Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Dating Game Is Afoot!

The precise dating of Topps sets and those of other issuers is, to my increasingly cluttered mind, primarily a vestige of baseball card collecting, where determining the year of a player's rookie card appeared has a massive impact on value.  Sports are, of course, determined by their seasons and for the most part an issue date for a specific set from the last 75 years can be ciphered quite easily. Peek back earlier than World War 2 though and it's not always so simple, even for baseball and football sets.  As for non-sports, for certain sets it's difficult to figure out exact issue dates well into the 1960's and even into the 70's on occasion.  Compounding things is the propensity of Topps to sell hot sets over more than a one year period or something they issued across the "New Year's Divide".

Popeye Tattoo and its two (or four-stay with me) subsquent offspring is a perfect example of both effects. The original tattoo series has been described as being issued anywhere from 1956 to 1958, with the latter date seemingly the consensus. Here is the original series wrapper:

It's not dated of course, just the King Features Syndicate and Topps copyright lines appear. However, I'm pretty sure it was a 1957 issue that was sold well into 1958.  Take a look at the box, or rather two pieces of it-rather stunning I'd say when the top graphic is blown up-but sadly the only display remnants I can find:

Not exactly a ton of information, although there is a solid clue. I've dug around a little and found that the Quality & Purity logo, which was featured by Topps going back to the 1940's, shows up on both the Isolation Booth ('57) and 1957 Football display boxes. I can't track it into 1958 anywhere, even on the boxes that still have the old "Atom" Bazooka penny tab wraps shown on the back panel issued in the first half of that year. So the Q&P logo appears to have been ditched by late 1957.

Could it have been issued in 1956?  Well, George W. Woolery compiled three volumes about Children's TV back in the 1980's and these books are immensely useful in determining premiere dates, series air date spans and the like. Per Woolery, Popeye premiered in syndication on September 10, 1956 in the New York City and Chicago metro areas and within a month was on the air in LA. He describes the show as a "smash hit" and it certainly was but no one in the fall of '56 really knew at the time how it would play out.  This was, after all, the first theatrical-cartoons-to-TV syndication package ot its kind when the deal was cut between the syndicator and Paramount Pictures (which owned Famous at the time).

The original cartoons in the syndication package were early, black and white ones but color TV was already available and had been since late 1953 (did you know Dragnet was the first show shot in color?), although the sets were quite expensive early on, with small screens and heavy cabinetry abounding.  It wasn't until a year later that the color Popeye cartoons, which kicked off theatrically in the middle of World War 2, were negotiated into the syndication deal cut by Paramount.  As documented here on numerous occasions, Famous and it's predecessor Fleischer Studios employed Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman for several years and the connection should not be lost on people when it came time for Topps to issue their first licensed character tattoo set. Big cities generally sold expensive electronic products first and New York, LA and Chicago perfectly fit that bill with the color shorts becoming available.

By 1960 Popeye was airing on 150 stations nationally and described as the most popular syndicated cartoon show in the country. Topps was on it before that though and I've already detailed a jobber's invoice from March of 1960 covering the "New Series" of Popeye Tattoos

Between that and the American Card Catalog, where Gelman was an editor, giving 1959 as the year of issue, I think it's safe to say these indeed debuted that year. This all suggests a 1957-58 window for the original series and 1959-60 for the second.

Now we come to Popeye's Mystery Color Tattoos. Rights to the theatrical cartoons were controlled by Paramount but don't forget that Popeye was first a comic strip, where the rights were owned by King Features Syndicate. KFS commissioned 220 new shorts, made just for TV, to debut in the 1961-62 season. Popeye was still a hot, hot property and Topps of course wanted to remain onboard while perhaps freshening up their product a little:

I like how Topps subbed in a fish on the wrapper application graphic! That fish appears on the underside of my example, whcih I think was a salesman or promo verison as there's no production rip at the top:

Again, no date is found on the wrapper but the Third American Card Catalog Update, compiled by Buck Barker, appears in the February 1, 1962 issue of the Card Collectors Bulletin and clearly identified the mystery tats as being a 1961 issue, 13 lines down:

Given how the tatoo series would have been timed to the TV season, it seems logical this was a 1961-62 release.

Many thanks BTW to Friend o' the Archive David Kathman for providing definitive dating of this ACC update, which was inexplicably described as undated in Chris Benjamin's compilation pamphlet. There's another great tidbit on the page as well, namely confirmation that Civil War News (see line 14) was indeed issued in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of hostilities between the North and the South in 1861. Every source I've seen describes it as a 1962 release but clearly it was not if Barker had it pegged as a 1961 issue.

