Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Wrapping It All Up

Those pesky B&W 1960's Topps issues just won't go away. No sooner do I scatter blogs on this subject throughout the last month like Hansel & Gretel at a 4C convention, than Les Davis and Kurt Kursteiner et al come up with a killer article in The Wrapper #240 tying up the loose ends. Well played Gents, well played!

In addition, the current issue features some crazy Fleer confectionery items from Jeff Shepherd's collection (this blog would be half blank if not for Jeff's killer scans) and about a kazillion other essential non-sport articles and ads. You all need to send send Les Davis $23 (plus some orphaned postage stamps) and get with the program.

I'll just state for the record that those oddball Flash Gordon packs

discussed here, have been shown to have also appeared in Topps baseball boxes in addition to Fun Packs; Bob Marks noted in The Wrapper #124

that four such boxes at 120 cards per box had been found in 1984, in the first known instance of a double wrapped Topps trading card product. I would say at most two or three additional boxes worth have been found over the years, so the total number of Flash Gordon cards out there could be in the 720 - 840 range. However, that count may include an empty box so the number could be less than 600. In my experience, if there is a population of under 1000 cards total for a 60's or 70's test set, then there is extreme competition among collectors for them and they bring prices in the $150-$200 range for singles when they pop up for sale or auction.

In theory this would yield around twenty or thirty 24 card sets, but card # 24 seems to be in short supply, as do nos. 6, 10 and 11, especially the latter two. I would be shocked if more than a half dozen complete sets exist in the hobby as a result of the distribution of the short prints among the known cards. This is not unheard of - the 1971 Bobby Sherman Gettin' Together set has the same collation problems, although it seems to be available in about triple the supply of the Flash Gordon cards.

The bizarre manner in which these Flash Gordon cards entered the hobby seems to smack of Woody Gelman funneling items to his trailblazing card dealership, the Card Collectors Company

which had an offshoot called Nostalgia Press that handily reissued the American Card Catalog among other things. From what I can gather, once Topps sold the retail product, the rewrapped product, the Fun Packs and whatever other channeled discount blowout they could muster, Woody Gelman took control of the detritus and sold it to the far flung hobbyists of yore. That is our blessing and our curse.

Card Collectors Company sustained a fire in the early 1970's that destroyed part of their warehouse and consumed much precious inventory while creating some legendary scarcities within the Topps oddball canon. That story will be told another day.

Happy New Year folks!

(Updates made to the 2 paragraphs below Wrapper #124 illustration 11:00 AM 12/31/08)

Monday, December 29, 2008

Small Order

When I started this blog a few months ago, I figured I would mostly post on Topps test and oddball baseball issues. As it has turned out, while compiling scans and doing research for my posts, I started to really dig deep into the history of the company and have zeroed in on the late 1940's recently. I have discussed some of these before, in a slightly different context.

Since Topps didn't officially introduce baseball cards until 1951, the pre-baseball era is almost all non-sport in nature. At first I thought Topps had issued a few sporadic sets in '49 but it turns out they had all sorts of things cooking. After introducing Bazooka comics around 1947, Topps started inserting plastic coins and cards into their non-Bazooka penny packs a year or so later and by 1949 were issuing stand alone products in both penny and nickel packs on a regular basis.

I want to focus on the penny packs here, in particular the tiny little cards that came inserted between the outer wrapper and the individually wrapped gum pieces (or "tabs" in the confectioner's jargon). Before I do that though, there was a non-card issue in 1948 that amazes me:

(From the Jeff Shepherd Collection)

Choking hazard aside, this may have been the first Topps penny pack to have an insert. It also shows how the packaging was assembled. There was nothing holding the coin in place save for the inner fold from what I can tell. This penny pack likely came out in 1948 and continued to be sold through part of 1949.

Around the same time Topps issued the first Magic Photo, in Hocus Focus Gum:

The cards looked like this:

Interestingly, I am now finding information that Magic Photos may have come with both square and rounded corners. In addition, there may be some back variations and at least one obverse variation. If there is any correlation between the corners and variations I hope to find out, so stay tuned.

1949 also saw the release of X-Ray Round Up, which must have sold well as there are more of these around than any other tiny Topps cards from what I have seen. They came in packs of Pixie Gum (note inner green wrapper):

(from the collection of Todd Riley)

The fronts had Pirates, Indians and Cowboys on them and were quite colorful.

You put some magic X Ray paper over the back to reveal a picture:

Here are some proof and uncut versions from the 2004 Robert Edward Auction, plus a 100 count sheet of stamps, that may or may not have been issued by Topps:

There was also a License Plate set issued in 1949, featuring the first Topps scratchoffs no less. The set was also issued without the scratch off feature (1950 saw a reissue of both type in slightly larger format).

