Friday, July 29, 2011

You Can't Go Home Again

While Topps moved their gum production and card cutting, wrapper wrapping and pretty much everything that wasn't nailed down from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA in early 1966, it took three more years for their packaging to reflect the fact. If you took a peek at the bottom of a box or a wrapper flap from 1966-68, it would show Topps as a Brooklyn company.  That changed in 1969, for reasons that are not clear to me but which probably had something to do with a tax advantage. Topps still maintained their executive offices in Brooklyn after the move, where Sy Berger and Woody Gelman worked along with dozens of other people but that was pretty much it.

So when did the change happen?  Well, right in the middle of the baseball card run it seems, although like everything else associated with Topps, it's complicated.

The regular nickel wax packs in 1969 all showed Brooklyn when they debuted. Here is a basic pack, from either the first or second series, although it could be a high number pack as well:

You can see that Brooklyn (or, rather B'KLYN) is shown for the Topps address.

It's the same with the 3rd and 4th series pack, which held the Deckle inserts:

But not the the 5th series pack, which held the little rub off decals:

That says Duryea folks!  As a bonus, I never realized there were instructions on how to rub the rub offs before researching this post. The change in wrapper graphics to show the instructions may have prompted the switch to Duryea (the fronts would just have been overprinted with the triangle splash on the earlier wrappers).

Now, here comes the tricky part.  The ten cent cello wrappers, introduced with ten cards as Topps was trying to put damper on spiraling production costs, show Duryea:

The problem with this cello pack is that it was sold at least from the first through the fifth series.  I can only find Duryea versions but can't confirm a Brooklyn cello is not out there.  As Topps liked to issue a new series every six weeks or so back then, the fifth series would have hit the streets around July and been printed at most a month or so earlier.  But almost every other '69 wrapper I can find shows Duryea, whether it be the Baseball Posters, Man on the Moon or Football.  I'll have to keep looking but Topps issued a lot of sets in 1969! For the record, the '69 Bazooka box shows Duryea.

Any Archivists out there who want to help out, send scans to the e-mail address at the top of the frame.  Just beware, some sets identified in the guides as 1969 issues are really from 1968 (like Planet of the Apes).

Incidentally, 1966 also marks the beginning of Topps production codes, sometime in the late summer or early fall, which are quite useful for dating certain issues but would require me to use a slide rule to explain and which will be addressed another day.  If that's not enough, the curved Topps logo also debuted once the move to Duryea was made in '66.  So why didn't Duryea replace Brooklyn at that time on the packaging?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Driven Crazy

This seems to be the summer for new Topps oddities.  No sooner do I sort through the Pocket Baseball Game mystery than Friend o'the Archive Al Richter sends along a real head scratcher.  This time though it's not a pack, or a card, or a box or a premium. Rather, it's a license plate:

About the only thing I am sure of is that it postdates the 1966 move of the company to Duryea, Pennsylvania (the curved logo is a post-Brooklyn design). In fact, the little heart instead of a V in love makes me think it could even be from the late 70's.  Maybe these were given out or sold in the company store.  I have to say the face is a little spooky though....

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Made In The USA

Of all the major sports, when comparing Topps issues and innovation in the 50's, 60's and 70's, baseball and hockey have the most interesting and varied sets and inserts.  Considering that until 1966, none of the hockey sets (with the possible exception of the 1954 issue) were issued in the lower 48 and the population of Canada is about 10 percent of the U.S., it's even more impressive.

One of the more elusive hockey inserts of the era are the 1962-63 Hockey Bucks. Distributed as an insert with the 1962-63 Hockey cards, there are 24 subjects in a set known for miscuts, folds, staining and general all around non-mintness.  The US Baseball and Football sets from 1962 also had similar inserts and for all their problems, they are quite attractive collectibles.  I picked one of these up of the 'bay and after a long wait due to a Canadian postal service strike, it finally showed up here at the main Topps Archives Research Complex. Incredibly, it held a small surprise.

Oh the front was as expected, loosely based on real Canadian currency:

But it's the back that held a secret:

Depending upon your viewing device of choice it may be a little hard to see but the bucks were printed in the good ol' US of A:

The wrappers for the set clearly indicate the cards were Canadian in manufacture, so this was a surprise.  Still, the bucks were clearly marked as U.S. product so it was all on the up and up-I guess it was just cheaper to make these in the States.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Flipping Out

One of the more terrifically tough Topps test issues is 1966's Flipper. Produced in black & white, Flipper was an extremely limited test or in house "pitch" issue that never saw a retail shelf.  While the TV show it was taken from ran from 1964-67 the cards are easy to date at 1966, thanks to a copyright line on the back.  I took a quick look at the set here in connection with a bunch of similar sets of the same era and don't really plan to address it today except in reference to another issue.

