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):

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