Thursday, August 30, 2012

Vend Dole

Found another scan of an old vending machine lurking on my hard drive and since I am easing into lazy holiday weekend mode, it was easy pickin's today .

Topps gum tabs would have been lined up in each column of their "automatic merchandising" machines and if they came with cards those would have been visible to some degree through the window. I love the instructions as they would explain how so many of the tiny tab cards got so beat up.

These machines sat on countertops in stores, taverns and restaurants, although I suspect the packs with cards did not grace too many bartops!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bazooka Blunder

Everybody is familiar with the classic red, white and blue Bazooka packaging, at least those of you out there in the zeitgeist that read this blog but did you know Topps originally had a different design for Bazooka?

Topps applied for their first Bazooka trademark in April of 1947 but it was radically different than what ended up on the retail wrappers a couple of months later:

This belies the tale that the gum was named for a nonsensical musical instrument played by Bob Burns. In fact, the brand name Bazooka was originally trademarked in 1937 by a firm called the Brock Candy Company and it was for candy, not gum.  Brock Candy was based in Chattanooga, Tennessee and considering Phil Shorin's familiarity with this city from his army days and Topps' acquisition of another Chattanooga candy company called Bennett-Hubbard in 1943, I don't think Topps actually coined the name.  I cannot trace how it ended up with Topps but suspect Bennett-Hubbard bought Brock before being acquired by Topps.

Why Topps would obscure the true origins of Bazooka can only be guessed at but the logo above fit in well with their business at the time, which relied upon sales to the military for both PX's and field ration kits as part of their marketing plan. It's possible this logo didn't test well or was just used for PX's originally. The classic red, white and blue Bazooka livery follows a Shorin family tradition of using that patriotic color scheme going back to the 1920's but it came first in camoflauge.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Coin Star

Well, the current Legendary auction is providing some good insight into a few older Topps sets.  A while back I dug into the intricacies of the 1949 Play Coins of the World set and an associated product Play Money Pops. It has been "known" for decades that there is a set of 72 "metal" coins, which was offset by 120 plastic coins, which instead prove out to 144.  The 72 metal coins that came with Play Money Pops should probably be categorized as a 1950 issue based on the scan below; I am not sure what to do with the 24 yellow coins that were seemingly added to the 1949 issue that started with 120 coins. Or all the variations....

Here is the scan from Legendary:

It doesn't really matter I guess how they are categorized since hardly anyone collects these babies but it's nice to have the 72 coin piece of the puzzle confirmed. It's a little hard to see above, so I blew up the copy in the lower right corner to make it more legible:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Linky Dink And You

I thought I would do something a little different today and highlight a few sites around the web that take in-depth looks at some classic Topps sets and the people that produced them. I am finishing up my guide to Topps from 1938-56 and starting to slowly extract myself from a years-long immersion in the era.  My next port of call is going to be the mid 60's and what better way than to give some well deserved props to the early Topps artists than by directing you all to some key websites.

The artists sometimes get short shrift as their Topps work is not signed; indeed they were paid very little for their efforts and would have been "advised" by Topps not to talk openly about their work for the firm. Make no mistake though-it was the artwork that made a Topps card, especially the non-sports ones, a Topps card.

I'll not delve into Woody Gelman's output right now as there does not seem to be a dedicated site for him (yet) but he was quite instrumental, of course, in creating the "Topps style" of illustration. There is enough information scattered throughout the blog to get a feel for his influence though.

This site gets into the work of Wesley Morse, the first Bazooka Joe artist and soon to be looked at in a little more depth in a new book (with research being provided by BFF o'the archive Jeff Shepherd) that looks at his Topps work.  Morse had a very interesting early career illustrating Tijuana Bibles and early newspaper strips.

Probably the most intriguing site is one run by the family of Norm Saunders. There are oodles of illustrations there and you can spend hours poking around. Saunders had a long career in the pulps before he did work for Topps.

Wally Wood is another Topps artist who is justly celebrated for his comic book work and is one of the giants of the field. He is perhaps best known for his early MAD comics work.

Another MAD alumni, Jack Davis, was an early artist for Topps.

And no roundup would be complete without invoking Basil Wolverton, the tormented genius.

Jay Lynch made his name in underground comix before doing yeoman's work for Topps starting in the late 60's and is forever associated with Wacky Packages.  His website, sadly, looks pretty bare.

Lynch worked a lot with Art Spiegelman at Topps; Spiegelman is world rwnowned as the Pulitzer Prize creator and illustrator of Maus.

I am just scratching the surface here; there are so many artists that will never be identified and others who I am researching that will have their work discussed in future posts. I'll still be ping-ponging all over the timescape and dissecting the output of the Shorin-Topps era (1938-71 mostly) but want to get a discussion started on the artists since a lot of good information, tips and the like have been generated by the readers of this humble blog over the last four years.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Bubble's Trubbles

BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd sent along a couple of neat scans the other day.  While it's meant for my upcoming guide to the early history and cards of Topps, since that is still a good three months off, I felt a preview of sorts might be fun.

