Saturday, October 23, 2021

Are You Ready For Some Football Salesmen Samples?

I realize that Baseball Salesmen Samples get most of the attention whe it comes to such things but Topps issued these little teasers for most, it not all, of their standard card sets through 1967 or so and the 1963 and '64 Football samples below are one such example:


Pretty sweet, right?  The proportions on these "three-strips" always seem just right to me, probably due to some extension of the "golden ratio" or some similar type of aesthetically pleasing combination of length and width:

The reverse is quite wonderful:

That "special feature" may have been fun to rub off as a kid but it certainly bedevils modern day collectors!

Sometimes samples got cut up, probably by a wholesaler's or retailer's kid:


Still nice but I really prefer my strips unsullied.

1964 brought this; I have to say I'm not a fan of this design as I want to cut along the stars, which resemble dotted lines to me:


1964 was an AFL only affair for Topps, a big leap of faitth in a way but I'm betting the contractual rights were cheap.  I like the back better than the front:


Too bad these ended prior to 1969-the first series Football cards from that season would have looked stupendous given their full bleed borders-this uncut sheet certainly gives you an idea though:

It still pains me that Topps added white borders to the second series and it seems like a real head-scratcher. Ah well.......

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Planes Of Existence

Last week's post about standard sized Topps sets that might have been designed with their Giant Size issues in mind has led me to the 1957 Planes set.  Seemingly unremarkable, this 120 card aviation themed issue continued a commitment by Topps to feature airplanes and other flying craft in wide-ranging sets.  They did it in all different sizes too: with Wings in 1952 (Giant Size), a Hocus Focus subset in 1955 (in two sizes, no less: OG gum tab and one never-seen-again size issued in panel form inside nickel packs at 1" x 1 9/16") before coming out with the 240 card Jets set (a "tweener"the same size as Scoop and Look 'N See) in 1956.  Jets was designed using real black and white photos --almost a Topps first barring the 1954 Baseball inset photos--that could be saved in collector albums themed to the set.

So it's unclear to me why Topps went with an illustrated set just a year after Jets had apparently sold through the roof. Perhaps they were held back, or maybe using real photos proved too costly; possibly they just didn't want another B&W avaition set but it's kind of a head-scratcher.

Planes look more like Wings than anything else:

I daresay the reverse somewhat resembles that of Wings from a half-decade earlier. Here's Planes:



I spot checked that Aviation Photography Pix indicia and it's only on certain cards. More on that in a sec but first, here's a Wings reverse:


However, there is a twist as Planes was also issued with Blue Backs!


If you are keeping score, the 1951 Baseball Candy Red and Blue Backs and the 1953-54 World On Wheels set can also be found with similar red and blue reverses, although the Blue Backs are a different subset than the Red Backs in Baseball Candy. Unlike World On Wheels, the Planes blue does not match up with that of the 1955 All American set's reverse inking (another Topps mega-mystery).  And that Aviation Photogaphy Pix indicia does not only appear on one color or the other but it definitely was sporadic. I'm not sure why other than Topps possibly ripped off the other images from various Jane's books on aviation like they did with Wings (hat tip to Pete L'uhosch and John Stupek and a few other folks for that little bit of info).

The story on Planes is that it was printed in two 60 card series and that cards 9 and 65 were arrayed on the "wrong" sheets.  This was a common ploy Topps used for early sets with an issued checklist, which were still a novelty in 1957 and just like what they pulled with Jets (inside back cover of the album held the list) a year earlier to keep kids looking for a "hole" that didn't yet exist.  Todd Riley, who knows as much about such things as anybody, believes #9, which is considered to be a "scarce" card, is only as scarce as other cards from the second series 2.

Here is the Planes checklist card, which was "pushed" into the packs as it was printed separately, as was the Topps method at the time. You can tell as the card stock isn't gray like the issued set it chronicles.


Here's one of the two checklist backs:


As they were also wont to do at the time, a Big Blony checklist back also exists:



There's no value difference on the checklists but red backed Planes cards are 2-3 times tougher than the blues. No one knows why both colors were used, although some speculation among hobbyists back in the day intimated Topps was testing Bowman's printing facilities with one of the colors.  I highly doubt that but it must have been intentional if the set was indeed issued in two series, as all cards from 1-120 can be found with either color. 

In 1963 Topps licensed the second series to Stani of Argentina, a long running South American business partner for a set dubbed Aviones.  Stani cards are renumbered from 1-60 but follow the exact order of the second series of Planes, with one notable exception as #65 is not in sequence as #5 in the set but it is replaced by...#9!

