Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Ya Callin' Short?!

The earliest piece of true hobby research I ever pulled off was in the early 1980's, when I sussed out a black & white picture in an old hobby magazine of a 1967 Topps high number sheet.  I did this because the accompanying article mentioned it showed the Brooks Robinson card (at the time thought of as the ne plus ultra of all short prints) as a double print on the sheet.  Well, I thought to myself, that's odd, and then with the help of a magnifying glass and a team checklist book, pieced together all 132 cards on the sheet and then typed it all up (yes, on an ancient device called a typewriter) and tucked my schematic away.  I am glad I did that as I lost the original picture sometime later, although I have since found other examples of it, like so:

That is described as the "B" sheet, which means it was on the right side of the full 264 card sheet; the "A" sheet would have been to the left, although I think they were actually printed in a horizontal orientation.  Pay attention now, there will be a quiz at the end and you will have to use math! After years of relative stability in their printing patterns, Topps started mucking around with things in 1967 (Edit 5/29/19-looks like starting in 1965). Counting from 1961, the first year of expansion in baseball, their set lengths were 587, 598, 576, 587, 598, 598 again (1966), then 609, before dropping back to 598 in 1968, the final year before another MLB expansion would occur and set sizes would grow beyond anything ever seen before.

Topps also had consistently printed additional cards on each press sheet when compared to the checklist cards in this period, thereby giving the purchaser some cards from the next series plus the checklist card for the following series (in what was technically the prior series pack) and ensnaring their young consumers in a ceaseless march to the last series of the year where the extra cards and checklists would elegantly resolve.  But in 1967 they changed how they did this and also went over the 600 mark for some reason, which is not entirely clear and was not supported by their being more teams or players. The was also a distribution problem with the 1967 high numbers and many locales did not receive them, especially west of the Mississippi River. Add it all up and you have a recipe for scarcity.

Now, getting back to the uncut high number sheet.  While the above scan is truncated at top and bottom, if you count the descending rows and use DP for double print and SP for single print, you can label them as: DP1, DP2, DP3, DP4, DP5, DP1, SP1, SP2, DP2, DP3, DP4, DP5. The odd placement of the two SP rows has always caught my eye and led me to think something was afoot but eventually I forgot about this happenstance.

Well we have to jump ahead a few years, to when I found a list of 1967 high number DP's in The SCD/Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. They had DP's where I had SP's.  I then checked one of the Beckett books and found their list did not mesh with mine either.  I e-mailed Beckett and got a response that their DP listings had been created by direct observation of a (possibly partial) uncut sheet.  The source of SCD's listing was never revealed to me but it seems now it was based upon tabulation data and not an uncut sheet.  It was clear though that Beckett had access to a sheet that was different than the one I had sketched out.  So I created a spreadsheet to show all the possibilities and came up with something quite interesting:

540 CASH
609 JOHN

The 7th series checklist also appeared on the 6th series press sheet, so is more abundant in theory than any other 7th series card but we'll treat it as a true high for our exercise here today.  If you look at the data you will see that 11 cards identified as short prints have no corresponding DP designator from either SCD or Beckett.  Logically, these 11 cards are the true 1967 high number short prints and they are all from the row I call SP2:

552 Savage
553 Yankees Rookies
558 Orioles Rookies (Belanger)
563 Adcock
568 Sullivan
581 Mets Rookies (Seaver)
586 Jimenez
591 Cline
597 Abernathy
603 A's Rookies
607 Stanley

Conversely, 11 cards that are in my SP1 row are Double Prints on both the SCD and Beckett lists (I suspect #601 Bryan, a Yankee, was left off the SCD list inadvertently):

534 Bauer
539 Egan
542 A's Rookies (Monday)
547 Red Sox Rookies
554 Rodgers
556 Weis
562 Blass
564 Astros Rookies
588 Klippstein
596 Cisco
601 Bryan

Then there is the curious case of the 11 cards shown as DP's in the other two lists and also on my sheet:

537 Estrada
548 Gonzalez
550 Pinson
551 Camilli
559 Tracewski
566 Geiger
569 AL Rookies (Carew)
582 Owens
589 Ricketts
599 Duliba
608 Cubs Rookies

A nice, neat 11 cards and all appearing in the row I have dubbed DP1. The next three rows (DP2, DP3, DP4) are not designated by either price guide but I have them as DP's.  Beckett, if using a partial sheet, may not have caught these and SCD just doesn't mention them.  I have them all as DP rows in order to make the Beckett sheet work,

Did you notice all three of these "odd" rows (DP1, SP1, DP2) appear as a single grouping on my sheet? Let's replicate them at the top of a theoretical second sheet:


Still, what of Brooks Robinson?

