Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy Birthday!


I would be remiss if I didn't mark the 75th anniversary of Topps, which actually occurred about two or three weeks ago.  Topps has celebrated the occasion with a 100 card base set called, simply enough, Topps 75th. I recently purchased two boxes and am pleased to report it's a pretty nice little set.

The packaging is a bit dark, which matches the Topps PR on this set, which seems pretty low key all things considered:

This being a modern set, there are a number of chase cards and inserts, in addition to base parallel's (1 per pack, in a nice rainbow foil):

The Duryea address is interesting as I have not kept up with the indicia of the 21st century. There are 24 cards per box and 8 cards per pack so you get 192 cards in each box.  The card fronts are familiar of course but a 75th anniversary logo (which I quite like) has been added:

Three Batman sets are represented by the way: Black Bat, Bat Laffs and Batman (The Movie). There are no sports cards involved, in case you were wondering, as licensing issues made that impossibleThe backs are roughly themed by decade:1940's/50's; 1960's, 1970's and 1980's/90's (the latest card is from 1995).

The red makes things a bit muddy on many cards unfortunately.  However, with the bad comes good. For a couple of sets where there was a front/back feature, Topps included a small representation of the reverse:

These appear to be hobby only boxes and I'm not sure if anything is planned for the general public. The card stock is quite sturdy, so kudos to Topps. Topps guarantees three autograph and one buyback (original) card per box and both boxes broke down this way. In addition, each box yielded a complete base set of 100 with no more than one duplicate of any card and I had no duplicates among my 48 base parallel cards.  This base parallel is quite shiny but my scanner gives only a hint:

Topps did a real nice job representing their original penny tab card with the block of 10 X-Ray Roundup cards; Magic Photo also got this treatment. The backs of the foil parallels are much, much brighter:

My autographed card pulls yielded five regular Autograph cards and a Rainbow foil parallel (of Richard Kiel):

Topps used a relevant card for each autograph it appears as the Lost In Space and Moonraker cards in the base set are different, so brah-vo! At least one autograph subject appears with a card/subject (X-Men), not in the base or insert sets; there could be more but checklists are hard to find for some of the subsets. 

Two insert subsets really make this a 116 card set to my mind.  The easier of the two consists of eight mini cards, representing smaller sized issues of the early 1950's.  These are actually smaller than the base cards at 2 1/16" x 2 15/16", or the size of Look 'N See and Scoop.  I have to say these are really neat:

The font is a bit off, a problem Topps has these days due to the original graphic elements being long gone (they were actually pasted to the artwork back in the day).  Here is a (different) back of a mini:

The mini checklist is not being widely publicized:

1. Freedom;s War
2. Hopalong Cassidy
3. Bring 'Em Back Alive
4. Animals of the World
5. Look 'N See
6. Fighting Marines
7. Scoops (sic)
8. Jets

I got six of the eight over two boxes, with two dupes.  I am not sure if the mini or test (below) inserts also have parallels. Then there are the test inserts, which are one per box:

Once again, the checklist is hard to find:

1. Superman in the Jungle
2. Flipper
3. King Kong
4. Crazy TV
5. Emergency/Adam-12 (they used an Adam-12 card)
6. Six Million Dollar Man
7. The Waltons
8. Shock Theater

I;m not sure if a full case would result in eight of those but I got two different across my two boxes.

My original buybacks were pretty ho-hum.  I got one per box plus a second one in box two that is a little different, Here is a normal one, where they added a gold anniversary stamped logo:

My "oddity" though has no stamp, not sure if they missed it or there is some unannounced parallel/insert thing going on:

I also nailed a Diamond Sparkle (called Anniversary in some promotional material) card of Ben Casey:

That is numbered 64/75 if you are keeping score at home.

There some other goodies; I BIN'ed a Printing Plate card plus a Modern Glossy.  There is also a Topps Vault/eBay exclusive: 1 of 1 blank back for each card.  However, there seems to be no representation of any tatoo issues or any actual stickers included as inserts or in the base set proper. Given the importance of tatoos to Topps bottom line, the former seems a bit odd.

