Saturday, November 26, 2022

And Then There Were Three

Well, hopefully everybody's worked off their post-Thanksgiving torpor! Assuming so, I am looking for a little help today.  67 years after it came and quickly went, the 1955 Topps Hocus Focus self-developing issue remains a thorn in my hide, at least in terms of completing the full checklist.  To refresh your collective memories, Topps issued the set in two sizes, a 96 subject affair known in the the hobby as "Large" and a 126 subject nightmare similarly dubbed as "Small" with the size of the card dictating, i.e. the Large cards measure 1" x 1 5/8" while the Small ones clock in at 7/8" x 1 3/8", which was the same size as the first Topps Magic Photo cards from 1948, which used a similar process to develop the images.

When I published my book covering Topps in the years 1938-1956 a decade ago, I realized that the checklists for both sizes had been hopelessly co-mingled and set about to extract one from the other.  It turned out the first 96 subjects in each size were shared and that Topps had issued an additional 30 cards in the smaller size, which were unique.  They took five of the subsets and added either five or ten cards for this "extended" 30 card series (I hate to use the term high numbers here because the last 30 Small cards exists in the same numbers as the first 96 in that size). This numbering scheme has caused confusion since 1955!

Look at Johnny Schmitz's two cards here.  The 1955 (Small) has four imperforate edges, since they were only issued with penny tabs of gum, inserted between the inner and outer wrapper:

The reverse has a short question that also, with a little bit of research, revealed his E.R.A. "feat" (second best, really?) occurred in 1954:

Note the number in the black circle at bottom right.  That's the overall set number for Schmitz, where as the Photo No. 18 of 23 Baseball Stars represents his subset numbering.  So he is 84 of 126 subjects in the Small Hocus Focus set. The Large size Schmitz is identical in appearance on the front...

...while the reverse shows the score lines used to separate one of the large cards from another as these were issued in panels in five cent packs. In addition, the subset numbering of 16 of 18 has been altered to reflect the smaller number of Baseball Stars issued in the larger size, while the overall set number remains at 84, in this case 84 of 96.

As a result, when separated, the Large cards are always scored/perforated on one or or two of the long edges.  The short edges are both imperforate. While the Large size cards are hard to find today, the Smalls are almost impossible at a ratio that could be worse then 40:1. My best guess is that Topps was testing both the ability to issue something in the style of an older set (which they had already done with their original Tatoo issue) and to see if the one cent penny "tab" packs, which had the card inserted between the inner and outer wrappers (a process they had abandoned by 1950) would sell.  Clearly, they did not.

The way Topps renumbered the smaller version's subsets was inconsistent as they added cards in the beginning as well as the end of the subset numbering sequences. There were five subjects added to the smaller Baseball Stars and this list highlights how Topps wedged in some of them.  Overall set number is to the left of the player's name, then the large subset numbering, followed by the small, with the subjects in purple being the ones added to the Baseball Stars subset in the extended series. This is how they break down:

117 Babe Ruth None - 1/23
Unknown Lou Gehrig None - 2/23
43 Dick Groat 1/18 - 3/23
44 Ed Lopat 2/18 - 4/23
30 Hank Sauer 3/18 - 5/23
86 Dusty Rhodes 4/18 - 6/23
5 Ted Williams 5/18 - 7/23
26 Harvey Haddix 6/18 - 8/23
31 Ray Boone 7/18 - 9/23
69 Al Rosen 8/18 - 10/23
51 Mayo Smith 9/18 = 11/23
87 Warren Spahn 10/18 - 12/23
67 Jim Rivera 11/18 - 13/23
79 Ted Kluszewski 12/18 - 14/23
49 Gus Zernial 13/18 - 15/23
13 Jackie Robinson 14/18 - 16/23
42 Hal Smith 15/18 - 17/23
84 Johnny Schmitz 16/18 - 18/23
60 Spook Jacobs 17/18 - 22/23
8 Mel Parnell 18/18 - 23/23
103 Wally Moon None - 19/23
122 Karl Spooner None - 20/23
109 Ed Mathews None  - 21/23

