Sunday, September 28, 2008

That's A (Re)Wrap!

For a brief period, most likely from 1969-71, Topps would rewrap some of the inserts that came with their baseball cards in stand alone packs. I thought I would take a look at these today. None of these scans are of items I own by the way (unless indicated otherwise), I don’t really collect wrappers or packs, although I might someday. A couple of scans are from Mark Murphy’s invaluable “Unopened Pack, Wrapper & Display Box Guide.”

The first Topps rewraps occurred well before the 60’s, with many sets (especially non-sports) repackaged and resold over the years. Even 1952 Topps High numbers suffered this fate (as inserts in some1953 Topps packs and --as legend has it --also in cello overwrapped bricks designed for either discount store shelves or summer carnival stands in the late 50’s). If Topps had excess supply after a set did not sell through its order, or if there were excessive returns, new methods of distribution would be created, sometimes years after the initial product was released.

This practice continued from the 1960’s into at least the mid 1980’s with Topps Fun Paks, a bag full of miscellaneous cards and confections, likely sold between the Halloween and Christmas shopping seasons each year. Sometimes cards and stickers in the Fun Paks had their original wrappers, other times they were inserted one, two, three or four cards at a time into a semi-generic wrapper, leaving it a mystery as to what lay within. Here is a wax fun pack scan with a ’68 Topps BB card showing through (from Murphy’s guide); there were variations on this theme throughout the years but you can see the wrapper makes it possible to put anything inside:

Even the ultra-rare Flash Gordon test cards were distributed this way:

Here is a closer look at that unopened fun pack:

What was in a Fun Pak? Well, I still have a couple of thousand 1978 Topps Football Cards I obtained when I purchased a large amount of Fun Paks on liquidation at Newberry’s in 1982. Also in those Fun Paks were first series Empire Strikes Back cards and ’82 Baseball Stickers. I also remember chewing a lot of gum! Oddly enough, when I put together all of my cards into ’78 Football Sets with a friend (and later co-dealer partner) of mine, we were always two cards short: the Seahawks and Buccaneers team cards were nowhere to be found. Out of 7 or 8,000 cards that could not have been a coincidence, but I digress.

Sometime after they were issued as inserts in the ’68 Baseball packs, most probably in 1969, Topps packaged up all 33 Card Game cards and sold the set as the “Batter Up” Baseball Game. Oddly, they marketed these in a small box that concurrently retailed for either ten or fifteen cents. There is also a version with the 15 cent price marked out, but that may not have been done by Topps.

A proof sheet shows both the ten and fifteen cent boxes were printed at once and Topps was likely testing the market to see which price point would sell best. These are scarce and may only have been tested near Topps HQ in Brooklyn and their printing plant in Duryea, PA, although I recall seeing a box on Long Island at some point.

The box is similar to the 33 card cello pack box issued in 1970 (30 cards in 1971 as inflation took hold; I think only 25 in ‘72), without the little “peek a boo” window. The 70's are green, the 71's red (I think) and the 72's blue. If I find a '71 scan somewhere I'll post it. This 70 is from Unopened Pack Guy's cool site.

Bazooka cards also got in on the act, as ’68 Tipps from the Topps” were reissued in booklet form (these scans are actually mine!):

The 1970 Story Booklets were also issued in Test Packs (note the white wax paper with Sticker on the front, a sure sign of a test pack), maybe in ’70 but possibly ’71. The test must not have been successful as I cannot recall ever seeing a retail pack or wrapper anywhere. Three booklets for ten cents, not bad!

The 1970 and/or ’71 Scratch Offs were sold this way as well, as “Pocket Sized Baseball Game” but I do not have a scan. These must have been test packs as well. Can anyone help?! (EDIT: The Scratch-Offs wer enot the same product as Pocket Sized Baseball Game.)

Penultimately, while not inserts, the 1968 Player Posters, originally sold in red wax wrappers for a nickel, were reissued in 1970 in dime packs.