Check out a Stani reverse:


The blue on the Stani card above is washed out due to the scan, it's a little darker than it shows but not as dark as the US blue. Note that, in additon to the differences in language, some other subtle differences also crop up:


I don't believe a checklist card was issued with the Stani set, nor were any red backs. The Stani cards may also have been retailed in Mexico.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Factory Upsettings

1957 was the first year since 1951 where Topps didn't issue any cards in their formerly ubiquitous "Giant Size" format of 2 5/8" x 3 3/4".  Instead, "Standard Size" cards measuring the still-familiar-to-this-day 2 1/2" x 3 1/2".  However, it seems this decision to shrink the card size by a smidge over 11%--and the corresponding increase from a 110 card half sheet (arrayed 11 rows x 10 columns if measured the long way top to bottom) to one with 132 impressions (arrayed 12 rows x 11 columns measured in the same manner)--resulted in 11 being the eventual "divisor" for many sets, variations and short prints.  It took Topps a little while though to sort this out and while they were operating in an 11 column environment after the switch, it seems they were still often designing sets in a 10 column framework some time into 1957.

Elvis Presley was, of course, the first standard sized set and it managed to clock in at 66 cards, neatly fitting into the new order.  Considering every card set Topps issued in 1957 was standard sized, it's odd that they managed to issue four that were still designed in "base 10" after Elvis hit the streets.  These were:

Basketball (80 cards)

Goofy Series Postcards (60 cards)

Planes (two series, in theory, of 60 cards each)

Robin Hood (60 cards)

So what happened?  Well for the Goofy Series Postcards and Planes sets, since both used illustrations and not photographs, the design and numbering had likely been locked in place prior to Elvis Presley being issued.  But what of Robin Hood and the Basketball sets? Well as it turns out, the NBA had eight teams in place for the 1957 season and each could sport a ten man roster.  If you look at the distribution of players in the set, each team gets 10! So that one is no mystery.

Now Robin Hood was not limited by roster size but it may have been impacted by Maid Marian being played by a new actress for its final two seasons (and which I note, was a British TV show that was rebroadcast in the US).  Bernadette O'Farrell bowed out of the role and Patricia Driscoll then took over until the series concluded.  Check out this card, #37 in the set:


I believe that is Ms. O'Farrell...


 ...and not Ms. Driscoll:

Here's the gist, then. A lot of Topps TV-themed sets were understandably tuned to the normal September start of the annual season but I don't necessarily think this one was.  Given the show was an already established import and the new Maid Marian would have debuted in September of 1957 in the US, the set could have been released while the 1956-57 season was being broadcast with O'Farrell still in the role and Topps still dividing by ten.  Could this have impacted the set total?  Possibly, but we will never know.

We can't even look to 1958 for help.  The reissue of Space Cards as Target: Moon was 88 cards, as was the Zorro set while T.V. Westerns, a bizarre mish-mash of shows and stars, totaled a clearly truncated and extremely odd 71 subjects, likely impacted by threats of lawsuits or the inability of Topps to secure certain rights.  There was no Basketball set in '59 and the three other major sports all were firmly in step with a "base 11" setup so that was that.  

With Topps, always expect the unexpected, even if expected! Speaking of which, stay tuned for next week's look at Planes...


Saturday, October 2, 2021

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball!

Count Basie & Co. said it first but back when the song debuted in 1949 you either had to catch the Dodgers in action at Ebbets Field or another NL park, or find a TV in a year where only 172,000 were sold nationally, to actually see Jackie hit that ball.  As the 1950's  kicked off though, another method allowed kids to do just that.  All you needed was was a "Pocket Television Theatre" as shown here by Adam Warshaw:


This reverse is from a different flipbook but appears to be from the original issue (getting to that kids)  as, per Friend o'the Archive Tim Begley, the "How To Bunt" book was never produced:



The books were also issued with blank backs, excepting the copyright indicia. At a point after that, a mailer card was prepared with the  "How To Bunt" title excised on the checklist:


The back of this mailer tells the tale though and you will quickly see why I am bringing this up in a Topps-centric blog:


Yes, Topps did indeed issue a skip-numbered series of 40 Flip-O-Vision "movies" in 1949 and they have been covered here previously.  I will however, point you to the most comprehensive overview of that issue I have ever seen, over at Drew Freidman's blog.