Outer and inner wrapper (Topps usually printed something on the inside of the paper wrapper):

The cards were as you would expect:

Looks like a switch to foil from wax for the inner wrapper:

Want some gum with that?

Last but not least, we have Flags of All Nations/Soldiers of The World. The "front" of the card is on textured, silvery "foil" and the back looks like a normal card's front. Bizarre! I don't have wrapper scans for this set at the moment and will add them when I can. Here are the cards:

There was so much more in 1948-49, including some early text-based little cards and a number of wrapper interiors. Fodder for another day's post. Enjoy these for now!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

To Test, Perchance to Dream

Well, it has been a hectic holiday season here at the Topps Archives homestead....everyone is fast asleep, snug in their beds but I remain vigilant, thanks to an eggnog induced power nap this afternoon that left me refreshed and ready for action.

Just before Christmas I received a cache of old The Trader Speaks magazines in a trade. TTS was an important cog in the hobby machine from the late 60's through the end of the 70's. It survived into the mid 80's only to be absorbed via a mailing list purchase by Krause Publications and Sports Collectors Digest before briefly seeing the light of day again as an SCD insert in 1989. TTS was really a 'zine, a grass-roots collectors marketplace and trading post that served a growing hobby populace just when the general public was starting to pay attention to collecting old baseball cards. It was a seminal publication that published a few brief but highly informative articles in most issues. I have been tracking down old copies of late in the hopes of finding some prime research material and have been amply rewarded. Here then is one story.

One of the better known odd ball Topps issues, a 1972 issued eight card "reprint" set of 1953 Topps cards, has been rumored for decades to have been a table favor at a Topps banquet in the early 70's with print runs estimated at anything from 200 to 1500 sets . All hogwash! The July 1973 issue of The Trader Speaks reveals the true story.

In a short article authored by Dan Dischley, these cards are described as a test issue sold at "certain retail stores" in Brooklyn in 1972. It begs the question as to whether or not a wrapper or box exists for this set as they have never been sighted. It's possible the cards were indeed printed for use as a table favor, never used and then sold in generic Trading Card wrappers but the fact they were actually tested is intriguing as the market for an eight card set of ball players from twenty years earlier would seem awfully slim.

I have owned half the set over the years but have since winnowed things down to a "Carl Furillo" card.

For some odd reason, this card does not feature the Reading Rifle but rather Bill Antonello. Two other players in the set are also incorrectly identified: Al Rosen is really Jim Fridley and Clyde McCullough is actually Vic Janowicz (which should set Heisman Trophy collectors into a tizzy).

The back of my "Furillo" has a penciled "Pee Wee" notation and a bold "Bill Antonello" in red crayon defacing it. I wonder if this particular one came from the real Topps company archives.  (UPDATE 5/27/18-It may or may not be from the actual Topps archives but that is Woody Gelman's handwriting) My previously owned McCullough also had a red crayon correction on the reverse.

The backs of the cards echo the reverses of the 1934-36 Diamond Kings ("Diamond Stars" to quote the cards proper) . Just another example of Messrs Berger and Gelman invoking their boyhoods it seems. Check out the back of this Diamond Star card of Van Lingle Mungo to see what I mean. The fonts are similar even though the Topps cards do not have any batting tips on them.

In the TTS article, Bill Haber is noted as selling the cards at the New York convention and another note in the issue indicates $5.25 would get you a full set (it goes for around $2000 today). Haber stated 300 sets were printed and that the mislabeled cards were intentionally produced with the wrong names, for reasons that are unclear to say the least. Despite that, this is a wonderful article that succinctly provides the facts of this particular test issue.

Here is the whole set, in some scans I found in one auction or another last year:

The contents of this issue also indicate a TTS print run of 5000 copies and mentions that when the first issue was mailed (November 1968) , only 1000 serious collectors were known in the US. I'll have more TTS inspired posts in 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Ho Ho Ho

Well, the daunting holiday honey-do list has surpassed my ability to blog in a timely fashion, so check in after Christmas for the latest. Until then:

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays one and all!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Boxed In

A little while back I posted about an obscure "vanity" issue Topps created in 1971, commonly referred to as Topps Winners. As you may or may not recall, the theory was you could somehow have Topps create a card for you after being nominated as being a "winner" or sending in a contest card. They looked like this:

Well, it may be a little more complicated than I first thought.

