Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Rare Pair

(WARNING-Circumstances may have changed regarding this set. See here for more details and also Bob Lemke's blog. -TC 12/21/09)

Every once in a while, something pops up in the Topps universe that wasn't expected. I've not dwelled too much on the end of the 1970's here as there is not a whole lot to discuss outside the mainstream from 1975 until the end of the decade in 1980 but there were glimpses of innovation here and there.

Oh, on the baseball front there are the '76 Cloth Sticker Prototypes and the skip-year supplemental sets in '75 (Mini's), '77 (Cloth Stickers) and '79 (Comics) but after the Oil Embargo started in the fall of 1973 there just wasn't much being spent on new product research at Topps (or anywhere else) and the quirkiness was essentially wrung out of the production cycle as the economies of scale changed almost overnight. All the crazy test issues and metamorphic inserts, all the punch out cards and scratchoffs, all the flocked stickers and intricately plotted mixed media sets were just discontinued, seemingly overnight.

Things started to improve in 1980 and the super tough Baseball Coins from that year have already been discussed here another, even rarer set, was produced that year namely Baseball Superstar Stickers. I had only seen a reference and low-res b&w picture in the Standard Catalog but a couple of days ago a Net 54 posting (it's #65 and also includes the known checklist for the set) gave us a full glimpse of one:

(Courtesy of Phil Hollinden)

That is NOT the best shot I have ever seen of Johnny Bench by the way. The stickers are purported to be one-of-ones, which means these were probably just produced in house as part of a design process.

So why the sudden rebirth of creativity in 1980 at Topps? Well, they knew their exclusive deal to sell baseball cards was about to expire (see paragraph 8) and there would be competition in 1981 from Fleer (and as it turned out, Donruss). Nothing like a little competitive pressure to get the creative juices flowing! By the by, if you read above the Fleer decison in the link, you come acress the "right to publicity" case stemming from Bowman's (Haelan Laboratories) earlier suit against Topps and which is the foundation for the right of people to license or control their own likeness-It was a landmark decision.

The 1980's would bring a rebirth of the supplemental and test sets from Duryea and a steady stream became a torrent by the end of the MTV decade. I've really had a cutoff of 1980 in my archiving endeavors but I may extend that by another decade. We'll see.

Now, if I could only get a color scan of some 1971 All Star Rookie proofs...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Programs, Get Your Programs Here!

Meanwhile, back on the rubber chicken circuit...a discussion of some early Topps Rookie All Star Banquet Programs. Few of these have survived the years and I cannot even lay claim to owning more than one (1962) or even having a full run of scans covering the years the program was a full-blown affair (1959-66). So I'll show what I have and hope our faithful readership can fill in the blanks.

Topps first made a big deal out of the annual crop of Major League rookies in 1959, with a colorful 31 card subset of The Sporting News Rookie Stars of 1959 which was likely the venerable publication's marketing response to the 1958 Sport Magazine All Star cards from the year prior:

The back of the card shows the writeup from TSN:

I have to think the idea of honoring top rookies evolved into the first Rookie Awards Banquet, held in New York City in 1959:

I'd say it's pretty optimistic when the event goes annual, even the first time out! That was from an Ebay auction a while back, one of the few I've seen over the years.

Sport Magazine was back at it in 1960:

There was a new kid in town though, the Topps Rookie All Star trophy:

Jim Baxes was indeed one of the first ten winners of the annual award, as seen in the prior thread on 1964 Rookie Banquet Cards.

There were also paper inserts issued in 1959 and 1960 packs that allowed you to "Elect Your Favorite Rookie" and I am working on getting some scans of the 1959 version (they are quite rare) but am not sure how long they fed into the annual awards, which seem like they were a much more officious affair. Here is a scan of the 1960 insert from a 1988 issue of Sport Collectors Digest:

The All Star Rookie Trophy icon was a staple of 1960's Topps cards but was not squared away in appearance until 1961:

I do not have any good scans of the '60 or '63 programs and the '62 was previously shown but here are a couple interior shots from that year:

You can see the floating heads that were later co-opted for the '64 Banquet cards.

I can show a scan, nicked from Ebay, of the 1961 program cover:

I need color scans from 1965-66 (and maybe '64--there are mixed reports if the card set issued that year negated the use of a bound program) and will post 'em if I get 'em. If not, I'll use some old SCD pictures. Topps switched to a different format for the program in 1967 (I think it went to four larger pages from the previous digest sized versions) but the banquet was still going strong in the mid 80's.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bazooka Joe And His (Older) Pals

While not often thought of as Topps cards, Bazooka issued an almost uninterrupted run of baseball sets from 1959-71, the vast majority of which were issued on the backs of boxes of their namesake bubble gum in panels of three.

I found a really nice scan of a proof sheet from 1963 in the depths of my hard drive this morning:

The Bazooka cards often featured better photography than their Topps brethren. Some years tend to look alike though but dem's da breaks!