OK then, what is going on and why are we here?  Well I'm beginning to think that, despite PR to the contrary, Topps just licensed the Flip-O-Vision name and that Flip Book "Television," Inc. a year or so later just issued their own, otherwise unrelated, flipbooks. But wait, there's definitely more-Topps originally got kick-started in the baseball card game by establishing an in-house agency called Players Enterprises in July of 1950 to sign ballplayers to a contract allowing the use of their image in connection with candy (and later, gum) products. Their first signees were inked in December of that year and they had by then bought or acquired licenses for the photgraphic images of 248 Major Leaguers from an entitity called Russell Publishing, which had one year player contracts in hand for a planned series of--wait for it--flipbooks (!) beginning in October of 1950. So in the midst of all this, Bowman issued Robinson cards in 1949 and '50 while Topps was just beginning to navigate the flipbook and baseball fields.

Jackie was, of course, a Topps subject from 1952-56 as we all very well know. So what of the fact that he had no 1951 cards available from either Topps or Bowman? It's really just inexplicable that neither company issued a card of him in 1951. The two companies had many legal issues between them of course but players with disputed contracts always seem to have appeared in at least one issuer's sets, if not both, whereas players with exclusive deals with another confectionery company or ones that had a full non-compete with a product (Stan Musial for a good many years in the 50's for example was tied up by Rawlings) did not

Examining things a bit more closely, the 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson wasn't issued until August of that year and with the infamous high numbers at that. So he was not even considered as a Topps subject until June of '52 after Sy Berger allegedly convinced management to issue a "second series" beyond the originally planned 310 cards. Remember, this was in a year where they were in a huge push to sell their new "Giant Size" cards and stomp all over Bowman!  When Topps ultimately decided to produce the highs in June/July of 1952, they seemingly would have known Robinson was available to them as they were clearly in tight with the Dodgers clubhouse (Ebbets Field was practically in the Shorin's familial Crown Heights backyard) for the high number cards; witness 16 of the 97 subjects therein being Bums.  

If we go back to 1949, Flip-O-Vision was issued prior to Oct. 1st (it's captured in the same-dated issue of Card Collectors Bulletin) and even had a televison ad campaign attached to it.  I suspect it was a summer product as there were movie theatre tie-ins with the FOV in in New York City via  a "Mystery Star of the Week" contest and boy, kids went to the movies in droves back then when school was out to cool off. However, Topps was blowing out overstock and returns of Flip-O-Vision by early 1950 as part of "Fun Boxes" they advertised for several months in Billboard magazine through the final week of May 1950, then abruptly dropped their ads showcasing same and started hawking Bozo gumballs in the first June issue instead.  

I suspect Flip Book "Television," Inc. and/or Sylvan had Jackie's rights locked up from May or June 1950 until May or June 1952, passing from one firm to the other it seems. The flipbooks probably did not sell well, given how scarce they are today or perhaps the promotion just ran its course. It's unclear how they were sold originally but it looks like the overstock got dumped either by or to Sylvan Sweets.

Perhaps Sylvan obtained, the Flip-O-Vision license (doubt it) or just said "screw it, let's just steal the name" (there ya go) and off they went with their own promotion, which I believe, ut cannot yet prove, included a sample pack of candy cigarettes. Robinson is a low # in 1950 Bowman to boot, so his card was issued well before June that year. The timing of the 1952 Topps highs certainly ties in to this.

Jackie was a star on the field and a celebrity off, so it makes sense that he could have signed an exclusive deal with another company that wasn't Topps or Bowman, almost certainly for more than he could extract from either of them.  Therefore, it would seemingly explain his absence from the two major BB card sets of 1951 in a hugely competitive marketing and sales space. Seriously, why would he not have a 1951 Topps or Bowman card otherwise?

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Hit Parade

Topps was very much focused on entertainers as they launched what we now call standard sized (2 1/2" x 3 1/2") cards in late 1956. Elvis Presley was the first set issued in this now ubiquitous format and the majority of sports and non-sports sets followed thereafter in rapid succession. This card and related press sheet sizing dictated set counts to a large degree as the familiar 12 row by 11 column half-sheets debuted.  Sometimes (and properly) called "slits" but commonly thought of these days as an "uncut sheet", these became the default for Topps, with variations and other groupings such as short prints and double/over prints usually following the "rule of 11" as a result. You need two half slits to make a full sheet up and in standard sizing that results in 264 cards being arrayed across the A and B slits. In 1957 this all came together (or maybe apart!) in a diverse set called Hit Stars.

