Saturday, November 25, 2023

What In The Sam Rosen Is Going On Here?

I was rolling through images on my hard drive the other day and pulled up a sell sheet from Sam Rosen (the antecedent, as a business, to Card Collectors Company and also the step-father to Woody Gelman) that had some curious series breakdowns for the the 1958 Topps Baseball set. The '58 set is a weird one as Topps was dealing not only with major league expansion to the west coast but also expansion of their signature annual set by 88 cards over the high of 407 cards they issued in 1957, tying it with 1952 as their most prolific at the time. Mix in their first All Star cards, the yanking of Ed Bouchee's card at #145, in-series checklists (ordered, for the most part, both numerically and alphabetically) and the much-ballyhooed signing of Stan Musial and it's clear Topps has a lot going on sixty five summers ago..

But I'm not sure what can explain the series pricing for the set sent out by Rosen in July that year:

Rosen seems to be referencing single and double prints in his pricing but they seem way too neatly divided to really reference the vagaries of the usual 132 card A&B slit printing impressions for each specific tranche of cards.

Compare the above to the way the numeric checklists lagged things vs. how the press sheets were run off for each series and you can see an interesting pattern pretty easily:

That was a fairly common structure with Topps for a spell, here with a 110 card first run, followed by three runs of 88 and what may have been intended as a final run of 66 before the 55 high numbers got the green light. Yes, the 22 card lag over the four initial series is reflected in Rosen's pricing structure, which also suggests a 3:1 ratio as well, Extra Print vs. Short Print. But those 88 and 66 card series really imply the cards should  have been printed in the same quantities.  And the 110 card first series essentially has 44 overprints if things were handed the way I suspect they were. And what is going on with the first 88 cards, where the pricing structure is an imposing 4:1?! 

Well, for a long, long time it was thought the first series was more like a traditional high number series, where less cards were printed than in all other series but pricing and population trends over the last couple of decades suggest pretty much all cards in the set are equally available, in one of the smoothest distributions ever pulled off by Topps. They likely learned from it though, as the high numbers get tough again in 1959 and we start seeing semi-highs with some reduced numbers as well. But I wonder if this was the start of the idea the cards in the first series in 1958 were scarcer began?

The one slit I have seen for series two has a classic set up, imagining 44 card blocks, of A B A, that suggests the other slit as B A B (noting Jim Bunning was slotted in to take the place of Bouchee as an off-the-cuff Double Print):

So either Rosen was pulling a fast one, made a mistake or got some bad intel from his stepson. It's certainly clear today that the precise divisions from San Rosen's price list exist. But it just seems odd, supremely so, that this was how Sam was selling the set in 1958.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Fertile Crescent

Way back in 2008, almost at the start of this blog, I posted a super short piece about some Topps mockup creations that had been featured in a Gavin Riley Baseball Card News article in the mid 80's. While I've posted at length about these and other mockups that have popped up in auctions over the years, one specific example has has stayed out of sight until recently and it features a huge name in Roberto Clemente.

Heritage Auctions had it on the block recently and it's thought to be a 1972-ish creation of the Topps New Product Department.  Here it is:

Some press-on letters, a pasted-up Pirates logo and some overlaying of of a border on an image of Clemente -voila! This is a nice one as such things go, many of these are not as neat and feature made up names, or those of Topps employees. The advanced look here - there's also a layer of what's described as "thin plastic (which is  likely celluloid) - covering it makes me wonder if this made it through the review process a little farther than most.

The Pittsburgh name at the top uses lettering reminiscent of the 1971-72 Topps Basketball set, although it's not as "mod" in appearance:

It's affixed to a fairly larger bit of illustration board which I've rotated ninety degrees for easier reading of the non-essential verbiage on the back:

I'm hopeful some more of these Clemente-styled mockups will be uncovered some day, I mostly like the design!

Saturday, November 11, 2023

Come Sail Your Ships Around Me

We're off to the high seas todays matey's, as we take a look at the waterborne portion of the 1955 Topps Rails and Sails set. As we all know, the style of paintings is a bit more in the tradition and style of nautical art and these more resemble pieces you might see in a museum or gallery, with full bleed borders aiding and abetting that look. As with the Rails, some Sails art has popped up over the years, here's one of the most famous subjects in the set, the SANTA MARIA:

As with the Rails, the level of details can be stunning.  Is that Cristopher Columbus near the bow?  Here's the finished card:

It's a little darker than the original as Topps essentially muted the brightness of the artwork in production.  The card back, to me at least, shows just how invested Topps was in the set, which was the last of their three great Giant Size transportation themed sets, namely Wings in 1952, World on Wheels in 1953-54 and then Rails and Sails in 1955. I can't prove it but suspect the latter two were designed as hopeful "Bowman killers" in a way.  Check it out:

There is a lot going on there! You get some useful information on flags used by vessels to communicate with each other at sea in the time before radio, a look at a lighthouse (the lighthouse tour was part of many of the Sails cards), some excellent text and a nice nautically-themed card number icon with an anchor and stock. Can you imagine taking on the open Atlantic in that tiny vessel during hurricane season?!