The 68's were sold in this box:

The red ’68 pack is from Murphy’s guide, the blue ’70 version is from the amazing collection of Bob Fisk.

I wonder if the Mantle poster was in the 70 packs?

I am not certain the rewapped posters came in this box, but it has a product code that indicates a 1970 issue:

Let us not forget at the end the Milton Bradley “Win a Card” game, which also cleverly resold some Topps product.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Are You Ready For Some Football!?

1950 style that is!

Since it's football season and I'm in a good mood over the Giants fast start, which is helping to ease the pain of the Mets annual September collapse, I thought I would post two scans related to the 1950 Felt Back issue that I boosted yonks ago. The Felt Backs are a worthy subject for a longer post somewhere down the road but I am stretched for time this morning.

The first is a Topps window display (smaller than actual size) and the second a period greeting card, almost certainly not issued by Topps but the attached prize contained a Felt Back hidden within nonetheless. Enjoy!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Topps Action Emblems

This is the culmination of what has turned into a de facto three part series on Topps resistance to certain licensing fees in the early 1970’s. You can see the beginnings here and some further background here. Unable to eliminate the licensing fees to the Major League Baseball Players Association for the use of player likenesses (for obvious reasons) Topps tried to eliminate team logos on certain test and limited release sets in 1973.

It is possible, though far from certain, that Topps may have been asserting they had the right to use team names and logos in all baseball sets they issued, not just the main set, and the Major League Baseball Promotions Corporation (representing the teams) resisted. At some point, the powers that be in Brooklyn elected to create their own version of logos for all 24 teams. The result was a bizarre set called Action Emblems.

Action Emblems were first proofed on cardboard in the winter of 1973 and here is a good look at some of them.

You will notice the large team logo on the upper part of the panel and the smaller city pennant below. (There are different versions for each team in NY and Chicago). Here is a proof panel which clearly shows a date stamp of January 26, 1973.

I am aware of two full proof sheets showing this date as well. Given the proof date, it would point to a spring release and Topps likely tested the emblems, which were cloth stickers

in these packs at first (None of the packs or wrappers are mine):

At some point glossy stickers started to appear, possibly due to an abundance of stock being used for the exploding Wacky Packages stickers. This necessitated a change in the wrapper (still a test version as evidenced by the white wax with a sticker applied to the front).

The word “cloth” has disappeared from the description on the pack! Here is a swiped scan from an auction a while back showing the glossy stockers, which can be differentiated from the cardboard proofs due to the score mark between the upper and lower portions.

The associated Rub Off Game cards were taller than the Action Emblems and account for the “tallboy” pack.

Now the tale turns trickier. Action Emblems have generally been noted as a 1974 issue in the hobby, yet we have proofs from a good year earlier. Why? Well, a short history lesson is in order.

Following Jefferson Burdick’s publication of the final American Card Catalog (ACC) in 1960, “Catalog Updates” --coordinated by famous St. Louis collector and ACC contributor Buck Barker-- began to appear in the “Card Collector’s Bulletin”, an early and widely read (for the time) hobby publication. These were printed from November 1960 to February 1972 and documented and cataloged the various card releases over that period, generally lagging behind by a year or so. Another hobby publication “The Trader Speaks” started around 1967 and also helped document what was hitting the candy store counters and supermarket aisles of America. I mention this because there is much more certainty with the dating of issues since the early 60’s than there had been before, thanks to these publications; a lot of the guesswork that happened with dates of issue for sets was now eliminated. If there was a reference to 1974 for the Action Emblems, it was likely correct. But...

I could never reconcile the date disparity until I happened across an auction for an Action Emblems pack that advertised “2 glossy and 1 cloth” sticker as being in the pack (wording was on the bottom part of the wrapper, not the title). Now as luck would have it, I did not save a scan of that particular pack. If I find it again, I will post it here and also in a short update.

