Saturday, March 6, 2021

Triple Double

In support of my recent efforts to move past 1980 as my cutoff point for this blog, mainly due to a rekindled inerest in the weirder and tougher Topps baseball issues of the Post-Glut/Pre-Eisner eras, todays' post will examine an old concept made new by Topps in the late eighties.

In 1955 Topps issued a fairly famous set of cards called Double Header.  I'll not delve into them again today (for that, click back) as they are quite well known and documented in the hobby.  They essentially were inspired by a set of tobacco cards referred to as Mecca Double Folders that were issued in 1911.  I have no doubt Woody Gelman used that aboriginal set as an inspiration in designing the 1955 issue but I cannot attest as to who semi-revisited the idea 33 years later at Topps, although it could have been Len Brown I guess.  There was a twist though, as the modern sets used the idea of pairing a miniature version of a players rookie card with a mini version of their regular issue current year card in a stand up plastic frame. They also added an "s' to make ii Doubleheaders (I'll leave it up to you to determine if the 55's are two words and/or the latter version is one).

The holders measure  2 1/2" tall by 1 15/16" wide at their base (which is a little wider than the portion holding the paper "card") which also has a depth of 5/8" as it flares out from the top.  The double sided paper inserts measure out at 1 1/16" x 2 1/4" and I guess you could liberate them if you wanted to crack 'em out, or more properly slide them out the top of the holder. The most well known versions of these were issued in 1989 and 1990 but there's a test issue from 1988 that not everybody is familiar with.

In addition to the 24 player set referred to as All Stars, a similarly sized set of  Mets and Yankees was issued in 1989. They must have sold well as a 72 player release followed in 1990. But there was a test issue in 1988 that involved a set of 8 Mets and Yankees (4 from each team) and paired the rookie card with one from that year.

Here's the Mets subset, front and back, with Carter being a ginned-up image, his original being on a four player Rookie Stars card:



The test pack was a small and fairly attractive paper envelope....



...except when it wasn't.  Check out this scan of the full test set over at my buddy Jeff's teamsets4u website:


You can clearly (*groan*) see it's the same set and checklist.  I suspect Topps wanted to see if one wrapper outsold the other (not an uncommon move for Topps tests of the 70's and 80's) but that's pretty neat. They ended up going with the paper wrappers for 1989 and '90.  

Here's a liberated Mike Greenwell from the 1989 set:


One little diff-no wood grain border on the '87!  The current 1989 reverse looks OK though:


I can't see they did much to any of the other rookie cards in '89 and when 1990 rolled around, the wood was once again good:



Beats me why the 1989 issued Greenie rookie side went astray.

The '89 Mets/Yankees set is the same size as the All Stars issue but the Noow Yawkers had their own checklist wrapper:


13 Mets and 11 Yankees, not sure why it wasn't even-steven.  The 1989 All Stars are split 12-12 between the leagues:



As you can imagine, with a really weird and pointy frame, the packs suffer greatly.

In 1990, with 72 subjects it took three pack backs to detail the full checklist, here's one of them:


The two 1989 issues and the 1990 set are extremely easy to find and boxes can be bought very cheaply.  The 1988 tests are much more difficult,and it also seems to me that the Yankees are the tougher of the two 1988 NY teams but that's hard to gauge since:

a) I'm a Mets fan and 

b) not too many of these are around.

The Mets/Yankees set must have tested well in 1988 -- indeed, the Mets were incandescent at the time compared to the Yankees if you lived in the NYC metro area -- but the 1989 "home team" returns must have disabused Topps of three-peating the feat in '90. Like a few other Topps oddities of the time, three seasons saw a release and then Topps moved on to something else.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Fun With Fun Bags

Friend o'the Archive Marty Krim (one of our finest NS Hobby Dealers to boot) sent along a color version of a Topps Fun Bag that was featured here in black and white some time ago and also was able to confirm the contents.  It's empty but Marty advises it held Outer Limits, Terror Tales (aka Movie Monsters) and Fun Packs with indeterminate contents. At a guess, they could have held 1967 Baseball cards given how those also appeared in a boxed Hallowe'en "set" from Topps that year (see the previous link above) but anything leftover from the prior 18 months or so was possible except maybe 1966 Foorball, which would potentially have stepped on the 1967 issue.

