Saturday, June 29, 2019

Coming Into Focus

So six or seven years ago, when I was researching sets for my book, I realized that Topps had done something strange with the 1955 Hocus Focus set. It was long thought the "small" (7/8" x 1 7/16") version of this set came out that year, with the "large" (1" x 1 9/16") version issued in 1956, but Topps in fact issued both versions in 1955.  This was because the small cards came in penny tabs while the large cards came in nickel packs and were panelized, six at a clip. The reason for this double sizing remains unknown but I suspect the penny packs were a test issue of some sort, probably to see if the style of packaging was still viable (it wasn't).

Here is the evidence for both sets being a 1955 issue, one Johnny Schmitz in small:

And large.  Note the subset numbering reduction to 18 from 23 and the dotted lines on the long edges, which matched light scoring on the front to allow for breaking the panels into individual cards, the latter a sure sign of the larger version (at least one long edge of a 56 will have these lines):

So we have the same text and overall number for both, which is how the sets are configured through #96.  Schmitz actually led the Senators in staff ERA in both 1954 and 1955 (the latter was about a run higher than his stellar 2.91 mark in 54) and after I guessed they were referring to his stellar 1954 season I had found another reference on the Hal Smith card to an event in 1955 that sealed it:

Smith made his major league debut on April 11, 1955 (which dates the set after that event) and was actually NOT the top batter in the American Association that year - Johnny Bucha of the St. Paul Saints was two points higher at .352 but with only 278 Plate Appearances vs Smith's .350 with 413 PA's - but close enough.

Woody Gelman himself got the date AND set name wrong in a Card Collectors Co, catalog from ad from April 20, 1962:

That two bucks for a full uncut sheet of the small cards would have been quite the investment 57 years ago!  As Woody got the name of his own company wrong as well, we can assume typos occurred with some frequency.

While the sets shared main sequence numbering up to #96, there were 30 additional cards issued in the smaller format concluding with #126. These 30 subjects also feature a disruption in the numbering of five of the eight subsets accordingly.  At the time my book was published (July 2013) 17 of the subjects above #96 remained unknown. This extraordinary paucity of checklisted subjects among the "super high" numbers is unprecedented-there are simply no other Topps card sets with unknown subjects, although a few 40's and 50's Tatoo sets are similarly under-developed as you might imagine. Most intriguingly, another penny issue from 1955, Davy Crockett Tatoo is even rarer than Hocus Focus with only a handful of examples presently known.

In the years since, the list of unknowns has been whittled down to a mere six. That number was eleven until very recently when Brian Wentz of BMW Sportscards sent along scans of three heretofore unknown subjects and Friend o'the Archive Bill O. pointed me to scans of two others.

First up, the "BMW" find", led off by a real doozy:

Kind of hard to see the grandeur in that tiny little picture!

Another airplane has come along now as well:

That's a little better-you can even see the pilot in the cockpit.

Finally, we have some cycling action-this guy looks pretty excited:

These new subjects from BMW were found within a larger grouping of twelve of the small cards.  As I have previously noted the ratio of small to large cards seems to be about 1:40 (I may be tweaking that a little downward as I do more research but it still seems about right) so this is no small thing.

Bill O. found these two, nos. 100 & 110:

No. 110 is quite blurry as it's from a small original scan, subset number is still TBD-this is one elusive subject as previously I knew it by number only.  Slowly it reveals its secrets, this Douglas K-3

We can infer it is #12 of 15 Airplanes as the other four in the subset above #96 are known.

The numbers still lacking confirmation of their existence are: 97, 98, 108, 111, 120 & 125 with #110 being a known number now but needing some sharper focus and another subject being Lou Gehrig, number presently unknown as no back scans can be found.  I do have an old Sports Collectors Digest picture of Larrupin' Lou's obverse though, from a Scott Brockelman find around 2003:

 Sixty four years in and we still don't have 'em all nailed down!

