Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Tale Of Two Stamp Ads

Topps spent a lot of money advertising Bazooka Bubble Gum and its myriad resplendent premiums in the comic books of the late 40's and early 50's.  Clearly a winning strategy, this advertising is largely unknown today while Bazooka premiums are still collected and fondly remembered. Recently, a couple of eBay auctions offered some tearsheets of these ads.

An ad from early 1949, likely before the introduction of the penny Bazooka packs that year, allowed you to send in one mere nickel wrapper and two bits for a fabulous name stamp:

By 1950, as Topps started to vertically integrate their products, they had been selling penny Bazooka packs containing not the now-familiar chunk with a dividing line down the middle but rather two small gum tabs, just like their older (and soon to be defunct) Topps Gum offerings. This 1950 ad, with the same name stamper, clearly shows the new packaging and price point:

Now you needed 100 penny wrappers for the same stamp (even the same name was shown, the lllustrious James Howard Clark), so it cost 70 more cents to get this premium in 1950 than it had in 1949!

Topps Gum is still being mentioned but the success of Bazooka would see an end to that shortly.  Still, they were advertising Topps Gum in other ads, some touted by paid endorsers, such as Johnny Mack Brown (also a 1949 Flip-o-Vision subject):

You can see how the Bazooka logo was becoming more prominent in the advertising.  Those Sports Cartoons mentioned in the lower left, are Willard Mullin's Sports Show no doubt,which ran from 1949-50 or thereabouts.  Sixty two years later, you can still find a tasty slab of Bazooka just about anywhere, although it is now made by a third party manufacturer under license from Topps.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Baked Salmon

When Topps wanted to really mess around with their products, they sometimes went all in.  One very odd case of reissues concerns three partial sets of cards, reprinted with Salmon colored backs and then sold only in Fun Packs, circa 1968 or '69. For added fun, these three sets may be related to a partial reissue of another set that itself has three permutations.  Confused?  Just Wait!

Our saga begins in the 1950's, with a fabulous 88 card series called Space Cards. This set is not part of all the shenanigans though but it begat a set issued around 1962 called Target: Moon. that used the same artwork,  text and deep blue backs as Space Cards but with the title changed. I've written about these two sets in The Wrapper #265 but that's a study of issue dates for the twos sets and not much else.  What is germane though is that half of the Target: Moon set also appears with salmon colored backs. Here is a look at card #1, with the three different backs (the blues are similar but one scan is quite dark):

The Target: Moon cards have three salmon-colored siblings: Hot Rods, Who Am I? and Knock-Knocks.

Hot Rods is a crazy set: it was first issued in 1964 or '65 a a set of 66 cards, printed on gray stock with a salmon colored back.  22 cards from Hot Rods were then reprinted with bright yellow backs as part of a game by Milton Bradley called "Win A Card", which also featured some reprinted 1967 Football and 1968 Baseball cards with the same yellow backs.  This makes a lot of sense as they were all reprinted on the same sheet. The Game dates to 1968.

That wasn't enough for Topps though, as Hot Rods saw a second reissue of 44 cards, which included all the numbers from the 22 card yellow backed reissue but this time they had salmon colored backs and came on either white or tan stock. Take a look at these galley shots from the Network 54 Vintage Non Sports forum to see:

If you are keeping count of salmon colored backs, we are up to 88.  And we haven't even talked about Who Am I? yet. Who Am I? was a 1967 set of 44 illustrated cards that had a scratch off feature on the front. Famous for its four baseball players (Ruth, Koufax, Mays and Mantle), a number of other famous subjects appear as well, some of which are updated versions of illustrations from the 1952 Look 'N See set. 38 of these cards were reissued, without the scratch off coating and with salmon backs. Here, regular issue then salmon back:


The uncoated card is also, quite logically missing the instructionsWe now have a count of 124 salmon backed cards.  If you just said to yourself: "Self, there should be 8 more salmon backed cards!" you are correct, sort of.  There are actually 30 more salmon backed cards.

Of these 30, eight are double printed Who Am I? cards. Indeed, all 124 of the preceding cards plus the 8 WAI? double prints all appear together on a 132 card press sheet.

But wait, there's more.  22 cards entitled Knock-Knocks also appear with salmon backs.  We'll get into those in our next installment as right now I want to talk distribution.

The conventional hobby wisdom is that the salmon backed Target: Moon, Hot Rod, Who Am I? cards were all issued in 1969 Fun Packs. Since Fun Packs (sold in bulk in poly bags in department stores and the like) were seasonal dumping grounds for various returned and unissued Topps stock it seems a little odd these salmon backed cards did not first see issue at the retail level.