Another Flipper issue exists, called Flipper's Magic Fish and it is a real oddity. The box carries the same copyright line (1966 Ivan Tors Films, Inc.) Tors was a Hungarian director who was a bit ahead of his time and responsible for movies and TV shows alike; Daktari being one of his more well know productions.  MGM also gets a credit but the 1966 Tors ID is the thing that dates the issue.  The box does not mention Topps for some reason but the strangest thing of all is the two cent price tag.  I can't recall any other Topps sets at that price point.

Each fish would curl up in your hand when held long enough and there is even some detail to each of the ten fishes depicted:

That's a paper wrapper and the reverse is what tells us it's a Topps issue (O-Pee-Chee in Canada):

As you can see, the fish were made in Japan and thanks to the the wrapper reverse we have a complete set checklist.  My feeling is that this bizarre set was meant to be an insert with the Flipper cards and when that set was abandoned Topps made the best of a bad situation and isseud the Magic Fish on their own.  These are hard to find as well and I missed the auction these scans were taken from.  I think I can even hear Flipper mocking me with that high pitched laugh as I type this....

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Face of 1966

Oh, the twists and turns this blog takes!  Today we enter the world of fashion and supermodels for no good reason at all, excepting a post I have been working on is not yet ready and I am about to debark on a short journey with Mrs Archives and don't want to leave without a quick look at something esoteric.

Esoteric in this case is a very strange set called Twiggy, which is named after the supermodel that just about started the waifish, heroin-chic look of the late 60's.  The set is quite scarce and it is believed to either have failed a marketing test (possibly twice) or been withdrawn just before distribution was to occur.  The cards are black and white and measure 3 1/8" x 4 3/8" and have nothing on their backs at all:

The wrapper looks like a test version cello, with no gum included, nor even a mention of Topps:

The clear cello back shows the whiter-than-white reverse:

Twiggy is thought to consist of 34 cards, primarily on the basis of this uncut proof sheet, which has two duplicate pictures (and is a little hard to see).  If the columns were lettered and the rows numbered like a spreadsheet, then I1 and C3 are the same as are I2 and D4:

Is that the full set?  I think it possible as Topps would often proof only the basic rows that would appear on the final production sheet without regard for any that might reoccur above or below.  There are no partial cards along the borders so this very well may be the array.

The box is intriguing for a number of reasons.  Here, take a look and see what you can observe:

The most obvious thing, other than the hot pink color, is that the box has a ten cent price point while the wrapper shown above only sold for a nickel.  It would seem likely then that the ten cent test failed and the cards were repackaged at a lower price.  That test either failed as well or the cards never hit the streets; a distinct possibility as most if not all known extant cards are from either Topps internal files or were sold by employees of the firm at a later date.

The box also helps with dating in two ways.  The Topps logo shown on what would be the box bottom is the newer style that debuted with the move of gum production and product packaging to Duryea, PA in the late winter and early spring of 1966.  The other clue is the lack of a production code, an internal reference added beginning in 1967 to each new product.  Since Twiggy really got hot in 1966 and there is no production code shown on the packaging, I estimate 1966 as the date of the set.

The Twiggy phenomenon was brief and bright, although she stopped modeling in 1970 of her own accord.  You can see some other materials and merchandise here to get an idea of how big a deal she was in the go-go 60's.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Let's Go

One of the things that constantly amazes me is how organized the Topps sales department was in the 1940's.  I have seen letters involving orders of only a few dollars and records detailing down to pennies the status of accounts Topps maintained for jobbers and employees alike.