I'm still reviewing all the card writeups on the backs but there could be a couple of changes to my database, although I do see one date that is wrong.  The set is also not 100% chronological, some cards issued before others come after them in the numbering, although they are "in the neighborhood"as they say.

So happy birthday Topps and a Happy New Year to All!  See you in 2014!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tremendous Topps Tatoo Trio

Fantastical News Fellow Archivists!  Thanks to a recent eBay auction, we now have a date for the Bubbles Inc. Davy Crockett Tatoo set.  Don't forget,Topps used the Bubbles Inc, nom de gomme on occasion. In these circumstances, I suspect it was due to the fact they were pumping out a quickie, public domain type tatoo issue to capitalize on the Crockett crze while at the same time issuing officially licensed cards under the Topps name.

An empty retail box of this issue is a rare bird and even rarer still are any known sightings of same.

It's a little rough but still quite presentable. As nice as it is, the good stuff is underneath:

Yes, it's a 1955 issue and not a '56, as previously believed.  I did think, due to the Summer of '55 explosion of Crockett-mania, that such a dating was possible when I compiled the Modern Hobby Guide and had it as circa 1956 but now it's officially dated.

That's not all on the early Topps tatoo front though.  The retail boxes for the 1949 Flags of All Nations/Soldiers of the World and its younger but but bigger reissue, 1950's Flags of the World Parade can now be classified by year thanks to a Memory Lane auction.  Here, take a gander:

It's a Canadian version as the stamp indicates but no matter (a lot of nice empty boxes and even old packs come from Canada; I suspect a trove was found at an old O-Pee-Chee warehouse years ago and is being rationed out to collectors via various auction houses). Now let's look at the bottoms:

Not much on the square one but the elongated version has a 1950 copyright and must have held the bigger 1950 reissue.  The square box for 1949 makes a lot of sense as the cards came with penny gum tabs, which Topps sold in round tubs, which obviously would fit in such a configuration. I would love to see if the tub is branded and not generic; it must be different than the  tubs used to sell Topps gum as that original brand was quite prominently shown for point of sale. 

Another configuration exists, although its not from this auction:

This held the panelized version's five cent packs in 1950 but there is a twist:

That looks a lot like the box bottom up above but it has a 1949 copyright!  The only thing I can think of is that Topps issued the panelized nickel version just after they pulled the penny tab version, which could explain the very basic graphics and lack of color on the cover.  Then the penny pack shown above was issued. That is my current theory at least; think about it while you ponder the all important front and back views:

Quire colorful, eh?  The back view on the 1950 box tries to sell some Bazooka as Topps abandoned their traditional gum tab market:

From what I have seen, when they first issued the five cent multi-panel packs, of which either this or License Plates was the first iteration, Topps did not do as well on them as compared to the penny versions.  This situation would change very rapidly as Topps had a much better margin on five cent product and changed the ir methods of distribution and advertising once they transitioned from the penny tabs but for a period of time as 1949 turned into 1950 and even into early 1951, they were still grappling with reconfiguring their bread and butter one cent products into bigger and more expensive packs.  Topps essentially halted production of all penny tabs, except for (non-insert card) Bazooka right about then end of 1949 and then went through a two year period of issuing larger and larger cards as they kept trying to outsell Bowman. I'm not sure that explains the above box but it's possible to my mind.

Thankfully Topps started dating a lot of their retail boxes starting in early 1950.  It's hard sometimes to cipher what they were doing but this type of dating makes it a little bit easier.

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Loafing Around

Well campers, I have finally added an old piece, long sought, to the permanent collection here at the Main Topps Archives Research Complex.  Those of you whose memories are less permeable than mine will certainly recall a post last year discussing a stamp version of 1949 Topps X-Ray Roundup cards.  Aunt Hannah's was a subsidiary of Baur's Bread that had a history of premium offers in what must have been an ultra-competitive marketplace for enriched white bread after World War 2. Time frame-wise, they issued the stamp premiums replicating the Topps card set of 200 subjects around 1950 I would estimate.

