Saturday, April 27, 2019

Bread For Crumb

Yonks ago, I posted a round of correspondence between Woody Gelman and Robert Crumb just after the debut of Zap Comix in late 1967 or early 1968.  Woody, in fact, received 25 copies of the first printing of this infamous and influential underground comic. To put this in perspective, a near mint copy of this comic is worth about twenty grand today. But I digress.

Crumb and Gelman look like they had a fairly close relationship, no doubt as a result of Crumb's employment by Topps in 1965. I have no idea how long they corresponded and in fact, I think a good deal of Crumb's early letters post 1964 have been lost or are unavailable to the masses. His existing letters from 1958-1977, which are very light post-1964, have been collected in book form in case you are interested.

Well, I stumbled across the letter Crumb sent back to Woody after receiving his check for the 25 issues of Zap (plus a bit extra as a gift upon the birth of Crumb's son, Jesse). The letter was even accompanied by an "almost" illustrated envelope, which is still a doozy:

 That's the address of Card Collectors Company. Woody actually lived one town over, in Malverne.

The letter has some tasty content:

Let's navigate this sucker, which I found over at

Woody filed these, hence the circled "Crumb" in his distinctive red crayon.  Len Brown, Bob (actually Bhob I think) Stewart, Art Spiegelman and Woody all got to see it circulated at the Topps offices in Brooklyn from the looks of things.

Crumb has misspelled Victor Mocsoso's last name, even though he was a Zap contributor. Moscoso is one of the most famous psychedelic artists in the world.

The crazy guy from Kansas has to be S. Clay Wilson, who was about to move from Lawrence to San Francisco to be with the Zap team.

I'm not sure the "Stoned" newspaper ever took off, although it may have semi-manifested in some later collaborations, most prolifically "Weirdo!", which was considered an artistic bust when it debuted in 1981 and which Crumb abandoned after a year or so, although it soldiered on for a while.

Mike McInerney was someone in New York Woody put Crumb on to in the hope of assisting with distribution on the East Coast; Crumb had inquired in his first letter to Woody regarding assistance in this area and McInerney, who was also vital in 1960's Science Fiction fandom, ended up moving to San Francisco in 1969. It seems Woody started that wheel turning!

Don Donahue's Apex Novelties was the underground publishing concern that printed Zap. It is legendary in a number of ways.

"Click" commenced publishing in 1938 and was "The National Picture Monthly". This link will lead you to a reprint but with some detail of the contents of a typical issue.

The Viking Book was R. Crumb's Head Comix.

Jesse Crumb died in a car accident at the age of 49 unfortunately.

Lil was Woody's wife.

Crumb divorced his wife Dana in 1978, the same year Woody would pass away.

I've said it before and I'll say it again-Woody was the man!

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Enough To Drive You Battey

Oh, the wonderful items keep rolling in to the Topps Archives Research Complex! Today's bounty is the payment ledger cards for Earl Battey, who was a pretty fair catcher back in the 60's for the Twins.  A few of these cards covering disparate players were available and I chose Mr. Battey due to the fabulous variety of entries that reveal much of how Topps operated in the 50's and 60's.

The first thing that jumps out is that he originally signed with Bowman and that they had him locked up for ten years!  I have to wonder if deals like this were being made by their biggest competitor and with just a handful of exclusive contracts being signed with Topps, had Bowman's 1955 offerings sold well would the history of the hobby be vastly different?

Well, the Bowman cards sold poorly enough in 1955 and after Bowman's parent company's (Connelly Containers) CEO (John Connelly) decided he wanted buy buy Crown Cork & Seal instead of selling bubble gum, Topps jumped on their athletic contracts and confectionery assets and ended up with exactly what they needed to become the kings of bubble gum and baseball cards.

Meanwhile, Topps had to keep records of all the payments and merchandise selections made by their roster of players and came up with a typical pre-digital solution: index cards, in this case 5" x 8" purpose printed cards:

I like how they showed the series and card number for each season!

Color Televisions and Stereo Equipment were popular with a lot of ballplayers from what I have seen of these cards. Sy Berger even mentions in The Great American Flipping, Trading and Bubble Gum Book (from 1973) that "We get this stuff wholesale from RCA and General Electric.  It's got everything in it but replacement pitching arms."