I did mention four additonal Popeye tattoo series, didn't I?  Having covered a duo, that leaves two still. Well here is one from Venezuela:

Intriguingly, the wrapper sizing is far smaller than the US version of the original series which measured out at 1 5/8" x 3 3/8".  The Venezuelan wrap is only 1 1/8" x 2 3/8", or the size of the original 1948 Topps Tatoo wrapper!

Finally, Popeye and Topps reunited in 1966 with this new/old wrapper:

It's very small and quite hard to read but the commodity code, which was still being developed in the wake of Topps moving all but their executive offices from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA in early 1966, ends in a 6, so it's a 1966 conception and an issue almost certainly designed for the 1966-67 television season.  This is a tough wrapper compared to the others, so maybe the gleam off the spinach can was fading for Topps by then.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Super Solution Saturday

Well, it took a Fleer fanatic to provide the answer but the riddle of the 1970 Topps Super sheet arrays has been solved. Yes, Friend o'the Archive John H, over at the Fleer Sticker Project blog, sent along an image from an old Topps Vault auction showing the entirety of Slit A and the elusive two left-most columns thereon.  And without further ado:

The first thing most folks will notice is that the Powell card does not reappear in the two leftmost columns!  I have no idea why Topps went with this amazingly confusing array across both slits but Powell was either deliberately super (*groan*) short-printed, somehow damaged in one location or just plain missed but it's bizarre. Really, why not just print all 42 cards three times over two sheets for a set almost no kid would ever be able to fully collect when it was issued?!

The next thing to know is that this confirms the conventional hobby wisdom as to the other short-printed cards (it happens sometimes).  Here is the two-slit impression count:

The last thing to know (OK maybe not) is that the McCovey and Clemente cards, with big white stripes at their resepctive tops in some examples, were in the middle of the arrays; the A slit versions though do seem to display some excessive white strips on those two.  I can't blow them up enough without losing details but the Stargell at the bottom left corner above also has a ton of white atop it as an example.  

Alrighty, back in numerical order for one last list:


The 1971 Super Baseball set appears to have been printed in full twice across both slits-no fun there!

Saturday, May 29, 2021

BBQ Smasharoo

With a three day weekend upon us, and for no other reason than good ol' laziness, I figured a nice, easy hodgepodge post was in order as I tend to my grill and related activities. UPDATE-it's pouring out!

1950's Hopalong Cassidy was the second licensed character release from Topps and it did boffo business in the wake of William Boyd's televison repackaging of his old Hoppy movies.  The first eight episodes (subsets to you, pardner) also had an associated foil insert "title card" for each. As you can imagine, these shiny, fragile extras are super collectible and realtively scarce. None have ever graded higher than a PSA 6.  I can't find the two-card panel data but this example, in a PSA 5 slab, would be considered high end:

I like how Topps darkened the star to AND underlined the episode title:

Much like the diecut tank cards in the same era's Freedom's War set, these foil cards were printed separately and pushed into the packs.  Two-foil panels were inserted in the elongated nickel wax (actually glassine) packs of the time, so sized to allow for the two card panels, and possibly the ten cent Trading Card Guild packs that didn't have any gum included. Foil panels are rare quite rare and the singles (from penny apcks or separated) aren't too easy to find either.

Speaking of the Trading Card Guild, some of the 1957 cello packs issued by Topps had associated "TCG" graphics. At least one (second series) pack has been graded as by PSA, almost certainly the one I detailed here almost a decade ago. As always, there could be more in slabs but whether or not PSA identified the wrapper as being branded or not is an open question.  Well, here's a second series cello pack without the graphics, just to bring things full circle:

Finally, a rejection by Bazooka Joe (LOL) of a premium fulfillment request gives us some insight into how things were run in the (very much) pre-digtial age.  I'm not sure the comic goes with the envelope actually, it seems to have merely been included in a larger eBay lot.

The Magic Circle Club "comic", as above, may not be what came along with this letter:

This certificate for 250 comcis though, seems to have been the subject of the letter.  The mimeograph lines indicate it was cut from a larger sheet, so this type of premium hiccup would have been common enough to warrant a pile or two of hand-completed certificates being kept at the ready, I'm sure:

I think this is the proper catalog for the mailing though (1966):

I never actually sent in any comics to Bazooka Joe back in the day, I always ended up tossing them.  Oh, the irony!

