Saturday, August 6, 2022

No Box Left Behind

After last week's look at the obverse surprise photo some Bazooka boxes carried in the mid 60's (and 1971), I thought it best to close the circle and also show boxes from the years with package design cards of players from various sports but with no secondary photo on the box front (or end flap); I'll tackle non-sports boxes (and some with sports-related content) at some later date but they are really hard to pin down. This installment covers the years 1959 to 1971 not addressed last week in my post on the "extra" images used.  As a reminder, these bonus "front of the box" photos were as follows:

1963 - Babe Ruth

1964 - Sandy Koufax & Mickey Mantle (both on end flap)

1965 - Mickey Mantle

1966 - Sandy Koufax

1967 - Mickey Mantle

1969 - Babe Ruth

1970 - Babe Ruth (reissued box design)

1971 - Johnny Bench

The Koufax and Mantle photos never changed from year to year, while the Ruth did, aging in reverse!

I also included the 1968 box last time out despite no additional photo appearing thereon.  It had a "Special Feature" splash hawking "Tips From Baseball Stars on How to Play Better Baseball" instead. These tips are known as Tipps from the Topps and featured a small, inset photo on each "Tipp" which I have covered previously as well.

When we go back to the aboriginal Bazooka set, it was a one subject affair, with a gorgeous card taking up most of the box back.  These were issued for both baseball and football and might be the nicest things Topps ever produced.  This is the first run 1959 Baseball box, front and back. You can see how the original Bazooka Joe is shown blowing a bubble that turns into a window on the contents, which was protected by see-thru cello, both courtesy of Robert Edward Auctions:



So the splash for the set was actually located below the card! Note how it mentions "9 All-Star Player Cards" as the first release had, yup, 9 subjects. The little illustrations on the splash are generic.

A second wave of cards followed, with 14 players added.  It's possible Hank Aaron was printed with both runs as his name can be found in yellow or white but it's not clear if he was a reissue or if a correction was made to the first run of 9 cards (the name in yellow matches the rest of the set). It's worth noting too that Bazooka usually issued both 20 and 25 count boxes, as you can see above and below. This might explain the white/yellow Aaron variations, or it might not.

For the second batch of 14, Topps changed the box colors and the splash.  This example of Jensen shows the white to yellow switcheroo and a subtle change to the back splash, i.e. "nein on the 9":

Topps then went for a Football set in the fall, with equally stunning results.  The box front is the same as that used for Baseball while the reverse splash is changed to reflect the new sport:


18 subjects were included and Chuck Conerly is shown with either the Colts (an error, he never played for them) or the Giants, indicating at least two press runs, possibly split between the 20 and 25 counts but these are among the rarest boxes imaginable so it may never be determined. More on Conerly can be found over at Post War Cards, which is a really wonderful site, kinda like here but covering a wider range of producers.

Topps killed off the Bazooka Football cards after 1959 and they would not reappear until 1971. Baseball on the other glove, settled into a nice three-players-per-panel groove thereafter.  Here's the 1960 box front, with the cards finally getting some attention:

You will note the old bubble blowing Bazooka Joe is gone, as Topps went for the Moms with the Parents Magazine seal, which they used on and off over the years on many products, likely dependent upon their annual advertising budget.

1961 brought white back to the design, which was unchanged otherwise.  It was also used in 1962:


This now brings us to the 1971 Football set. Those all-American kids from the Baseball boxes have  been supplanted by a small but enthusiastic marching band, perhaps meant to conjure up an image of halftime (I'm old enough to remember halftime marching bands at NFL games) since no bonus player was shown on the splash:

There was a 1971 O-Pee-Chee Canadian Football release but's ultra-rare and may not have seen the retail light of day.  No box front has been seen but it probably doesn't resemble this only-somewhat-less-difficult OPC Hockey box from '71, courtesy of Bobby Burrell:


Have fun trying to find one of those!

You can still find boxes of Bazooka but it just isn't the same anymore.