Outer Limits was a 1964 issue (yikes!) and Terror Tales came out in 1966 (some sources say '67 but it has a 1966 commodity code and was a Hallowe'en issue that year).  The card backs carry that title but as noted above, the wrapper does not:


No side panel blurb, that's a whole lotta pink!

The Fun Bag was liberated of its contents by the time it was imaged:


I'm not sure if Jamesway marked them down after Hallowe'en or if this was the price they retailed at afterwards but they were a discount chain so the latter is possible. Either way, Topps wasn't getting a whole lot for a 100 count bag.  It was, however, commended by Parents Magazine; perhaps since Topps was an advertiser?


Marty did confirm these were the Fun Packs in the bag; I have seen this style with a 1968 commodity code but can't find any examples with exposed indicia other than sole '68 I've already seen:

Topps changed this particular Fun Pack wrapper to a similar version in 1969 but with different main images.  On balance, I do suspect our Fun Bag is from 1967, as the gum in those Outer Limits packs would have been quite stale even then, let alone a year later. Altough given the weak performance of the TV show it was pitching, Topps could have had extant wrappers and cards, performed a rewrap and then added fresher gum. But I doubt it.



Saturday, February 20, 2021

Letters Imperfect

Some correspondence from Topps has presented itself of late on eBay and what better thing to do than cadge some scans and share the results here?!

First up we get a dunning letter from Joel Shorin, son of Topps executive Phil Shorin and who would one day run the company himself:


Messinger's Variety Store (or more properly 5¢ to $1.00) was a mainstay for a very long time on Glasgow Street in Clyde, New York where Scottish influence once held considerable sway, so much so that the town was named for the river in Scotland.  It served the small town on the former Erie Canal about ten miles south of Lake Ontario from 1936 to 2001, or in other initials from mid-FDR to early-W, which is about 65 years if you're counting.  Clyde itself prospered as a stop along the canal, which opened in 1825, but its population has hovered around 2,300 souls for quite a while it seems. Clearly a letter mailed there without a street address would make it to Messinger's without much fuss in 1948 (and probably 1998!).  

Donald and Messinger his wife Thelma also had a variety store outpost in Williamson, New York until about 1974.  Here's a peek at the Clyde store's counter and candy racks from the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle on July 4, 1994:


The Messingers promptly paid up by the way, Thelma must have been in charge of the books:

If the invoice for the order was sent on September 9th, Topps must have been very much on top of their receivables!  Check out this sweet Topps bank deposit stamp on the back of the the check:

Many old checks in the years before electronic clearinghouses would admonish people not to fold, spindle or mutilate them. Perhaps one reason for this was due to the hole-stamped method of noting the check had been cleared and cashed.

Things were far more relaxed ten years later when this little gem was sent out:

That's actually the Topps letterhead, circa (early) '58.  I say "early" 1958 as "The Atom" on the front of each Bazooka penny tab was replaced by "Topps" mid-year.  Blony was the province of Archie comics, to wit: 


Yes, this rode along with a 1958 Topps Baseball Team Emblem premium! I covered those in February of 2010 and if you click through, you will see at least one 1958 pack insert promoting those had the new Bazooka gum tabs with "Topps" now prominent; perhaps as a preview or (more likely) already rolling out as Topps used up a supply of out-of-date letterhead.

Topps helpfully noted  on the flipside of this letter that several premiums could be yours for enough comics and/or change:


Those were pretty hefty buy-ins for the time and this seems like a direct marketing and audience survey form post-MLB stabbing westward as it took only a mere wrapper and SASE to get the original felt emblem premium.  They may have been burning off excessive stock of some premium items as well.

Is it just me or is e-mail just not as fun as postal letters?

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Zorba The Geek

Today we explore a set that was as plain vanilla as any ever put out by Topps, 1962's Casey & Kildare. Aimed a young girls, this 110 card issue saw 55 cards of each heartthrob doctor reproduced in (sometimes) glorious black and white.  And it was mostly just those two-Vince Edwards as Ben Casey and Richard Chamberlain as Dr. Kildare-flying solo on most cards.

Ben Casey was a Bing Crosby Productions show while MGM produced Dr. Kildare and they weren't even broadcast on the same network. In fact I can't find a common theme other than the obvious medical settings, so the linkage is curious and I'm a little puzzled how Topps pulled it off. Each show ran from 1961 to 1966 and pulled decent ratings at first before fizzling out.

