Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Topps Terms

When to comes to the terminology applied to the "old school" era of Topps cards (essentially 1948-93, or just before the start of the "UV era") there are errors of commission and omission occurring daily, especially on Ebay. I think a refresher and even a look back is in order as clarity is greatly needed.

Let's start with Topps itself. These are my own terms mostly, so be gentle with me! I tend to think of the following eras and sub-eras generally (click on the links to see examples) and have just recently come up with names for them all:

1) The "Changemaker" era, running from their founding in 1938 until the little cards started to be inserted into penny packs of gum ten years later Click here to see (also relates to #2a below).

2) The "Small Card" era, which ran from 1948 through 1951 and can be broadly subdivided into:

a) The "Penny Card Insert" era and the

b)"Mid Size Insert" era. Freedom's War would be a good example of these.

3) The "Golden" era from 1952-75, greatly corresponding with the baby boom and also the rise of Bazooka, which further breaks down as:

a) The "Giant Size" era running from 1952 until just after the purchase of Bowman, i.e. 1956. 1952 Topps Baseball is a stellar example.

b) the "Standard Size" era from 1957-75, which in turn has its own subdivisions:

i) The "Post-Bowman" era from 1957-60,

ii) the "Expansion era from 1962-69 (concatenating--or vice-versa-- the "Duryea" era commencing in 1966 and the "test" era also from around the same time). Prior to 1966 could also be considered the "Brooklyn" era. I don't have anything 100% on point but try this.

iii) era of "Normalization" from 1970 through 1975. If you are a non-sports collector part of this would be the "Wacky" era too!

4) We then get into the "pre-Fleer era from 1976-80; the five year span where Topps essentially had a legal monopoly and we all endured half a decade of almost static design, then:

5) The "Growth" era when all sorts of competitors entered the fray and the retail and hobby segments had unprecedented growth and attention. This would be from 1981-93. I'll stop the links here as the blog mostly focuses on the eras prior to this (although there were some neat little sets issued in the 80's) Subdividing again, we have the

a) "Topps-Fleer-Donruss" through say 1989 and then the

b) "Upper Deck" era in 1989 and going up through '93. 1989 was also the year of the Topps Auction at Guernsey's, a game changer and then some!

6) From 1994 we have the "UV" era, a time when things started off very silly and then fell off a cliff with a bewildering array of product lines, manufactured scarcity and just all out buzzkill.

Now, what do we do about all those types of cards?

Proof-I would say a proof is something created to determine the correctness or physical viability of a planned product, solely meant for in house use by Topps. I think blank backed (or front) cards generally fall into this group (not counting those where a printing mishap caused a blank side on a card that was packaged) as they would be used to check the printing of planned press run. Something like the 1970 Cloth Baseball Stickers would be more in the "physical viabilty" camp, i.e. a materials test.
A test issue would be something that was released in small quantities to see if an item would sell, generally tested in generic white boxes and wrappers, except for an identifying sticker. Some later test issues would use a repeating design pattern without identifying the product on the pack, presumably since the display box identified it. Some would even be created for focus grups of kids in almost a "pre-test" phase. Even after their move to PA in '65 Topps would still test cards locally with kids in Brooklyn using traditional focus groups and also a form of give-aways at local schools (more on this down the road, kids but it might be a while). Some issues were tested and then sold at full retail. Sometimes they would be changed from the tested version, sometimes not. Test issue is one the most abused terms when it comes to Topps; many auctions use the term incorrectly in order to drum up interest.
A pulled release would be a finished product for which partial or complete packaging may or may not exist but where the product was completed and intended for sale and then not officially released for some reason, usually due to licensing issues or larger-scale production difficulties.
A limited release would be a product either not intended for full retail sale (think 1967 Red Sox and Pirates Stickers) or one that did not sell well and warranted no further press runs beyond the first or possibly second printings. Many of these would be found by "dumpster divers" in the mid to late 60's and early 70's near Topps Pennsylvania plant, some of whom actually went to the local dump on a regular basis to look for treasure tossed by Topps. Many times these would be product returns. I'll post on this fun aspect of collecting pretty soon!
A full retail release such as 1971 Topps Football is self-explanatory but could contain or make available other types of releases such as inserts and premiums (see below).

A promotional release would be something like the '64 Banquet set. 

Another two categories exist in the netherworld:
a) between pulled and test; product not intended for sale that made it out to some form of retail by mistake. Call it Mistaken. I am not sure if the '68 Baseball Plaks are in that category but they are close if not.
b) product never sold at retail but "released" through Woody Gelman's Card Collector's Company. Call it After Market.
There are also items created by Topps Art Department for in house pitch meetings. Many of these are products that did not make it beyond this stage. I have heard that only 1 in 10 pitched productes actually made it to some form of production.
I am struggling to define the three card strips though, that are so prevalent (and which I like and collect) especially the ones with finished backs. Three card salesman's samples are well-known, so are the "regular" strips a by-product of this? Would a salesman drop off a sample with ordering details plus few other strips that had regular backs? These are an odd combination as 11 card rows would not seem effective for producing three card strips. The 3 card strips were in the hobby well before the Guernsey's auction and in some quantity and with much variety. You really don't see 2 card panels, although some do exist. Sports strips seem more common than non-sports. I won't link these (yet) as an imminent post or two will get into these.

Premiums would be something you had to mail away for, as would some contest cards. Third Party Productions, items for in-house distribution and prank cards all have their own place. And we can't forget inserts!

Come to think of it, it's all pretty Wacky!

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