Monday, February 27, 2012

Rak Habit

Topps was showing the effects of lack of competition in 1973.  Once again, the year's rak paks featured the standard yellow header card and with the exception of the hockey cards, each major sport featured a design that was clean but a little bland.

Baseball leads the way:

This was the year all cards were available in one series, although not in all locales or configurations. From top to bottom those cards fronting each cell number: 430, 490 and 622 so this was a pack that spanned at least three series worth of cards.  I consider 1973 a pivotal year for Topps design-wise as the gaudy creations of the early 1970's gave way to the stylized look above.

Football cards also had a streamlined design:

Clean lines there and they seem to my eye a logical extension of the baseball design.

It's the same with basketball:

A little more color for basketball; note how he neatline around the photo changes color from card to card.

Hockey would bring yet more color to the cards:

That is one colorful rak!

This would mark the end of the "yellow header" cards which tied together all of Topps highest priced packs from 1970-73 in unwavering fashion.  When we look at 1974, differences will start to become apparent, which is good as this series of posts is a sort of field guide to each style.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Far Out Raks

On to that grooviest of years in our Rak Pak odyssey: 1972:  While the baseball cards forty (!) years ago looked like a black light would be required for viewing, the rak packaging was decidedly pedestrian again:

The header is unchanged, except for the product code, from the prior two years.  Topps just loved continuity with their graphics as it cut down on costs.  1972 was the first full year of Topps new, corporate ownership structure and one of the first casualties was the baseball card inserts that had been standard issue since 1961.  Not that the inserts appeared in any of the 1970's raks but a turn toward even more fiscal restraint was occurring at Topps HQ. Football would also follow suit in the header continuity department, although the psychedelic flair exhibited on the baseball cards was long gone.  Having said that, it's a nice, clean design:

The hockey rak?  Yup, just like last year's model:

As for basketball, with no scans showing up on teh internets, I reached out to noted scanologist John Moran and he replied that he had only seen a couple and had no examples in his digital domain.  If he doesn't have a scan, it must be a scarce item.  Anyone out there got a scan?

I plan to keep posting on raks sporadically until we hit 1980.  There's so many fakes out there I want to show  as many examples as I can here.  Anything I can do to help reduce bidding on the absolutely ridiculous number of outright counterfeit or fake items on Ebay is time well spent in my book.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Hung Up

1968 brought posters from Topps.  Not just the flimsy little ones that were folded inside packs of cards but substantial, well executed broadsides that featured art from some legendary EC cartoonists. One such set was called Topps Ugly Hang-Ups, a 12 (or possibly 18) poster set from 1968 with some absolutely classic Basil Wolverton artwork.  The posters are said to measure 9 13/16" x 18 3/8" which is just around the same size as the Baseball Player Posters from the same year.

Attributed to Wolverton and also Bhob Stewart (who edited the captions and treads in both Topps and EC waters) the set was tested with the traditional focus group of kids in a super secret location in Brooklyn and while they loved it, the consensus was their parents would hate it and production was terminated. Stewart has quite a bit of backstory here, including the tale of how some of the artwork ended up in Marvel Comics.

Critical Metrics has a great Flickr set with the story and some unpublished artwork here and I have taken all color scans here form their site as they seem to have the market cornered.  There is artwork for a box but no wrapper seems to have survived.  It's not clear to me if a wrapper would have been produced for the focus group stage of testing.  The box is great and reveals the true set name; most references just call it Hang-Ups and as will be seen below that name appears on the finished posters:

The cover poster is reproduced within the set by the way. I'll let you find it on the Flickr stream, it's not difficult to ID! Six posters appear not to have been printed and/or tested: 2, 9, 10, 13, 14, 18.  However, there is known Wolverton artwork for four unpublished pieces. Chris Benjamin has mentioned #18 purportedly was drawn by Wally Wood but it's never popped up and it certainly seems like Wolverton was to have drawn all 18 posters.

Here is some of the original Wolverton artwork, from the 2009 Robert Edward Auctions archive, leading off with this twisted beauty:

The "18" notations may or may not refer to the intended poster number; there is inconsistency in this regard.  That is an unpublished piece.  Here is a published one:

I had to steal this from the Flickr stream just to show the finished product:

Topps added some flourishes and other touches and the color is simply outstanding.  The penciled "13E" on the drawing turned into poster #6.  I can't get the indicia on the bottom border to coalesce when I zoom in but it says: "No. 6 of 18 Hang-Ups" on the left and there is the usual copyright notice for "T.C.G. Printed In U.S.A." notation on the right.

That #8 turned into #15 in the published set while this one went from #4 to #5:

As you can imagine, Ugly Hang-Ups are quite rare and also fragile; pricing is speculative due to only a handful of posters even existing but somewhere in the low to mid three figures would seem about right for one. Some of Wolverton's artwork was sold by the Topps Vault a while back at what I can only describe as seemingly bargain prices but that's more of a specialty item.

Ugly Hang-Ups also seem related to Blockheads, another set that was pulled but emay have had its artwork recycled in a 1968 set called 3D Monster Posters (or vice-versa) which were not posters but merely renamed Blockheads.  That set may have filled the poster gap left by Ugly Hang-Ups getting the boot.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

All Shook Up

When the nice folks at Mickey's Sportscards sent me some details on the 1949 X-Ray Roundup vending boxes a little while back, they also sent along a pretty cool scan of a 1956 Elvis Presley vending box.  Being that Elvis was the first standard sized (2 1/2" x 3 1/2") issue from Topps, it stands that this is the first standard sized vending box too:

The Trading Card Guild livery is very much in line with the times as Topps preferred, when moving product without gum, to use that clever alter-ego.  The red, white and blue color scheme is also in line with the Shorin family's penchant for patriotically themed graphics, which go back at least to the American Gas Station days during the Depression.

Elvis was a scant 66 cards in length and you would think a vending box would yield  6 or 7 sets but the collation on these  was often quite poor so even one set full set lurking within might have been pushing it.  I have to think this poor collation was done deliberately by Topps to keep the kids buying more cards in a vain attempt to complete a full set.  There would also be myriad centering issues, as was the norm at Topps for decades. Still, a vending box or two of any vintage set would be great fun to rifle through.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rare Raks

I have a few minutes before Mrs. Archives gets home and we can kick this year's Valentine's Day activities off so why not post on Rak Paks again?

As I wrote earlier this month, 1970 Football Raks are hard to find but Friend o'the Archive John Moran has come through with a scan, or more properly, a half dozen scans, indicating these Raks have grown in population since his last musings:

That one is unhung by the way......

What I suspect is a far rarer bird is this 1971 Basketball Rak, also sent in by the intrepid Mr. Moran.  Initially thought by me to be chimerical, it clearly is not. Behold it's semi-psychedelic brilliance:

That makes 1971 the first year will all four major sports represented in Raks. I am wondering now what the first Non Sports Post '67 Rak Pak was; seems like a good subject for some more research.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Raks Bak

Continuing on through the hazy, crazy 70's in our Topps Rak Pak journey, 1971 turned out to be a whole lot like 1970.  The 71 baseball raks seem to be more abundant than the previous year's but other wise are virtually identical:

Except for the product code, it's a dead ringer for 1970.  I still get a chuckle out of the "new" designation that appeared each year. EDIT 11/5/14-The hole became smaller starting with 4th series baseball raks.

The football raks follow the baseball in form and relative availability:

Hockey also came back in '71 (although it may just be that the 70 raks are so scarce they defy googling):

Same look, same price! I don't believe O-Pee-Chee followed suit in Canada on the rak paks; wax, cello and vending look to be the main configurations up North for some reason.

The research I have done indicates no 1971 Basketball raks were produced. This being Topps, if one popped up I would not be surprised but I believe it would be a couple of more years for a rak full of hoops players.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

54 Is A Whole Lot More

In 1970, after injuring myself in a playground accident, I had to stay home a few weeks from school and was left with some time on my hands.  My father, feeling bad for me, would bring me home a rak pack of 1970 baseball cards every other day or so and in no time I amassed a large collection of these gray bordered pasteboards.

1970 was the year Topps changed their sales strategy in many ways and one of the biggest was upping the count in their baseball rak paks from 36 to 54 cards while increasing the price from 29 cents to 39 cents.  If you're adding that up, it meant that each card that used to cost .8 of a cent now retailed for .72 of a cent.  Plus you got a whole bunch more cards!

The 1970 rak header card retained the general look from 1969 but of course reflected the changes in count and price:

You will note the header, which after being redesigned for 1968-69 and had been red was now yellow.  The other change was that the older raks contained three 12 card cello packs within each pocket while the new ones had 18 loose cards in each. As it was in 1968-69, the header is also in its own cell.

What I recall most about these paks was that approximately one half of the run in the first cell would usually reappear in the third cell (sometimes upside down in relation to the other cards).  Random cards that also appeared elsewhere in the rak would also reappear upside down, usually on the front or back of a pocket.  So maybe 20% of each rak contained duplicate cards.  Well, you needed extras to trade, right?