Fearless reader John Moran kindly passed along a scan that is enigmatic but enlightening at the same time and I also found a version of this hidden on my hard drive (a fearful, lawless place) after John's scan jogged my increasingly slow memory. I'll show the one I had first, which looks to have been cleaned up before framing and auctioning, then John's (who found it in an old auction catalog I think):

What you are looking at is an alternate box proof for 1971 Topps baseball wax packs. The baseball coins advertised on the box were inserted early in the Topps packs that year (series 1, 2 and possibly 3) before the reissued Scratch Offs made an appearance, so this proof was likely created at the same time the regular box was designed.

The regular 1971 baseball boxes, which may be the nicest display box Topps ever made, look like this (scan swiped from Ebay):

If you look real hard at the alternate box, it reads 25 grand prize winners would be selected in the contest and receive real baseball cards of themselves. 1000 other winners would receive full color major league card pictures. ( I think the last word is pictures but can't fully suss it out though) . Presumably that was just regular ol' Topps baseball cards.

I am unsure though how the contest would work since I cannot read the box bottom clearly. It appears to be an order form for a Bazooka catalog but could also be a nomination form or entry for the contest. If so, then would your local neighborhood candy store owner have been responsible for the nominations? That seems bizarre and severely limiting so perhaps there could have been pack inserts to nominate people instead.

So, if the contest actually occurred (perhaps it did, more information and research is needed) then the set has 25 cards in it. Given that two examples I have seen have text on the back confirming Pennsylvania residents on them and that there is not a surplus of the alternate boxes or contest cards known in the hobby, is it possible the boxes were never made and distributed and some dummy cards were merely made up as exemplars for internal use at Topps? If so, I would like to think maybe the kids shown are the offspring of Topps employees in Duryea at the time but that is just idle speculation.

So, what is the real story here? Did the boxes make it to retail and were there nomination forms printed as well? Any thoughts and comments from our vast readership are welcomed.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Topp of the (Christmas) Pops

Topps issued a couple of nice Christmas products early on. Before they did so however, they first sold a product that captured a big, big fad at the time.

Around 1950-51 Topps, remaining true to their origins as a confectioner, would market items that might be bought as a present for birthdays or Christmas. The first of these seems to be an item called Hoppy's Wagon Wheel Pops, commonly referred to today as Hoppy Pops:

(From the collection of Jeff Shepherd)

These had a nice Hopalong Cassidy wrapper encircling each pop that somewhat resembled those from the Topps card issues that year, which were a monster hit with the kiddies as TV made Hoppy a gigantic, fad-driven star.

A year later, Topps issued two additional boxes of pops. One featured ol' Saint Nick...

(From the collection of Jeff Shepherd)

...and featured a bonus Santa Mask! The other had the visage of the most famous reindeer of them all:

(From Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards 1930-1960, 2nd ed, Edgewater Book Company, 1993-by Christopher Benjamin)

The back of Rudolph had a cardboard sleigh you could punch out and assemble, I guess so he could fly with it through the sky on Christmas Eve. This may also be from 1951 but the possibility is that the Christmas-themed products were sold over the period of 2 or 3 years. Presumably Santa and Rudolph had their own wrappers but it is not clear to me if they were generic or had graphics. It would be appropriate if the Rudolph Pops only came in red, don't you think?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

King Kong Redux

Intrepid reader chickcomics left an informative comment regarding my last post on King Kong. His message reminded me about a fantastic article in The Wrapper #150 by Jeff and Bob Marks, two well known Non-Sport collectors, dealers and authors who are extremely well-versed in Topps test issues, uncut sheets and the like. The article addresses in detail three tough Topps black & white test issues: King Kong, Flash Gordon and Daniel Boone (which is not sepia, that's just how the cover of The Wrapper looked).

(Thanks to Les Davis for permission for the above and two scans below)

The article also showed, ironically in black and white, the boxes the first two sets were sold in. The King Kong box is described as having "hot pink/red with black accents."

Flash Gordon is described as being from 1968 with the box being printed in "electric blue with black and white accents."

Amazingly, four full boxes of ol' Flash were found by the Marks brothers in 1984 and all of the packs had the clear cello wrappers with the Fun Pack "Trading Card" overwrap described here previously.

Why they would be wrapped like this, I cannot even begin to speculate. They do not specify how King Kong was wrapped but as mentioned last time, it is believed a wax wrapper exists.

Now, the article goes on to describe how Topps staff used a rented moviola to view an actual print of King Kong to identify which scenes (or more specifically frames) they would want to use in the card set. Apparently Topps declined to proceed on the set and the images they had selected were sold by them to Donruss for use in their King Kong set.