Here's another original illustration, it's subject is a bit more modern than the SANTA MARIA and that may reflect the fact it details a Submarine:

The muted color palette has been tossed out for the original illustration and it's kind of James Bond-like in a way, but almost ten years earlier that the movies. Hold on though, the printed version has had the color tamped down:

This one has some Dutch Navy details that don't follow the modern theme of the card (none of the illustrations in either Rails or Sails really matched the fronts) and a neat Sea Myth offers some weirdness:

There's even more to the set and I hope to get into that pretty soon sailors!

Saturday, November 4, 2023

Tell Me How Long The Train's Been Gone

On the heels of last week's Rails and Sails post, I thought I would share some artwork scans from the set. Despite the mismatch of styles for Rails versus Sails, I consider this set to be the apotheosis of the Topps Giant Size Non-Sports cards. The artwork on the front of the cards is often stunning, always well-executed and there is a wide range of subjects in both look and time.  Then there are the card backs, which were so well thought out and colorful for both modes of transportation.  I imagine it was was fairly time-consuming set to create and may have been a little expensive as well, although if it was, had more to do with the backs than the fronts I'd say.  The artwork was paid at per-the-piece rates of the day but some of the Rails copy (and/or possibly stock photographs used for the illustrations) came courtesy of American Car & Foundry and I suspect Topps may have had to pay for it.  Not all of the Rails cards carried  "Courtesy A.C.F. Industries Inc." indicia of course, some were from foreign railroads or, obviously, not manufactured by ACF.

The original art has bubbled up in a few batches over the years, mostly around 15-18 years ago with some "finds" larger than others.  Today I want to ride the rails portion of the set and here's a great-looking original, which is the Casey Jones' Loco operated by the Illinois Central Railroad:

Here's the finished card:

Sweet, right?  Here's the reverse where you can see what I mean about the design:

Beware of snake heads-yikes! And dig the rando locomotives and cars used for the main illustration running on the tracks along the bottom.

For the record, here's how the ACF indicia looked:

Here's a piece of art offered by Heritage sometime back, the level of detail is astounding:

Card no. 109 for those keeping score at home:

And here's a true production piece:

It's not no. 48 though, as marked, but rather no. 33:

The handwriting on the back seems to be instructing the illustrator on the various colors, indicating the source was a black and white photo; that's how things rolled back then!

Back with some Sails art next time kids!

Saturday, October 28, 2023


I got a ping the other day from a collector named Max Brustmeyer who sent along an uncut half sheet scan from the 1955 Topps Rails and Sails set. In addition to being a useful thing in and of itself, the sheet had a surprise in store:

Yes, it's a 10x10 sheet, so there's 100 cards on this slit.  All well and good, but this is a 1955 set and Topps had, from what I know if it, moved to 110 card sheets the year prior, or perhaps I should say a minimum of 110 cards due to the nature of the flip-flops (a method used due to the full bleed tops of each card with Rails and Sails as well). Take a look at this 1954 Baseball sheet offered by Huggins & Scott some time ago now"

If you look at the very tippy-top of the sheet you can see a sliver of another row, which looks to replicate the second row.

So we have a 100 card sheet for Rails and Sails produced well after the (minimum) 110 card sheet containing 1954 Baseball was run.  The 1954 Baseball cards were produced by the Lord Baltimore Press, who were the main printers for the company at the time.  That brings up the question of who lithographed the Rails and Sails sheet.  Was it Lord Baltimore, or perhaps Topps had found their way to Zabel Brothers of Philadelphia in 1955?  

Another interesting thing is the "breakage" of the numbers included on the 1954 Baseball slit and the Rails and Sails slit.  The numbering on the Baseball sheet covers numbers 126 to 150 and then skips to 176 to 250.  The Rails and Sails sheet runs from 1 to 80 (Rails) then jumps to 131 to 150 Sails). The Baseball array is totally arbitrary in 1954 while Rails and Sails in '55 offers two areas of organization: the 4 x 5 block of Sails cards that is partially randomized with the top two rows containing nos. 141 to 150 and the bottom two with nos. 131 to 140, although they are scattered non-consecutively in each row. Below that we get six orderly rows of Rails, or I should say orderly columns as they all run consecutively through a five number top-to bottom sequence that reduces as it moves rightward when viewed from the front.  Namely:

26-30    19-24     13-18     7-12      1-6

Then the right half of the sheet goes back to fifty randomly arrayed cards covering nos. 31 to 80.  Crazy! The wedging of the Sails in the upper left corner is odd as well, it seems like it would be easier, given their full bleed backs and sides on the reverse (which explains why half are upside down) to just extend them out to full rows:

The Rails had no such need for inversion, being uniform in color on the backs:

I've mentioned before it seems like the Sails almost seem like an afterthought, or were originally meant to be a separate issue given how they differ in style so much from the Rails. Perhaps Topps was contracting some expenses in view of their pending offer for Bowman?