Saturday, May 22, 2021

You'll Never Leave Harlan (With Your Career) Alive

An interesting Sy Berger letter, in more ways than one, floated into my possession last week courtesy of a Friend o'the Archive and mine.  Feast your eyes on this wonderful missive:

Mr. William J. Weiss turns out to have been the official statistician for the Pacific Coast League starting in 1950 and held that position for 31 years!  He also maintained statistics for at least eight other minor leagues at various times and is enshrined as an executive in the PCL Hall of Fame.  In 1982 he won a 1923 World Series program at auction and quickly realized that he was in possession of Baseball Hall of Fame property, which was easily determined by the procurement stamp and accession number displayed on the first page of the item in question.  

Weiss contacted Cliff Kachline at the Hall of Fame and the story, as relayed by Bill James in his 1995 book Whatever Happened To The Hall of Fame, turned out to be a twisted one. The program had been on loan to the Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and it eventually turned out over 400 items had been sent to the Commissioner's office in 1973 as part of a research project and never returned to the Hall. These got put away eventually when whatever projects they were needed for concluded.  At some point thereafter, when the storage situation at work got too hairy, Joe Reichler, who was Bowie Kuhn's right hand man and his Director of Public Relations to boot, "helpfully" lugged several boxes of goodies home, some of which held old World Series programs and other assorted treasures.  He kept these in his garage, until selling off some things within, none of which were his of course, to help defray his son's college tuition.  

After the sordid details were outlined in some 1983 Sporting News articles, a criminal investigation was launched into the Commissioner's office by the New York State Attorney General. This seems to have spurred Kuhn into action and MLB replaced the lost items, or made restitution to allow for repurchases of the ones they couldn't retrieve. New York State subsequently dropped the investigation and a couple of the HOF's long time employees, including Kachline, ultimately got the sack.  

You may also (or only) know Reichler's name from the several editions of the Baseball Encyclopedia he edited.  If I recall correctly -- and I think I do since it was my LCS at the time -- some of these purloined World Series programs ended up at the same shop where Bill Mastro once allegedly hacked off the Gretzky Wagner from part of an uncut sheet of T206 cards.

As for the contents of Sy's letter to Weiss, who looks to have been a part-time bird-dog west coast talent scout of sorts for Topps in addition to his other skills, it was to relay "steak money" to two minor league prospects. One of them, John R. Taylor, a catcher, spent 1961, which was his his first season in organized ball, in the Yankees farm system.  He initially plied his trade in Class D ball, first in  Harlan, Kentucky and then Auburn, New York where he hit a combined .151 for the year before the Yankees jettisoned him via unknown means.  He ended up in the Phillies system in 1962, where he managed a whopping .175 average for another Class D team in the Alabama-Florida League and was not seen again. I'm guessing, without too much effort, that he was in the "good field-no hit" category. His biggest claim to fame was possibly (I can't determine if they overlapped) being a teammate of Mel Stottlemyre's in Harlan for a spell.

I think the other guy was Richard Holden, a pitcher who spent 1961 in C and B ball as a Braves farmhand and eventually, albeit briefly, made it to AAA in '62 as member of the Giants organization before backsliding in 1963 and exiting OB.  Baseball can certainly be a cruel game.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Bizarro World

A funny thing has happened in the quest to determine the print array of the 42 cards in the 1970 Super Baseball set. As noted here previously, the two sides (or slits) of the press sheets total 126 cards, which seemingly would allow for three full sets of 42 to be printed but, as we well know, this was not the case.

Now, last year's attempt to fill out the arrays with the able assistance of Friend o'the Archive John Moran, seemingly leaving 14 (7x2) open slots across two columns at the extreme left of Slit A has come into question despite credible evidence our original reasoning was essentially correct.

Here's where things stood until very recently:

You can ignore all the different colors and shadings really, they were just how John and I tracked our sources and progress piecing the slits together. John and I speculated last time out as to how the two empty columns could fill out, with each of us having our own theories.  We did however, agree that these three pairings in the mustard colored columns would exist:

13 McCovey & 12 Clemente (more below on Clemente)
19 Stargell & 18 Mays
34 Rose & 33 Gibson

Note how the A slit always descends laterally to the right. We also agreed it was a mortal lock that Clemente and McCovey, with white areas above them, would be at the top of the columns.  Check out the strip of white above both but especially Clemente on these examples:

Pretty definitive they are at the top, right?  Wrong, as a recently auctioned proof sheet from Heritage has yielded a quite unexpected result:

These are theoretically the four topmost rows of the A slit and you can plainly see McCovey and Clemente are not where they should be (or there at all).  In fact, we get two cards thought to be short prints in Agee (#42) and Staub (#41) now appearing with three impressions apiece but in a vulnerable area of the sheet that might explain their somewhat scarce status.  Santo (#21) and Horlen (#20) also go from two to three known impressions (they are not thought of as short prints). Pinella (#32) and Pinson (#31) go from three to four impressions and Freehan (#7) and Dierker (#6) do the two to three shuffle. All four pairs properly descend going to the right as well.