Crazy, right?  However, that Gehrig gives us a major clue as to the ultimate makeup of the extended series Topps used for the smaller cards.  The front of his card is known from an old auction:

However, while we know the subset numbering is 2/23, we don't know Lou's overall set number.  I can tell you it's either #97 or #111 as every other subject has been identified in the 1-126 sequencing. The other hole is that of a World Leader using one of those two numbers (and either 17 or 25 of 25 in that subset). The only other unknown is the subset numbering is #123 Jefferson Davis (perversely a World Leader and with a subset number that's also either #17 or #25) although a reliable source relayed his details to me (but I'd really like some scans). 

I know these are out there, but who has scans?  I'm partially holding up the second edition of my book due to the missing subjects so am quite anxious to get this sorted.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Pocket Full Of Miracles

Time sure flies here at the main Topps Archives Research Center.  I last posted about an esoteric Topps test issue involving a generic baseball product dubbed Pocket Size Baseball Game way back in 2011 and basically never looked back.  It's a practically unknown issue in the hobby; not too many people are aware of them.  I first picked up on the possibility of this set from an old hobby publication article that ran through a long list of Topps test packs.  I assumed, incorrectly at the time, that the pack held previously overstocked 1970 and/or 1971 Topps Baseball Scratch Off games but when I won a handful of unopened packs many years later they were clearly a different beast:

The set title comes from the test wrapper:

These strange cards seemingly belong in the 1970-72 time frame, for reasons you can explore in my old post from 2011. 1972 seems like as good a guess as any though for year of issue, based upon the "Baseball" typeface found on the reverse.  I've shown that previously in both red/yellow and blue/yellow varieties but Friend o'the Archive Roy Carlson has, quite remarkably, unearthed two new colors out of a small cache of cards he recently acquired.  Here is green/blue:

And here is yellow/blue, which makes four distinct reverses overall:

Note how the team roster block changes color as well.  These were cheap ways to create variety and the look is quite appealing.

Now Roy took it upon himself to scratch off one of his cards, which to my surprise, worked out quite well. The 11 x 4 array matches those of the 1970 and '71 inserts and it turns out the revealed typeface did as well.  Here's the results, showing next to a scratched 1970 insert:

It's still a bit of a chicken-and-egg routine in terms of which came first but I think the larger size used for the test issue is a clue and indicates it came after the inserts were issued in 1970 and '71. But that is still just a guess. We'll need a miracle to get a correct date on these I'm afraid.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Thing That Should Not Be

It's been almost 13 years since I last commented on the purported "1963" "Topps" Mickey Mantle "mask" "high number premium" which, to reiterate:

  • Cannot be tied to 1963,
  • Bears no evidence of being a Topps product,
  • Is not a mask and
  • Cannot be attributed to any known premium offer from any Topps pack or insert in 1963 or any other year.

You've seen one or two of these I'm sure:

Said to measure about 6 x 8 inches, as with the front, there is no indication of manufacturer on the back:
One of these went for $6,000 over the summer, with a description that linked it to, you guessed it, a premium offer on some 1963 Topps high numbers packs.

Well, there's still a decent amount of 1963 wrappers and packs out there and this has never been sighted as an offer on one of them.  Zero, zip, zilch, nada. More properly a plaque, and while this is something reasonably hard to find, they do come up now and then. But there is no evidence anywhere of Topps, or anyone else for that matter, offering this as a premium and frankly, checking the known wrapper premium offers is not all that difficult. The use of the year 1963 in connection with these is also purely speculative.

My own personal opinion is that this was tied to some local store or manufacturer, quite possibly domiciled in Texas, and was intended to be used in a very limited promotion.  Unlike the 1956 Mac Boy Mantle decals, which have been found in some quantity and were apparently used as premiums well past their original intended use (affixed to a bat rack made in Texas by a small furniture maker), these don't seem to have been made in any type of significant quantity. PSA also does not grade these, whereas the Mac Boy Decals have been graded by them over 170 times, with about three dozen assessed over at SGC to boot. I've seen a reference or two connecting the plaque to a liquor store or promotion but again, it's all speculative.