SCD has him as an SP and the old thoughts on Brooks were based upon a vending box hoard's yield many years ago that was shy on Brooksie's.  If we presume his row (DP5 on my sheet) was not a DP row on the "Beckett" sheet, we can extrapolate the rest of the sheet:


Maybe not in that exact order and not ironclad until the second sheet turns up but the math works. This gives a final tally that you can check yourselves, of:

Rows DP1, DP2, DP3, DP4  = 4 appearances each over two sheets (16/24ths)
Row DP5 =  3 appearances over two sheets (3/24ths)
Row SP1 = 3 appearances over two sheets (3/24ths)
Row SP2 = 2 appearances over two sheets  (2/24ths)

My SP rows would not have been known by Beckett, so there are now 24 rows present and accounted for!  It may be disproven someday but right now I'm sticking with it.  As for the promised quiz-see if you can rearrange the theoretical second sheet to match what Beckett would have seen on a partial while still maintaining consistency with the list of SP's and DP's in the full 7th series list above and then have it prove out over 24 rows.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Pop Secret

Well Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukah folks!  Just a real quick one today, albeit holiday themed.

One of the most obscure Topps issues was sold at Christmas 1950 and featured everybody's favorite reindeer:

That is from Chris Benjamin's The Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non Sports Cards 1930-1960, the only place I have ever seen one.

You can barely make out the manufacturer information but it's clearly a Topps product; it was made by Topps Candy Division, which would only be around for another year or so.  This was a close copy of Hoppy Pops and Santa Pops, and a distance cousin of Play Money Pops.  Here, maybe you can read all of the fine print, I only verified the Candy Divison details:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Naughty Not Nice

One of the problems with buying vintage unopened Topps packs is that there is a lot of bogus product out there.  Wax packs are notorious for being pillaged, filled with commons and then resealed but cello packs are also created in ways to deceive.  However, the most obvious problem packs right now are "Christmas" rak paks.

Generally, these have a Holiday themed header card and three pockets of four cards each.  The earliest ones are from "1952", the latest ones stretch into the 1970's.  They are all 100% fake, produced well after the fact by third party sellers.

Here is a typical example:

That mix of black and red backs does not seem like something Topps would have ever done! Sadly, these are being sold in volume on eBay and many sell for healthy prices.  Here is a later one from "1958" that is quite heinous:

The Bessent and Berra cards are nasty; off-center and dinged cards are common in these fantasy packs.  Here is yet another example from "1968":

Other variants exist with header cards that are mostly white, with a candy cane motif and feature artfully aged staples.  I can't find a scan of one right now but they are out there and probably predate the ones above to the point they could have been produced in the late 60's or early 70's.  The first mention of these I can recall was in Sports Collectors Digest over 20 years ago, when they were (initially) presented as being legitimate to the era, if not Topps.

Unopened pack dealer and expert Steve Hart has been interviewed in a good piece on many bogus Topps packs, well worth a read. Don't let the grinch get you this holiday season!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bak to Raks

1969 was the last year of the 3 x 12 rak pak arrays.  Starting in 1959, when three 12 card cello packs were overwrapped for point of sale purchase displays, Topps had stuck with this winning formula for over a decade.  But 1969 was the last year of many Topps pricing schemes; 1970 would bring a shift to larger and more expensive packaging across all lines.