As for football, Topps did make raks but noted unopened pack collector and Friend o'the Archive John Moran wrote three or four years ago he has seen only two.  Topps was also pushing a 25 cent cello pack starting this year (in a nice box--more about these sometime soon) so maybe the focus was more on them.  I cannot find any details about a hockey rack and the basketball cards from 1970 would have been too large to effectively sell in raks.

If anyone has scans of the 1970 football or hockey raks (if they were even made), send 'em along!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Land of the Giants

Generally speaking, the teams I root for cause me great disappointment most of the time.  I follow the Knicks in basketball (ugh),although with the Nets coming back to Brooklyn I may double down as I almost always go as local as possible here on Long Island.  That of course means I am an Islanders fan as well, which was quite a lot of fun for their first fifteen years, not so much since. In baseball it's the Mets, which I don't even want to get into, it's such a sad situation.

But in football, it's the Giants and has been since I was in third grade and used to go to their summer training camp at C.W. Post University and chase the players for autographs.  Oh, it could have been the Jets and I flirted with them a bit over the years but Big Blue is my football team and without them my sports fan experience would pretty much be the most depressing collection of teams this side of the Continental Football League.

In 1956 they would also celebrate after winning the NFL Championship, with this talented bunch of players:

Two decades earlier Ed Danowksi was the only Giants quarterback until last night to win two championships for the team, although Phil Simms certainly deserves a mention, despite a season ending injury near the end of the 1990 season. Danowksi even gets a nod on the back of the card:

After winning in 1956, it would be 30 more years before they added another title but they have accumulated some hardware since then!

No heavy posting today, just a hearty well done boys!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

3-2, Top of the First

In faithfully writing this blog twice weekly for the last three-and-a-half years, I have tried to put aside what is often referred to as Conventional Hobby Wisdom (CHW) and take a fresh look at the facts surrounding the myriad permutations of the Topps Universe. A while back I started dissecting the various 1951 Baseball Candy issues and explored the possible print runs of the five subsets in that grouping.  At the time I had thought there were three separate printing of the Red Backs, based upon how the two variation cards in the set interacted with some very specific big league transactions. Alas, my contribution to the CHW seems to have been wrong.

These two transactions involved Gus Zernial and Tommy Holmes.  Both were above average players but certainly would not be considered stars of the game in 1951.  Zernial was sent to the Philadelphia Athletics by the Chicago White Sox via the Cleveland Indians in three-way deal on April 30th, 1951. He has two Red Back cards: one with the Chicago logo and one that is merely blank as the logo has airbrushed out.  It is clear that the Chicago version came first.

Tommy Holmes was talked into managing the Boston Braves Class A affiliate in Hartford Connecticut near the end of spring training, on March 20th and departed the Braves for the Chiefs soon thereafter.  On June 19th, with attendance faltering and the Braves floundering, their manager Billy Southworth got the ax and Holmes, a fan favorite, came back to the bigs as manager and occasional player in an attempt to put some fannies in the seats and wins in the books. It didn't work and Holmes was riding the pine in Brooklyn the next year while the Braves would linger that season before moving to Milwaukee.

Here is Holmes on His Hartford card; only the text was changed, they even kept his cap with the Boston logo. This could mean they didn't airbrush it away because he returned to Boston before the second  run of Red Backs was printed but that assumes there was an orderly process occurring at Topps HQ and that is something that was probably not happening in the crazy early days.

Back in Brooklyn, Topps used two types of cardboard for the Red Backs in 1951-a creamish looking one that tends to get quite dingy as time passes and a brilliant white one that retains its brightness to this day.  The thought I had at the time was that the Boston version of the Holmes card had been issued after June 19th but think now it came first.  Indeed, Bob Lemke pointed this out in a December 1986 Baseball Cards magazine article.  Bob's CHW is aging quite gracefully by the way.

My reasoning was based on the following permutations of variations:

  • Zernial Chicago-cream
  • Zernial Philadelphia-white
  • Holmes Hartford-white
  • Holmes Boston-cream (Boston cream, get it?!)
  • and the fact the sister set of Blue Backs had been printed after June 15th (and only on the brilliant white stock) as they show Andy Pafko in a  Cubs cap, reflecting his trade on that date. My mind had three press runs of cream, white, cream firing across my synapses but if you take Holmes Boston card coming first then all the cream stock Red Backs should have been printed in the first rum as Zernial is on cream backed cards with his Chisox cap.  The white stock came second (Zernial Philadelphia) and probably right around the same time the Blue Backs were printed.

I still have to sort out some backs on the Connie Mack All Stars and Team Cards in 1951 but want to to do a bit more research on them before posting.  I've always said this blog represents my thought processes on the early days of Topps and I just proved it!