I'm not sure if the Topps mis-attribution does anything negative to the value at this time.  I suspect if it could ever be tied to Topps it might increase the value but it's something that, should that connection ever be discovered, was likely sourced elsewhere for an internal mockup.

One final point, if you look closely at the reverse, it does not appear that either the NY on the cap nor the New York on the uniform was part of the mold.  They seem painted on, although if the cap is embossed it's hard to discern from a scan and I wonder if this was even tooled to resemble Mantle originally. The reverse peek shows what looks to me like a shadow of the NY logo on the cap but it doesn't seem to go deeper than that. An original would be needed to tell for sure but quite a bit of the appeal is the painted look of the Mick. 

I also find it odd that something associated with Mantle and known for as long as this has been known, still has no identifiable source.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Historic Pace

I've briefly touched upon the 1949 Bazooka Historical Almanac series previously and thanks to some spoils hard-won in a recent eBay auction, I'm able to detail a few more of these sepia-styled comics.

Historical Almanac was co-issued with the Willard Mullin Spalding Sport Show comics as the first to envelope one-cent Bazooka bubble gum.  I've got to update all sorts of information on the Mullin comics so won't link to my prior posts, but believe there may have only been about 25 subjects in that series. Given that each Historical Almanac comic covers an event on a specific calendar date, it has a potential universe of at least 366 subjects! I say "at least" as BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd reports he has seen at least one date for two different subjects and over 110 different comics!.

Now I doubt that Topps created 366 (or more) different comics for the series but I've learned to never say never! My eBay haul shows some consecutive dates among the nine in the lot:

I've seen some short-cut comics from the series issued after these as well and its not clear when the trimming occurred, it's possible some even came this way originally. The use of dates before 1752 is fungible, thanks to the Gregorian Calendar being implemented by England and its colonies.  The Julian Calendar used previously was originally 10 days ahead of the Gregorian, presently there is a differential of 13 days. So which date is which?!

Well, here's one from my haul that matches on the Julian date-Louis Napoleon's escape from prison:

The aphorism on Top/Event Description on Bottom seems to be the most prevalent style but it's switched on several examples such as this one, detailing my maternal ancestors arriving in the New World:

I've seen January dates with that style as well so they seem to span the entire twelve month calendar. The two different placements of  text (let alone the typefaces for the "people born on this day" bits make me think the issue was extended beyond whatever number of dates were used originally as it would be quite odd for more than 50 or so subjects to be printed in one go for anything Topps ever issued with Bazooka.

Here's some history:  The Pilgrims, after a detour to Cape Cod, arrived at Plymouth on December 16 (or 26 actually) so it looks like Topps used a mix of Julian and Gregorian dates for the earlier events in the series! That would now be December 29th in the Julian calendar given the gap spreads by a day every century.

February 12 goes presidential:

I dunno, do you think Honest Abe had a lot of energy and bounce?!

More recent events overseas also made the cut:

There's at least one other comic detailing Japanese aggression in China, so the psychic and physical wounds from the events of World War 2 were clearly still raw and I wonder if Pearl Harbor was part of the series as well (I'm thinking it was).

It's certainly an entertaining and even reasonably informative series as Topps navigated their way through the end of the 1940's with aplomb.

Saturday, October 29, 2022


Well Hallowe'en, or what passes for it now, is a couple of days away kids!  Every year, when it rolls around, I am reminded of one of my favorites as a trick-or-treater, a sleeve of Bozo bubble gum balls.  I was all about chocolate and bubble gum as a kid, with the chalky Necco wafers, Mary Jane's and the like going to my dad straight out of my bag, while I hoarded $100,000 Bars, Baby Ruth's, Almond Joys and any and all bubble gum.