You can see how the panels were stripped onto the boxes, from a scan is lifted from Clean Sweep Auctions:

If you click the picture, it will expand and you can see it held five All Time Great cards within:

That Babe is the more common gold version of the cards. There is also one referred to as silver:

Silver cards are harder to find but don't seem to tend toward the pink toning seen on the borders of the golds.

Locked in a battle with Fleer over the rights to various current ball players in 1963, Topps hit the boys from Philly right in the labonza with the insert set as Fleer had issued cards of old timers over the previous three years. There are 41 All Time Greats in the insert set.

There are 36 current players in the '63 Bazooka set, a total that was fairly consistent over the years the cards were printed. Panels are very collectible today and display nicely but there is far less interest in these cards than in the mainstream sets issued by Topps.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hanging A Mask on the Mantle

Today we explore a somewhat mysterious item, namely an inelegantly titled premium commonly referred to as the 1963 Mickey Mantle Mask. As you can see, it's a beauty:

That scan is lifted from some major auction or another I suppose but the off-kilter look belies that. It measures about 6" x 8" and there is a little eyelet at top to hang it. Construction is of plastic according to the guides. It is definitely not a mask though and clearly is a plaque.

The story is that this was a premium available on high number '63 wax pack baseball wrappers but a discussion over at Net54 a while back revealed none of the wrapper experts there had ever seen such a thing.

The side panel ads I am aware of on the wax wrappers are these five:

Big Twin Chews, Big Comics
Free Baseball Pennants
Baseball Card Album
Stan Musial Says
Bazooka Joe Magic Circle Club

I think it possible the Mantle was a Bazooka premium, either from the comics or part of the retailer premium certificate redemption program but without actually being able to see one (they are quite rare) the Topps provenance is speculative at least in my eyes. I mean all the hobby lore says it's a Topps piece and has for as long as I have been involved (1981 you young whippersnappers!) but I would like to see the offer somewhere.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

That's The Ticket

Well non-sports fans, we are back in action on the Winners front!

A nice set of box scans has shown up in the current Legendary auction and reveals new details about the contest:

As previously speculated upon, there was indeed an entry blank provided by your friendly neighborhood shopkeeper. Now, given that we have two sisters who won this contest, I have to wonder if perhaps only a couple of entries from each test retail market made it in to Topps HQ in Duryea . I have to further wonder if this whole scheme was merely an early effort to track buying demographics on the part of Topps. Oh yes, we also have a lead on a consolation prize poster premium featuring the 1971 baseball cards, with a maximum print run of 1000. I have never even seen one! And despite the promise of 25 grand prize winners, we are still stuck at fifteen known subjects thirty eight years later.

There is some nice graphics work on the box and the pop up tab of a Pete Rose coin is classic.

As previously detailed here the Winners cards were actually distributed in limited quantity inside 1972 baseball packs that were given to the contest winners along with two vending boxes worth of their individual cards. This means they were the last Topps baseball inserts until the UV era.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Crafty Move

If you have followed this blog over the past fifteen months or so, then you will certainly recall references here and there to the Trading Card Guild, a crafty transposition within the “TCG” acronym of Topps Chewing Gum.

The Trading Card Guild looks like it was started as an effort by Topps to sell cards in higher-end establishments, at least when compared to the corner candy store or the local 5 & 10. Primordial efforts in the Fifties yielded a ten cent price point for packs and featured fancier cellophane wrappers. I have to think these marketing efforts, which stressed the educational aspect of the hobby, were aimed at parents and possibly teachers. After all, what kid would give a hoot about learning something valuable from his or her cards, especially when there was no gum to be had in the packs? There was likely some overlap between what types of establishments were offered Guild packaging by their jobbers or wholesalers vs. the "regular"penny or (more likely) nickel packs and I would think only select cities and suburbs were targeted.

The earliest thrust of the Guild seems to be centered upon “twin-windowed”, horizontally elongated backs that held sets issued in panels. It is possible the move was in response to a Bowman campaign that sold cards in ten cent packs and used a newsletter to entice parents to buy more educational product. The earliest sets I have seen reference to that were sold this way are the 1951 Red & Blue Backs but I would not be shocked if they are a year older.

Fighting Marines is another set known to have been branded as such. In 1953 some of the first series baseball cards were issued in ten cent, twelve card Trading Card Guild packs. Legendary Auctions has some in the hopper right now:

I wonder, without cause I might add, if these packs are the source of the hobby lore wherein leftover high number 1952 baseball cards were mixed in with first series 53’s?

You can't tell from the cellophane that they are Topps Guild wraps but the box gives it away:

I wonder if any set was available on an a la carte basis?

Here's a better look at some key packaging:

A couple of years later, Topps 1955 All-American football cards were sold in packs similar to those containing the '53 baseball cards but with almost twenty cards within. Some of these were found years later in an old candy store so not all large cello packs went to Grant’s or A&S! However, if you look at this CU thread, the All American packs were in a regular Topps box. Damned strange if you ask me.

The 1956 Elvis Presley set was also issued in Guild trappings:

There is at least one album associated with the Trading Card Guild, from the 1956 Jets issue and I ponder if that was a common denominator since, as you can see from this box that held the 1953 baseball packs and the Elvis reverse above, that you could write to the Guild and obtain all sorts of things and albums would certainly help move some packs of cards.