Topps was very, very good at following up their jobber and constantly pushing them to move product. One way they did this was to use a penny postcard to send a stream of reminders.  This one is from the wilds of the WWW and is for Stop 'n Go gum, so it pertains to to either the small, 1949 and/or larger 1950 version of the gum that was sold along with the License Plates cards.  It's in rough shape but that's probably due to the real cheap stock used:

They certainly grabbed your attention from the first word, those Topps boys did!  The use of the word novelty may lean toward this being for the earlier issue but it's really no smoking gun.  The front shows this card was never used:

A simple penny postcard was a vital tool in the early days.  By 1952 the rate had gone to two cents, so I wonder if Topps changed methods or just went along with the bump.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Forty Something

OK, it is a pretty rare event but every once in a while something new (well, old but new to me) pops up that I can honestly say I have never seen before in the universe of vintage Topps issues.  This happened to me last week with an issue called Pocket Size Baseball Game:

Now, I have been aware of the existence of this product since 1985 when an old Baseball Card News wrapper checklist listed it.  I had just never seen one before.  I had incorrectly surmised that the product inside was a 1970-71 Baseball Scratch Off.  I was utterly off base as it turns out.  Then based upon a scan of the back of the pack I thought it might contain something much like the 1974-75 Basketball, Hockey and Football Scratch Off games, although I could tell its design varied a little from that trio's.  Wrong again. Instead, I opened up a pack (I bought three) and found this staring at me:

The card itself is larger than either those mid 70's game cards or the original inserts, all of which are standard sized.  This behemoth measures 5 1/4" x 3 1/8",  a size also used for the 1970-71 Supers and 1976-77 Basketball cards and is on the same type of stock used for the regular baseball cards of the time.  I think this issue dates to an earlier time than the big basketball cards, likely 1970-72. The letters spelling out baseball are replicated on the reverse but in a more "mod" style, reminiscent of the team lettering on the '72 baseball cards and that may be the only way to roughly  pinpoint the date.  If forced to choose, I would go with 1972 but that is just a best guess. The back offers another clue to support my time frame estimation:

It''s undated but the instructions on how to play the game are exactly the same as those found on the 1970-71 inserts, down to the spacing of the words and lines.  Therefore, it seems it must have been created at a time when the artwork for those inserts was still fresh.  The pack contained two cards and some gum.  The other card in this pack was off center but features a blue themed reverse.  In fact, all three packs showed blue through the back, leading me to believe red and blue are probably the only two colors used on the reverses. Both fronts were blue by the way-not sure if that carries through as I am not opening another pack.  Here is the blue reverse, off center and almost miscut:

Perhaps an NL/AL color scheme was occurring. I had surmised that the pack would be a test pack and indeed it turned out that way:

The pack back offers no clues, even though the small traditional Topps test style ingredient and manufacturing sticker that is attached:

The sticker conceals some glue that was still holding the pack together quite well even at this late date. Here's a hint: use a business card to gently separate glued packs when opening them. Slide it between the layers and slowly work through the glue, stopping if you encounter any real resistance. If it doesn't open easily just attack from a different angle or spot in the same gentle manner and the flaps will eventually work apart from the main body of the wrapper without tearing anything.

I tossed the gum, which was staining the pack but kept the little insert that kept it away from the cards.


I actually measured it out to 4 3/4" x 2 1/2" although the gum was smaller and looked to be about the same size as the gum I remember as a kid.

So the set has been added to the master Topps checklist I keep; now if only the date and full array of color schemes could be confirmed, we'd be all set! Still, I think this to be a pretty neat item.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hoppy's Foil

In the last of my not-very-exhaustive look at Topps Hopalong Cassidy cards, I thought it would be fun to show what the foil cards actually look like as very few collectors have seen one, let alone all eight.  So without further ado, here's an 8 pack of  Hoppy, swiped from a Huggins & Scott auction from a way's back:

The foil cards may have been produced from a new material manufactured by Milprint, Milwaukee Printing, a key partner of Topps in the early days. They are quite susceptible to damage and prized today.  The backs show the original eight "episodes" of Hoppy issued by Topps (two additional ones would be added at the end of the run without the foil headers).  

The inclusion of all eight episodes at once seems to indicate Hoppy was issued in one big series but I suspect there were two runs, slightly separated and including the second series on the checklist would have been a great way to sell more cards.

I think we'll let ol' Hop ride off into the sunset now......

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Hoppy's Bond

Topps was always looking for ways to move more product and get their merchandise in the hands of the public.  Very early on they had third party tie-ins with Magic Photos and Varsity, so a cross promotion for Hopalong Cassidy, covered here of late was a no-brainer.  If you lived in an area where Bond Bread was sold in 1950 (and it was an area that stretched from New Orleans to New England) you could get a Hoppy card and some gum with a loaf of bread.

There were two wrappers used in the promotion.  One was designed specifically for the tie-in:

While the other looked like a mashup of the two Topps types penny wrappers with a Bond Bread label:

The promotion from the Bond Bread perspective went well beyond Topps.  Check this out:

We'll take one last look at Topps and Hoppy next time out.  Happy Fourth of July kids!