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Bazooka Bonus Blast

One of the neat little, almost inadvertent things Bazooka did with their party boxes - usually sold in groceries and supermarkets - was include an extra image or two on the splash panels with a small photo of a player included in the set that was being issued on the back of the box (and one one occasion, inside the box).  These were not meant to be cards but merely served as advertisements. Topps picked these subjects well as they chose some real superstars for these little pictures.  While the 1959-62 boxes were issued with a simple splash panel alerting kids to the baseball cards on the reverse, they were of an older style, with a cello covered window allowing a peek at the contents inside, like so (1960 version I believe):

 That changed in 1963 when they issued this bad boy:


In addition to introducing the country to the two tykes seen here, the splash panel for '63 has an image of what was purported to be a sample Babe Ruth card from the All Time Greats set, with five cards included within.  It's amazing what a little competition did to Topps over the years, spawning new products, some quite innovative, in order to pry attention away from their competitors, in this case Fleer.

Collectors of this set will quickly realize that image of the Babe included on the card inserts looked nothing at all like the one shown here.  Rather, we got an aging Ruth, fairly close to the end:


Hoo boy, I'll bet the kiddies were disappointed when they saw that!  Topps probably could not, or would not, license an image of Ruth from his playing days for a secondary set, so they improvised and used an image from his "farewell" at Yankee Stadium that they had deployed in the 1962 "Babe Ruth Special" subset that was issued in the wake of the M&M Boys chase of his home run record.* That subset at least had some period images and at a guess, Topps copyrighted the box before their licensing agreement with Ruth's heirs was up.

Check it out, it's a direct lift:


You can hear the speech here-Babe was clearly dying when he gave it on April 27, 1947 and his voice is absolutely shot from the throat cancer that was killing him.

1964 saw Bazooka include a sheet of 10 Baseball Stamps in the box, along with the three cards on the back.  The splash panel on the front didn't have a player image but one of the end panels advertising the inserts sure did, in spades.  Here's the splash:


And here's the end flap: 


Koufax and Mantle, not bad!  The Mick was back in 1965:


OK, so it's the same image they used the year prior. On that note, here is 1966, from my buddy Spike's Number 5 Type Collection Blog:


Yup, Sandy's a repeat from 1964, as are those darn kids!

In 1967 it's deja vu all over again:


Three times was the charm for that Mantle image.

1968 didn't yield a bonus image as the cards moved to the side flaps for reasons unknown; maybe they were hiding them from Marvin Miller or something.  


I sure hope those kids got residuals! 1969 saw a move to an All Time Greats format that may look familiar, although hard to tell if it's the exact same Ruth image on the box from 1963 due to some shadowing on the former, but it's pretty close if it wasn't:


There's four All Time Greats "plaks" on each box, two per side panel; they obviously aren't cards as there's no definitive border but they recycled the "plak" wording from a failed test set of the year prior and they're not those either! Still, I wonder if the Ruth "card" was meant to be the one they intended to issue in 1963 and Topps, clearly having licensed certain images due to the alleged Baseball Centennial in 1969, finally put it to use? This is the Ruth in question, 1969 version:


To their discredit, they reused the exact same box in 1970! 

I've previously posted about these 1969-70 boxes but it was a long time ago and an update is due.  So here is the full checklist for the 1969-70 boxes (and they are generally collected as full boxes due to their configuration). Apologies for the formatting:

BASEBALL GREATS (BOX BACK-LARGE CARDS)

1 NO HIT DUEL

TONEY*-VAUGHN*

 

FRED, HIPPO

2 ALEXANDER CONQUERS YANKS

ALEXANDER

 

GROVER CLEVELAND

3 YANKS' LAZZERI SETS AL RECORD

LAZZERI*

 

TONY

4 HR ALMOST HIT OUT OF STADIUM

FOXX*

 

JIMMIE

5 4 CONSECUTIVE HOMERS BY LOU

GEHRIG

 

LOU

6 NO-HIT GAME BY WALTER JOHNSON

JOHNSON

 

WALTER

7 TWELVE RBI'S BY BOTTOMLEY

BOTTOMLEY*

 

JIM

8 TY TIES RECORD

COBB

 

TY

9 BABE RUTH HITS 3 HR'S IN GAME

RUTH

 

BABE

10 CALLS SHOT IN SERIES GAME

RUTH

 

BABE

11 RUTH'S 60TH HR SETS NEW RECORD

RUTH

 

BABE

12 DOUBLE SHUTOUT BY ED RUELBACH

REULBACH*

 

ED


*- Player does not appear on an All Time Greats Side Panel.

