Saturday, December 26, 2015

In Focus

Long time collector and Friend o'the Archive Larry Serota provided a bit of an early Christmas present recently, although as this posts we are one day past the holiday.  Larry was auctioning a lot of the small Topps Hocus Focus cards and was kind enough to fill in a few blanks in the checklist.

To recap, Hocus Focus was issued in two sizes, one measuring 7/8" x 1 7/16" (referred to as small) and one that was 1" x 1 9/16" (known as large), in 1955. While many old hobby guides have commingled the two checklists over the years, they share 96 subjects, with the small set adding an additional 30 that are not found in the large; numbers 1-96 are shown on the reverses of both sizes in a black circle and this numbering is the same in either size.

What can differ is the subset numbering as Topps created eight subsets for the issue: Airplanes, Baseball Stars, Movie Stars, Sports Cars, Sports Thrills, Westerners, World Leaders, and World Wonders. Only the Movie Stars, Sports Cars and World Leaders have the same subset count in both sizes. Topps increased the Airplanes, Baseball Stars, Sports Thrills and World Wonders subsets by five and added ten to the World Leaders to wedge the additional 30 card "high numbers" into the small set.

These "highs" were certainly issued at the same time as the "lows", given the likely 126 count array of the uncut sheet (18 x 7, matching Magic Photo of 1948-49 vintage). The subsets were not sequentially numbered, which was an early marketing trick employed by Topps before set checklists were issued in the packs. Small cards only came inserted in penny gum tabs while the large cards were lightly perforated (with dashes on the reverse as well) and sold in strips (I believe) of four plus three (or possibly two sometimes) cards in nickel packs, six cards per pack. Large cards should show signs of perforation/dashes on one or two of the long sides, which is a handy way to tell what size is being offered in auction and sale lots that have no other indication.

Larry recently offered 18 of these on eBay and was able to confirm the identities of 7 additional smalls above #96:

102 Paracutin
104 Vought Regulus
106 Douglas Nike
107 Basketball
115 Alexander Graham Bell
116 Kid Gavilan
123 Jefferson Davis

It's a bit odd Davis was considered a World Leader!  Here is a picture of the lot:

Despite Larry's checklist contributions, a number of subjects between 97 and 126 remain unknown. Still missing are a subject for #110 (its existence is known from an old auction) and anything at all about numbers 97, 98, 100, 101, 108, 109, 111, 117, 119, 120, 122, 124 & 125. I can't think of too many Topps sets with holes in their checklists at this point and certainly none that are cards (Topps issued a few sets of things in the 60's and 70's that were more toys than cards and some are not fully documented).

Also missing is #17 of the 20 Sports Thrills subset from the small high numbers. Here is #116, which is clearly #19 of that 20 card subset, the newly "discovered" card of Kid Gavilan, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Adam Warshaw:

If you collect boxing cards, you should check out Adam's site and related book, America's Great Boxing Cards.

In terms of dating, LarrySerota also noted Ted Kluszewski's card mentions his 49 Home Runs from the year prior, which was 1954.  Coupled with some other text and photographic details, plus the small wrapper copyright date, Hocus Focus is clearly a 1955 issue.  Many guides refer to the smalls as being issued in 1955 and the large cards in 1956 but as the reverse text does not differ between sizes among the first 96, this is clearly not so. I still think Hocus Focus was a bit of a somewhat large and loosely-controlled test issue by Topps given the size and price differences, not to mention the retro packaging and design.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Ol' Stinkeye

I was toying around with ideas for a Christmas themed post but could not findy any material I had not shared before. Instead, I decided to go "oppo".

The 1968 Topps Ugly Hang-Ups set has been discussed here once before, about three and a half years ago. I don't have a lot of new information but did track down two additional pieces of original Basil Wolverton art from an old Heritage auction. The first was designed to be poster #9; note the lettered suffix after the number, in this case "C". The suffixes seem to follow the numbering, I'm guessing in in groups of three.

Next up is 11D. It's a pretty intricate drawing but not even close to Wolverton's top work for this set that was tested but never issued at full retail. I dub thee Stinkeye:

Maybe that was to be called something like "Spaghettihead"?  I have no idea about 16F:

I mean, what on earth would you call that?!