Bozo, at the time (mid 60's to mid 70's) came in a clear sleeve.  This promo ad gives you a good idea of the look:

I always seemed to get the assorted flavors and the whole shebang got popped into my mouth in one swoop once opened.  Happy days!

Bozo was a very early Topps product, sold in bulk originally to the wholesalers, who in turn supplied the folks with vending machine routes and businesses.  It was a very important early line for Topps and they were able to avoid a lot of packaging costs by dealing in bulk.

This July 29, 1950 Billboard article indicates a surge in popularity for ball gum, which caused some consternation at Topps (or more likely, their PR firm).  At a guess, this is when all those red topped Oak vending machine "trees' started appearing in the exit corridors and vestibules of grocery stores:

Bozo popped up in something resembling the party-sized Bazooka boxes found in stores for a spell in the 1960's but it seems to have flitted in and out of US retail consciousness for a couple of decades, possibly due to waxing and waning legal issues with Bozo the Clown.  It seems to have had a more sustained existence in Canada and there were countertop vendors that carried the branding, distributed by O-Pee-Chee:

I think a good supply of "new old stock" Bozo gumball machines has been unearthed as you can find those pretty easily in close to pristine condition.  Those were clearly designed to sit on a countertop as the top just screws off.

There were four or five flavors available along with the assorted:

I'll have to hit up my grand-nieces and nephews next week to see if Bozo even makes an appearance anymore!

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Buzz Kill

Somewhat lost in the wake of Batman capturing the attention of the nation's TV viewers, both young and old, in the Fall of 1966, The Green Hornet is primarily remembered today as the show that introduced Bruce Lee to America. Originally a 1930's radio program originating out of Detroit, Britt Reid, a.k.a. the Green Hornet was eventually revealed to be the grand-nephew of John Reid, known to millions as The Lone Ranger. The Green Hornet fought crime wearing a mask and using a gun (sound familiar?) and the show had a compelling theme song, a fully orchestrated "Flight of the Bumblebee".

Commercial radio took off in 1920 and by 1933 was firmly entrenched in America. Detroit, thanks to the concentration of automobile manufacturers and related industries located there and nearby, had a wealth of resources available when it came to creating and marketing entertainment, no surprise for the fourth largest city in the United States at the time. The Lone Ranger debuted on George Trendle's station WXYZ on January 31, 1933, the same day the eight station Michigan Regional Network it spearheaded was hatched. The show was broadcast three times a week and quickly worked its way east, conquering Cincinnati (on WLW, which had the highest powered transmitter in the country at the time), Chicago (WGN) and New York (WOR) by 1934.  That in turn led to the formation and rise of the Mutual Broadcasting System among these four stations, the first national network in the country to have content created by each market, as opposed to the three existing networks (CBS and NBC's Red and Blue) where content was created in New York and then distributed downstream. 

The Green Hornet was in coast-to-coast markets by 1937 and Trendle, looking to expand the audience for the show, eventually ported his own station's creation from Mutual to the NBC Blue Network.  After some government induced gyrations NBC Blue several years later became ABC and that is where The Green Hornet premiered on television in September 1966, nine months after Batman hit the airwaves, with the "Flight of the Bumblebee" theme music still intact. Despite being given the important, and kid-oriented 7:30 PM slot on Fridays (Batman, with which it shared a production company, had that time slot as well but on Wednesdays and Thursdays), The show was thought to be a star vehicle for Van Williams but the Green Hornet, lacking the camp and wonderfully odd comedic gravitas that defined Batman, played it straight and tanked with only 26 episodes produced.  Lee, of course, became a worldwide star while Williams faded to occasional guest star roles for the most part thereafter.

Topps produced a 44 sticker set that was a bit of a mess design-wise. Donruss ended up with the rights to produce a set of trading cards commemorating the show, so it appears two licenses for similar products were granted.  Actually make that three, as Ed-U-Cards also made a deck of 52 playing cards using black-and-white images from the show. A lot of tied-in geegaws were also created outside the realm of cards and stickers and it's clear the show was considered, prior to launch, to be can't miss viewing, especially as Batman was in full ascension as it entered its second season in September of 1966.