My present operating theory, which is certainly open to criticism, is that the salmon backed cards could have been intended to be a second series of cards for the "Win A Card" game.

When said game sold poorly and was scrapped, said salmon backed cards were orphaned.  Topps hated having cards lying around the warehouse so they rolled them into Fun packs, probably for Hallowe'en.

I should note some sources consider the salmon backed Target: Moon cards to be a Popsicle related premium.  They are not and that particular disconnect stems from a reissue of the 1963 Astronauts 3D set, which happened to be retitled Popsicle Space Cards.  That too is a story for another day, although this back (cribbed from Net54 again) shows why there is such confusion:

Stay tuned for some Knock-Knock jokes!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Use For A Fire Extinguisher I'll Bet You Never Thought About

Well, it looks like I ran a Bazooka ad last time out that came out after the one I am posting about today.  Hey, these things happen when you're not paying as close attention to the scintillating story of Bazooka the Atom Bubble Boy as you should.

Take a look at this ad; note how spare the artwork is when compared to that of The Missing Messenger episode:

Plus, we have the "new" nomenclature which seems to me to be something that would come first.  I just love the way a small, portable fire extinguisher clears a path through a raging forest fire! What a surreal, yet innocuous ad.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Akoozab! Akoozab!

When Topps first launched Bazooka Bubble Gum in 1947, it was billed as "The Atom Bubble Gum".  Putting aside the obvious inferences to nuclear annihilation, the idea being promoted was that it had powerful bubble blowing capability.  Along with this, Topps President Joseph Shorin was casting about for a mascot for Bazooka and the art firm of Solomon and Gelman came with Bazooka, the Atom Bubble Boy.

Gelman had caught Shorin's eye when he cleaned up a character used to advertise Popsicles and Bazooka the Atom Bubble Boy certainly takes cues from Popsicle Pete, the revamped mascot in question. Just like the Popsicle spots, Topps ran ads in comic books of the day, primarily in National Periodical Publications.  A while back some eBay auctions featured tear-sheets from these ads and I think this is one of the first ones, probably dating from mid to late 1948:

You can see how Pete uses his "atomic bubble" to float away and save the day! After chanting Bazooka backwards twice he is able to land-crazy!  Sorry about the angle, they all were auctioned using the same projection. While quite puerile by today's standards (and probably by the standards of 1948), this is the wholesome image Topps wanted to project.  Note the Parents Magazine seal of approval as well.

I'll be back with a few more of these here and there; the series ran for almost two years so there are a bunch of examples like this.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Raks Resurgent

1975 saw production of three sportscard Rak Paks.  Baseball, as always, led the parade:

While the card count remained at 42, the price went up a dime compared to 1974, a sharp increase reflecting,no doubt, the effects of the first Energy Crisis. The header card also changed from blue to red, following the lead of the '74 football raks, which sported the same color.  Presumably this was done to male the raks standout a little more on the increasingly crowded counters of America.

The header card also serves as an ad card for Topps Sports Club.

Football raks were, in 1975, quite similar to the baseball:


The Sports Club mailer ad remains as well:


Basketball once again was MIA but hockey returned in rak (and several other forms) in 1975:

The back of the header?  Yup-Sports Club ad:

While the mid 70's raks are bland (and the football and hockey cards blander still), it's useful to know the price points and extras on the headers to help distinguish fakes.  Rak paks are among the most faked items in the hobby and a little knowledge always helps.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Rak 'Em Up

After a four year run utilizing essentially the same header cards for their rak paks in all sports, Topps changed things in 1974.  Partially driven by rising costs and partially driven by a new business model where baseball and other sports cards would no longer be sold series-by-series, a redesign was undertaken as this baseball rak shows:

Ch-ch-changes from 1970-73:
1) Blue header, no more yellow.
2) "New" wording has been retired.
3) "All 660 Cards" wording added (and then some, since this pack contains cards from the bonus "Traded" series.
4) A dozen cards have been excised from the pack.

Even more changes would happen by the time the football raks came out as the header turned red, wording was removed  and the card count fell by another eight compared to baseball:

Basketball seems to have been completely changed over without any Raks being offered.  Instead, Topps started to use the "wax tray" concept, where a number of wax packs would be overwrapped. Such trays will be covered in a future series of posts.