You can read more if you want to; Les Davis, who publishes The Wrapper sells article reprints for a nominal fee. To purchase, contact him at: leswrap@comcast.net

It is interesting to note the Daniel Boone set shown on The Wrapper's cover, also an infamously tough test issue.

Why, when the world was turning to color around 1965, did Topps persist in issuing black and white card sets of TV shows? In addition to the above sets (I count King Kong and Flash Gordon as a TV staples by the mid-60's), black and white sets were issued as late as 1969. I believe these are most, if not all of the TV-themed sets issued (or at least printed) sans color in the 1960's by Topps:

1965 Bewitched
1965 Soupy Sales
1965 Superman
1965 Gilligan's Island
1966 Get Smart
1966 Flipper
1966 Lost In Space
1966 Man from U.N.C.L.E.
196? Bonanza (possibly the rarest of them all)
1968 Julia
1969 Room 222 (also exists in a color version)

Some of these sets are among the rarest Topps ever printed, perhaps their lack of color contributed to this state. Some even share common design elements.

Well, maybe we should not be surprised. Why, even some of their baseball sets were issued in black & white up until 1974:

(12/28/08-Edited to add 1966 Flipper and Man from U.N.C.L.E. to list of B&W TV Cards)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

King Kong

Since I have posted about Topps very rare Flash Gordon cards recently, I thought it might be time to look at a companion set, namely King Kong, which was issued by Topps subsidiary Bubbles, Inc. Here is one of the great movie shots of all time in case you forgot what a marvel this picture was.

One of the most famous movies of all time, it was 33 years old when Topps developed a 55 card black and white set in 1966. These are rare cards and I certainly do not own any. However, I was organizing my hard drive recently and found a scan of two partial uncut sheets that make up the full set. The photo above looks to be memorialized in the bottom left corner.

Unlike the very similar Flash Gordon set, which was possibly issued in retail cello packs, King Kong appears to have actually been tested in wax packs as John Neuner's Checklist & Prices of U.S. Non Sport Wrappers has a wrapper listed with a production code of 0-418-21-01-6 (the last digit signifies the year).

Interestingly, Donruss also was given a license to produce a King Kong Set and those can be found rather easily:

(From monsterwax.com)

Topps must not have liked the results of the test they did and declined to do a national release while Donruss forged ahead. The 1965 Copyright Date is when RKO granted the license, by the way.

The backs of the Topps cards have a narrative that follows the movie, the Donruss cards have puzzle pieces. Scans of the Topps fronts and backs are hard to find, I'll post some If I ever find a few.

While I understand the appeal of both Flash Gordon and King Kong as they were all over TV in the 60's, why Topps issued black and white cards in the 1960's is beyond me.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I'd Like Mine Rare, Please

In 1967 Topps issued an expansive (and currently expensive) set of interactive cards commonly referred to as Punchouts.

The design is based upon the myriad punchboards found in drug stores and saloons in the early part of the 20th Century and like so many things at Topps issued throughout the 50’s and 60’s , they may have been a recreation of Woody Gelman and Sy Berger’s boyhood totems. Sold, according to legend, in the Baltimore area the 67’s are found infrequently today, although I would put them in the “scarce” and not “rare” category.

There are numerous subtleties to both the nuances of Gelman and Berger's adolescent memories and the 1967 Punchouts, which will be set aside for another day. Today, I want to explore the set’s predecessor, the 1966 Punchout Proofs.

While the Standard Catalog indicates the 1966 flavored Punchouts were test issued, I have serious doubts it ever got that that far. At present, there are nine known panels of two conjoined Punchouts:










(from 2009 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards)

Apparently, Mastronet sold a Mays panel (with unknown opponent) about ten years ago but I am still trying to confirm that. Here are all of the scans I have been able to find (how I wish one were mine, all mine):

The Roseboro/Richardson panel was once Woody Gelman’s! These were not even checklisted until a few years ago. I do not believe more than one of any example is known but a couple of duplicates would not surprise me. For this reason I think the cards were only proofed; even test issues exist in greater quantities than what is known for these guys.

The panels were “tallboy” size (about 2 ½” x 4 ¾”) and obviously designed to be separated so two kids could play baseball with them. I have never seen the reverse of a 66 Punchout but presume they carry instructions like the 67’s.

Mickey Mantle is pictured on the box proof but I have never seen a wrapper design.

I hate to talk money, but the Koufax/Yaz panel sold at auction about five years ago for close to $7,000. Considering the rarity of these, I think that is low today, even in our imperiled economy.