Saturday, June 1, 2024

Berry Bad

So I've quite inadvertently compounded a longstanding mystery, thanks to a couple of wayward scans I stumbled upon back in April on eBay.  Perhaps only the nerdiest among us recall my posts concerning 1971 Topps Rocks O'Gum and 1972 Topps Grape Gum Berries way back in 2017. There were also Raspberry Gum Berries offered, which I've not touched upon (until now). 

Well one of the perplexing things about the colorful set of 55 humorous lids that were used, so I thought, to top off the little Dixie Cup that held these three related products was that the Rocks O'Gum lids often showed up in years past as complete sets and pretty much mint ones at that, while the Grape and Raspberry lids are very hard to find. In fact, I still need an example of the Grape lid and since my want list for Topps type cards is pretty much down to the scarcest of subjects, I have to think I'll be looking for awhile. 

Some Rocks O'Gum lids do show signs of use but the majority of examples I've seen and owned over the years never topped a container, such as this one featuring Topps Creative Director Woody Gelman:

Not an exact likeness LOL. The outside has the ingredients and some added flair:

Rob Lifson unearthed a sell sheet some time back, it's pretty groovy:

You get a very good idea of the packaging from the sheet but for reasons we'll get to in a minute, I don't think the gum looked like actual little berries. First though, two more fruity lids, Raspberry first:

This too has the cartoon underside:

And while I only have a topside scan featuring a proof, I'm sure the Grape version also sports a cartoon underneath:

You will note both of these flavor variants come with the ingredients prominently displayed.  Which makes these next two scans quite perplexing:

OK, there is a clear plastic lid sitting on top, which thinking about it, is not all that odd.  Then there is this image:

I doubt it was placed over a cardboard lid as it contains the ingredients, just as they do. Which begs the question then: what are we looking at?  Is it a test or a redesign?  I lean toward the former and tend to reject the latter but as it turns out, Topps supposedly stopped making the little gum nuggets that came in these containers in 1974 due to their shape and a rather far-out development, so there could be more to the story on the clear lid. (Same day update-there is, Mark Newgarden recalls seeing the clear lid version around the Topps offices in the 80's and it indeed seems like it could have been a "reboot" test.)

What happened was their Block BusterBazooka Bits, Presto and Gumniks brands also deployed candy-coated gum in this small shape (the latter brand was key to developments) and, I am not making this up, Topps succumbed to a concerned mother in Florida, who complained that her kids, who were carrying the little gum nuggets around in a medicine bottle, were treating them like drugs. Furthermore, pharmacists had told her that the gum resembled brightly colored amphetamines and barbiturates!  Putting aside the mom of the year that let the kids put the gum in used pill bottles in the first place, this seems really, really dumb and also really, really staged. But I digress.

Remember Gumniks?  The colors, man...

Anyway, here's the lowdown from the Orlando Sentinel, February 8, 1974.  Oddly her name is not Karen, although I express no surprise this happened in Florida:

No matter, a Topps spokesman at the time indicated they would change their little bits o'gum into something closer to a jellybean but acknowledged that it was "almost impossible to make candy that doesn't in some form or other represent a pharmaceutical." 

This pressure campaign may explain why the Grape and Raspberry lids are so hard to find and possibly too the use of a clear plastic lid as Topps, being Topps, would have almost certainly sold off any remaining "drug gum" still in their warehouse. But maybe they decided to show what was in the container before killing the brand. Or maybe it was already dead as I suspect these...

...were just repurposed Grape Gum Berries they were possibly burning off as well.  Aye, more mysteries!

No comments: