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.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Bazooka Pops

Oh, the oddities that hide in plain sight in the Topps universe!  I was marveling at a box of 1967 Topps Baseball acquired by a collecting buddy of mine (hi George!) and noticed this little piece of esoterica along the bottom and side:

As we shall see momentarily, these pops were dubbed Twin-ee pops. They went for a nickel and I guess were designed as a counter display item, right next to the baseball cards and Bazooka logs.

These must not have lasted long but tie back to a neat bit of company history.  Back in the late 1940's, when Topps was trying to find an iconic mascot for Bazooka, Joseph Shorin became impressed with an add campaign for Popsicles, which featured a character named Popsicle Pete. He eventually hired the man responsible for refining the character for the Joe Lowe Corporation, one Woody Gelman.  Fittingly, the mascot created by Gelman is promoting the product that landed him the gig at Topps.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


One of the reasons Topps became such a dominant company was their international marketing plan. The strategy was a smart one and is most often associated with their operations in Canada where they started pushing their gum products as early as 1947.  Another outpost was England, where they purchase an interest in A&BC in 1958 and of course there was Venezuela, where baseball cards, usually the first couple of US series, were sold with Spanish backs  printed especially for (and in) that country.  But their first specific Spanish language set was issued in 1952 and took direct aim at the Mexican market.

Wings was a highly successful, multi-series issue that followed the landmark 1952 Baseball cards in both size (Giant) and appeal (massive).  The series was marketed well into 1953 and consists of 200 brightly colored cards of various aircraft.  The Shorin's, used to doing business in Central and South America for many years while in the tobacco trade, turned to Mexico during World War 2 to import raw materials to continue manufacturing Topps Gum.  It seems likely their familiarity with the area led to a full release of all 200 Wings cards Spanish backs.

Here is one card, in all its defaced glory:

The front is identical to the US issue but the back is not, although the graphics are the same:

Here is a US back for comparison:

The indicia at the bottom and the number & title block wording remains in English but the rest of the card has been translated to Spanish.  The entire 200 card series was transformed this way, although at one point it was thought only the first 100 cards had been produced and the backs of the second series had only been proofed but that is clearly not the case.  You can find blank fronts of the last 100 cards though.

The set in Spanish is becoming easier to find of late and if so inclined, could be assembled with a little effort.  Their efforts south of the border would take a few years to find consistency but Topps was clearly thinking big in 1952.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

In The Jungle, The Mighty Jungle

Superman has been a trading card character almost as long as he has been a comic book character.  The tale of his origin, both the actual, artistic birth of the character and the fictional narrative centering on Krypton are essentially folk tales by now. The original classic set depicting the Man of Steel was made by Gum, Inc. (Bowman's predecessor) in 1940-41 is considered one of the top non-sports sets in the hobby, with some devilishly difficult high numbers and an active collector base conspiring to price it out of the hands of many collectors by propelling the 72 card set into five figures.  It is NOT, however, the only high priced Superman set out there, thanks to two Topps test issues.

The first of these, the black and white Superman set issued by Topps in 1965 and/or 1966 was discussed here a while ago (click here and then scroll down a little) and exists in a test version that is quite tough and a regular issue with two variant reverses that is quite easy.  Then there's Superman in the Jungle, which was almost an unknown set for the first quarter century of its life.  While values have fallen of late, it's still a pricey set to put together and many of the extant cards are actually blank backed proofs.

Superman in the Jungle was tested by Topps around 1968 in the U.S. and clearly did not resonate with the kids who saw it.  Consisting of 66 cards with well rendered, color drawings and an insert puzzle piece set numbering 16, it is a hobby rarity today.  The display box is a genius work of Norm Saunders:

The wrapper is also well done, although this is actually a photo that is offered on eBay:

I am hesitant to call that a Saunders work and his website does not mention he drew it.   He did, however, do the inks for the cards.  Here is a proof that shows the artwork:

Colorful but fairly simplistic art may have doomed the issue in the States.  Here are a few more, with characteristic off center backs and like the above proof and many other images on this page, from the Legendary Auctions archive:

The 16 puzzles are not your garden variety Topps insert and are die cut.  They are taken from the box cover and here is a real nice proof showing them all:

Having spent the money on art and testing, Topps was certainly in a bit of a hole.  The solution?  License the set to their partially-owned British subsidiary A&BC.

The A&BC version of the set is a little smaller (about a 1/4" each way) than the U.S. standard sized cards, as was usually the case in the UK but replicated the set otherwise.  The English wrapper is adapted from the US box art and is nice, colorful but a bit crude:

Here is an A&BC front and back:

For reasons that escape me, the A&BC set is far easier to obtain than its U.S. counterpart.  The whole concept of the set is bizarre but that's the way things were back in '68!  As for how things were back in 1940, not too different, artwork-wise:

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Pigskin Phooey

I did a little inquiring after my last post on 1955 Topps All American Football and it seems whatever reasoning went into determining the Short Prints in this set went out around the advent of the USB 1.0 era. 20 overprints is indeed the consensus and that would mean for every full press sheet of 220 cards, 20 appeared three times and 80 twice.  I'll have to leave it at that since I don't own a price guide business and can't determine why bad information continues to persist in some quarters.

So with that, I will leave you with some eye candy.  The standard Trading Card Guild cello box of the era looks like it came with a nice, colorful header card.  Perhaps they came with every issue that was cello-ized; that deserves some research real soon.

That scan is from the PSA site and the story there about the cello box find of 2008 is worth reading.  And I should have shown it last time but here is the famous card of The Four Horsemen:

Thursday, November 3, 2011

On Leather Steeds They Ride

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Conquest, War, Famine and Death.  The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame: Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley, Layden.  The former a harbinger of the end of the world, the latter the Notre Dame backfield from 1922-24.  Oh, and the centerpiece of the 1955 Topps All American Football set.

Unable to sign NFL players due to Bowman's exclusive contracts, Topps turned to the college ranks for the third time in seven years to compete with a 100 card set. A card of the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame (#68) anchors the set but there are numerous big name players within. The set is a classic, possibly the most collected vintage football set in the hobby.  A fairly recent find of unopened cello boxes has driven many high quality cards into the marketplace and brought down prices but does not seem to have brought any clarity to a major feature of this set: 34 allegedly short printed cards.

All American was printed on 110 card half/220 card full sheets, 11 rows of 10 cards per half. Or, depending upon orientation, 10 rows of 11 cards.  With some rare exceptions (1952 Baseball high numbers), Topps would muck around with short prints on a row-by-row basis for their Giant Size cards.  That would mean a 110 card sheet as was used in 1955 should have a total number of short prints divisible by either 10 (portrait) or 11 (landscape). 34 does not work in this scenario but an examination of a partial uncut sheet reveals a haphazard arrangement.

This fifty card partial appeared in a Legendary Auction awhile back; another partial is known with the same configuration and subsections of it have also been sighted:

The back is intact:

I plotted all the numbers onto a spreadsheet and here is what I came up with:

The lack of a pattern across full rows or columns makes me wonder if the SP's are properly identified.  And there are 31 of the 34 on less than half the sheet, which does not make sense. Anything is possible, especially since Topps was stuffing over 20 cards into some cello packs in their final beat down of Bowman but I would have expected three rows of cards to show up with SP's occupying each slot.  Another problem is that there would have to be some overprinted cards if 34 are short prints.   While I cannot find any listings for overprints, I have to think they exist.   If anything, I would have expected a run that hinted at either 20 overprints and no short prints but if you throw over 20% of the set into one pack, I guess you have to throttle things a bit. Tinsley and White had swapped backs in the first run, in case you were wondering why I highlighted them.

Did Topps mix up their short prints in a random, yet biased pattern?  Is the conventional hobby wisdom on the SP's flawed?  I am not sure what the answer is yet.