Tuesday, October 28, 2008

1949-A Magical Year

Topps embarked on a two pronged marketing approach in 1949: selling penny pieces of gum, known in the confectionery trade as "changemakers", with small inserts and also issuing larger cards in standalone packs. The changemakers are what I'll be looking at today, particularly the Magic Photos, since they contained the first ever Topps baseball cards.

All of these penny piece inserts were, as you might imagine, quite small, only 7/8" x 1 7/16". This is my curiously attired Connie Mack, off centered though he may be:

Topps had a working relationship with Connie Mack, who was writing his memoirs at the time. They would, in 1951, issue a set of cards featuring the Tall Tactician's all-time all-stars but that is a story for anon. The cards could be found in Hocus Focus Gum (not to be confused with the 1955/56 Hocus Focus sets, which are confusing enough all on their own but do say "Hocus Focus" on their backs to aid in identification).

Nothing else from here on down is mine, by the way; I am in full vulture mode today. Most of it likely belongs to Jeff Shepherd, although not this scan, whose origin is lost to me:

The photos were "Magic" and required some 'hocus pocus" because you wet the card, which presented a blank front when taken from the pack and then pressed it to the inside of the wrapper (how sanitary!) which was chemically treated to develop the photo. If you were flush enough to have a nickel, you could have purchased a pack with 6 attached cards and a piece of orange developing paper! If I had a scan, I would post it but alas, I do not. I do know, however, that the nickel pack advertised "Bubble Gum In Color" which may have been enough to deceive some young-un's into thinking the cards were in color. Predictably, it was the gum that had that distinction!

Each series of 126 Magic Photos had overly complicated numbering. The "K" series featured baseball players, and a number of different topics were included in this true General Interest set. An album was issued for each series (the cover did not change) that shows how diverse the subjects were.

Here are views of the inside front cover and an interior page, with apologies for the fuzziness. I stole 'em from Ebay, that's how they were when I found them:

Magic Photos were issued in two 126 card series. The first of these may have hit the shelves before Christmas in 1948 (there are photos from the World Series of that year in the set) based upon this sell sheet:

The second series came out in early 1949 as this was from a confectionery trade ad dated January 18, 1949. Notice the Topps reference is gone, replaced by one for Bubbles Inc. (a "Second Label" for Topps, used occassionally into the 1960's for various reasons). Perhapes because the first series was likely reissued when the second came out, Topps didn't want to seem like they were double dipping.

Why 126 cards? Well, that was the size of the uncut sheet:

As they were prone to doing, Topps also sold cards via ads in comic books of the day:

Other tiny Topps sets were available in 1949; you could stroll into your local candy store and hand the shopkeeper a nickel for a few one cent items and then take your change as a piece of gum. That gum would often be found in a circular container on the counter in packs like these:

There was a fruit variety as well, in a similar wrapper and there may have been a few others. Flags of All Nations/Soldiers of All Nations were inserted into these penny pieces and the use of the generic Topps gum wrapper for this set may indicate it was among the first issued by Topps. These cards were two-sided, meaning one side depicted a flag of some nation and the other a soldier, usually in full dress. The cards were also distributed in their own wrapper, advertised as "Parade". Scans are scarce at present, this is really just to provide deep background. Flags/Soldiers is alleged to be a 100 card set; I believe only 94 are known today, which shows how many of these little cards were thrown out over the years. Later years saw larger reissues (and new issues) of the Flags.

Another small set from 1949 is License Plates, which also featured the first Topps scratch off's on the reverse, which featured an automobile quiz. You had to scratch off the coating to name the car shown. The cards were sold in a penny pack titled "Stop & Go". License Plates were also reissued over the years.

Finally, we have X-Ray Round Up, marketed with Pixie Gum. Here is a trade ad that nicely sums the set up:

You had a nice picture album for the 200 X-Ray cards, magic x-ray paper and bubble gum-nice! Topps also placed ads in comic books to sell these direct to the card buying public. 100 of these cards were made into stamps at some point, possibly by Topps.

Topps started small and strange with their first card and novelty issues in 1949. In addition to the four small card sets shown above, you had Flip-o-Vision and Funny Foldees interactive cards, a series of larger interiors known as It Happened to a President issued on, according to Chris Benjamin, tissue-like paper affixed to the reverse of a Golden Coin Wrapper, which also came with a plastic President Coin (A "Golden Coin"). Another plastic coin set, entitled World Coins, aka Play Money of the World was sold in gum packs and also larger 12 lollipop Pay Money Pops boxes. There was even a Santa themed Christmas goodie bag!

Funny Foldees proof:

Bazooka wrapper interiors featuring the Spalding Sports Show comics, the first appearance of "Bazooka, the Atom Boy" (which I believe is the first artwork created especially for Bazooka gum), Famous Events, the non-Bazooka Tattoo Transfers (the first Bubbles Inc. "second brand" and a worthy candidate for a lengthy post someday) also saw the light of day.

But wait-there's more! Bazooka nickel gum also had trays featured some combination of World Famous Stamps, The Story of the Atom Bomb (!) and Famous American Heroes, although these three linked, somewhat crude "extras" may have been issued for a few years after as well.

World Famous Stamps tray:

Whew! 1949 was indeed a magical year for Topps. More stories will be told about this year....

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