While some guides indicate the 88 subject set has 33 overprints, this appears to be based upon an erroneous assumption that the uncut sheets were produced in an 11 x 11 array, yielding 121 cards per slit. I'm not sure why the sheet was assumed to be set up that way but it may have something to do with several sheets from various sets that have surfaced from 1957-58 over the years that are ultimately missing a row. It would be very strange if Topps had pared back to a 121 card slit at this point and to me, as I will explain, it's clear the Hit Stars was originally to have been 99 subjects in length. This theoretically would have yielded--you guessed it--33 overprints! 

We'll see how it's known the original set length was truncated in a minute but if there are indeed 33 overprints (and I am not convinced of this due to PSA pop reports), then it's likely due to the original configuration of 99 cards being abandoned vs. an 11 x 11 array being deployed. A simple mathematical exercise shows that could (and I stress "could" not "would") have resulted in 33 extra slots across each slit (99*2=198+66=264). My own thought is Hit Stars repeats three times across both slits in classic ABA BAB pattern, where each letter represents a discrete 44 card block. And I will also point out the 11 x 11 arrays were used for smaller sized cards like Scoop and not those of standard size.

The set itself has a pretty good mix of movie stars, TV personalities and recording artists-including a large percentage of cards devoted to African-American singers, who were not necessarily considered "mainstream" at the time- and there are a hefty number of record labels, both large and small, represented amongst the Recording Stars. Some very big names are included and the entire set is a veritable Flexichrome wonderland. 62 Recording Stars kick off the set and Elvis reappears after his '56 Topps solo stint:


Elizabeth Taylor was certainly rounding into"A" List celebrity status at this point in her career and a good "get" for Topps:

Some subjects appear more than once (4 posthumous cards for James Dean!) and a couple are considered both Recording Stars and TV/Movie Stars.  Here's a good example of that in Debbie Reynolds, first seen on #17 as a Coral Recording Star:


The reverse confirms the count of 62 Recording Stars (Frankie Laine repeats too in this sub-grouping and Alan Freed is included as well, even though he was a DJ):  


Ms. Reynolds also concludes the set on card #88, clearly as a Movie Star:


But look at this-she is number 26 of "37" Movie & TV Stars (and don't forget that includes James Dean with his four appearances):


Well 62 + 37 definitely equals 99 so something clearly happened to truncate the set 11 cards shy of the promised number. At a guess, rights for some planned subjects never matarialized or a studio or two pulled their stars.  No matter, the Topps math just didn't add up!  Go figure!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

One Of A Kind

Topps has produced all sorts of "affinity" and "event" sets over the years, including some I doubt have ever been documented anywhere.  Collectors of a certain age might recall the late 70's Burger King branded baseball sets for example but there's many more, some of which are quite hard to find. I've covered some here already, such as the somewhat infamous Bowie Kuhn card issued for a Saints & Sinners Dinner held in New Jersey in 1971 and the Frank Cashen card they prepared in his honor when the New York Sports Commission named him as their "Sportsman of the Year" in 1992 and threw a luncheon to fete him.

Then there is the 1990 George W. Bush card that may or may not have had a handful of wayward examples snuck into packs (and which had at least two issued versions, one more glossy than the other).  That card's story has been told often and elsewhere; you can read up on it here and also explore some of the related links. It's gotten pretty pricey these days in case you are thinking about buying one.

There's some others though. Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, co-owners of the New York Football Giants were given the solo treatment in 1997 and 1998 resepctively as they were honored for their election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Mara) or efforts raising money for Ronald McDonald House (Tisch).

The Mara card can be found with a little hunting, the Tisch not so much.  Here's Wellington, an original NFL owner's scion BTW:


There's nothing sweeter to this Giants fan than that trophy he is cradling. Love the back too:


As for Mr. Tisch, we'll let this news article do the talking (I think it was from Sports Collectors Digest):


Another fun one is Paul Rudd, who not only got a card but an entire pack in 2014 as the Royals made the first of two back-to-back World Series appearances.  They beat my Mets in 2015 but I'm showing this one anyway:

Check out the 1975 copyright!

(images courtesy Simeon Lipman)

There's more of these out there, including a Slugger's Wife card of "Darryl Palmer" Topps produced for the movie, which may or may not have been a prop and I need to do some more research on that one and a couple of others.  Stay tuned on those, just not sure when.....

 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Stack In Black

I am on a basketball kick of late, there's no doubt about it. And what better set than to take a peek at than one of my all time favorites, the 1971-72 Topps Basketball Trio Stickers!  I collected the 1970, 71, and 72 Topps Basketball sets quite heavily as a kid and 1971 was a real boon year for me. As a result, I had a boatload of the Trio Stickers and drove my parents crazy sticking them everywhere, especially the little team logos. Of particular interest to me that year were the ABA regular issue cards and insert stickers as I was mad for the league and in particular the NY Nets. None of these, as you can imagine, survived as the years zipped along.