It occurred to me after seeing this pack that the likely chain of events was a 1973 launch date for the original cloth version followed by the hybrid, “2 glossy, 1 cloth” pack later in ’73 or ‘early ’74 followed by a third and final version (again in a test wrapper) that does not note what type of sticker and therefore allowed Topps to sell either or both types. This may have been the final Topps “rewrap” baseball pack, something I will get into in my next post. It is also possible the second and third packs were issued in reverse order.

In my experience, the Scarcity in versions of the Action Emblems, from easiest to hardest, runs:

1)Cloth Sticker

2)Cardboard Proof

3)Glossy Sticker

But don’t take that as gospel, your experience may vary! And you may be interested to know Topps tried this with football as well (not mine):

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Logo Wars

This was going to be a post on the 73/74 Action Emblems but that will happen next time. After piecing together the backdrop for that particular story the whole thing morphed on me into something a little bit different and also follows the story of "The Team That Topps Forgot" in a more linear fashion.

Sometime in 1973 Topps must have explored a strategy of trying to market and sell baseball products (not cards, but products) without paying a licensing fee to Major League Baseball Promotions Corporation (MLBPC), was which controlled by the Owners. As Marvin Miller and the Players Union began to exact increasing fees for the use of player images, Topps must have been looking for ways to cut costs in the wake of the 1972 collective bargaining agreement, which I am reasonably certain resulted in a higher licensing fees for Topps for the use of player images.

Logoless cards, often small team sets or product premiums began to take off in the late 1960's as Major League Baseball teams began to take control of their licensing rights. The MLB website has a nice summary of this:

To quote from their website "from 1968 until 1986, all national licensing contracts were handled by MLBP through the Licensing Corporation of America (LCA), a division of Warner Communications, Inc. During this period, Clubs licensed their own trademarks to companies authorized to sell in the Clubs' respective local markets. In early 1987, virtually all licensing activities were centralized under the auspices of MLBP."

(MLBP stands for Major League Baseball Properties, which is the successor name of MLBPC)

In 1973 Topps issued a small set of 24 player Comics on the inside of a gum wrapper and also a related set of 24 Pin Ups. These and other sets discussed here will be the subject of more specific future posts but for this instance you can see these do not have team logos and only show a city name and not that of the team in the caption.

A set of fifty-five logoless Candy lids was also issued in 1973 but not before they were proofed in '72. For illustrative purposes, I will show the progression from 1970 (the first Candy Lids set), through '72 and then '73.

You will see in 1970 the team name is shown on the banner under McLain, while the Lid Top has three player headshots in the green stars, all with logos on their caps.

The '72's are similar to the lids issued in 1970 but the 1972 set has the city name on its borderless fronts, not the team name, as shown on the Sanguillen example. Then in 1972 note the lack of logos on the lid top caps of Seaver and Yaz in the green stars on the Lid Top and also on Ryan's Cap (not my Ryan but I claim ownership of all the others except Stargell!) on the flip. The lid top is additionally updated from 1970 as well, as Frank Howard is gone. On the Stargell, you can also see how the team logo has been airbrushed almost-but-not-quite away.

In 1973 the headshots float without their cap logos in red stars while the player shot is surrounded by a brightly colored border. The city name is shown and once again the team name is absent.

I have to think the '72 lids were proofed near the end of that year and were slightly redesigned into the version sold in '73, which had much more appeal.

In the midst of all this airbrushing, Topps even tried to create their own logos on a set call Action Emblems, which were test marketed in what seems to be no less than three different packs over two years in 1973/74. Ostensibly designed as Cloth Stickers (and the 1972 Cloth Stickers that look like the '72 regular issue baseball cards seem to have been a materials test for same) you can find Action Emblems in Cardboard Proof form and also an issued Glossy Sticker version in addition to the planned Cloth variety. I'll post a couple shots here and then delve into the Action Emblems and their mysteries soon.

