Saturday, January 25, 2020

Cello, I Must Be Growing

1970 brought some significant changes to how sold their Baseball cello packs (and their raks).  Having made the decision to up the wax pack price to a dime, they could no longer offer 36 cards for 29 cents in a rak pak or ten for a dime sans bubble gum. The solution was to go big and add some splash.  Here's how they shaped things in 1970, with an outside box containing a 33 card clear cello, which could be had for a quarter:

(Courtesy Mile High Card Co.)

When I was a kid collecting these--and 1970 was my first heavy, heavy year of doing so-- I never realized those mountains were in Arizona! Cactus League shots are more dramatic than Grapefruit League shots, that's for sure.

The reverse of the box had a fairly nice graphic.  It seems this is the pretty much the same size box they sold the 1968 Batter Up Game Cards in, which was also 33 cards, so I wonder of that issue was some kind of a packaging test.

(Courtesy Mile High Card Co.)

Raks moved up to 54 cards for 39 cents in 1970:  

I can tell you the majority of cards I bought from 1970-72, which were my three biggest collecting years back in the day, came in raks, mostly from a fabulous store on Long Island called Coronet, where they hung by the cash registers.. And why not, the price per card was just .0072 vs cello's at .0076 cents per card.  Either way, Topps was selling more cards with far less packaging.

Still, they felt the need to change things up a little in 1971.  Check this out, there is an obvious enhancement, which softened the blow of fewer cards being held in the cello, which was a clear one again:

(Courtesy Wheatland Auctions)

That's right, bubble gum was now wedged within.  I wonder of this was to take the thickness of the three missing cards so the pack fit the box better.  I guess we'll never know.  The back had a new graphic but I've always been mystified why there were no premium offers on these.

(Courtesy Wheatland Auctions)

In 1972, with the upcoming IPO, the hedged their bets but ultimately included 27 cards, deployed in a clear cello wrap, they just didn't advertise the count:

(Courtesy Huggins & Scott)

That's a slightly lighter shade of blue as well and the card count has been excised on the reverse too:

(Courtesy Huggins & Scott)

Whatever advantage Topps thought they would gain with the outer box must have dissipated as the 1973 cellos started another trend, cello packs with their own graphics:

(Courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Checklist back of the pack, yuk!

(Courtesy Heritage Auctions)

Baseball rak paks stayed at the same count and price through 1973 but the new "naked" cellos still only had 27 cards in them despite losing the outer box and its associated cost. This predated the oil crisis but that shock would reverberate going forward.

At some point I may take a look at the post 1973 Baseball cellos but to me once they stopped issuing cards in series, the whole ballgame changed and things got a lot more generic year-to-year. I'll take a gander at some other sports cellos first for sure.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Blue Period

Back at it i.r.o Topps cello packs kids, this time our quarry is 1968-69.  Topps was killing off the rak pak encased cello issues with the commencement of the 1968 baseball season and the more familiar modern rak pak was born:

(Courtesy Mile High Card Co.)

Now it may look like the rak contained three cellos but it did not, Topps was just using old wording on a new style header, probably so as not to confuse young consumers. One of the implications of this move was that you would not be able to get an insert in the rak paks anymore; they still came in the wax and cello packs of course.

A 1968 cello pack therefore could only be had for a dime:

(Courtesy Heritage Auctions) 

And who's in here?
(Courtesy Heritage Auctions)

1969 saw a big MLB expansion and Topps followed suite with their biggest set yet, 664 cards in a classic design.  They also expanded their cello offerings, which I will get to in a New York minute:

Kinda weird seeing Maury on an Expos card....the reverse has a couple of Mets:

 (Courtesy Robert Edward Auctions)

Topps was grappling with rising costs in 1969 and as was their M.O. at the time, took to some experimentation.  Wax packs were still a nickel in 1969 and the margins must have been getting pretty thin with more cards to produce, higher royalties to pay the MLBPA (as of 1968) and a myriad of supplemental sets they were trying out, so it made sense when they did this, although it was done as a cello, with gum no less (you can see it straining through):

(Courtesy Heritage Auctions)

The reverse is very, very interesting to me.  This is a first series pack, evidenced by the Twins Rookie Stars card peeking through (hello Graig Nettles):

The Duryea in the indicia is, I believe the first mention Topps put of their production facility move since it occurred in 1966.  The odd thing though, is that the regular, nickel wax packs in 1969 listed Brooklyn until series five, when they too switched over.

The blue cellos are very, very hard to find.  The 69's are tough generally but check out these PSA pop report ratios:

1968 Cello: 200
1969 Cello: 67
1969 Blue Cello: 1

That 1 count is possibly wrong as PSA likely didn't start differentiating the two styles for a while but they are tough packs even though they were seemingly issued across all series (seven series, but only six press runs I think).  Topps probably pushed the raks more and more and throttled back the cellos, especially with two styles issued.

The 1969 rak pak header continued the cello reference but the blue cello experiment must have been considered a failure as Topps took a whole new approach to how they sold cards in 1970.  We'll take a look next time at what they did.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Cello There

Some really nice vintage Topps cello packs popped up recently at REA's fall auction. They are killer items of course and sometimes they give a glimpse as to when certain inserts were popped into the packs. Plus they look great! This got me thinking about a look at some of these packs that didn't push gum and were "only" brimming with cardboard.

Topps issued Baseball cards in (mostly) 12 card cello wrapped packs from 1953 onward, although 1952 cellos are alluded to by both Darren Prince and Mark Murphy in their unopened pack guides, while it's unclear if any have been seen or photographed. PSA doesn't list any in their pop reports but a non-sports issue from that year, the massively overproduced Wings set, is there.