The 1969 raks are essentially the same as the 68's:

That NEW tag stayed with the 69's; can't go wrong with a good thing! You can really see how loose the cards would get inside each pocket.  Football was again a match for baseball:

The only real changes in the header card from 1968 to '69 would have been to the Topps production code (a very helpful dating tool) and at some point in the year a switch from Brooklyn to Duryea as the place of manufacture: I need to find clearer scans to determine when they did this on the raks; it was about the the time the fifth series baseball cards were issued but if they had old stock showing Brooklyn, they may well have let it run out unless there was a compelling business reason not to. The baseball and football raks above came from Huggins & Scott's site.

Once again the hockey cards also came in raks (just Topps I think, not OPC):

As with almost all my tough hockey scans, that is from Bobby Burrell's fabulous Vintage Hockey Collector's Price Guide.  Hockey raks would have been produced in tiny numbers relative to baseball and even football.  Remember, if you are buying these off eBay, watch for fakes-there are far more of those and repackaged "Christmas" raks than legitimate ones out there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Redundancy Stamp

Well kids, me and Mrs. Archives have addressed the last of the Christmas cards and boy, I could really have used some help tonight.  Oh address labels are one thing but what a feller really needs is a personalized name stamp to help address things properly.

Don't have one?  Well, hop into the WABAC machine and dial it up for 1949:

and let Bazooka, the Atom Bubble Boy lead the way:

Wotta deal, eh?  That's from a series of comic book ads taken out by Topps in DC comics that year in a major marketing push to sell more Bazooka.  I'll post more of these; they are reminiscent to me of a time when the staid print advertising world was about to be rocked by the brash new medium of television.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Rak Attack

Looking up details on Topps Rak Paks for my previous post led me to some more images and I feel like this is about to turn into a multi-post look at Topps biggest retail packs.  I certainly bought the majority of my cards this way from 1970-74, many of them from a fabulous store called Coronet.

The modern Rak Pak, as we saw last time, debuted in 1968.  Ditching the old, three-cello overwrapped style pack, Topps lost the individual cello's and created individual pockets for three cells of cards:

The "new" label is clearly to show the pack itself has been redesigned but why do they still say 3/10 cent packs? I guess Topps wanted you to know you were saving a penny!  You got 12 cards per pak, so 36 per rak.

The football raks were similar in '68:

Believe it or not, Topps sold hockey cards in raks as well:

The ability to sell any type of product using one template was very appealing to Topps as it helped to reduce costs.  Rak paks were designed for variety and toy stores and were prevalent from what I recall of them. I have tried to identify a Non-Sports rak from 1968 but there do not seem to be any sets that would really work, except possibly Hot Rods.  A lot of Topps sets that year were odd-sized or short in length.  I would think sports had a longer shelf life generally and the raks would be a better fit for sports cards due to the length of the seasons.  I will keep looking though.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Nice Rak

Thanks to a (sadly) current eBay auction, I think I have stumbled onto the end of the Trading Card Guild era at Topps.  Long story short a bogus 1967 baseball rak pak is currently up on the 'bay but it's clearly a homemade job and I shall not link to it.  I did some research on legitimate Rak Paks though as a result and think I resolved the end date for the Guild.  First, let's look at some raks!

Basically, any rak pak prior to 1968 would contain 3 individual cello packs encased in an overwrap plus a header card stapled to the end of the overwrap, which extended a bit to accomodate the staples for the header.  The first of these appeared in 1959 if I am not mistaken and Topps used them for any variety of issues, not just baseball.

Here is what a proper '66 rak pak looks like:

You can see the three cells (plus a really great insert) and how they are overwrapped, plus the header card is stapled to the whole package, it's flaps sandwiching the rak proper.  This is how any rak through 1967 should look. In fact, here is a legit '67:

You can see the three cello packs still, plus the old style header card attachment.  I can't get it to reproduce properly here but the text at the bottom right of the header says Topps Chewing Gum.  The next year, the cellos had vanished as Topps moved to the more familiar version, sans individual cellos and utilizing three "cells" or pockets of loose cards, with a fourth cell that enclosed the header card.

Those last two raks are from Mark Murphy's excellent Unopened Pack Guide.  It's a little outdated as it was last updated in 2002 but is chock full of useful information.

But that's not why I am posting all this today. The real reason?  Take a look at that 1966 header card again, along the bottom, under the EXTRA SPECIAL FEATURE line, it says "Trading Card Guild Mfr."  That is the latest date I have seen associated with the Trading Card Guild and likely marks the end of their run.  It is increasingly apparent to me that Topps would haul out the Guild for any product sold without gum, i.e.non-confectionery items be they in vending, cellos or raks.  I suspect this was due to their contracts and no-competes on various, if not all issues, a problem worked out by 1967 it appears.

The Guild livery was more obvious on some raks than others.  Check out this classic 1962 Civil War News rak, a scan I pinched from an Abraham Lincoln site:

Amusingly, there is no Trading Card Guild ID on the rak but it certainly pushed the educational aspect.  That rak theoretically held about 40% of an entire set, although I am sure some duplicates lurk within!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Paper Trail

We saw last time how Topps used a paper envelope wrapper to market two test sets from the 1968-69 era. This was not the first time they had done this and it was way back around 1956 when they tried for the first time to use a paper wrapper.

Round-Up (more properly Western Round-Up but no matter) was one of the last, if not the last Topps set to be issued in Giant Size.  A paper wrapper exists, although for what purpose is hard to say as it does not seem like it would have been an ideal way to keep the gum sanitary.  The set's penny wrapper is far more common and it was also sold in what Chris Benjamin has described as five cent "layered" cello packs so there may have been some experimentation going on with the nickel packaging. It appears a piece of tape (see left border) may have held the pack together.

The other 1956 paper wrapper is from Flags of the World, which also got the envelope treatment a dozen years later.  I can only locate a scan from the same Bob and Jeff Marks article from The Wrapper #92 that featured the envelope version as well:

(Update 1/4/18-The above is a Canadian wrapper, I missed it on the indicia originally. More to come on these sets semi-shortly.)

Other wrappers from other sets could also exist as these are very rare.  If anyone has further background, I would love to hear it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Envelope Please

I've been mulling some pieces of paper of late, namely some very rare Topps wrappers.  Last time out I showed a 1968 test basketball wrapper, which was really a paper envelope. This type of "wrapper" made the little light bulb go off above my head as I knew there was also a paper wrapper associated with the 1970 Topps Flags of the World issue. Actually, it turns out there were two.

We have seen in previous posts that Flags of the World were a recurring theme at Topps; indeed at many other confectionery and tobacco companies as well, since they were tried and true sellers back in the vintage days. 1949, 1950 and 1956 saw Flags issues from Topps, then a break occurred until 1970 when another issue came out, possibly in the wake of a general, societal push to make U.S. school kids more aware of the United Nations in the late 1960's.  I'll get into the numerous permutations and inserts of the 1970 issue someday but want to focus on its paper wrapper.

Jeff and Bob Marks, writing in The Wrapper #92, cite a five cent wrapper comprised of a test sticker affixed to tan envelope. I only have scan from the article to demonstrate:

The 61-75 handwritten notation at the top is in line with other Topps test pieces I have seen. The 61 is the project number; the 75 is a bit more mysterious.  Most Topps production codes from 1966 onward use the last digit to signify the year of production but only for retail products, where the full code resembles something like a Social Security number.  Test codes often seem to end in 5, just like what is shown above and are usually in the shorter format we see here.  

Compare this to the 1968 test Basketball wrapper:

I actually found a back scan of the basketball wrapper since last episode:

You can see the flaps of the envelope quite clearly.  I would ignore the handwritten date at the top, I suspect it was added by a collector, not Topps.

So why envelopes?  Well, Topps was already using them for certain mid 60's issues, mostly of the "novelty" variety as opposed to cards.  Wise Ties is one example but there are quite a few others from this time frame so they were on the mind of Topps brass at the time.  Usually though, they were for products that came without gum.

Two scenarios seem likely to my mind: Firstly, Topps may have been testing wrappers; I am assuming it was cheaper to use an envelope vs. a wax wrapper. The envelopes could also have been used in a scenario where the cards were being tested and it was easier than cranking up the ol' wrapping machinery just to use some already available envelopes.  It is also possible both actions were occurring at the same time. 

The way Topps tested products at the time was interesting.  Internal pitches were made by Woody Gelman's creative team, using mockups often times grafted together from some new artwork and pre-existing product. Topps executives would then be asked to approve a project based upon such presentaions. This was a highly competitive process and only about 1 in 10 projects would get the go ahead. At this point full design of a proof version would occur and sample run of very small size would be run off by the printer; often this would only be 22 or 28 cards of the planned total. Sometimes these would be complete cards, other times only fronts were produced. Short runs such as this were likely responsible for all the black & white mid 60's test issues; these short runs could have been for both internal and external use, I can't quite tell and both scenarios are possible.

Once they had some cards to hand out, Topps would form a focus group, where kids would be gathered at a test site, sometimes run by a third party.  Cards would be distributed and observations made as to how the children reacted to cards and how they would play with them.  Other times they would go to a local elementary or junior high school yard in Brooklyn, near Topps HQ in Sunset Park and hand out test packs (hard to imagine that going well today but it was a different time) to gauge the reactions.  Both methods could have been used for a single product, either in tandem or one after the other.  These are the points where I believe the envelopes would have come into play.

Once this stage was finished, the product either got killed off, dramatically reconfigured or advanced to a retail test. Sometimes tweaks were made before the test boxes hit the shelves, sometimes not.  In Brooklyn, this was where the mythical "Cortelyou Avenue Candy Store" would enter the picture.  In Pennsylvania, following the move of the confectionery production line and warehousing to Duryea in 1966, retail tests were made in a similar fashion in Scranton and environs, near the plant.  Packs would generally be made of white waxed paper, with a sticker affixed to the front and sometimes a smaller one, listing ingredients if the pack held gum, slapped across the back and acting to help seal the pack. Tested products would have to pass this trial before full retail production commenced.  Even after the final test, some refinements would often be made to the cards; usually (but not always) these were minor in nature.

The method was not foolproof as some sets would test well but vanish without a trace at the retail level.  Still, Topps apparently did a test for every issue they wanted to retail; although this would seemingly exclude recurring annual sports issues such as baseball and football.  Any baseball or football supplemental sports sets would have gone through this process however.  These envelopes would have been a quick way for Topps to test product; so much so I wonder if they were produced for other sets.  Their rarity would make this a difficult proposition to research. The stickers affixed to the envelopes would have been reused for the wax tests packs I think.

The five cent price points on both the above wrappers would point to 1968 or early 1969 tests as Topps went to ten cents on their retail wax packs in mid 1969. The box that the Flags test packs came in is also known and carries a Brooklyn address with a zip code.  Topps changed to a  Duryea address in mid 1969 so that further locks the date in. I mentioned another paper wrapper for Flags of the World and I'll get into that next time.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dribble, Dribble

Well I snagged a real sweet test card off eBay just before Turkey Day.  I have a goal of collecting one card from every set Topps released at retail from 1948-80; this conveniently leaves off some of the real tough proof issues such as the 1966 Punch Boards but with some sets it's really hard to tell if they were released to the public. There are still some doozie's in there though.

One set that falls into this category (and others) is the 1968 Test Basketball release.  The cards are extremely rare but they are printed in black and white, which has always made me suspicious of their non-proofiness, for lack of a better term.

It looks like he's practicing in a high school gym-the NBA was not always the glamour league that it is now.  You might also note the card displays Default Topps Block Print, a hallmark of many mid 60's test and proof sets.  There are 22 cards in the set and the backs make up a puzzle of Wilt Chamberlain, looking very vertical:

I think the two bottom right corner cards are just black while the two above them just show a little knee.  The cards came in a paper envelope style of pack:

It looks like a typical Topps test pack sticker but the word is that it's on an envelope. The cards are rare, the insert would be rarer still; I have never seen one.  I have a theory on these cards (both test basketball and other black & white issues of the era) and this type of envelope wrapper and wll get into that next time out.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Khan You See Me?

New network TV shows in 1967 had a distinct international flair.  Tarzan, Daktari, even a show called Cowboy in Africa filled the airwaves.  But the farthest flung locale on the boob tube in '67 was India, with Jay North (Dennis the Menace) playing a character named Terry Bowen searching for his father, with his faithful companion Raji (Sajid Khan) alongside in show dubbed Maya.  Taking after the movie of the same name from 1966, the presumably dyspeptic duo traveled by elephant (which had the handle of Maya, get it?) through exotic locales that were shot on location.