So assuming we can rely upon the proof sheet above, here's where things stand with the remianing subjects having two known impressions still (and #38 Powell remaining at one, the only such card still stuck there). Those thought to be short-printed by the hobby are designated as such:

1 Osteen SP

2 Bando SP

3 Aparicio

4 Killebrew

5 Seaver SP

19 Stargell (no corresonding pairing now with Horlen on the Heritage sheet)

36 Brown SP

37 Robinson SP

38 Powell SP (one impression only with no correpsonding pairing)

39 Davis SP

40 Williams SP

We now seemingly have 120 of 126 impressions but why don't McCovey and Clemente appear the the tops of this sheet?! And is the Powell a true single-single print? And what do we make of this Rose (#34) from the A (left) slit that I forgot to address last year?

Pete, likely in the row 6 position, seems like he should be paired with Gibson (#33) as the sequence moving to the right captures the Pinella/Pinson pairing in proper order as well in that row.  That would make each a four impression player and leave only four slots left to fit. Perhaps it goes:

Killebrew (#4) and Aparicio (#3) in row 5 then.....

Powell (#38) and Stargell (#19)-an"unmatched" pair, with Boog in the problematic lower left corner. That gets him to two impressions (I can't believe there's not two) and Stargell is not a perceived short print either, which works.  It also leaves the rest of the short prints at 2 impressions, whcih makes a ton of sense.

Well, just as many questions as answers it seems still!  My current thinking is the "new" proof sheet was rearranged for final printing but it's quite odd the McCovey/Clemente pairing is not atop it.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Master Of Disaster

Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has been going to town on researching obscure Topps sets, packaging, printing anomalies and any number of things that I like to do as well but often don't have enough time to pull off.  He's recently undertaken the cataloging of a set that never was, which we are both now calling Dangerous Animals.  This name acually dervies from a recent auction description seemingly devoid of any factual evidence that this was the name of what would have been a killer 1950's Topps set but I think you'll agree it fits.

Lonnie has created a visual checklist of all 64 known images from what was almost certainly intended to be the second series of Bring 'Em Back Alive. Fate, however, intervened and an extremely benign set called Anmals Of The World served instead as the high series to what was one of the best sets Topps ever produced.

Dangerous Animals art first appeared in the 1989 Topps Auction catalog, mis-identified as Animals Of The World artwork.  That sloppy description slowly and steadily irked me and I've previously voiced my complaints in this regard. The set though, was seemingly close to completion as this original art piece shows.  Note Woody Gelman's red crayon 27 in the circle at lower left and a remnant of a penciled "28" above:

There were pencil notations on some other pieces as well indicating numbering.

That seems to be a Buck lookalike shooting this aggressive creature but who knows?  Topps may have waited too long and their license from Frank Buck's estate expired, or they just got cold feet and went with Animals of the World instead.

Lonnie thinks the Dangerous Animals set would have topped out at 100 subjects.  Here's the 64 he's found to date for your enjoyment, with sourcing:

I'm not sure Frank Buck would have found any living Glyptodons or Mosasaurs in the wild!

Dinosaurs and Mammoths, oh my!

Hopefully more of these turn up someday along with more of the story!

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Funny How That Works

We last covered the rather obscure proof/possible test issue called Funny Flash Cards in January 2018 and Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has shared some new tidbits.

Lonnie writes there is a "USPO listing, showing first use as April 10, 1968, even though Topps Vault says 1970. That first use date and the factory cut cards make me think this might have actually been tested, but probably a very, very small distribution."  The 1968 date previously attributed from an old auction listing is therefore confirmed. Lonnie continues "Also, I have images of some acetate overlay proofs from Topps Vault that definitely name the set 'Funny Flash Cards', as well as the box lid artwork."  

Here's the U.S. Patent Office Listing Lonnie tracked down; you can see how the Topps Vault may have mistaken the published date of the listing (1970) as the issue date and shows what I assume was a pack or display box  graphic.  It took a little while back in the pre-digital age to get stuff together! The USPO also handles trademarks in case you were wondering.