Heritage also had an original Wolverton attributed to Batty Book Covers, also from 1968 but a product that actually made it to store shelves.  #5 in that set is listed in a checklist appearing on the wrapper as Wacky Packages but it's actually a Topps product montage.  

Here's another:

Still, there is another Wolverton original described in an auction listing as "Luntz Armstrong" in Batty Book Covers, amazingly also destined to be #5:

I'm wasn't sure where there two potential #5's, but this subject ended up as one of of the "Classroom Creeps" (there were 3) covers in the set, so one cover could have two numbers on the original art I guess. The name though, is nowhere to be seen:

That takes care of the drawing below as well!

The above and below drawings do not seem to match up with any Batty Book Cover Titles except possibly a series of three "Classroom Creeps" in the series.  It's hard to tell as issued examples are few and far between.

If you are interested, most Wolverton line art such as the above examples, routinely sells for about five grand! So as always, a bit more sleuthing is in order.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Nixon's The One (Of Six)

More original 1953 Topps Baseball artwork has surfaced!

Goldin Auctions recently listed (and sold) six previously unknown issued paintings of primarily first series subjects but a high number was mixed in there as well.

The most interesting piece, least from a purely whimsical standpoint, was Minnie Minoso:

You can clearly see some of the glue remnants that mar so many of these paintings.  I'm curious as to why it's there though as Sports Collectors Daily recently ran a piece by David Cycleback that indicated the artwork was photographed and then a plastic negative was made before printing. A laborious process to be sure but not necessarily one requiring glue.

Here is a portrait of Hall Jeffcoat, deftly executed:

You want more characters?! Look no further than Bobo Newsom:

The three other paintings offered were of Danny O'Connell, Johnny Lindell and Willard Nixon and the latter suffered from a bit of paint loss. See:

We've previously looked at both issued and unissued artwork, most recently here.  Using the known subjects to date, we've obviously added six more. The previous math has changed somewhat as noted 1953 archivist and original painting collector Bruce McCanna has recorded sales of 153 different issued subjects (and that's possibly 156 as three were once noted as "seen" by the noted collector Bill Bossert). So about 56% (and possibly more) of the artwork has been found to date, plus at least nine unissued subjects.

It's doubtful we'll see any more big caches offered like the 117 Sy Berger unleashed on the world in 2010 through REA, although I suspect that mini stashes like the Goldin hoard still exist and likely are being introduced into the hobby when former Topps executives pass away.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

(Football) Game, Set, Match

As luck would have it, a nice series of scans of a full set of 1971 Bazooka Football has found its way to the Main Topps Archives Research Complex, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive David Halpen.  So what better way to present a visual checklist than to show these babies in box form.

You can see a couple of the boxes don't exhibit the ubiquitous cello tape used to "seal" them.

This was Bazooka's second, and last, foray into football cards on the back of their party boxes.  The first was quite different of course, being the "big boys" in '59 (that I have yet to blog about).  Topps did not have an actual NFL license at the time, so no logos, helmets or uniforms that could show any trademarks were allowed.

The end of the Bazooka back panel sets in 1971 was unfortunate.  It looks like Topps (and O-Pee-Chee, there was a '71 Hockey set as well) were reacting to inroads being made by Fleer (and a few lesser lights) on the sports side before Topps decided to issue an IPO in 1972 and eliminate a lot of superfluous costs before the offering went public.  Too bad, since I've always thought the box back sets were quite nice.

Go check out David's site, he has scans of TONS of neat stuff!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Lighten Up Francis

Still more mockup mayhem kids, courtesy of Friends o'the Archive Keith Olbermann and Net54 board member savedfrommyspokes. It's one baseball, one hockey and one football mockup this time, with extra points for excellent designs on all.

This 1979 baseball mockup, courtesy of the aforementioned savedfrommyspokes, is clearly close to a final design for the 1979 set.  I quite like it:

1979 has always been my favorite design from the "blah" era (1976-80) and that design is even better than the issued one IMO.