ALL TIME GREATS (SIDE PANELS)

BOX

ALEXANDER

GROVER CLEVELAND

3

ANSON

CAP

9

BENDER

CHIEF

3

BROWN

MORDECAI

1

CHANCE

FRANK

5, 11

CHESBRO

JACK

9

COBB

TY

1, 7

COCHRANE

MICKEY

5, 8

COLLINS

EDDIE

7, 8

DUFFY

HUGH

4

EVERS

JOHNNY

6, 7

GEHRIG

LOU

4, 7

HORNSBY

ROGERS

2, 12

JOHNSON

BAN

2

JOHNSON

WALTER

2, 6

KEELER

WILLIE

1

LAJOIE

NAP

10, 11

MACK

CONNIE

10

MARANVILLE

RABBIT

10, 12

MATHEWSON

CHRISTY

3, 12

McGRAW

JOHN

5, 6

OTT

MEL

8, 11

PLANK

EDDIE

1

RUTH

BABE

5

SIMMONS

AL

2, 9

SPEAKER

TRIS

4, 9

TINKER

JOE

4, 11

WAGNER

HONUS

8, 12

WALSH

ED

10

YOUNG

CY

3, 6

There's a bunch of double printed All Time Greats, as you can see, with more than half the subjects appearing on two different boxes, in a mix and match panel scheme that must have made sense to Topps (or not).  The total is 30 different ATG subjects, with 12 single prints and 18 double prints. This is the full look:


And here's an uncut sheet of the full set that Huggins & Scott had some time ago, yowsa!

Topps had one or two more bubbles up their sleeve though, even as 1971 brought an end to this fine line of Bazooka package design cards.  With Koufax and Mantle in retirement, Topps went with a big name in 1971, from the Big Red Machine:



Johnny Bench may have been the hottest story in baseball in 1970-71, before interest was focused on Vida Blue before the midseason of '71 (no joke), then on Hank Aaron's home run chase.

I can assure you that those kids were still on Bazooka boxes well after the baseball cards were discontinued in 1971 and for all I know, they are still there today!

Bazooka cards are really not widely collected but Topps used some classic shots on them.  Check out this collection of 1966 panels that Robert Edward Auctions had a while back for proof of this:


* (Sorry, couldn't resist).


Saturday, July 23, 2022

Swerls

I'm sorry to have to be typing this post but I wanted to to pay tribute to Steve Werley, a part time dealer of oddball cards, who passed away unexpectedly last month at the way-too-young age of 63.


I first ran into Steve at the Philly Show years ago as he was selling all the oddball stuff I love.  I remember buying a 1969 Topps Mickey Mantle Decal from him at the show (the only time I ever attended, many years ago) and would run into him at the Westchester Civic Center shows or the National thereafter.  Always smiling, he was good for a tale or three about the strange world of oddball cards and the people that collected them.  He fueled  my accumulation of a fairly large portion of Topps insert sets over the years, some of which I've since let go as I refine my set collecting to my own pre-teen time.

The last time I saw him was at the Chicago National in 2021, which was bursting at the seams and very hectic.  I was trying to figure out if I could piece together an entire run of Mets-only Tom Seaver cards and Steve had the same conclusion I had come to regarding some of the more esoteric Topps items such as the 1973-ish Pin-Ups and Comics: money aside, they were too rare to even source.  I did pick up some upgraded 1969 Decals from him to finally complete my set (completing the circle I had started with my first ever purchase from him) but that was the extent of things as wave after wave of people thronged his booth.  I regret not being able to speak more with him at the show.

RIP old friend.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Blown To Bits

Something different to chew on today campers! Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins unearthed an  interesting bit o'Bazooka history last month over at eBay.  The item in question is not something I had really seen before and was known as Bazooka Bits:


I would have been all over these as a kid, since I loved little Chiclets style gum!  

The sale of tiny candy coated bits at Topps date back to the very early 1950's, when they introduced a product called Block Busters that was eventually discontinued, with their remaining supply boxed up along with a neat Topps Baseball Button in 1956:


If you look at the pack illustration, you can see the little gum bits are quite colorful:


That is a bit more modern version of Bazooka Joe adorning the pack than was gracing the comics at the time, as Joe's principal artist, Wesley Morse, had passed away several years prior to these being offered.  The commodity code indicates 1970, and while I thought 1980 was also possible when I first saw these scans, they definitely date to '70, for a simple reason I will get into shortly. Before we go there however, I think that version of Joe might have been done by the same artist who created this puzzle for the 1972 Big Bazooka Cards but I'm not 100% convinced:


That awesome piece of uncut goodness can be found, with a  LOT more Bazooka related stuff, over at the Bazooka Joe Comics site.