Topps was not able to include gum in their Green Hornet packs as a result of Donruss obtaining the confectionery license and it's noteworthy that this was the first time Topps dropped their bespoke chew for a licensed property:

It's a very green theme, as you would expect.  Note the primordial commodity code at the top right.  That wrapper was a miscut (common for some reason with these) and the full code was like so:

I can't quite make it out but believe that reads 466-01-1-6.  Topps had just started using such codes in 1966 after all production was moved from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA.

The box used similar colors:

The bottom indicia was typical of the times and provided an excellent looks at the new curved-T Topps logo, which was never a feature on the pack and visible box graphics for licensed properties:

466-06-1-6 for that indicia I think.

The stickers were all over the place and may feature the most designs on a per-capita basis of any Topps set up to this point.  Here are just some of them:

Nice five o'clock shadow there Van.  Topps must have run out of publicity stills as some cards were illustrated:

That's just weird! The backs were typical pressure stock, scored once:

While the stickers can have their issues and were essentially designed to be destroyed, they are found quite easily today as Topps must have been stuck with a ton of unsold inventory. I suspect they ended up selling a lot of these in Fun Packs and at a guess that would have been during Hallowe'en 1967.

The set is a right mess, especially when compared to the Donruss cards, which are among the nicest that company produced but the main problem was with the show itself. I've seen a handful of episodes and they are, well, kinda boring. I know some folks are fans of the show but Batman pretty much sucked up all the oxygen in 1966 and The Green Hornet wasn't even rerun much, probably due to the low number of shows available for syndication (where 65 episodes was the magic minimum number), so it has still not been widely seen to this day. As noted above, it's mostly remembered today for Bruce Lee.

Saturday, October 15, 2022

Full Sleeve Tattoos

Look around any concert stage or pro football field these days and you're likely to see one, if not more, players with a full arm sleeve of Tattoos.  It's old hat now but Topps had nearly everybody beat when it came to tattoo sleeves.  Of course, I'm not talking about ink but rather penny Tattoo sleeves, which were used by Topps when shipping certain items.

Friend o'the  Archive Lonnie Cummins alerted me to several of these recently, in turn based upon information from Eric Roberts over at the Vintage Non-Sports forum. Warning:  that is a tattoo rabbit hole if you click over! These two sleeves were used to protect the inner box of  "New Series" Popeye and Woody Woodpecker tattoos, both hailing from 1959:

There is some bottom indicia on the sleeves but I can't make it out!:

Popeye was the first major cartoon series to be syndicated for TV (in 1956) and the "New Series" was the middle issue of a three set run of tattoos from Topps that commenced in 1957 and by 1960 was the most popular syndicated show in the US. Woody Woodpecker was syndicated two years later and Topps managed this lone issue, with a later one put out by Fleer.

It's not 100% clear as to why the sleeves were used but they somewhat matched the boxes.  Popeye seems to be lacking the additional indicia found on the sleeve and I'm guessing it just has the information for Canadian release.

On the other hand this was the Topps file copy of the box:

I don't know what's on the bottom of a Woody Woodpecker retail box as I don't believe one has been seen in the hobby, at least that I am aware of, and if it's lacking the corresponding Canadian portion of the indicia, it likely was only retailed in the US.  A negative of the Woody box cover exists though:

Woody Woodpecker was popular but not nearly to the extent of Popeye. So were these a 2-1 deal, packaged separately, overstock?  I am not certain at all but they are pretty neat.  

Lonnie is chronicling all the various Topps tattoo issues from the vintage era and is making tremendous inroads in checklisting them. It's a painstaking task as almost none have captions and Topps repeated some designs across myriad sets. I wrestled the 1960 Football Tattoo checklist into submission once and it was a nightmare, even with a large chunk of the subjects already known.  Lonnie's tackling over a dozen-yikes!