The Casey cards are a lot cripser in general appearance than the Kildares.  Here's Ben with Dr. David Zorba (Sam Jaffe in real life), the Chief of Neurosurgery at County General. It's a rare pose, showing Vince Edwards with someone else in the frame:


The backs are quite austere:


The crisp look of Ben Casey was not replicated by Dr. Kildare.  Cards can have a glossy or dull finish and it seems Kildare's are especially subject to being dull. The Casey's are almost like a photograph in feel while most Kildare's look washed out and yellowed and do not feel nearly as glossy.  I'm not sure if they were printed together on one sheet, or if there were two press runs using different materials but the look and feel is pretty obviously different on a vast majority of the cards:




Card nos. 19, 23 and 99 have checklist backs, which if unmarked are essentially the only cards in the set with any real value:



There's two wrappers, one (well, two actually) wax and one cello:


They are almost identical other than the obvious difference with cello vs. wax:


However, there is also a third type of wrapper, without ingredients, meaning they had no gum in them.  These may be test wrappers or something else intended for, say, a chain store buyer that didn't want to deal with confectionery items or had an exclusive elsewhere for candy and gum.  Go here to see this other wax wrapper; there's another small detail as well that's intriguing but I won't spoil it, just click over.

That cello is a miraculous survivor (it's the reason I decided to look at the set); I wonder though,  if the real miracle wasn't how many patients were saved by the good doctors but in how this survived in such nice shape.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

Advertising Age

We'll be time-tripping to the 1940's this week folks, courtesy of some vintage trade magazine ads run by Topps.  BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd was (and is) offering these on eBay and while I snagged the one I wanted, the graphics on the others caught my eye for sure.

The March 1940 issue of International Confectioner magazine brought us this little beauty:


I won one of these displays a while back and it's a sweet piece, made of Bakelite:


Theres a blonde verison as well and it seems a lot harder to find than the black ones, which pop up from time to time:


The flagship Topps Gum spawned several amusing ads throughout the 40's, including this gem from the July 1945 International Confectioner, and the "Don't Talk Chum, Chew Topps Gum" slogan even lasted a couple of years or so past the end of World War 2, a testament to its selling power:


Exactly two years later Topps, in the same publication, was pushing their Gum as a "changemaker" on store counters across the globe


The 1948 Candy Buyer's Directory showed just how well the new slogan was working:


Change (groan!) was coming though, as this Candy Merchandising ad from December 1948 succinctly shows:


We've seen that SSI slogan before and sales of various Topps products were pretty much booming at this point. The "changemaker" catchword was still there though and would be for another year at least. 

Bazooka was really the flagship brand now but still only available as a nickel roll and Topps took a leap of faith introducing their first "novelty" product, Tatoo gum, as it wasn't clear at all to them if a competing penny product would harm the sales of the "Changemaker".  It seems like that's exactly what happened though and once Bazooka went to their own penny tab in mid 1949, Topps Gum started slowly fading away, undergoing a conversion to a chiclet style that was a staple of military rations for another ten years or so but increasingly a non-entity as a retail product.

I like how this ad backstops the initial 1948 date for Tatoo as some Topps PR blurbs indicate a 1949 debut (commonly accepted issue dates are 1948, then 1949 with its bigger wrapper and even then more subjects came in 1953). The 1949 issue with its redsigned wrapper that used graphical instead of textual application instructions, if I'm not mistaken, no longer appeared in the little round canisters Topps used in the first decade of their existence, instead residing in a square bin-style box. In fact,1948 Tatoo was the only Topps novelty (their first, not counting five cent Bazooka) I could find that came in the round style used by Topps Gum

I suspect Tatoo was actually perennial through 1954 or so, or very close to it. Topps issued a very hard to find set of generic Davy Crockett Tatoos in 1955 (possibly into early 1956) until new tatoo issues started appearing in 1957 as Popeye debuted a new line that would usually feature the hottest kiddie TV cartoon or comic book stars of the day.  This trend lasted yet another decade before fizzling out and giving way to a newer style once again at the end of the 60's. If you issued three essentially identical versions of a cheaply produced product over a five or six year period, it must have bene popular, so why stop selling it?