The bottom indicia is unexciting:



So how do we know it's 1970 and not 1980?  Because Topps was burning off excess stock in their 1972 Hallowe'en offerings:


So did the product just not sell or did the folks over at Warner-Lambert (who had acquired original manufacturer American Chicle in 1962) that sold Chiclets intervene somehow due to their packaging?  Topps had tangled with them before (and resoundingly lost), so it's possible to my mind as this is a rare bit o'bubblegum history!

The Bits persisted for a couple more years, rebranded as Presto and Gumniks:




I never saw any of those either as a kid and I was on the lookout for this stuff! Our local ice cream truck carried a wide line of Topps products but not these.  They still look pretty tasty to me!

(UPDATE 7/18/22 - Friend o'the Archive Mark Newgarden advises these were spotted on Staten Island around the time of the original retail issue.)

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Giant They Are

Topps went all in on 1980 issues concerning The Empire Strikes Back, the second movie in the now ubiquitous Star Wars franchise.  Following the five series of standard sized cards (330 of 'em plus 55 stickers) and a host of ancillary issues released in the wake of the original Star Wars (now often called "A New Hope"), The Empire Strikes Back was issued in only three series but had more cards (352) and stickers (88) than the earlier release. Massively overproduced, they do not have quite the charm or attraction of the 1977 series. I'm not even here to discuss them today, just giving some background. The sets I do want to discuss are The Empire Strikes Back Giant Photocards. And that is sets, plural as Topps issued a test version of these 5" x 7" cards first. This was the height of Topps' fascination with cards of this size.

The 19th issue of Les Davis' The Wrapper (May 15-July 1, 1981) has the deets on the test issue from John Neuner (who looks like he had a bead on some Topps test stores in the NYC metro area); it appears like it was issued at two price points and - no surprise - dried up very fast:

The test set has the same 16 illustrations of characters from the movie on the reverse of each card and it's a tough one.  It contains all 30 subjects found in the regular issue and the wrapper seems to use the same graphics, at least on the front, between both sets.  Here is a test box, with a pack peeking out, with folds as described in the article:


And here is said wrapper:


The cards look great:



Here's the test card reverse:



The retail issue had a different box, of course, and the wrapper was crimped.  Here's the box, which looks kind of spare as Topps was getting these out right quick:



The retail set, per Neuner's article, is apparently on slightly thinner stock (I do not have a test type unfortunately, so have to take his word for it) and the reverses have been changed.  Instead of detailing what card you had (29 of 30 on the test example above), Topps went with two visual checklists and, while numbered thereon, dropped the numbering from the card itself!



Weird, right? Well it's a great looking set anyway!

Saturday, July 2, 2022

Highly Logical Outcome

As promised last time out, today we look at the press sheet array of the 1967 Topps Baseball high numbers.  This series set me on a path of unswerving nerdiness almost 40 years ago as I attempted to decipher a grainy photo of an uncut sheet and correlate it with the price guide short print designations of the day.  It would be many years before I realized Topps used a two slit (or sheet) press sheet encompassing 264 cards, with 132 cards per slit in a standard sized card array, 12 rows of 11 cards per slit.  132 card slits are called uncut sheets in the hobby, which is correct but doesn't account for all 264 cards, which I refer to as a press sheet. Within these parameters, cards sometimes became short or over printed as Topps changed the arrays from one slit to the other.

Why this happened is open to speculation but by the time 1967 rolled around I don't believe it was done to entice the kids to buy more cards looking for subjects that were suppressed in production. Rather, I think it had something to do with how they filled their various packaging configurations, at least in theory. Plus, I'd wager Topps really didn't want a lot of overstock or returns of the high numbers.

Many of the old price guide SP and DP notations were based upon the "tabulation" method where cards were observed as packs or vending boxes and cases were opened.  Depending upon the sample size, this was either accurate, or not.  I believe the idea of the 1967 Brooks Robinson high number card (#600) being super short printed - an idea which still somewhat persists to this day despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary - was due to the tabulation of a single 500 count vending box's contents.  