When Bazooka was launched in mid 1947, it was sold only in a five cent roll.  You can get a good look at this roll in a Topps advertising photo of the era:

There are some things worth noting here.  Topps always (and I mean always) gave perceived additional value for money in the early days.  Sometimes it was a mere "6 for 5" deal like we see here (that roll of gum could just as easily only been scored into five pieces) and other times, when the cards started to come out, it was extra play value.  If you look closely at the bottom line of text, you can see the "Don't Talk Chum Chew Topps Gum" line made famous in World War 2 advertisements.

The comic shown is called Bubbles. This was possibly the first strip to be included with Bazooka, although some Fawcett Comics reprints may have been first. You can also see that the right edge of the comic is cut off.  This seems very strange for an ad piece to show this and Shep advises he bought a few different Bubbles comics and they were all badly miscut.

The comics were not printed on the back of the wrappers in the early days; the technology was not quite at that point in 1947-48.  The outer wrapper would have looked like this:

Shep pieced together a couple of Bubbles miscuts to produce an "intact" scan.  Intriguingly, it's the same strip shown in the ad above:

Topps would go through over a dozen different strips before finally hitting comic gold with Bazooka Joe in 1954. Still, the gag in the above strip looks like it could have easily been from a Bazooka Joe strip. There's also a Milprint advertisement along the right side; I want to look into this a little more as Milprint was a Topps vendor that pioneered a lot of their foil packaging and this comic is definitely not made of the shiny stuff.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Christmas in August

There is a nice auction up at Legendary right now that features some late 40's and early 50's Topps corporate materials in one lot.  One of these lots, has an ad sheet for Santa Pops and it helps date the issue as a 1951 release.

Here is the sheet in question:

The back of the box has a "report card" for 1952 so kids (or their parents most likely) could keep track of their good deeds and hygiene habits to plan for Santa's visit in the next year.  This dates Santa Pops to 1951 then. There is also an ad sheet for the closely related Rudolph Pops but dating that is trickier.  I would say that release was from 1950 but it could just as easily have been sold in 1949. Here, you can see for yourself:

Note too that the case size for Rudolph Pops was smaller than the one for Santa Pops, which also points to it being an earlier issue, although that is not necessarily rock solid imperial evidence. With a lack of actual boxes to inspect, such little clues help with dating.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


While careening through my hard drive looking for some completely unrelated bauble, I came across this scan of a 1957 Topps baseball cello pack with their Trading Card Guild graphics prominently displayed and realized I had never shown this particular piece.

Those hours of fun would have required lots of packs! That is one of the best TCG 57 packs I have ever seen by the way but I have no idea where the scan came from.

Elvis Presley was actually the first standard sized (2 1/2" x 3 1/2") set issued and hence the first of that dimension to appear in these gumless packs but baseball was not far behind. Elvis also appeared in TCG vending boxes, as shown here previously. I didn't really plan it this way but today marks the 35th anniversary of The King's death, an event I remember quite well.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Not So Fast, Eddie

Well campers, your humble blogger has returned from The National and a week's r&r refreshed and ready to go.  The National, which will unfortunately not return to Baltimore any time soon, featured a somewhat underwhelming array of test issues and the like this time around, reflecting last decade's trend of choice items going to catalog auction houses. I had previously been alerted to one such item, a purported 1951 Major League All Star card of Eddie Stanky that came from his estate and was chuffed to go see it at the Mile High Card Co. booth.

This is the card in question:

The reverse is bare cardboard:

It's quite clear the perforations do not show on the back, so those little black lines are copied as well. For comparison, here is a vintage Stanky MLAS, one of the rarest Topps card in existence:

Mile High contacted me about two months ago about the top card and advised it was found with Eddie Stanky's personal effects, along with a number of other cards which I will leave for Mile High to advertise as there were some significant pre-war cards found.

I was not able to turn anything up on the Stanky. You can see it is hand cut and upon further inspection it is revealed to be a copy of the original card.  All of this was known before the National and I want to stress no one at Mile High was representing the card as an original.  Mile High was trying to determine if the card was a copy made by Topps.  At the National, I was able to view the card,  although not with the aid of magnification, which would have been helpful as I was told it was found to exhibit a dot pattern and not the moire pattern more properly associated with 1951 printing technology.

However, this does not answer the original question as to whether the card was produced, as a copy, by Topps at a later date.  There are a few more clues out there though, namely at this 1951 Bowman site: that lead me to believe it was not. I may or may not get into why in a later post but just take a close look at the short prints.

You can see a Roberts similar to the Stanky is shown there plus a Konstanty with two colors of print on the reverse.  I don't think those are originals but that part of the site is just a gallery page showing all 11 MLAS cards and doubt the webmaster there was concerned with questions of provenance.

I'd be interested if anyone out there has any more insight on this situation.