The same fate appears to have struck the hockey cards as well. I'm not sure why these changes occurred but it is entirely possible basketball and hockey were not selling enough units to warrant rak paks.  Also, basketball and hockey weighed in at a mere 264 cards while baseball was 660+ and football was a muscular 528 in number.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Write Stuff

Did you ever wonder as a kid what would happen if you wrote to Topps?  Well Friend o'the Archive Jeff Alcorn did and has the paperwork to prove it!

Imagine it's 1970 and you need a few cards to fill in your missing gray borders. There's no kids with extras to trade, no hobby store down the block, no newstand publication available to a kid like you. Topps, though, would funnel you to Woody Gelman's Card Collector's Company (CCC), where you could find just about any card you needed:

Fairly helpful actually. Now, imagine you have aged a decade and are an inquisitive collector.  You want to know who Topps has pictured as part of their Rookie All Star Team over the years and write to the one guy who would know it since he was the MC for the banquets where this award was handed out each year:

That's a pretty polished brushoff if I say so myself.  It's a pretty neat looking Topps/Bazooka logo too,no?  Woody's son Richard would have been running Card Collector's Company at this point as Woody had passed away in 1978 but it looks like he no longer had an exclusive deal. Alas, the attachment is lost but I'll bet Larry Fritsch Cards was on it by 1980.

From all the accounts I have heard, Topps had virtually no interest in their corporate history for their first fifty years of existence.  That would change in 1989 with the infamous Guernsey's auction.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Who Ya Callin' Bozo?

Around the time Topps introduced its new penny-sized Bazooka bubble gum tabs in 1949, they also started shipping a product known to millions but recognized by very few as one of their items. In October of that year bulk shipment of Bozo ball gum commenced. Sold in packs of 140,170 or 210 initially, by 1950 the line had stabilized at nine flavors (and colors) and was on the verge of national distribution, which was achieved just a couple of months later.  Early trade ads also make obvious a particular point; the gum does not seem to have been licensed from or named after Bozo the Clown:

Bozo was a huge part of Topps early success and shows the importance of their automatic vending division.  They just kept cranking out gumballs in the early days, without any need to really market the product except to the trade.  They also avoided having to pay for fancy packaging as Bozo ball gum was originally sold in those red penny vending machines we all remember from the supermarket or corner store:

Later iterations would be sold at retail.  By 1974 you could buy a gumball for two cents over-the counter.

That little ad is interesting and I blew it up and reoriented it for a better look:

In addition to apple there was orange, cherry, grape and hot (is that a flavor?) There was a larger packaging configuration too and this is the one I recall, from 1975 or so :

That came in a box like this and went for a dime:

This gumball machine hails from Canada:

That Parents Magazine recommendation was also something that applied to Bazooka in a campaign coordinated by Topps around 1949, so that's an early machine. I believe Bozo is still an active brand in Canada but don't think it is owned by Topps anymore.  I suspect they sold the line off around 1998 or so and intend to do some more research to find out. 

A number of scans above were provided courtesy of - go give Jason some love!

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Well I must admit I thought I had exhaustively covered the whole 1975 Bazooka Bubble Blowing Championship here on these digital pages a while back. I cam close but it turns out there is a tiny little bit more to tell.

Friend o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd, while traversing the roadside attractions of Ulster County, New York recently, came across a most curious artifact hanging on the walls of Hickory BBQ in Kingston:

Now I don't know if this was some serendipitous aligning of the stars or just a random event but the bubble gum king finding the king of bubble gum calipers on the walls of a bbq joint in a town best known for being a way station when heading back downstate from Cooperstown is one righteous happening!  I will let Shep relate the story:

"Got to talking to the owner - he had a friend who worked for Topps in the late 80's....used to go to Brooklyn and visit him at work, grab some free swag etc.  On one occasion Topps was moving it's headquarters from Bush Terminal to Manhattan and his buddy told him to grab anything that was in the closet of his office.  So he's piling up unopened boxes of cards (all 80's garbage), and discovers the bubble meter.  The friend at Topps wasn't going to let it go, but the BBQ guy jokingly said he did say anything in the closet."

Unlike the (rare) thick cardboard example owned by our good buddy Shep, this one is made of wood, about 30 inches in length and good quarter-inch thick.  It looks like the logos were painted yesterday, doesn't it?  Here is a close up look at the caliper wheel:

Shep surmises that the cardboard versions were used for the local, elimination challenges held at the various major league facilities while the wooden one was made especially for the grand finale, where Kurt Bevacqua defeated Johnny Oates in an epic battle of bubble blowing proficiency.  I can't see anything wrong with that take.

This reminds me I have not had bbq in a little while.....mmmmmmm!