The black borders of the Trios mimiced the Baseball cards issued earlier in 1971.  I put together a set quite some time ago and enjoy it just as much as I did as a kid, although all my stickers now remain unpeeled and unstuck!  So I was quite pleased to find this uncut sheet image in an old Huggins & Scott auction and add it to my collection of partial sheet scans.  And then it got.....weird.

This is the A slit and it's got a  LOT going on in this 7 x 11 array:


Logo sticker heaven!  Now the full set is comprised of 46 numbered stickers, where each little 1/3 slice of a full sticker has a number (so three per "card") and the logo sticker has a number as well.  In addition the ABA cards have an "A" suffix after their numbers.  There's 10 full stickers of ABA'ers: 7 trios and three variants of the logo stickers.  The ABA run spans numbers 1A though 24A.  

NBA stickers are numbered 1 through 46, with 15 trios and a lone logo sticker.  So that's kind of weird, right?  Why three ABA logo variants and none for the NBA? Well I think it had to do with the number of teams in each league. The ABA had ten teams for the 1971-72 season and the NBA 17. So Topps jumbled up the ABA logos, essentially drawing attention away from the "repeats" on each sticker.

Here's an example:


Some germane and not so germane points. I saw most of these teams play and usually up close at the Nets home arena for most of the season, The Island Garden, which essentially looked like a high school gym and was possibly the worst major sports venue in the United States at the time, although personally I loved it.  

They moved to the Nassau Coliseum as the season wore on but you would get sweat on you from the players if you sat close enough to the court at Island Garden.  After a game you could wander onto the court and mingle with the players and get autographs. Not so at the Coliseum.  I still have some of the stubs from Island Garden:

 

A year prior to the stickers but you can't have everything.  The End Court seating was literally pull out bleachers! I was 9, so I guess I just fit in between the assigned spots! I saw a real circus there too around this time, with a full sideshow (sword swallowers, fat lady, the whole nine yards).  I'm sure it was a broken down, decrepit place at the time but it shines brightly in my memory and always will.

While I'm at it, the Carolina Cougars logo sticker above is great but not my favorite version of it, that being this one:


OK, back to the set. You could also peel off and stick the ABA logo and even the main splash at upper right.

The NBA logo sticker had all 17 teams represented along with the official league logo (as always, modeled on Jerry West) and splash:


That upper right Celtics logo has always bothered me.  Why didn't Topps just make two ABA logo stickers and two for the NBA, leaving intact the 4x4 grid on the latter? The answer may be that the arrays we see must have been due to the need for die cutting, as Topps would need to line up the ABA logo stickers in one column (or row, depending) due to the differing configuration when compared to the NBA logos. But here's the kicker: there's 8 impressions of the three ABA stickers (22A, 23A and 24A if you're playing at home) on the sheet but 14 of the NBA! I'm not even sure what to call that, a Fourteens Print maybe? 

So what will we see on the B slit then?  Presented here in two pieces, one from the Topps Vault, the source of the other lost to time, the full array can almost be extrapolated with a little effort:



I can't make it out but that looks like Ben Solomon's scrawl at upper right in the waste portion. We have to extrapolate the bottom five rows across four columns but again, the die cutting requirement makes me think there's no mystery to it.

Those sheets can get a little eye-boggling, so here's what I came up with across both slits:

All the ABA and NBA trios appear five times across both, except for trios headed with numbers 34, 37, 40 and 43 which appear only four times and are short printed by 20% compared to the other trios-these are the only true short prints in the set and include stickers of Oscar Robertson, Wes Unseld, Connie Hawkins, Lew Alcindor, Billy Cunningham and Wilt Chamberlain.  There's 28 NBA logo stickers (#46) and 20 ABA, with 22A being overprinted at twice the rate of the other two ABA logo stickers (23A and 24A).  99 NBA stickers and 55 ABA stickers make up the 154 slit slots.  Looking at it that way makes it seem quite organized in fact.

Here's something interesting as well, the next year O-Pee-Chee used the trio format for a series of 72 Canadian Football League subjects; here's a peek at an uncut sheet portion:

Neat, huh?!  I'm not going to get into these (well, not yet maybe) but at least one uncut slit is known and it has some oddities as well, although OPC did not make up team logos for the set.  Whew!