Saturday, March 26, 2016

Popsicle Stars

1963 brought us the 55 card Topps Astronaut Pictures set, which captured the nascent U.S. space program's "Mercury 7" Astronauts at a time when the entire country, especially kids, was outer space crazy. I grew up during this period and can tell you the entire country was captivated by astronauts and rockets in the 60's, which was exhaustively chronicled in the existing media of the time.

The set, colloquially just called Astronauts in the hobby,  was produced quite cheaply by Topps as they used official NASA photographs and created a card back that was a simple 3-D picture.  While I'm not actually covering that set in detail today (or possibly ever, since it's so well documented) since I'm here to discuss Popsicle cards, I will show some scans for comparative purposes and direct you here if you want to read a little more:

See, 3-D!

Just like the Tarzan 3-D issues a decade earlier, except those had the 3-D images on the front of the card (a good idea, said no one ever). Each five cent wax pack came with a pair of 3-D glasses; no penny packs were issued due to this requirement:

The wrapper was almost spectacular but marred by the intrusive advert for the 3-D glasses. Here's a proof of it:

Astronaut Pictures was reissued in a slightly different format a short time later. Topps cut a deal with the Joe Lowe Corporation to include small packs of the cards with Popsicle brand ice pops. Now the intrepid among you might recall Woody Gelman's association with Popsicles, which directly led to his employment at Topps as he had created Popsicle Pete, a mascot for the brand that caught the attention of Topps President Joseph Shorin in the late 40's. So like many things in the Topps universe, that deal was probably enabled due to past relationships.

Understandably, Popsicle did not want to include the glasses in their packaging, which looked like this and is just glorious in its colorful simplicity:

This is the same style packaging used for penny packs at the time by Topps.  I believe three cards came in each Popsicle pack.  But what to do about the backs if no glasses were provided?

Topps came up with a solution that kept the NASA provided fronts but took the back design from their Space Cards set of 1957, replicated a year later in Target: Moon, and came up with this:

Note the card number has been excised from the redesign as it was on the front of the card but some Topps indicia is displayed; this was not always the case with 3rd party products. Compare this back to the original Space Cards reverse from 1957:

The dating of Popsicle Space Cards seems to be problematic if you look at every reference available but it's actually quite simple.  The Joe Lowe Corporation was bought by Consolidated Foods Corporation in 1965 and was fully assimilated into the mother ship. The original Topps issue was from 1963 so I feel quite comfortable dating the issue at 1964.

The Popsicle cards are harder to find than Astronauts cards proper and go for at least double the price. They were not identified in the ACC Updates until the May 1, 1971 Catalog Additions were published and carry an F253 designation.

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