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Greetings And Salutations

Little odds and ends keep getting dug up that help fill in some gaps in the Topps archaeological record. Today we have an auction entry from Vintage Non-Sports Auctions, run by Friend o'the Archive Tom Boblitt featuring some greeting cards thats hows just how far afield Topps would range in promoting their nascent card issues in the late 40's and early 50's.

Some of you may recall I posted a long time ago about a 1949 Topps Varsity pack that had been stuck to a greeting card, which likely have been issued in 1950. I thought at the time it had been issued by the Barker Greeting Card Company as my book described how they struck a deal with that firm in '49 to affix Magic Photo packs on some of their greeting cards but as will be seen momentarily, it was another manufacturer that did the deed.  Penny Packs of Hopalong Cassidy would be burned off this way as well in a deal made with a company called Buzza Cardozo but they were not involved with the Varsity promotion as it turns out.  Tom has a lot in his June auction that sheds more light on this oddity.

The card below is the same as the one I posted about eleven (!) years ago but the 1949 Varsity pack affixed to is is legit and not clumsily restuffed with foil like my prior exemplar:

However, it turns out to be one from a box of 14 (wow) different cards -- with matching white envelopes of course -- measuring about 6" x 6" that was sold around 1950-51. Not all of these had confections attached and only nine remain from the original packaging but it's a neat little find.  Here's one with a lollipop attached:

I would not be surprised if it was a leftover or excess Rudolph Pop as the lolly looks like it was wrapped in a similar fashion to these:

My research dates Rudolph Pops to 1950 and Topps Candy Division, at least under that specific name, started either that year or a year prior I believe. However, I need to try and date this image BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd recently sent me from a stereographic promotional slide that prominently features said lolly's:

Look at all that candy!  And Cigars!  And Vitalis? Anyhoo, I digress.

Not everything came with candy in this box of greeting cards, here's a hippo with a monocle!

Other cards are described as Get Well or for other occasions.  What a fantastic little package of fun! Here's how they came originally, as "Toycards":

As it turns out, the manufacturer was Doehla Fine Arts:


Now, speaking of Christmas, I think a different manufacturer came up with these, which I have also blogged about previously Note the more traditional greeting card size from a boxed series called Christmas Fun's A Poppin':

Here's more on that, check out the card in the middle:

And here is the aforementioned Hoppy:

Hoppy had Pops as well, plus as a candy issue from Topps if I may digress again:

"Hoppily" that saddle bag is mine!

I'm bereft of a scan for greeting cards that attached Magic Photo packs but it's interesting how these are all centered around 1950 give or take-I suspect Topps had a marketing plan that covered third party sources of revenue for a year or two involving the greeting card trade.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Saw It In The Funny Papers

Topps had a tradition of reselling and/or rewrapping excess inventory just about from the get-go, with their first bulk discount occurring in early 1950, as this ad I've previously posted from Billboard (4/29) shows.  Sorry for the yellow highlights, I can't find my original scan to convert it back to good ol' black and white:

Topps ran that ad for a few issues in the late winter and early spring of 1950, no doubt burning off returns or unsold inventory.  I suspect they had lots of their original penny tab packs - with a single tiny card inserted between the inner and outer wrappers - left over as they transitioned to a larger size card (the second of five within three years) and more sanitary packaging.

That Novelty Pack had a couple of nickel packs as well (Golden Coin and Flip-O-Vision) removed by the time Hallowe'en rolled around that year and 30 tabs were offered in a smaller configuration.  I believe this is the first of the annual Topps Hallowe'en campaigns and the first mention of "Fun Packs" by them:

They clearly had a lot of volume to move-that gum must have been stale as those packs were all sold in 1948-49!

1950 is clearly documented Fun Pack-wise but 1951-64 is not!  I'm not sure how Topps sold their bulk discounts for Hallowe'en in that span but suspect it was mostly leftover penny packs.

