Saturday, January 20, 2024

Treading The (Card)boards

The various and myriad test issues spit out by Topps have always ignited collectors' passions and, as the years pass, done a number on many a bank account, mine included. What we tend to think of as a test issue really began in 1965-66 and seems to coincide with the move of production from Brooklyn to Duryea. Yes, there were tests before this (and probably far more than anyone will ever know) but the method of distribution seems to have been refined by the mid-Sixties into what amounts to a standardized countertop display featuring a blank, white box, with white wax packs within.  These came with a large, colorful sticker affixed to the front that identified the set and often used the planned graphics for the full retail release.  A smaller ingredients sticker was affixed to the reverse. Not all sets were tested this way but for anything that was a standard sized card, it was pretty much the norm, although some regional tests seem to have had more "finished" packaging (and wider distribution).

Test packs are seen sporadically and remain highly (and rightly) prized.  Test wrappers are found with a little more regularity but an actual test box is a rare bird and, given the lack of any identifying markings in most cases, not something that would suggest to anyone it was worth keeping.  Here then, is one for the 1975 Shock Theater test:

It's just a mashed potato sandwich, with mayo on white, especially when all closed up:

The test pack has fabulous graphics, which were used for the retail release (which was NOT in the U.S):

Here is the ingredients sticker, purple in this case:

Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has done some magnificent work on this set and I'll link to a Vintage Non-Sports Forum post where he gets into all sorts of detail on it. Not to steal his thunder but his discovery that purple ingredients stickers were used for seven card test packs, and black ingredients stickers for three card test packs, is illuminating.  I'm not positive but that seems to suggest a testing of two different price points. Rising prices were becoming a major concern following the 1973 oil crisis not just for Topps but pretty much everybody on the planet. I'm not sure where the pricing was displayed but at a guess it was just a sticker to be stuck to the box. The purple/black ingredients stickers require further research but Topps seems to have settled in on some kind of bright line with the colors used for these around this time.

The set was retail-released in 1976 in the U.K. as Shock Theatre, with most of the production handled in America, then shipped overseas, as Topps fully devoured A&BC and rebranded in 1975. Production was being set up at the time in Ireland for the U.K and Continent but it was a while before the plant got rolling and it seems the old A&BC facilities and local lithographers were no longer up to snuff, requiring imports of various card sets.

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