From 1953-57 Topps issued cellos in retail boxes using Trading Card Guild packaging. This 1953 box shows one way this was done, using clear cello wraps, which is how they were issued most years:

They continued apace in 1954-56 then in 1957 Topps put some graphics on the cellos, although I am not sure why but probably an early attempt at branding their various lines:

I'm not sure how 1958 and 1959 were handled by Topps.  They were dealing with a true geographic western expansion of the game past the Mississippi River and their distribution was getting pretty far afield. They issued cellos in these years but I'm not sure if they had ten cent retail boxes that used the Trading Card Guild (TCG) boxes, stuck them in "long sleeve" 29 cent rak paks or both. At a guess I'd say both.

1959 seems to be more abundant no matter how they were issued though and that year was a seeming high point in terms of the sheer number of cards issued in the 1950's measured against the US population. By 1960 those long sleeve raks were how a lot of cellos got distributed, still in generic red, yellow and blue TCG-style livery through at least 1962 and which I will get to in a jif.

Here's a 1961 cello, I can't seem to find any with the stamp inserts and Topps may have only included them in the wax packs:


1962 was a different story though:

(Courtesy Memory Lane)

Many cellos can be found "reversed," with the folds on the front of the pack.These are the Trading Card Guild colors I mentioned earlier along with the"long sleeve" rak paks (sports raks of the era named the sport instead of saying "Hobby Cards"):

Talk about burying the lead with the currency insert!

Retail cello boxes held 36 packs at this time. It looks like the rak headers went to a kind of hybrid look in '63 then in 1964 and '65 sometimes went to set specific graphics that mentioned the Trading Card Guild again; this bastardized rak packing lasted through 1967-ish. Check out this Topps sell sheet for 1963, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive John Moran:

I haven't had any luck finding a '63 cello with a Peel Off on the back and the insert marketing schemes by set and series seemed to vary each year in the 60's. I'll keep looking as I want to document more of these. 

Topps changed the cello livery in 1964 for Baseball.  It was a special year for Topps with the 1964 All-Star Game being held locally at Shea Stadium and they did a lot of extras that year - some big (1964 Giants) and some small, like mixing up the packaging:

I'm not sure if the cello material is a little stronger due to the coin duo inserted within but red is the theme here!  The back mentions Topps and not the Trading Card Guild:

Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, the cello boxes were still using leftover stock I guess:

(Courtesy Lelands)

But the Beatles Color Photo raks had a nice header and then some while still identifying the Trading Card Guild:

The '65 Baseball raks seem to be relatively hard to find (one is shown here, but here's a fugly reverse wrapped cello from the first series: 

1966 raks are much easier but we're here for the cello's:

It has nothing to do with this post really, but my dad was a teacher who brought home all the stuff he took away from his junior high students every three or four years when he cleared out his desk. When I was 10 or so, one of the items he hauled back home was a 1964 Jerry Lumpe card.  I thought his name was the funniest thing I had ever seen at the time.  

The back includes a Ruboff of Moose Skowron. Poor guy's upside down!

There were 120 Ruboffs that year, issued in their own series structure in a way, 20 or 24 at a clip just doing the math.

Anyhoo....sometimes it's what's not there that tells the tale. Check out this first series pack from 1967:

On the back?  Bupkis:

Just having the cards come out in the spring was enough incentive I guess.   Actually, Topps sometimes included inserts in the first series cellos and sometimes they did not. However, in 1967  the high numbers had an added extra.  Check out this amazing pack:

Doubly amazing actually as that Seaver rookie looks centered!  Underneath it all, was a Pin-Up:

That browning seems to be caused by the acidic pulp paper used by Topps for the posters reacting with the adhesive holding the pack together. Other cellos from other years with different inserts don't exhibit this problem. 

From 1967-69 Topps issued 48 count cello boxes and went to the three pocket "loose" 3-cell rak pak style that didn't overwrap cellos anymore. 1970 brought the bigger 33 card cello packs that came in their own little box through 1972 and I'll pick up with the 1968-69 cellos next time out.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Cotton Pickin'

Well gang, it's been over decade since I last took a look at the 1976 Topps Cloth Baseball Stickers. Thanks to a recent Love of the Game auction, an interesting proof or concept piece has turned up.

The stickers themselves are of course,a  two man set: Duffy Dyer (shown as a Pirate) and Bob Apodaca (depicted with the Mets).  The unique thing about the prototypes is that four different textures were believed to have produced, some with out any backing affixed.  These were:

Thin Felt
Thick Felt
Textured Felt

However, the LOTG lot featured two additional types, namely an almost sheer cotton material and a thin paper version, which looks like final production proofs on bright white paper, which was how Topps would check colors back in the day, as evidenced by the 1967 Baseball white proof panel that I showed here almost around the time I first posted about these stickers:

The reversed images are interesting as at least one type of material had the image printed on the reverse of sheer material.  I wonder if Topps also experimented with iron-ons as well, given the cotton proof panel LOTG offered:

The lack of uniformity and upside down examples among the spacing is odd, no?  The Dyer/Apodaca combos match the sticker backed two card panel I own and in my last look at this set I opined the Dyer seemed a bit easier then the Apodaca to find (across all types of material).  If the 5:4 ratio on the panel above holds true, that would explain why.

I suspect there is even more to learn about this "set".  Some type of small hoard of at least one material type must have been unearthed at some point in the last 15 years as they are offered somewhat regularly on eBay.