Saturday, October 21, 2023

My God, It's Full Of Stars

I was recently sent a wonderful package of in-house Topps goodies by Friend o'the Archive David Eskenazi, which originated with longtime Topps photographer Doug McWilliams, who spent 1971-1994 snapping pictures for the company. Doug has donated most of his negatives and prints to the Baseball Hall of Fame and also sent David some corporate ephemera over the years as they are longtime friends. Short story long, David was kind enough to send me a few goodies, and I am honored to add them to the collection of curiosities deposited in the Main Topps Archives Research Center Vault!

I'll have a few posts about this trove as the rest of the year progresses but wanted to start out with what might be the grooviest looking thing I've ever seen, namely the 1971-72 Gift Catalog from which ballplayers could, in lieu of a cash royalty from Topps, select from a bevy of goods.  And I mean bevy, as we shall see.

The cover gives a really good idea of where the graphics were going:

Right away, Topps shared details on how everything would go down:

We've seen some of this this explanation before, in the 1973-74 catalog but that was a mere shell of what was about to be unleashed in the pages within this one. First though, dig the exposition from Topps as it turns out this was the first catalog to offer a Five Star gift option:

They would toy with the symbols in later years but the idea was always the same, if you had the extension bonus option, you could get better swag. The extensions, so far as I can tell were made effective by having a Topps card issued in the prior year, although I'm not sure if that covered the multi-player rookie cards. Topps kept track of all this on ledger cards they maintained for each player in their Premium Records Department.

Now, let's get our groove on and look at each of the offered categories! Lots of players were into Photography, back when you had to know what you were doing:

All that do develop the film-can you imagine?! Although Polaroid had the right idea (for a time).

Some players would furnish their houses:

Furniture was a major category, with seventeen of the catalog's 64 pages devoted to it. If that didn't appeal to some folks, then they could opt for Housewares.  This page had a two star option. vs. just the one star seen for the two tables above.

Look at that Five Star Washer! Players could bank their points, that would have taken three years to nab! 

If you liked to spend your time at home outside, Topps had you covered: 

That Weber grill on the right would still be in fine shape if it was taken care of, the older ones were tanks.  Speaking of tanks, you could probably build one with some of these:

Meanwhile, Electronics were still expensive and big, quite literally in fact:

  And for the finely dressed man?  Well, there was this:

Look, I came of age in the 1970's and it was really the last best time in some ways but I would very much like to expunge from my memory all manner of Leisure Suits and wide ties-yeeeesh!!

There's more to it and the whole thing is just a riot of contemporary color and hip design.  This might also be the most extensive catalog they ever offered.  I only have a handful to compare to but it seems like it's got the most stuff and I suspect after their March 1972 IPO they refined things a little as the one after this was not as robust in its offerings.

In addition to banking points for more expensive items, players could also exceed their "star limits" and pay Topps the difference if they went over the $250 and/or $75 thresholds. Looks like the boys from Brooklyn knew how to work all the ends of this deal!

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Howdy Pardner

A long, long time ago, 1993 to be exact, I first read about the possibility of a paper version of the five cent wrapper Topps used for Round-Up, their 80 card Western themed set from 1956. Chris Benjamin, in the set description contained in his Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards 1930-1960, mentioned it along with a note that the five cent retail wrapper featured "fragile layered cellophane" in red, with accented blues and whites."  It also mentions a five cent paper wrapper has been seen. I've had a crummy scan of the paper version for years but a newer scan has popped up and it's got far better resolution than the old one:

There's a scan of the back as well:

As it turns out, it's the same wrapper in both my scans, old and new.  I'm now leaning toward this being an internal production piece, or something like it, given the tape remnants and Benjamin's comments about a cello wrapper being used to market the set. I'm not sure how this paper version would have been used to retail the set by Topps as they needed sanitary packaging given the bubble gum that rode along.  It makes some sense to me that they created it in order to envision how to manufacture the cello version. It's also worth noting Benjamin's comment on the paper wrapper appears to refer to a singular piece.

You cab kind of see the cello being stretched on this unopened nickel pack; those striations generally don't generally pop up on wax packs like that from what I've seen:

Ok, to confound things a little more, some of the five cent wrappers look like they could be wax:

Topps has "gone cello" with other sets over the years where a traditional wax wrapper was used otherwise, so maybe that's what is going on here.  No matter, it's intriguing and adds to the mystery a little.

Now, are there any other examples known of the paper wrapper out there?  I suspect there would have bene more than one of these if used internally.

Meanwhile, check out this May 1957 newspaper ad showing how Topps burned off overstock of the set:

Looks like a penny pack was included with every 8-pack of wieners! Here's what the one-centers looked like-it's kind of weird that the overall motif of red wasn't carried over:

Round-Up may have been the last Giant Size set before Topps switched to the "standard" card size ushered in with Elvis Presley. I think either it or the 1956 Football set holds that distinction.