Saturday, February 29, 2020

Wrong Way Kids

Did you ever get that mixed up feeling?  You know, when you can't quite put two and two together, or things just seem a little bit off?  Well you're not alone as it would sometimes happen at Topps.

First up, we have a 1977 Topps Football card with a 1977 Charlie's Angels puzzle back:

No stats on this back:

I believe that is a little bit of Kelly on the left side of this series 2 puzzle, three pieces up and two left from the bottom left corner:

(Courtesy, although it originated with Friend o'the Archive--and your humble blogger, Larry Tipton)

Compare that with this 1979 Topps Baseball card of Al Oliver, where the back is whack:

Unlike Kelly, this back is a "wrong way", usually seen when the sheet is inserted in the wrong direction when the fronts got printed.  As we have seen previously, the backs were printed first. You will note here the reverse is from the 1978 set, which confirms the "backs first" story I think.

What I believe was happening was a few odd sheets of leftover backs sitting around Zabel Brothers or the like were used to print off the first couple of sheets on a new press run to check that everything was A-OK.  Once the first press run was done, there would have been leftover backs from the current set to use, so no more backs from other sets to start the presses.  I have to believe this is how a lot of upside down or mis-aligned backs were printed.  They would have then entered the hobby as cut up scrap or, sometimes, a handful would make it into the packs. Whether or not the latter was due to some playful shenanigans on the night shift, I cannot say.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Rubbed The Right Way

A little while back on the Net54 Baseball Forum, there was a neat little thread in the postwar section started by Larry Tipton, who so far as I know, is the only person to ever have a card grade named after him ("Tipton" or "Tipton Mint" signifies a real beater).  Larry posted an alternate back to a 1961 Magic Ruboff, which I have to confess I had never seen before. What's even cooler though is that it turns out this alternate back reveals the Ruboffs were issued in two series, or perhaps more correctly, two sets.

You know these, the paper inserts (the first ever in Topps Baseball actually) show humorous caricatures of ballplayers with colorful nicknames and fanciful team emblems:

The typical reverse is textual:

Alternatively though, there was a back that looked like this:

Those are all Larry's. This graphical variation is a lot harder than the text based reverse but finding out that the emblems came in one "set" or another is an intriguing bonus.  Were both 18 emblem sets issued together? I tend to doubt it after seeing this. Here's the same graphic but it's the other set:

(courtesy Cliff Bowman)

Now compare to the 1965 Football Ruboffs where the pinking shears must have been lost by Topps!

These also came in a set of 36 (8 AFL and 28 College teams) but note there is no "set" distinction:

Four years after the fact, Topps resurrected the instructional artwork-only in Brooklyn!

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Solicitation Initiation

I've been reorganizing the files here at the Main Topps Archives Research Complex and have been rediscovering a few things along the way.  To wit, this internal Topps memo from 1963 as the season's Baseball card shipments got underway.  The contents give a glimpse as to how Topps distributed their cards:

Each channel of distribution had its own peculiarities.  The "Syndicate and Drug Chains" got one additional configuration of packaging than the "Toy & Rak Jobbers" did..  I am not really conversant with the hidden language of the item numbering before the Commodity Codes were introduced in mid-1966, so am not clear on what that additional configuration was, but I can speak to how this was organized.  Also unclear is if this grouping  includes Woolworth's, which as a key early Topps retail partner.

Some time ago I posted a 1949 order sheet for a "Syndicate" that Topps distributed to and was a massive operation at the time, representing over 3,000 retail stores.  I've seen references to the drug chains previously as well, in particular Rexall's, which sold 1952 high numbers as far away as California.

Toy & Rak Jobbers makes sense to me as I used to buy Rak Paks at a toy store on Long Island in the early 70's.  That's two distribution channels without even mentioning the old tobacco jobbers (wholesale distributors) that had serviced Shorin products going back to the American Leaf Tobacco Company days that spanned 1908-38.

I have misplaced an article detailing how the various Topps unions and shifts dealt with specific jobbers but if I remember it correctly, certain unions or locals in Duryea only handled accounts for specific jobbers and I think it even divided up by shifts. So if you belonged to Scranton Local 229, you might only have been able to work on packing shipments going to the tobacco jobbers.

Some further research shows that Topps sold 12,000 card vending cases directly to some dealers (Fritsch Cards for sure), although I'm not sure how far back in time this goes, but the earliest days of Sam Rosen (later Card Collectors Company) in the 1950's are possible.

Foreign distribution, particularly to Venezuela, would have been handled in a similar manner, i.e. through some type of international distributor, but would have involved some type of customs clearance broker I would imagine.

The effort to market was immense as there were multiple series of Baseball cards each year back in the 60's. Topps had about 18 departments plus the executives handling everything from addressograph maintenance to ensuring ballplayers got their stipends or merchandise orders to run smoothly. I remain amazed how they were able to carve profits from these various exertions!

I'll see what else I can turn up on these distribution channels as I really want to find that article describing how the unions and shifts tied to the jobbers.

Saturday, February 8, 2020


It's looking like a pretty good year for Bowman ephemera, based upon a couple of unique and interesting bits that recently hit the auction block.