This is a top and bottom shot of the cloth and cardboard varieties, cloth on top:

And then a look at some different logos created for this project by the Topps art department, from a proof sheet:

It is interesting to see how Topps tried to resist the increased licensing fees being imposed upon them but as well all know too well these days, the power of the Players and Owners won out and Major League Baseball Licensing is a billion dollar business these days.

Look for more on all of these soon, in particular the Action Emblems.

Update to "The Team That Topps Forgot"

I found a little more on MLBPC while researching my next blog post.

MLBPC was actually formed in 1966 (slightly earlier than I had believed) as agent for the Owners and in 1968 the Licensing Corporation of America was awarded the right to negotiate on their behalf. For two decades covering 1968-87, the individual teams had some authority to control their own licensing, although I can't quite suss out if that was only in their local markets or nationally. This may partially explain the lack of Astros logos in 1968/69 for both Topps and Fleer (and some other companies too).

More on this in my next post.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Team That Topps Forgot

(This first appeared about fifteen years ago in a somewhat different format, in a zine called “For Collectors Only”) Hi Unk Phil!

Back in the days of yore (that's the 1960's folks) there once was a National League baseball team called the Houston Colt 45's. Born at the same time as the New York Mets, the Colts were definitely the NL’s poor stepson. After three rather non-descript seasons and a licensing dispute with the Colt Firearms Company, the Houston National League Baseball Club changed their name to the Astros for the1965 season. The name was chosen due to Houston's growing renown as an aerospace hotbed and symbolic of the nation’s then fascination with astronauts and the space race. Indeed, it is a contracted form of the word “astronaut”.

While the team played poorly and were denizens of the worst ballyard in the majors, they had one stupendous logo. The 63’s and 64’s have the best shots of it. You can see the cap with the 45’s logo on Bob Bruce’s coconut and Dave Giusti has one of the best views on the uni front of the Colts name wafting out the barrel of a revolver that I can find in my collection. The ’64 Warwick also shows him sporting the smoking gun that was soon to disappear.

Chris Creamer’s has some more.

Jump ahead another three years to March, 1968 and picture yourself as a ten year old Astros fan about to open your first pack of Topps baseball cards for the season. You open the bright yellow wax wrapper and the smell of bubblegum fills your nostrils. Delicately, after popping the pink slab in your mouth and savoring the sweet yet chalky taste of the gum, you examine the five cards in your hands. Right away you notice they look kind of strange, sort of like a burlap sack. But you don't mind; because they are the first cards of the spring, because you are young, because spring training started last week and the newspapers are filled with baseball stories.

Gil Hodges is staring you right in the face, his dour look making him look like your gym teacher. You hit gold on the next piece of cardboard-Willie Mays! What incredible luck for your first pack! Your heart beats a little faster as you flip Willie over to reveal Denny McLain. You are really cruising. Denny gives way to Julio Gotay, and okay he's only an infielder, but he's an Astro and you feel this is the most incredible pack of cards you have ever opened in your life. You slide Julio over to reveal Tom Tresh, but something is wrong! You back up to Gil Hodges and run through the team names: Mets, Giants, Tigers, Houston, Yankees. Houston? Why not Astros? What's going on here? And then you forget all about it. After all, it's springtime and you're ten years old.

So what happened back in 1968? Well, the word Astros did not appear on the front of a Topps baseball card, that's for sure (I know, I looked-but only at the fronts!). There wasn't an Astros cap, patch or uniform to be seen. From card number 21, Ron Davis, all the way through number 592, John Bateman, there is not one shred of evidence indicating the team's name was the Astros. What could have caused such a situation?

The roots of the problem date to 1964, when there was no Colts team card in Topps annual offering. So it continued: 1965, '66, '67. Where were the Astros team cards? The only thing I can figure out is that a dispute with Colt Firearms over licensing played a part for the 1964 season. Perhaps the club was prohibited from supplying Topps with a team photo. Maybe Topps refused to print one under threat of legal action from Colt Firearms. But that had never stopped Topps in the past, they would just use an old, altered one. In fact, they could have used the picture from the 1963 set, airbrushing out any logos of course, but they didn't.