In 1965 (possibly a year earlier according to the TPG's), we see the beginning of the more traditional Fun Packs, where they got their own wrappers. These usually held individual cards and a slab o'gum but in at least one season, cello packs of the ultra-rare Flash Gordon cards lurked within.

I believe that pack was used through 1966 but it's most commonly referred to as 1964 or 1965. I have not been able to find a dated version of it as of yet but here is a 1965 Hallowe'en catalog page showing the above style pack:

As an aside, the top left bag, dubbed Flavormates, is interesting.  I believe the twist wrapped pieces just say "Bubble Gum" and Topps didn't file for a Trademark on this brand until 1969 but had been selling it since 1963. Too bad there's no Blony on the page, it would run the full gamut of Topps bubblegum if it was!

By 1967 (more likely 1966 I think) the Fun Pack design had changed:
That curved Topps logo on the Fun Bag only started appearing in 1966 and the below wrappers clearly cap the above style in 1967, although they may be a version without a commodity code out there.

Here's the yellow version (with a 1968 Baseball card within).  I think the orange sliver above is an oversaturated scan of the yellow:

You can see the commodity code ends with an 8.  The Brooklyn address would change the year following, resulting in a code indicating 1969:

Note the address change to Duryea, which led to a new copyright filing and design.

I'm not sure when these stopped being used.  Topps would sometimes use a regular issue pack with two cards in it for some of the Fun Bags, as they would designate the bulk package, and possibly even some cello's, which I seem to hazily recall getting in my trick or treat bag as a kid around 1970 or so. These 1974 Football packs had the two card monte going on; I believe Creature Feature and Kung Fu also got this treatment.

1976 brought a new and very colorful design.  This top one has a 1977 Football card within so they got multi-year use out of these:

The color permutations are super groovy and these are described in my notes as containing 1981 or 1982 cards while still retaining the 1976 commodity code:

The Fun Bags could also hold regular issue wax and various types of cello packs and I think that practice became more common as the 1970's and 80's wore on. I'll look at those in a follow up post some time soon.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Let's Get Ready For Adventure

No, not the 1956 Gum Products set that often gets attributed to Topps (it's actually from the same manufacturer that issued the 1941 Double Play cards) but rather this rather bizarre repackaging of Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman's Triple Nickel Books, previously covered here and here.

I stumbled across an eBay listing with these quite by accident but it adds yet another layer to the rich, dense cake that was Card Collectors Company, namely the Teen-Age Adventure Library (remember, Arthur Benwood is an anagram of Ben & Woody, while Arthur may have been a nod to Arthur Shorin):

I'm not sure if these are missing covers but I don't think so. Here's how they originally looked when issued in the 50's:

And here's the indicia from the inside front cover of the original book:

Here are the backs of the Teen-Age Adventure Series pamphlets, with indicia all included, indicating they came without a true cover:

Here's a better look:

I can't swear I've seen entries in the Card Collectors Company catalogs for anything like this-they may have just advertised them in Boys Life and maybe some comic books.  I doubt many have survived given how fragile these look.

The eBay listing from seller fieryfb states:

These are another series with no connection to the Mel Lyle books. This earlier Power Boys series involves Ted and Steve Power, who are boy reporters on their fathers small town newspaper who become involved in mysteries similar to the Hardy Boys. Some of these (such as the two listed for auction) were published by The Card Collectors Company as fairly plain pamphlet like books, while some were printed by Triple Nickel Books with higher quality paper and full color covers. As far as I can tell, a total of 5 Power Boy books were actually published - the other 3 being  Riddle of the Sunken Ship, Castle of Curious Creatures, and Mystery of the Marble. There are also 2 "phantom" titles; the Mystery of the Aztec Archer and The Secret of Canyon Creek.

The Mel Lyle books referred to featured a different set of Power Boys who headlined a handful of books in the mid 60's. I'm not sure of the assertion that some of the Power Boy Titles from Triple Nickel Books were phantoms, more research is needed.

This is one of those neat little byways in the history of Topps and Woody Gelman.