Sadly such lush scenery could not sustain the show and it was cancelled after 18 episodes, failing to compete against The Dating Game/Newlywed Game juggernaut and The Jackie Gleason Show in the 7:30-8:30slot on Saturday nightsdemonstrating that kids were still outside playing before Daylight Saving Time kicked in, while their parents watched more adult fare.  Really, that is a bizarre lineup for a kids show to fail against!

High hopes at NBC had led to optimism at Topps and a card set was released in conjunction with the debut of the show. The end result is that Topps ended up dumping excess inventory on the secondary market and Maya ended up being about as common a set as can be from the 60's. A seeming never ending supply of vending boxes has permeated the hobby and as a result the 55 card set is quite cheap today and $15 would be paying too much for a NM set.

The cards are s-o-o-o-o-o-o pedestrian:

The reverse shows why the set is sometimes called Mysteries of India:

but there is a bit of a wrinkle.  While vending boxes by the hundreds were unleashed, wax packs ended up being very short lived. The wrapper is quite eye-catching:

The puzzle is the sand in the Vaseline. Shaped like the pieces from Superman in the Jungle's puzzle, I am reasonably certain that set's 16 pieces have the same shapes as Maya's.  Here is a piece of the puzzle, Maya-wise:

Compare that to Supe's visage a year or so later:

It's blurry but it's a match!  Supe's just as ragged (there would be color left on the remainder piece after the Maya puzzle was punched)  asTopps recycled the puzzle piece shapes after Maya tanked. Both these sets sold poorly but Superman in the Jungle only had a limited US release and the cards are hard to find today, let alone the puzzle pieces.  Maya puzzle pieces can sell individually for as much as the card set so they are tough as well.

Jay North ended up joining the U.S. Navy and was honorably discharged in 1979.  His mother invested his earnings from Dennis the Menace and even though his acting career petered out in the mid 70's, he did not suffer from the financial problems most child stars went through.  In fact, he works with an advocacy group that reaches out to former "acting kids" who have trouble adapting to real life.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Burlaps We'll Meet Again

This may or may not be the kickoff of a look at how Topps seeded their checklists in the 1960's and early 70's, in a manner I refer to as the Theory of Checklist Relativity.  Click that backlink if you haven't been here for long to get a little more flavor if you like; there are three different ways this was done over the years (and wich I will not get into today).  The gist is that Topps would print the next series checklist with the prior series of cards, thereby previewing the next series.  This preview generally appeared at a ratio of 1:2 compared with the other, earlier checklist card on the sheet, which was almost always double or even triple printed.

The same checklist (well,almost - it was never a perfect replica) would also appear in its rightful place on the next series sheet, double printed and the next series checklist would then mingle in.  And so on and so on until the last series of the year.  Primarily associated with the annual baseball cards, this method was used at various times with other sports as well.  It also produced the "inevitable and much dreaded checklist card" in great quantities, to quote the Great American Flipping Trading and Bubble Gum Card Book.

Normally the checklists printed with two series would look alike, except for the occasional typo.  In 1968 though, Topps tinkered with the design of their baseball  cards after the first series was released, thereby creating two distinctly different 2nd Series checklist cards.  The first 109 cards in the set were part of series 1 (yes, the series should total 110 using the "Rule of 11", hold that thought) and had what can only be described as a coarser grain to the burlap looking substrate.  For reasons that must have been aesthetic (the first series cards are just ghastly looking) or print related (browns always seemed to cause trouble for Topps, see the 1962 baseball  cards for a prime example) , Topps switched to a finer grained burlap going forward, starting with the 2nd series.

The 2nd Series Checklist beautifully illustrates this point.  First series, coarse grain, first press sheet:

Now take a look at the same card but from the second press sheet (it is #107 if you are curious):

The Wheatena look is gone!  The missing 110th card is explained by the 1st series Checklist appearing not only in its own slot in a row with 10 other cards that world normally repeat at least once over the 264 full sheet but also in another slot unrelated to the other row.  Why Topps felt the need to do things this way is a mystery.