Various issues appeared within these red and black wrappers and the moniker also was used for 500 count vending boxes, as this 1964 Beatles artifact clearly reveals.

I suspect the Trading Card Guild efforts died out when Topps moved their production facilities to Duryea in 1965 but am not 100% certain. It would be great to work up a full list of Trading Card Guild packaging and sets as there is scant information on the web or in print concerning this subject. I’ll post updates here as things develop.

Friday, November 6, 2009

She Who Hesitates Is Lost

Stumbled across another Topps Mexican issue from 1977 on Ebay and decided to steal a couple of scans. Devoted readers will recall the Archive took a vacation in Mexico this past January and looked at three sets issued south of the border circa 1977.

Well, there is a fourth and it's Charlie's Angels:

I believe that caption translates to Kelly hesitates. Given that this is card #154, the Mexican version must have had some life to it as in the US release this was well within the 3rd series (of 4).

You could assemble a puzzle with the backs...

...but wouldn't you rather look at the fronts?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Round and Round (and Round)

Right in the middle of various Topps efforts to see if non-team licensed cards and other like items would sell, they managed to release a pretty nice set of 55 baseball players whose mugs served as the underside of lids for a product called Baseball Stars Gum. While the name harkened back somewhat to 1951 and its truncated sets and rancid caramel, the look this time was decidedly modern. It just took four years worth of development to get there.

The first stab at a candy lid set featuring baseball players occurred in 1970. It was a test issue and it must not have done well:

The back was more attractive than the front:

Two hall-of-famers and a popular slugger (ol' Hondo could really rake) is a pretty good array and is what would have greeted purchasers had they stumbled across a box (likely generic white) of these. The green stars are nice too and you will note there are team logos all over the place. The set numbers 24, one for each team at the time.

Too bad Baseball Stars Candy went thud, although it may have been due to the candy as a non-sports set from that year called Rocks O' Gum has lids with pithy cartoons that can be found with much more regularity. There is also a variant called Gum Berries that seems a little tougher than the Rocks, so the gum may have done the trick.

We next encounter baseball player lids in 1972 and Topps learned the lesson of two years prior as well, as we now have Baseball Stars Bubble Gum to contend with, although it was never issued and only exists in various proof forms. In fact, it may just be a transitional design that was modified by Topps:

The Sanguillen example above is one variant, some of the 72's are more finished than others:

The 72 proofs usually have finished backs:

Note the name change and the removal of Frank Howard. Little stars have also been added and the design is a bit more modern than it was two years prior plus a darker blue was used. Like the front, the players have had the team logos removed from their caps. There were 55 different players (possibly 56, there is a discrepancy) proofed. As the 1973 set also had 55 players, the transitional nature of the 72's seems correct to me.

I believe the 1970 lids to be harder to find than the '72 proofs, although the price guides do not necessarily bear this out.

The 1973 set must have been a below average performer. The look though, is decidely above average:

You can see the brightly colored rim makes all the difference. In fact, there were a few different colors, as this peek inside a full box shows (look at the little tabs showing their colors):

Blue, red and green are showing but orange is also a possibility.

The box cover shows the gum was multi-hued as well:

The reverse is similar to 1972's but there is a difference:

I imagine the stars around the players heads turned red as an attention grabbing device. All caps are logo-less, just like the proofs.

Friend o' the Archive Bob Fisk sent along a scan of a proof process sheet awhile back, I can finally use it, huzzah!

That's just a color test as the players are amidst some assorted detritus (click the pic and see for yourself). Full color individual proofs exist though:

The 73's are not common but neither are they scarce. You can find them with a little digging. Don't eat the gum if you find a tub though as I'm sure they have the texture of moon rocks these days. Ouch!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I'll Be Damned

Damn Yankees started life as a 1954 novel by the appropriately-named Douglass Wallop titled The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant and centered around a phenom named Joe Hardy, who has made a Faustian bargain with one Mr. Applegate to help his beloved Senators win the AL pennant.

That is a Willard Mullin cover friends, which is always a treat. The book was turned into a successful Broadway musical starring Gwen Verdon the following year and then became a movie in 1958, starring Verdon and Tab Hunter. The movie is a pretty hokey affair but the poster is eye-catching:

You have probably heard "Whatever Lola Wants", the most famous song from the show, a few times.

Now you are probably wondering at this point what this has to do with anything concerning the Archive. Well the show was revived in 1994, did middling business and was shut about sixteen months later. It starred Bebe Neuwirth and featured as a consultant 106 year old (!) George Abbott, who had produced the original show in 1958. Still wondering? OK- a 20 card set of souvenir cards was produced by Topps and sold in the lobby gift shop in this foil pack:

Jerry Lewis joined the cast after the show had started its run and a separate card was issued of him in 1995. He serves to illustrate what the set looks like as well:

The set and Lewis card pop up on Ebay with some regularity and can be had for, dare I say it, a song. I don't want to open mine, so I'll track down a few scans and post 'em in a catch up thread, which is long overdue.