the 5th series, resting at 310 cards. Due to Bowman exclusives, a handful of players probably had to be dropped from what was an admittedly rushed production schedule. Topps sure seems like they had a just-deep-enough pool of viable players to carry them through the end of the fourth series (nos. 191-250) but then, in the fifth series they dropped in three manager cards (Tommy Holmes, Red Rolfe and Paul Richards), in what may have been a filling of holes to finish things off.

Let's look at Holmes first.  Known as a card with a variation in the description of his 1951 Red Back card, due to an early season call-up from Hartford, where he was a player-manager, to helm the big league squad and he began 1952 with the Braves.  He also played sporadically after his 1951 promotion, with a handful of outfield appearances but primarily as a pinch hitter. Holmes was released as a player in 1952 before the start of Spring Training but he stayed on as manager.  A poor start cost him that job too and he was fired on May 31st. Topps had an image of him in managerial mode (dig the clipboard) and used it for card no. 289:

Being a semi-high, that image was no doubt composed before his May 31st firing.  The reverse is confirming and revealing:

There's more to it though.  Note the hometown: good ol' Brooklyn, headquarters of Topps Chewing Gum.   He was signed by the Dodgers on June 17th and ended the season with them; he was on the 1952 World Series roster as well, and this was a nice, local story Topps could lean on. I think we can say that, given the notation he was "still in the Braves organization" the text was finalized sometime between May 31 and that date. My thought is the semi-high fifth series was released sometime in early June, not a huge leap given this detail.

So Topps knew he was fired (Ex-Manager, gotta love it!) and was able to note in the text as well but were stuck with the clipboard pose, almost certainly since the art was already locked in and possibly even "shot" by Lord Baltimore Press at the time the Braves let Holmes go.  However, they were able to change the planned text, whatever that was to have been, and the result is what's seen above. 

As an aside, I think it's a great shot! The semi-highs may have the best images in the entire set and Sy Berger always said they learned on the job, series-by-series. with the set.

Now what about Red Rolfe?

Well, he was long retired as a player (we'll get to that in a New York minute) and had been managing in Detroit since 1949.  As with Holmes, Topps had a nice shot they were able to use.  Also, just like Holmes, he was fired mid-season, on July 6th in his case. He is still assumed to be the Tigers manager on the back of card no. 296

The answer as to why Topps used him seems to lie with his playing career, as he spent it all with the Yankees, and was a key member of six World Series teams for them, as they brought home World Championships in five of those tilts. He ended up coaching at Yale and did several overseas "athletic troop" visits during World War 2. Rolfe left Yale following their 1946 season and ended up as a professional basketball coach, with the Toronto Huskies of the NBA-precursor Basketball Association of America. He returned to the Yankees and was thought to be in line to become their manager but ended up as a coach in 1947 when Bucky Harris got the nod instead.  He then left to become head scout for the Tigers before the season ended.  There was a definite New York connection with Rolfe.

The timing of these two managers getting fired is revealing.  The semi-highs were done and dusted by the time Rolfe got canned and were probably out in the marketplace, or very close to it, by then. No real surprise but it's nice to have some clues. 

Then there is the curious matter of no. 305, Paul Richards.  

Another great shot!  The reverse doesn't help much, although maybe one small clue is there:

The Dodgers and Giants connections might have been enough for Topps but he last played for an NYC team in 1935 and would have been more well-remembered by a kid's father than the actual small fry consumer in 1952. It may have just come down to a matter of rights and available images with Richards. Still...

When Topps they decided to go ahead with what they dubbed the 'second" or "new" series in their press releases and advertising, three more managers were added plus a whopping eleven coaches! As part of this approach, and while waiting the the expiry of an exclusive deal Jackie Robinson had signed elsewhere to roll around, I think they had a good handle on the pool of star players they were going to include in the final series, since they were also able to corral the likes of Mickey Mantle, Bobby Thomson, Pee Wee Reese and Roy Campanella. They then filled things out with a number of no-names, plus the managers and coaches (an exception might be Eddie Mathews, but he was a rookie in 1952). Each of these could have been signed with the hopes of using the player in the 1953 set, knowing they would again have certain stars in the fold. 

While there were 10 major league cities in 1952 and 97 sixth series subjects, there's a definite New York flavor to the big names and the series in general, with a whopping 35 players included from New York City teams, and 14 from Boston's. That's 20 percent of major league cities with over 50 percent of the cards. Topps then, clearly thought the major market for the second series was metro New York, with Boston not far behind. Given the "rushed" aspect of the high numbers, it sure seems like the big problem was filling in the commons with subjects who didn't play in NYC or Beantown. 

Perhaps some other hoped-for subjects fell through, leading to the inclusion of all those coaches and managers in the last series and of course, the three famous double prints at 311, 312 and 313. It sure seems like they just ran out of subjects, doesn't it?

And now I wonder (how I wonder), did the three managers they used in the semi-highs somehow lead to those three never-filled slots in the highs? Did Topps intend to hold all the managers back for the final series but were then forced to use three as an emergency stopgap in the semi-highs? I welcome any thoughts on this.

I'll take a look at another 1952 mystery next time out.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Color Me Impressed

A really cool 1952 Topps piece popped up recently - an intact salesman sample and a colorful one at that.  Check it out, this thing is a marvel:

That is just a fabulous array of color, surely the results of a combined effort by Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman's art service.

The details are scant but succinct (and turned out to be correct):

While I'm sure there's more than just these out in the wild, I've found the following intact combinations via the some old auction archives, SGC and PSA pop reports:

8 Marsh/9 Hogue/10 Rosen

12 Bagsall/13 Wryostek/14 Elliot (as seen above)

18 Combs/19Bucha/20 Loes

41/Wellman/42 Kretlow/43 Scarborough

42/ Kretlow/43 Scarborough/44 Dempsey

45 Joost/46 Goldberry/47 Jones

58 Mahoney/59 Roberts/60 Hudson

Notice for instance the one number gap between the samples headed by no. 8 Marsh and then no. 12 Bagsall.  If you look a couple of entries down from them, you will see samples headed by no. 41 and then no. 42, so Topps was kind of jigsawing these.  I suspect this was related to the larger panels they would cut up and use as shock absorbers for the shipped cartons, which ended up hung as a display sometimes.  Look here, if you do the math on what's left from 4 column wide partials hug at Woolworth's in the Bronx during the initial rollout of the set, that leaves behind two 3 column strips per row:

True quads in a 5 x 5 array are also known.  Here's one, you can see the where the images for the  Mahoney/Robert/Hudson salesman sample were located:

A cut up of this one seems to be out there too based upon the SGC data:

71 Upton/72 Olson/73 Werle

Here is the Mahoney/Roberts/Hudson panel:

That has the salesman's sample reverse but by the time of the second series Topps had moved on to a better format:  

You will note the bottom border looks handcut.  It's impossible to know for sure but I'd say that was done by Topps and not the addressee, Mr. Joseph G. Spear. The right two cards (reverse view) look to be pasted over by the mailing label and I would think carry the card backs.:

That's 141 Hartung/142 Perkowski/143 Moss.  There's a lot more to all this and I'm sure other combinations are known (and by all means send me scans if you have any). Since it's April Fools Day, I'll leave off with this.  It's not clear if it's legit or not but Topps did sell the 52's in Canada, although possibly only starting with the second series.

There's some other things going on with these 1952 Topps Baseball that I'll get into next time.