Thursday, May 31, 2012

Extremely Focused

A series of posts here a while on the 1948/49 Magic Photos provided a glimpse not only at the cards and packaging of this landmark early Topps set but also the albums that could be ordered to house the cards.  Prior to the introduction of clear sheeting in the mid 1970's, hobby supplies usually consisted of some sort of thick papered album and the use of slitted corners or, less elegantly, postage stamp corners. To house the two, 126 card series of Magic Photos, Topps created two very similar albums.  I'll direct you here for the cover shot and some background materail as I am on about the interior checklist pages today.

The first series checklist, shown in blurry fashion previously, can be seen better in this scan, recently purloined from eBay:

While both album covers are the same, as is this page (the first thing seen when opening the album) in both editions, Topps added a checklist to the back of the album for the second series.  I've included a bit of the back cover, so you can see:

I am not certain what appears on the back page of the first series album-anyone out there in Archives-land have an idea?  I like the ad to sell another album by the way.  Our wee consumer back in '49 was making some very good progress on the set!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


We've covered a few moves and mailing addresses for Topps here over the years but today's entry in the Where Are They Now? category goes back to one of their first.

Topps moved to Bush Terminal in June of 1946 and primarily held two addresses there.  The first was 237-37th Street and then in the mid 1950's that began to be supplanted by 254-36th St, when Topps started to expand after the Bowman acquisition.  These were portions of two large buildings at Bush Terminal that had  a central alleyway running between them.

It turns out that Building No. 1 at the sprawling industrial complex in Sunset Park, Brooklyn belonged to the 237-37th St. location. This is the only alternate look to that address I have ever seen, from a November 1948 ad that also (and quite helpfully, I might add) lists the 29 National (DC) Comics ads for Bazooka would appear in and it highlights the old (Topps "Changemakers" penny gum tabs) and the new (Bazooka).

The idea of a comic book named "Mr. District Attorney" is quite amusing, no?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Playing Footsie

One of the neat things about Woody Gelman is that he was so enmeshed in different facets of popular culture he pops up in a lot of contexts that are not related to Topps.  Tooling around the WWW one day last year I stumbled across this little oddity, published by Price Stern Sloan, the people who gave us Mad Libs:

Yes, it is a bit risqué!  The copyright information reveals it was first published in 1964 while mine is an 11th printing from 1988. That is a pretty impressive run for a book with minimal graphics and text.  The whole book is only 32 pages and the cartoons are exactly what you would expect from the cover art:

I can't really track Sy Goodstadt too well at the moment but Mel Poretz was a lyricist and humor writer of some renown.  I assume Goodstadt also had something to do with the jokes whileWoody provided the graphics.  Here's one more look inside:

Not exactly highbrow stuff but a funny gag gift from that rack in the back of the variety store (you know the one).....

What's more, there were at least three sequels so they must have been doing something right!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bill Haber, A Tribute

Further to my latest post on the 1970 Topps Teamates set, which included a brief overview of Bill Haber's work at Topps and hobby-related activities,  Keith Olbermann a friend, protege and mentee of Bill's, sent along a nice tribute and better picture (from a mid 1973 issue of Sports Scoop, an old hobby 'zine), which I present here without further comment other than he sounds like he was a really great guy.

He really was more than just a dealer and a Topps employee. He was one of the giants of the early hobby and an indefatigable researcher. When he died he left a virtually complete set of E107 Breisch-Williams (the only prominent set issued between 1895 and 1910) and a full set of T210 Old Mill, plus hundreds of other rare sets. He was an expert on Seattle Popcorn, and the identities of many obscure players are known because he would travel to check local newspapers and death and birth records for SABR.

At Topps, he did more than just write the cards. I've been through the photo archive they're gradually selling via eBay - at least a million negatives - and to the degree it was organized, with the negatives sorted by player and year and which photo shoot that year - that was all done by Bill. If he didn't choose the photos too, he consulted on it and was responsible for keeping them available.

This was one of the titans in the hobby and a good friend and role model to those of us just getting started.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chicken or Egg, Space Cards or Target Moon?

Once of the more enduring, albeit least contentious debates in the hobby, has been over the issue dates of two blue backed sets, Space Cards and Target: Moon, the latter of which was also reissued in slightly altered format in 1967 with salmon backs and a whole lot of skip numbering. You will recall these are alleged to be identical sets when referring to the blue backed Target: Moon cards, with just the name of said set altered on the reverse, but it ain't so.

Here is an obverse of card #34 in all three sets, Moon Explorers:

The Space Cards reverse looks like this:

Meanwhile, Target: Moon #34 had a back that, in addition to the set name change, also had a title change but only on the reverse, the only card I can find like this across all three sets, excepting some contractions of longer titles:

In case you were wondering, Space Cards #33 refers to Card #34 as Lunar Expedition, so that was clearly what Topps wanted to call it.  But the front on Target: Moon is still entitled Moon Explorers! It's the same with the salmon back cards reissued in 1967 although card #33 was not released in that configuration and we can't see what it was calling card #34 in the preview line.  Here it is:

The front still says Moon Explorers, which is now in error twice, over a span of several years.