The stamps are found pretty easily but the album pages they were to be affixed to are a more difficult quarry. I had previously assumed these pages were made of paper but they are actually thin cardboard, about the same thickness as a 1980's Topps card.  This one has the stamps affixed and you can see they were designed to display 25 at a time:

Some of the stamps are still connected to each other; sheets are known with all 25 stamps still "unburst".  I have seen the 25 stamp quadrants (they came from either a 100 or 200 stamp sheet) but don't have one of my own to show.  They look really cool as one piece though and I want to picture one so here is an example that (I think) came from Todd Riley:

Looks like a bite was taken out of the bottom to allow a full sheet of 25 to be held in place without sticking them.  Here is the back of the page and you can see where the little half moon could be pushed out at the bottom (under "Loaf"):

With all due respect to Aunt Hannah, "meh".  I want to focus though, on a small feature, namely two punchholes, best seen on the front in the detail:

You can see two little unpunched holes t left of rows 1 and 4, which clearly relate to an album.  I have not, as of today, been able to spy an album anywhere but intend to keep looking.  Robert Edward Auctions had a sheet of 100 stamps up for bid not too long ago:

REA also had a proof block of ten, possibly cards and not stamps but still a neat item:

Aunt Hannah certainly had a nice "in" with Topps, didn't they?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Contractual Obligations

1953 Topps Baseball original paintings continue to turn up.  The latest example is an unissued portrait of Jim Suchecki in a White Sox uniform rediscovered by Friend o'the Archive Phil Erwin:

Suchecki was a fringe player who never posted a MLB win in parts of three seasons in the bigs.  He never actually pitched for the Pale Hose but they did claim him off waivers from the Pirates in May of 1952.  He was just the type of player Bowman would ignore and Topps would sign.  The above cards shows evidence of staining from glue, which seems to indicate it was actually turned into artwork for production.  This is intriguing and a nice jumping off point for some contract law analysis.

Now my understanding of how the Topps contracts worked at this time is that a player had to survive the spring training cutdown and be on the major league roster for 31 consecutive days at the commencement of the regular season in order to be paid in full.  This is one reason why the first series of cards issued in any given year had well-known players and virtually no first year subjects, since they were produced before the season started. There were a couple of exceptions to this, especially involving Yankees players (Topps had a different deal with the team and its players in the mid 50's) but a guy like Suchecki would not have been eligible in 1953 for payment if he didn't begin the year with a big league team.  Interestingly, a player who started the season in the minors but came up and was active for game 2 or later of the season and who met the 31 day rule could have a card in the set but not be compensated.

I can't turn up a key bit of information though-which is that a player had to actually be on an active major league roster to have a card.  It seems like this should have been in the terms but I am relying upon an FTC document that describes certain portions of the contracts but does not indicate their full wording. 

I also cannot determine if the special terms with the Yankees were still in effect in the 60's and 70's. In 1956 for example, players who did not meet the eligibility requirements under the standard contract but who were Yankees would still be compensated if they made it to a card. I think this is why certain players like Hank Aaron, who you would think should have had a 1977 card like Mickey Mantle did in 1969 showing his full career stats, never got the "career tribute" card-they simply retired too early!  Mantle retired during Spring Training in 1969 and there was an expectation he would play until he made his announcement on March 1st. Did you know Mickey Mantle was exposed to the 1968 AL expansion draft by the Yankees (relevant article linked here)?!

Bowman had similar contractual wording, although like Topps their compensation scheme varied a bit from year to year.  The whole system was rigged to the advantage of the card companies, much like the reserve clause at the time was rigged to the benefit of the MLB teams.  I don't plan to get into the ins and outs of Topps contractual language as it's as dry as a well-done steak but certain aspects of card production directly relate to such wording.  Things were different with the NFL as the contracts were initially with the league and not the players; a situation which later reversed and resulted in numerous Topps sets not showing proper NFL team logos and uniforms.

And what of our protagonist today? Poor Jim Suchecki never made it onto a nationally issued baseball card. He came about as close as you could though, without actually being included in a set.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Say U.N.C.L.E.