Well, there is still a wild card in the mix, which is a row or card's position in a sheet.  Corner cards,  those in bottom rows (but not necessarily tops) and the occasional random spot on the sheet do seem to have distribution issues sometimes and the 1967 high numbers are certainly affected by this. Topps must have had a way to segregate and pull certain cards, something that they had been able to do since at least the early 1950's, when various disputed player contracts with Bowman caused certain cards to be pulled due to court orders.

Putting that random production method issue aside for the moment, when this two slit brainstorm finally took hold, I searched for the second 1967 high number uncut sheet .  And I searched and I searched and I searched. Every example I found just showed the same sheet I had already deciphered as a young buck, like so:


It's an old scan but the basic row setup, with each letter representing a row and with the first, or head,  card in each identified, is:

A     Pinson

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

G    Orioles Rookies

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist

Then one day, over ten years ago, Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann sent along a partial section of a sheet with a different array-huzzah!  You can tell it's taken from the top left corner of an uncut slit:


That A row headed by Pinson is a match to the top of the other sheet but then the array changes.  So now we have a sheet that goes:

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

A    Pinson

So a little odd but not 100% unexpected as the semi's seem to feature a 44x3 and 33x4 array and those Pinson rows get us to four. What to do now?

Well, I did an eBay count a couple of years ago and got this average count per row over 2,539 cards, with an overall average of 33 cards per subject:

A    77    Pinson

B    22    Ferrara

C    25    NL Rookies

D    22    Colavito

E    29    7th Series Checklist

F    34    Red Sox Rookies

G    26    Orioles Rookies

Row E has a slightly higher skew due having Brooks Robinson, a popular slabbing subject, in it and the checklist also being printed with the semi-highs (#531) but that Pinson row is such an outlier.  So where does this lead us? Well I thought here, using this pattern for the "other" sheet:

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

G    Orioles Rookies

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

Orioles Rookies


Or:

Five impressions:

A    Pinson

Four impressions:

F    Red Sox Rookies

Three impressions:

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist (contain Brooks Robinson)

G    Orioles Rookies  (contains Seaver Rookie)

But when you look at the PSA pops (from June 17, which total 42,165) it smooths out, just like with the semi's.  I'll save you all the math but when you factor out Hall-of-Famers, the Robinson and some other more widely collected cards, you get an average count per card of 405.  These are the per row averages using PSA's figures:

A    450

B    382

C    393

D    412

E    397

F    414

G    390

Ferrara is the lowest pop card at 293 and the White Sox Team is the highest at 530, factoring out all the "popular" cards but there is no discernable pattern, it's totally random.  The lowest pops are all over the place, as are the highest ones. The Seaver rookie leads the way among the glitterati, as you might expect, with 3,540 slaberoni's. Maybe the Ferrara was prone to damage or it's just not a card that's graded a lot, possibly due to centering issues. It occurs to me a production issue midway through printing could have occurred, requiring a quick fix of some rows on one of the slits, but good luck figuring that out if it even happened.

I once correlated the known SP and DP information as of December 2011 in a post and came up with 11 cards that didn't quite jibe among my source materials (i.e one source having an SP designation for cards from a specific row while another having the row as being full of DP's); all 11 cards that eneded up without overlapping SP/DP info were in the G Row. I still can't explain why the cards in this row caused set collectors the most reported difficulty (not counting the expensive Seaver card) other than confirmation bias playing a part, nor can I explain the relatively high A Row count, which is two standard deviations away from the mean where none of the other rows are more than one standard deviation away, although B is close on the short side and has the the lowest overall pop count average per PSA!

Summing up, the eBay dataset I used a decade ago was probably not robust enough. The PSA data suggest to me that rows A, D & F were printed 4x each and rows B,C, E & G were printed 3x each across the full 264 card press sheet, although A appears to be a bit of an outlier still (5% chance that it's random).  But it's not a guarantee and there could still be a 5x row, a 4x row and five 3x rows but there's too much noise I think to dissect this any further with the data at hand. I will say whatever old SP and DP data certain guides had in the past seem to be have been based upon incomplete information at the time. And it just feels like that Pinson "A" row is a fiver!