Saturday, January 30, 2021

Red Light District

Well the NHL is back but things are still quite a bit wonky out there, so why not take a peek at the ur-Topps Hockey set today!  Why not indeed, it's gorgeous:


I've covered the 1954-55 Hockey set here previously and figured it's high time to lok at some original artwork.  I'm going off memory for some of this as the Vintage Hockey Forum shutdown has impacted my ability to document things properly but here goes anyway (and please contact me with corrections).

First though, some hazy "facts"-according to hockey hobby maven and Friend o'the Archive Bobby Burrell, the cards were transported into Canada whole, where they were cut and paired with some O-Pee-Chee bubble gum in wrppaers produced north of the border.  I recall seeing an accident involving a truck carrying the sheets somewhere near Detroit (London Ontario, home of O-Pee-Chee is about 120 miles Northeast of Detroit) made at least one news report but as noted, no dice on the source at present.

The 60 card Topps set only included the four American teams while Parkhurst, the main competition in Canada, had all six in their 100 card set (they switched to just the two Canadian teams after this for a spell).  The Topps set is more abundant these days than Parkhurst's by at least a 2 1/2 to 1 ratio on a card-to-card basis if you go by PSA's numbers and they are not difficult to find generally, although top grade examples are rare due to the full bleed borders.

Bobby Burrell advises no Topps cards were sold in Boston, Chicago or Detroit.  It seems possible that the New York City area saw some being Topps HQ-land and all but I can't imagine they sold too many that way.  The March 20, 1959 Card Collectors Co. Catalog #10 offered singles and sets ($3!) and I'm assuming the offered cards did not readily flow back across the border (even allowing for Detroit "black market" activity).  A year later the price had doubled in the catalog and then they were gone. Topps may have had sheets held back, or they had cut the cards already for sale but either way, Woody Gelman had 'em. Fun Fact: -Topps would cut sheets specifically for CCC (and presumably for its antecedent, Sam Rosen) and also pre-sort the cards they sold to Woody:


Several years ago (decades really) the original art from the hockey cards were offered on a team-by-team basis and they went for a song (again, from memory).   The artwork, as you can imagine, is stunning, as this scan nicked from Heritage Auctions shows:


Here's the card for that art, I just love the flying ice:


The backs are superb as well and the All-American red, white & blue scheme seems like a pretty overt choice to me:


Here's four Red Wings, likely remnants of the 15 player team painting groupings:



Friend o'the Archive Mark Newgarden indicates there was a lot of touch up work done on these but either way thay are fab an whatever they did to them at Topps sure worked!

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Ring-A-Ding-Ding!

We visit Pennsylvania today kids, courtesy of our friends at Topps and a piece of their history that remains in the Keystone State and one that escaped.

The escapee first-I recently picked up this sheet sheet of Topps shelf labels that looks like it might have covered their full retail confectionery line from 1978 or so:


I was able to roughly date this piece, measuring roughly 11" x 14", due to the lack of additional Ring Pop flavors and the curved Topps logo, which was killed off for 1981. Ring Pops were introduced in 1979 (some sources say 1977) and are still made by Topps in Scranton, Pennsylvania; these messy and sticky bits of faux jewelry may be the last product they haven't outsourced. This is where the magic happens:


Sure hope they fixed the "t" in that logo! (EDIT 1/24/21-I just found a reference in the 1976 Topps Annual Report that this 33,000 SF building had been acquired and was expected to begin candy production by the start of the second half of their fiscal year.  The Topps Fiscal Year ran from March 1st so presumably it was purchased in 1975 and began production by October 1976).

I was surprised to see the former Bowman flagship Blony on there but I suspect that it was still a popular regional brand in the Philadelphia area and environs, if not Pennsylvania proper and parts of the region to the southwest once considered coal country. I certainly never saw it on Long Island.

Here's a help wanted ad from the Scranton Times that appeared last August that indicates Ring Pops are considered a Bazooka Candy Brand these days even as the iconic bubble gum is now manufactured under license:


Maybe there's still an opening, although employee reviews seem decidely mixed.

I never heard of The Pits or Munchy Mummies but was a major consumer of Gold Rush back in my younger days.  The little bags were useful for storing small objects and coins. I have no idea if they still make it but would be sad if it turns out they don't. This was The Pits:


Grubbits has all the deets on Munchy Mummies. Other than those two and Blony, I believe I sampled at least one flavor of every brand on the sheet as a kid!