Breaking this down, the upper left corner had the player's option and team statuses. Battey had been with the White Sox for 5 games in 1955 as a September call up following three years in the minors and then for only 4 games the following year.  Since that was Bowman's contract, his call-ups and demotions aren't dealt with until after he was a Topps signee (March 5, 1957). You can see he spent most of 1957 with the big league club but got sent down in August for a month.  After another September call up he finally managed to stick for good and while I'm note sure what the "F-check 8-3-59" notation in red fully means, he got his first card with either Topps or Bowman in 1957:

His trade to the Senators in 1960 (with Don Mincher and $150K for Roy Seivers) is noted as is their expansion related move to Minnesota the following year. What intrigues me though is the notation in 1961 that he was a Sporting News All Star.  He didn't make the actual AL All Star Squad for 1960, despite some MVP votes and his first (of two ) Gold Gloves but SN thought quite highly of him. I just can't figure out if he got anything extra for that honor. He was, as noted, a Senator for 1960 but since they moved and became the Twins that offseason, the expansion Senators would not have been his team in '61.  Kudos to Topps for getting his new duds pictured in the high number AS cards though:

I can't see that his multiplayer card from 1963, his various inserts, or his Bazooka appearances were memorialized, so the contracts must have been pretty broad.

In the upper right corner you can see his contract with Topps commenced March 5, 1957 after he received his "steak money" payment of $5 a month earlier, which bound him to the company contractually. His extensions (which allowed him more purchasing power) started in 1958.  It's worth noting that the first Topps merchandise catalog dates to 1957-58 so the extensions were inextricably tied to it from this point forward.

Here is a sampling of the 1973-74 catalog (contemporaneous with Sy's comments actually); you can see how the extension got you a star!:

Let's take a look at the merchandise!

Item "b" is the first time I've ever seen a steam cabinet outside of a Three Stooges short!  That pool table looks sweet though.....

Continuing on to card #2 for Mr. Battey, Topps used a sticker to track his contractual status into the 60's. I guess most players flamed out quickly, so it was easier to just print up stickers for those who lasted more than year or two. Battey took merchandise most years but sometimes opted for extension checks. As is often seen on these cards, he paid Topps sometimes for more expensive items.  You can see on the prior card he must have been outfitting his den as he got "credit" toward a color TV and sleeper sofa in '62.  Nice dealio there Topps!

More color TV's for the Battey's!

Battey was a solid and productive catcher for a half dozen years and his last year in the bigs was 1967, even though he made the 1966 AL All Star team (his fourth election):

He was a tough dude (read up on him here) but it looks like an illness finally did his career in. Hopefully his plethora of Color TV's kept him in good stead during retirement-too bad he never made it on to a 1955 Bowman "TV" card, it would have been ideal!

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Boarding Process

A trove of Topps Presentation Boards was auctioned on eBay a couple of months ago and it was, to put it mildly, a diverse lot.  These do pop up from time to time but this batch was particularly large and also had a geographic reference to its location in Honesdale, PA (in an attic, no less), which is about 40 miles from where the Topps plant was in Duryea.

I'm not sure about the process of presenting with these boards-it seems likely they were meant for Topps brass in Brooklyn, but most seem to originate near Duryea so I could have that backwards.  Or they just ended up in Duryea for storage and went home with people at various points in time.  This latest batch looks to cover a period beginning in the mid 70's and running into the mid 80's.

Here's the full Monty-you can plainly  see the wide range of products and years:

Let's start with the baseball proposals.  The first is, without a doubt, what evolved into the 1974 Baseball Stamps issue.  It looks to me like the stamps (or stickers, depending) were already designed and the presentation was to nail down the album concept:

The stamps would ultimately be issued in a 2 x 6 array and the albums ended up being shrunk down from the proposal, which went as big as looseleaf pages.  We know Topps had been working since 1970 on a full size sticker release and it looks like the 74's got pretty close to realizing that concept.  What's unfortunate is that the stamp set seems like it failed-stamps were dumped or had issues in production and the albums were not produced in quantities to match.  In fact, the 1974 Baseball Stamp Albums are pretty tough to find these days while the stamp sheets are a breeze.