Hall of Famer Glenn Hall. "Mr. Goalie" adorns this particular Topps creation, courtesy of Mr. O, as is the final creation below as well:

What's not clear is what this design was being developed for.  Looking at his St. Louis Blues years (1967-68 to 1970-71) and the Topps and O-Pee-Chee cards from that time frame, he was a bit grayer the last two years, so I am thinking this shot is from his first or second season in St. Loo. A quick check of the away unis during that time shows he is possibly is wearing a hybrid but I think it's actually a playoff uni from that year.  The number on the sleeves for the Blues white tunics was a 1967-68 feature only but the fat blue stripe being sandwiched by thin gold on the sleeve may be from their playoff run that year as a much simpler design was replaced for the postseason. 

If that's not a design mockup for any of the sets issued by Topps or O-Pee-Chee during 1968-70 (which were very blah compared to the above design) then it may have been for an insert or "special" card. The 1968 O-Pee-Chee set had a second series that Topps did not and within it were some specials. Here is Hall's; I love how his first name is misspelled:

Another possibility is the Push Out insert from the same year, only issued with O-Pee-Chee cards:

Or it could be for something else entirely. I have to say the action shot on the mockup is much more appealing that the dour, five-o'clock-shadow tinged portraits on the above two cards.

We have another very nice looking mockup, or maybe even prototype with the next subject, Francis Asbury Tarkenton:

No clue what that mockup is supposed to represent, maybe a special set for a third party given the prominent NFL logo.  All I can say is that is one nice looking card and the border looks like it almost could have been designed with some type of sparkle in mind. Not sure of the year as their uniforms were pretty similar for the years (1968-71) Fran scrambled for Big Blue.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Turning Over An Old Leaf

Well it was bound to happen, a piece of American Leaf Tobacco Company history has finally landed in my lap. Now it's not one of my holy grail items, which would be a matchbook (an obvious choice for a tobacco importer and cigar packer) or stationery from the Brooklyn based HQ of ALTC but it's pretty sweet just the same. The item in question is a 1909 ALTC stock certificate issued for their Quincy, Florida operation.

I found my first reference for the owner of these particular shares, one Mr. Julian Mitchell, in the December 21, 1912 issue of Forest & Stream magazine which details the sale of his yacht to the U.S. Life Saving Service in Galveston. He is described as being from New York and little more sleuthing revealed he was a Broadway Producer and Director. His firm was eventually named Hamlin, Mitchell & Fields. Fields was Lew Fields, a very famous actor and comedian at the time who went into producing.  So Mr, Mitchell definitely had the means to purchase 50 shares of ALTC stock at $100 a throw!

The stock subscription was intended to raise $420,000 in capital, a huge sum of money at the time. That works out, of course, to 4,200 shares outstanding.  I'm still working on identifying the secretary and president of the Quincy concern as the signatures are a bit difficult to make out although the Secretary's surname looks like Shaw. I am still connecting the dots to Morris Chigorinsky (later Shorin) but prior research I have done links the Florida operation to Morris's Brooklyn HQ. I imagine since the stock was issued in accordance with the State of Florida's laws, the officers had to be Florida residents.

A look at the embossed seal gives us an ALTC incorporation date of 1908, which matches that of the New York Branch of the firm.

1908 being,  of course, the founding date of the company, as per this February 29, 1968 piece from the United States Tobacco Journal:

The back is a model of brevity. I think the transaction date is February 12, 1909 but it's a little hard to make out the month:

ALTC items are essentially non-existent so I am happy to have found this.  Hopefully more pieces from the firm will pop up but for now this will have to do.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Purchase History

I stumbled across a very interesting scan while tooling around the ol' WWW recently, namely a Topps Purchase Order from 1975 issued to Zabel Brothers that I found over at There is a lot of good information on this single document:

Quite clearly these are for the Rotsa Root checklist/puzzle cards that came with series 14 Wacky Packages. The commodity number (a.k.a. Production Code) matches that for these puzzle cards and shows just how important that was in the production and tracking of the different components of each issue from Topps. You get to see the rough number of cards that would be produced on the standard 264 card full sheets (15 Million), the number of full sheets required to meet this goal (57,000) and the specifications for the inks and varnish.  There would some orphaned pieces as each puzzle took nine cards to complete.