I promised a couple of posts ago to show why Target Moon came out after Space Cards, which was the actual point of this post, so take a look at this Space Cards wrapper:

It looks a little weird because there is another wrapper under it but ignore that.  Instead, compare it to this Target: Moon wrapper proof (which is the same as the issued version except for the printer's lines):

Notice anything different besides the set name?  The Bazooka ad has changed slightly and it gives us a huge clue as to which came first.  Here is a closeup of the Bazooka piece in the ad:

I really fuzzed it up when expanding but you can see the upper left corner reads "The Atom", reflecting Topps' Atom Bubble Gum ad campaign of eleven years duration.  Now look at the Bazooka piece from the Target: Moon wrapper:

It says Topps.  "The Atom" was dropped in mid 1958 and replaced by "Topps", probably due to the very real threat of nuclear war with Russia at the time.  We know Space Cards came out in 1957 and now we know Target: Moon came out after the middle of 1958.  Target: Moon by the way, is card # 7 in all three sets. My guess as to the issue date of the Target: Moon the set is about 1962 but that is a story for another day (since it's in an article I have in a recent issue of The Wrapper).

The salmon backed Target: Moon cards were not sold with gum by the way and that too is a story for another day!

Friday, May 11, 2012

SABR Haber

Following up on the Topps Teamates near set auction discussed here back on April 26th, Rob Lifson, president of REA has advised regarding the missing, 18th (and last) card in the set:

"I can’t be 100% sure but it may be the Sports Department! I say this because I think the missing card may be the one with Bill Haber (and others). Bill wrote the backs of the cards and I think was officially in the “sports department”. He was definitely in the set, and though I am not looking at the lot or the writeup as I type, I think that card is missing. I owned this set (minus one) ages ago and I probably got it from Bill Haber. Maybe either he kept that one card or I put it aside and misplaced it – I can’t remember – but he was on it!" 

My theory that it was the Sales Department that was missing looks to be incorrect.  REA has kindly furnished back scans and I will add them to the prior post (which has a visual checklist) soon, so check over there if you want to see the backs.

Bill Haber was a Topps employee for quite some time and wrote a lot of what appeared on the backs of baseball cards. He was responsible for bringing many Topps test and proof issues into the market as he was an early dealer; he spun some tall tales about the origins of these sets i certain cases, thereby obfuscating the real story but giving us raison d'etre here at the ol' Topps Archives. Here is a picture of Bill I found at the Baseball Revisited blog showing him as one of the founding members of SABR in 1971:

Sadly, Bill Haber passed away in 1995 at age 53 from as asthma attack.  A tribute can be found here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Carte Dello Spazio

That's Italian for Space Cards kids! Either just before or just after the launch of Sputnik 1, Topps released a series of 88 extremely well done science fiction illustrations in the U.S.  A related set Target: Moon, featuring cards identical in every way except for the title of the set on the back, was released a little later (a wee bit more on that next time) but in 1959 A&BC struck a licensing deal with Topps and select sets started to be sold in England under the A&BC banner.

One such set was Space Cards, probably in the first wave of releases that year (not 1958 like most references show, the deal was done in '59). The cards were the same size as the U.S. cards and sold in this wrapper (all scans taken from the U.S. and U.K. versions of eBay):

The English cards were identical on the front to the U.S. version:

The backs were close but has A&BC's logo and a line about the country of origin:

A recent eBay auction had a couple of dozen or so A&BC Space Cards but with Italian reverses:

You can see the font is different than on the English card and the set name has vanished, possibly due to concerns it would not fit. A&BC would often print sets in various languages for sale in countries on the Continent and this must be one of the first ones they produced.

Until next time Ciao!!

Friday, May 4, 2012

55 Or Fight

I was doing a little research on the Topps Hocus Focus cards this week and think I have finally managed to figure out their year of issue.  Almost every hobby reference or article I have ever seen refers to the smaller of the two sizes issued as a 1955 and the larger (smaller and larger being relative terms) as a 1956.  Based upon the player selection in the Baseball Stars subsets (23 cards in the small version, 18 in the large) it is obvious both came out in 1955.

Each Baseball Stars subset includes at least one player form each major league time at the time.  In addition, two players printed in both sizes had team changes and these really help to pinpoint the year.  Ed Lopat started the year pitching for the New York Yankees but was traded to Baltimore on July 30, 1955.  He would end his career for the Orioles, who released him on October 10th.  He is shown in both sets as a Yankee:

Boston and Kansas City were the only two teams with two players in the "large" set, so Lopat was the only Bronx Bomber present.  He dates the set at 1955, as does the inclusion of Johnny Schmitz:

Johnny is clearly a Senator in the "small" set but Washington traded him to Boston after the 1955 season. In addition, he indeed led the Senators staff with a 2.91 ERA in 1954. Based on Lopat and Schmitz, I am dating both Hocus Focus sets as 1955 issues.

The other thing I am learning is that the first 96 cards in each set are identical, except for size and subset numbering.  All 96 seem to share the same photo, text and card number, although not all small cards are confirmed yet.