Meanwhile, we see an intriguing Hit to Win mockup that closely resembles the (different) contest cards inserted in the 1980 and 1981 Baseball packs.

Check out the Guidry mockup-Did Topps intended for the cards to also include a player insert or have a two sided insert?  Seems like the Guidry part of the pitch came very late.  Or maybe it was intended to show some detail from the Baseball Guidebook offered as a prize for hitting (scratching off) a single in the game.  Either way it's a neat, unique Yankees piece. Never seen the guidebook?  Here ya go:

This concept seems a bit mundane:

More intriguing, although out of my wheelhouse in terms of scope (I tend to end things here at 1980 so don't profess much knowledge beyond that year) and subject (Smurfs? No....) but the gum sure resembles some old Topps product like Rock's O' Gum.

To me though, the most interesting proposal had to do with a 3-D set:

Those are the fronts of two 1953-54 Topps Tarzan cards being used to show a new concept-check out the artwork for the proposed 3-D glasses:

That very much looks like Jack Kirby's work, or heavily inspired by it. Joe Kubert actually did the line art for the Tarzan sets (note-under investigation, see comments) so if it is by Kirby, it's a nice tie-in of two legendary comic book artists. Can anyone ID the superhero? He looks like a Marvel product of the times but my comic book knowledge is pretty much kaput these days. The original title is no longer with the board so it's anybody's guess what the product was supposed to be I guess.

Decades after they were created, the boards show the creativity and thought processes that went into designing and issuing a set of cards or inserts in the pre-digital design days.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

How Irregular

Well it's been just over a year since my last post on The Card Collector and now that I've dusted off some more issues, I thought I'd share some additional fun facts.

I don't have a full run of issues but I did note that sometime between issue 11 (5/15/61) and 16 (12/30/61) Woody Gelman turned over the editorship to Jim Zak of Cicero, Illinois, although it remained essentially a house organ for Gelman's Card Collectors Company, which still published the little 'zine.

First up, from number 19 (3/30/62) we get an issue date for the Bazooka Presidents set, namely 1962.
(UPDATE 6/23/20: It turns out it's from 1960 after all):

Previously attributed for the most part to 1960, this 33 card sets runs through Eisenhower.  These were issued in the familiar 3 panel package designs.  Here's old Zachary Taylor:

Later in the same issue we see that the 1962 Topps Baseball Stamps were being issued 40 at a time, at least in the beginning.
The Stamps did clock in at 200 subjects, although Roy Sievers is shown with two teams (Athletics and Phillies) as Topps corrected a mistake as he was never on the A's. This little hiccup meant 201 stamps were actually issued!

Anyhoo......Fleer's FTC complaint against Topps makes news.  Fleer would win one of their arguments in 1965 before the decision was overturned and they sold all their player contracts to Topps in '66. Topps had 414 of 421 major leaguers locked up and Fleer took exception.

Things pick up a bit in the next issue, dated 4/20/62, check out the CCC ad:
1949 Bowman PCL cards are one thing but 1956 (really 1955) small Hocus Focus cards in uncut sheet form for $2.00???!!!  The $1.00 price point for the PCL cards is intriguing as the recently reappeared 1952 Baseball high numbers (garbage scow, my ass) were going for the same rate.  As it has turned out, the former are a good bit harder to find that the latter.  And I've never seen an uncut sheet of the Hocus Focus cards-the mind reels at what that would be worth today.  Other ho-hum items include T205's, Hopalong Cassidy foils and the rare #68 Fleer Ted Williams card. Jim Zak had some deals too, no?

In issue 22 (6/20/62)  we get one of the first inklings of the 1962 Baseball green tints:
Meanwhile issue #24 (8/20/.62) brings 1949 Bowman misprint sheets and 1952 Topps highs. Woody was really turning up some goodies!

I hope to fill in the missing issues (I have about half of the run) but these seem a little harder to find than some other hobby mags of the day. Some are also very mundane but the hobby was visibly nascent for two decades and the Card Collector was a vital early publication that helped fuel the wide-ranging world of cards that exists today.