Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Doctor Is Out

Topps produced their first novelty premium in 1948 with the introduction of the initial series of Tatoo. Originally a one cent tab like the rest of their chewing gum line at the time, the product was soon tweaked and a larger unit (still a penny) was developed with a three panel graphic detailing how to apply the tatoo to your skin, although is was still a penny piece.  1953 saw a further increase in size (but not price) and an opened wrapper now measured 1 9/16" x 3 1/2". This basic design, size and price point would remain in effect for fifteen years, across an array of different issues covering sports and non-sports subjects alike. From about 1958 onward Topps tried to have at least one tattoo issue in the market each year, many themed to the children's cartoon shows that were proliferating on television during this era.  The run finally ended in 1967 with Doctor Dolittle Tattoo, although a 1968 issue called Magic Funny Fortune, while not a tattoo, retained the size and price point, likely making it the last Topps one cent product. It's worth pointing out though, that the film was only released six days before Christmas so essentially the tattoos were sold into early 1968.

Doctor Dolittle was first a series of books that began in the 1920's, depicting the improbable tales of a veterinarian who could talk to animals and set about 100 years in the past.  While it was a prestigious, award winning series of books, the Doctor's adventures were largely confined to the literary world until a fairly stilted musical was filmed in 1967 starring Rex Harrison. Topps linked the tattoo issue to the film, which was a colossal flop (although it won two Oscars) and almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox.  Needless to say, the tattoo set didn't exactly set the world on fire and it's a toughie to track down these days.  There is not a lot of information on the set available and it's tough to even find scans, let alone a checklist but I've tracked down a few images over the years.

The wrapper was pretty groovy in one respect (lettering) and I believe it's one of only two penny tattoo produced by Topps that sports a production code (aka commodity number), with the other being Comic Book Tattoos issued earlier in 1967:


Those scans are from the wonderful site!

The tattoos are standard issue and only needed a couple of primary colors when produced:

I suspect there were 48 different tattoos, but like similar issues, unless specific subjects are identified, the checklist is either incomplete or uncompiled in the extant guides. It's no matter, since the outside of the wrapper is really the collectible item.

Speaking of Doctor Dolittle, it survived in Woody Gelman's Idea Book:

You can see the little production rip that was a "feature and not a bug" on a host of Topps penny issues from their founding in 1938 until they stopped using the equipment in the mid-70's. There were a couple of two cent issues after (Wacky Packages and Monster Tattoo) but this style was no longer in regular use after 1967. Topps would convert to a "floppy" five cent pack and new design (accordion style) for their later tattoo issues, ala 1971 Baseball Tattoos but they certainly got a lot of cheap mileage out of the old ones over the years.

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