The first item to catch my attention was this shot of Joan Crosby (whozat? you ask) from June of 1953, offered by RMY Auctions:

To fill you in, Joan Crosby was one of the agents used by Bowman to secure players for their baseball cards; her territory covered the Northeast US, including Philadelphia and New York.  It turned out her inability to access the MLB clubhouses of the time provided a major opening for Sy Berger at Topps, who of course had access to players in the clubhouses and who was also the son-in-law of Jerome Karpf, Managing Editor of the New York Evening Post which, I am assuming, also helped.  

Ms. Crosby worked for an outfit called Art Flynn Associates, which also employed a fellow named Jack Tanzer who covered their more western territories. Berger of course, eventually hired a MLB scout by the name of Turk Karam to assist him in his signing efforts.

The copy on the reverse is Mad Men-esque:

For reasons I will get into momentarily, I don't believe she wrote card backs as that was, by all accounts I have read, the province of Bowman's art and ad agency run by George Moll.  Perhaps she worked for them at some point although I doubt it. Also dig the Woody Gelman red crayon at the upper right, likely referring to his filing system at Topps, which must have ended up with a trove of Bowman documentation post purchase.

If that wasn't enough, Heritage Auctions recently offered up Mickey Mantle's 1951 and 1955 Bowman contracts and a couple of other related items.  I suspect a collection of Bowman related ephemera is being dripped into the hobby, with the choicest pieces now appearing.

Herewith the Mick's agreement to be Bowman-ized:

That stamp on top means this document was a deposition entered into evidence in the original lawsuit Bowman filed against Topps, asserting the right to use the phrase "baseball" in selling bubble gum cards was solely Bowman's. I've got a cancelled check Bowman wrote out to Whitey Lockman in 1949 that also has the same stamp.

Turns out Mickey got some steak money four days earlier to start the process:

The 1956 end date is interesting, isn't it?  I wonder if a number of the early Bowman signees had contracts ending that year; it may help explain why Topps was able to buy Bowman out from John Connelly in February of that year if he didn't want to get into a low rent bidding war as he was preparing to greatly expand his other business, Crown Cork & Seal.

If there was any question as to who Mantle signed with, it was memorialized in this acknowledgement:

Topps prevailed in the original suit filed against them by Bowman but appeals and new suits emerged and in early 1953 a ruling came down asserting ballplayers (and everybody in the United States) had the right to control how their image and name was used by third parties. Ongoing legal actions seem to have dragged things out even further until, in the early days of 1955, this document was signed.

All of this gives more insight into a very important and interesting time in the early 50's for Topps and Bowman. Hopefully more Bowman documents leak out soon.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Unboxing Day

More cellophane today campers!  Football cards also got their own little boxes protecting cello packs in 1970 and '71 but unlike their Baseball counterparts, no 1972 box came out.  This could have been due to Topps becoming a public company in March of 1972, thereby killing off any "un-needed" additional expense but it also could have been because Topps had a better idea on the pack graphics. I tend to think it's a combination of both.

Friend o'the Archive Dave Schmidt sent along a picture of a 5th series Baseball cello from 1972 with graphics on the front that highlights the transition:

I was not aware of this variation pack and am advised these were only tested with 5th series cards and obviously no outer box housed them. The test must have been a good one as the 1973 Baseball cards followed suit:

But I was talking about football, wasn't I?  The first Topps cello packs that I am aware of that had football cards came out in 1955 and featured the All-American set.

Topps used the cellos in '55 to help kill off Bowman, stuffing these ten cent packs full of as many as 22 cards!  The Trading Card Guild boxing came with a topper (as did a number of TCG retail boxes I suspect):

1956 saw a similar approach but Bowman had been vanquished and you didn't get 22 cards anymore in what was the first Topps NFL set.  Check out this amazing image from a past REA auction:

Cello Football issues continued into the standard card size era in '57 and I can't find any vintage FB cello's with graphics on them from 1957 onward. In fact, once you get to 1960 Topps seems like they almost abandoned gridiron cello issues.  I could find no entries in the PSA pack pop report for 1962, 1964 or 1965, although Mark Murphy's unopened pack guide indicates they were issued in all years. A 1965 tall boy cello would be a thing to behold!

1967 though, brought us a 1967 Football rak pak, once again memorialized in an REA auction:

Topps often test drove things with Football before following suit with Baseball the following spring.  For instance, pack inserts started in 1960 Football before they appeared in Baseball starting the following year.

There's definitely Football cello's in the 1966-69 years and then 1970 brought a nice, bright red box as Baseball test drove Football I guess! Mile High auctions had this bad boy a little while ago:

Topps already had reduced the card count from the 33 offered in 1970 Baseball cello's but the gum came onboard to soften the blow:

1971 brought a yellow box for Football, scans of which I found over at the quite wonderful Sports Collectors Daily:

The card count was excised on the reverse, foreshadowing the 1972 Baseball cello box:

1972 remains interesting as Topps used two cello pack varieties.  One was plain and one wasn't.  Here's a front and back from REA (again):

And here is a '72 cello with graphics:

These can be found in either flavor for the first two series. As for the infamous 3rd series, seemingly only distributed in wax to Stevens Point, Wisconsin, I don't think there are any cellos.

I'll end it here as it's quite homogenized from 1973 on as Topps had no competition and a bottom line to protect for its shareholders, resulting in a period of general blandness.