The films (artwork) were provided by Topps and, surprisingly to me at least, the stock came from them as well. FOB Shipping point means that the sale was consummated when the sheets left the Zabel Brothers shipping dock. Topps would assume the risk while in transit should any damage occur during the short trip from Philly to Duryea. Topps was still processing all of their finances in Brooklyn though. And there was a three week turnaround!

So of course I had to dig further and lo and behold, this Purchase Order, for the Wonder Bread Wacky Package insert stickers popped up from the great Lost Wackys site:

It's a slightly earlier order and the form is a little different. No commodity number was used because the order was destined for a Continental Baking packaging facility.  The layout is way different to boot, a "160 up" sticker sheet was used.  This array was 16 x 10, which we know thanks (again) to Lost Wackys. That site also states this was a unique sheet size and that the sticker stock was already on hand.  The stickers were cut into panels of two so the usual Topps 11 x 12 Topps array would have been problematic.  The packaging instructions were also very specific.

This order was to be completed in six weeks. Perhaps the annual Baseball card production would slow things down at this juncture, who knows? I also get 760,000 (160 x 9,500 / 2) as the panel count so I'm not sure why there is a discrepancy.  And at $1.76 a throw (per thousand) for cutting and packing (normally done by Topps) Zabel Brothers charged $1,100. I only wish the actual pricing for the sticker printing was shown.

These are just pieces of a larger puzzle.  There could be additional orders as sales were tabulated, for one, but the Rotsa Root card order gives a rough idea as to how many cards or stickers a typical Topps run would comprise.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wrapping Is A Many Splendored Thing

A short time ago I posted about the 1973 Topps Baseball wrappers, namely the likely subjects of the four different varieties produced by Topps that year. I thought I did pretty well but while my batting average of .500 would be outstanding in the major leagues, it's decidedly pedestrian on this here blog.

As it turns out, Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann has some of the original materials used to create the wrappers in his collection.  It's a lot more involved than I would have thought.

First though, the secret identities. I was right about the pitcher (Steve Carlton) and the manager (Dick Williams).  I thought for sure the catcher was Thurman Munson but alas, it's Andy Etchebarren. As for the batter, well it's not Rod Carew as I had suspected (although I did hedge my bet) but as of right now, it's anybody's guess. What do you all think:


The materials though, are the reason for this post.  Let's look at the manager's artwork. Here is the finished product:

Now I am not going to try and ID the ump. It might be possible but I ain't doing it. And here is how it came to be:

You can see a tracing was made of the left side ump and Williams. It looks like an early attempt at framing the shot was made.  I would say the layers have shifted a little after all this time.

Here is a clearer look with one layer of film flipped up.

I have a bit of artwork from the 1970 Candy Lids Set that exhibits similar traits:

Mr. Etchebarren is like so:

We have only one look at the process for Andy and it's a bit of a messy one, although I like the layout instructions.  Woody Gelman was probably gone from Topps at this point; his distinct, slashing, all capitals handwriting used to relay the instructions to the art department or printer and while one of the handwritten notes is indeed in caps, it's not by his hand (UPDATE 7/27/20: It probably is Woody's "all caps" writing, just neater than normal):

Now Steve Carlton was easy to decipher:

A bit of an underlay here, some conceptual art work perhaps:

The various type of stippling and pebbling on the finished products were the result of different, textured artists boards or papers being used. The Williams wrapper actually looks like two types were used.  Crazy, man!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

All American Boys

Well the flow of cool and unusual Topps items just keeps on rolling....

Friend o'the Archive Justin Davenport has sent along scans of his Topps Award watch and I am definitely blown away.  Check this bad boy out:

Here is a close up of the dial; you can see the a small representation of the ubiquitous Topps Rookie Trophy in between the words "Topps Award":

We know they gave out jewelry at the Rookie Awards Banquets back in the day but this is a little bit of a different beast.  The back reveals why:

That says Topps First Team All America 1969.  So it appears the watch was given to the collegiate All Americans by Topps that year.  For the record, they were:

P Larry Gura
P Burt Hooton
C Bob Williams
1B Mike Walseth
2B Dick Gold
3B Les Rogers
SS Bill Stein
OF Bob Long
OF Paul Powell
OF Larry Pyle

Most folks think of football when they hear All Americans but the awards are still being given out for baseball and many other sports each year.

That is one of the neatest things I have seen in a long time!