As revealed in our November 6th episode, in 1965 Topps briefly flirted with a magazine series for kids under the rubric of Topps Fan Magazines. The first of these featured Soupy Sales and if you click back on the link in the first sentence and scroll a bit you will see a copy of his issue, which is #1 in the run.  I wasn't able to secure a mag of ol' Soup but I did purchase a copy of the second (and last) issue featuring that hit TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

U.N.C.L.E. was a kludgy acronym for United Nations Command for Law and Enforcement in case you were wondering and the show premiered in the fall of 1964 in the explosive wake of the James Bond action thrillers. The first inside page is where all the action is as far as I'm concerned though:

The content is clearly written for boys about 10-12 years old, which is no surprise.  But take a look at that indicia:

Len Brown was Woody Gelman's Creative Editor at Topps in the 1960's and his name on this thing is no surprise but Robert Shorin and Barbara Gelman also appeared as the writers for the Soupy Sales Wonder Book also discussed here in the November 6th post (same click back as before in the first sentence above. The Wonder Book was put out by Grosset & Dunlap whereas this this magazine clearly has Topps provenance, although the "Topps C.G." moniker is clever at hiding their true name.

It would seem Topps and/or possibly Solomon & Gelman's art agency put together the Wonder Book for Grosset and Dunlap as we have previously disclosed Robert Shorin was the son of Topps co-founder Abram Shorin and Barbara Gelman was Woody Gelman's daughter. Woody appears of course, as does Topps Art director Ben Solomon.

The interior of the magazine has at least one shot that also appeared on a card (and likely more but I do not have a set handy to examine in detail):

That's a match to card # 7 in the 55 card series:

Len Brown revealed in an interview some years back that the Topps Fan Magazines made a profit but not enough of one to warrant continuation of the series.  The two extant issues are a true curiosity in the world of Topps in the mid-60's.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Tatoo Times Two

One of the tougher Topps issues to track down are the circa 1956 Davy Crockett Tatoos.  The first of the themed, penny tatoo issues from Topps (whose previous releases were under the generic rubric of Tatoo), Davy is thought to include at least 16 and possibly even 24 subjects but there does not seem to be a complete checklist available anywhere that I can see. That's because these little buggers are tough to find and then some.  Well, thanks to Friend o'the Archive Marty Krim, I have finally procured an example of this primeval issue:

This was a Bubbles, Inc issue, likely because it was not a licensed Davy Crockett product and Topps had previously produced two Crockett card sets with images licensed from Disney.  That revolver is said to be an anachronism, first manufactured after Davy's death either at at the hands of Santa Ana or inside The Alamo.  I like the interior tatoo image on this one: 

Prior to my purchasing this example, I had never seen another one except in a Sport-American Guide. The typical Topps production rip at the top is present and this manufacturing artifact has been discussed at length previously. The size is the same as the 1953 Topps Tatoo issue at 9/16" x 3 1/2".    

Marty's store of arcane tatoo issues also yielded another prize, namely this O-Pee-Chee Gipsy Bubble Gum exemplar, which is likely a salesman's sample (retail versions have the same production rip exhibited on Topps tattoos):

Bobby Burrell, who is my go-to-guy on all things O-Pee-Chee, seems to agree with my dating of this as late 1930's but I may have to contradict myself now that I have measurements.  At 1 7/16" x 2 13/16" the Gipsy is smaller than a 1953 Topps Tatoo but larger than the 1949 issue of same. This is relevant because all of the Gipsy images I have seen replicate those from the Tatoo issues. This ballplayer is known in Tatoo:

Since Topps did not establish itself in Canada until 1947, if Gipsy came first then it could mean O-Pee-Chee provided Topps with the images for their first novelty set.  As O-Pee-Chee was a far more established company, this makes some sense.  The 1948-49 Topps Magic Photo issue also used images from a photographic art agency or two and were not original creations.

Canadian sets, amazingly, are not fully catalogued and there was a lot of great stuff issued up North well into the 1970's that nobody down here below the border really knows about. The Tatoo/Gipsy connection is intriguing and I hope to ferret out more about it.