Once the team name was changed in 1965, any current licensing problems with the Colt Firearms Company would have been moot. The individual player cards mostly said Astros, so things were essentially fine at Topps since they signed players to individual contracts, right? Well, they ended up with a hybrid of “Houston” and “Houston Astros” on the pennants adorning the front of the cards plus their own variant logo on the first few cards in Series 1 with some 45’s logos present as well on the caps. An Astros logo was barely interspersed among the capless in the high numbers. Given the circumstances, it appears to be a precursor to the ‘Washington Nat’l League” debacle of 1974 doesn’t it?

There were still cards of Astros players (as Astros) in '66 and '67 but no team card. And then something happened. That something was Marvin Miller.

To make a long story short, Miller forced Topps to increase their payouts to the ball players in 1968 and also to contribute a portion of their gross sales to the newly formed Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA). The Owners, never ones to let a nickel slide through their fingers untouched, formed their own group, Major League Baseball Promotions Corporation (MLBPC). If I understand it correctly, licensing fees had to be paid to both Associations if you wanted to picture a player with his team logo on a product. Considering how much money this licensing arrangement has netted both the players and owners over the years, I find it ludicrous Marvin Miller is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame but I digress. You're probably wondering how this ties in, aren't you?

Well, the Astros were owned by a character named Judge Roy M. Hofheinz and I originally thought he was some kind of eccentric but the evidence now points to a savvy businessman who liked to have some fun. He was an early media mogul and a force in bringing FM radio to the Gulf Coast (hard to fathom now but after WW2 a big deal indeed) and he owned radio and later TV stations in the area. Hofheinz may have been the first person to think of playing ball under a dome but good luck proving that particular piece of hearsay. After abandoning mall development to build a domed ballpark for the city of Houston, he also allegedly helped develop Astroturf. It may be though that he just offered to publicize it in exchange for free carpeting at the Astrodome after it opened and could not sustain natural grass. He later was a part owner of Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus and developed a primeval theme park in the early 1970’s called Astrodomain.

Here is some detail on the Astrodome that sums things up nicely:

My current operating theory is that the Judge tried to cut his own deal outside of the MLBPC and failed. After sorting things out in '65, the '66 and '67 sets were a compromise of sorts. However, without the blessing of both the MLBPA and MLBPC for 1968 Topps likely could not use the trademarked name “Astros”. The net result of this was one of Topps all time airbrush jobs. They took Astros logos off caps, made sure only the road uniforms showed on the cards and pictured a lot of players sporting some really neat mid-sixties hair styles. There is not a trace of the Astros name on any of the thirty one Houston cards in the 1968 Topps set. They even avoided the problem in the ’68 Deckle Proof of Dave Adlesh.

This phenomenon has also been noted on the other side of the tracks by Fleerfan:

In 1969, the problem persisted. The card fronts once again said Houston and not a logo was to be found. Series One, Two and Three were all like this. Then all of a sudden, when the Fourth Series cards came out, the logos were back! The team name was still shown as Houston on the rest of the cards that year for the sake of continuity. but the logo was visible on most cards. Except for a high number card of Harry Walker, which features an obviously airbrushed cap, it appears no additional effort was made by Topps to conceal the fact that Houston's entry in the National League was known as the Astros. No team cards were issued in 1969, but after seven years, the 1970 set had a Houston Astros team card in it.

Topps has done some pretty strange things over the years, but to me the team that Topps forgot is among the strangest.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Making a Splash

Topps established their reputation after the end of World War Two with a barrage of publicity stunts and multi-media promotions. Here's an early example, from the collection of Jeff Shepherd, who has a real good handle on the confectionary side of things at Topps.
Good to know there were no injuries!

Topps also got their name in front of different audiences, here's one from a printer's trade journal (Jeff's too I think).

Just to show I'm not a vulture, here's a Topps postmark printed March of 1949 from my collection, which reminds me of nothing less than a Jules Feiffer cartoon!