Here is the acetate, likely for some display box art:

Given the lack of a wrapper, sizer of the cards and the advanced state of preparation, if it was retail tested it could have been in clear cello packs like Twiggy was, although some tests by Topps have never given up their delivery systems to us latter day collectors and investigators.

This is Lonnie's slightly updated checklist of the 33 known cards, which also corrects a row placement I managed to screw up (reversal of rows H and J). Before we dig into his updated checklist, here's the proof sheet that Lonnie's placements detail with the questions first, then the much more colorful answers following:

Front (Question)
Reverse (Answer)
Position (Reverse)

Nature Studies
What Animal Is Hairy & Can't See?
A Baboon With His Eyes Closed!
A1 (33)
What Was Sewards' Folly?
Mrs. Seward!
A2 (33)
If John And Sam Share 6 Apples, And Sam Gets 2, What Does John Get?
A Punch In The Eye From Sam!
A3 (33)

What's Wrong With This Sentence: "On My Vacation In Philadelphia I Had An Exciting Time."
Nobody In Philadelphia Has An Exciting Time!
B1 (33)
If Your Friend Had 14 Marbles And You Took Half, What Would You Have?
A Black Eye!
B2 (33)
What Never Strikes Twice In The Same Place?
A Mets Baseball Pitcher!
B3 (33)
Can You Draw A Straight Line From New York To Chicago?
Yes, If You Have A Very Long Pencil!
C1 (33)
What Is Whale Oil Used For?
For Oiling Whales!
C2 (33)
When Did The Civil War Come To An End?
When The Last Shot Was Fired!
C3 (33)
Why Did George Washington Cross The Delaware?
It Was Too Cold Standing In The Middle!
D1 (33)
Why Were They Called "Rough Riders?"
No Talcum Powder!
D2 (33)
Why Did People Before Columbus Think The World Was Flat?
In Those Days It Was Flat!
D3 (33)
Who Was The 10th President Of The United States?
Who Cares!
E1 (33)
Nature Studies
What Is A Hippo?
A Fat Hippie!
E2 (33)
How Much Dirt Is In A Hole  3 Ft. x 3 Ft. x 5 Ft. Deep!
None, You Idiot! It's a Hole!
E3 (33)
Between Whom Was The Battle Of Bunker Hill Fought?
Between A Fellow And A Girl In A Parked Car!
F1 (33)
Form A Sentence With The Word Paradox.
On Our Farm We Have Four Chickens, Six Geese and a Paradox!
F2 (33)
Out Of The Mouths Of Babes, Oftimes Comes What?
F3 (33)
What Shouldn't People In Glass Houses Throw?
Wild Parties!
G1 (33)
During The Boston Tea Party, What Did The Colonists heave Overboard?
Their Dinners!
G2 (33)
Nature Studies
How Can A Charging Rhino Be Stopped?
Take Away His Credit Card!
G3 (33)
If Mrs. Smith Makes 10 Spinach Cookies, And Gives One To Each Of Her 6 Children, How Many Will Be Left?
Ten!  Who Would Eat A Spinach Cookie!
H1 (33)
Why Was General Lee Buried At Arlington National Cemetery?
Because He Was Dead!
H2 (33)
Social Studies
What Do You Call A Man Who Takes Apart Live Bombs For A Living?
An Idiot!
H3 (33)
In The War Of 1812, Who Said "Don't Give Up The Ship?"
Someone Who Wasn't On It!
I1 (33)
Scientists Get Oil By Drilling Oil Wells, How Do They Get Gas?
By Drinking Beer!
I2 (33)
If Two's Company And Three's A Crowd, What Are Four And Five?
I3 (33)
2 Pints Make A Quart; 4 Quarts Make A Gallon. What Does A Gallon Make?
A Drunken Brawl!
J1 (33)

If You Had 18 Apples And You Ate 12, What Would You Have?
One Heckuva Stomach Ache!
J2 (33)
When Did Nathan Hale Say "I Regret That I Have But One Life To Give For My Country?"
When It Was Too Late!
J3 (33)
If You Had 6 Packs Of Cigarettes With 20 Cigarettes In A Pack And You Smoked 2 1/2 Packs In One Day, What Would You Have The Next Day?
Such A Cough!
K1 (33)
What Did Isaac Newton Learn When The Apple Fell on His Head?
He Should Change His Seat
K2 (33)
Why Did Our Forefathers Leave England?
To Get Away From Our Foremothers!
K3 (33)