Saturday, May 30, 2020

Not So Simply Super

I don't know about you guys but I've spent some quarantine time ciphering out various Topps puzzles.  The biggest one so far (literally and figuratively) has been 1970 Super Baseball.  I'll spare you most of the number crunching and give you what's known and what's not.  I've been corresponding quite felicitously as well on this matter with Friend o'the Archive and uncut sheet super sleuth John Moran.  I'll get back to Mr. Moran after presenting some colorful scans, graphics and (B&W) numbers:

My interest was piqued by a partial (and torn) uncut sheet featured recently by Huggins & Scott:

I'm sure there's a great story behind this and it looks a right mess but very importantly it includes the gutter separating the two half sheets that make up the full press sheet.  Each sheet side, actually called a slit, has 63 cards: Slit A on the left and Slit B on the right. I call this sheet "HS1"

A long time ago I thought the full set of 42 appeared three times across two half sheets (42*3=126 as does 63*2) but that has turned out not to be the case.  Here is a proof sheet I call "HS2" and you can guess the origin:

REA had an uncut sheet sheet as well once:

I dub thee "REA", although I note I can't find the sheet over in their archive right now after going back to grab their site link.  Still, that's the name for our purposes! I believe it says SLIT B on the right edge between Bosman and Yaz, which was also helpful.

And then this one I found from a long forgotten source some time back, call it "PROOF":

However the problem with proof sheets is they show a specific area of sheet real estate but not necessarily where on the sheet the proofs ended up residing. So I began anew with HS1 and then turned to the others.  I came up with a schematic which I show here in two parts-here's slit A:

Those two left columns will be our focus momentarily.  But now Slit B, for which I use columns labeled AA through II just to make things harder (not really):

As for the colors, which you see show interlocking segments of the from the scans I inserted above (and also how the torn sheet bridges the gutter), here is the legend:

The Bench in I7 is technically "Unknown" but a safe bet so I've treated it as part of the confirmed array.  The four "Inferred" cards in gray follow sequencing that also seems right so they too are treated as being in the array.

I then added up all the impressions for each subject and got this:

The results, pending the 14 "No Idea" slots for the A&B columns give us some reference points to fill in same:
  • #38 Powell, known since almost the day the set was issued as a SP, as per the June 1971 issue of The Trader Speaks, although the first references I've found in TTS relating to possible short prints go back to the September 1970 issue. If you do the math, it's about 6 cents per card except for Boog, who adds $1.50.

Except for Powell, all the known SP's appear twice so far across the two sheets, again noting we are missing 14 impressions.

1   Osteen
2   Bando
5   Seaver
36 Brown
37 Robinson
38 Powell (1 only)
39 Davis
40 Williams

Four players appear four times across both:

15 Niekro
16 Howard
29 Yastrzemski
30 Fregosi

Everybody else has three impressions across the 112 presently known positions. And note the way those pairs stick together numerically in the count and also on the B Slit in Columns AA and BB.

Now let's get back to Mr. Moran.  We both feel the A and B columns will be locked in as pairs, although you will see in a second (and from the B Slit schematic above) that Powell may not fit this pattern. I have a theory that the eight known SP's appear no more than twice across both sheets while John thinks some may appear three times and have production related shortfalls.  We do agree on the following three potential pairings though...

13 McCovey & 12 Clemente (more below on Clemente)
19 Stargell & 18 Mays
34 Rose & 33 Gibson

That would bring Clemente, Gibson, McCovey and Rose to four impressions, Mays to 4 and Stargell to 3 but that's an uneven pairing and may not fit. Possibly McLain & Mays could be paired, making each a "quad."

The Clemente is on the top edge for sure (we also know on the bottom) as this cinches it and a McCovey appears to be as well in some scans from Mr. Moran. Check out all the real estate above Roberto's image in this scan:

McCovey is similar up top, just not as much white on this example compared to the Clemente:

Here now is where our theories diverge. Here's my take:

4 Aparicio & 3 Killebrew (we both agree on Killer actually)
7 Freehan & 6 Dierker
21 Santo & 20 Horlen
38 Powell & 42 Agee (unmatched I know, but we agree on Powell-I think).

John thinks:

5 Seaver & 4 Killebrew
38 Powell & 37 Robinson

He thinks possibly (making each 4 impression subjects):

9 Harper & 8 Bench
11 Brock & 10 McDowell

My "final four" theory preserves my "SP twice only" thoughts while John's is more based upon PSA pop reports. Mine brings Aparicio, Dierker, Freehan, Horlen, Killebrew and Santo up to three impressions each.  His brings Killbrew & Seaver to 3 and unbalances Powell (2) and Robinson (3). My Powell-Agee pairing is bothering me though.  It could be "Powell-Robinson, or Agee-Staub...or no second Powell at all; he is definitely the spanner in the works. The B Slit has pairings of 40-39 and 37-36, neatly leaving #38 Boog outside the operating pairs sequence.

OK, I have clearly been driven mad by lack of human contact!  Anyway, the thought was to let the readers have a go at it and see if anything pops up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Northern Double Exposure

Happy post holiday Wednesday campers! Today we take a look at an O-Pee-Chee uncut sheet featuring the second series of 1969 Baseball. It's a good opportunity to also look at a peculiarity of the set (and early OPC Baseball) as well.

The OPC set only consisted of the first two series issued in the US.  That's 218 cards in a year where Topps unleashed a whopping 664 (their largest set yet) in the biggest expansion year the modern sport had ever seen.  That's 109 cards per series in Canada, then finito!  We'll get back to that in a second but first, here's something associated more with T206 cards than Topps, a wet sheet transfer (WST).  This second series sheet is courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Roy Carlson:

Looks sorta good from a distance although the WST is a bit noticeable toward the bottom of the sheet.  First, here's a portion of the two left hand columns, which are unmarred:

As an aside, you may know this sheet from the 1969 Topps Baseball Mini Stickers issue, where 100 cards were turned into 1/4 size replica stickers.  Anyhoo, it's when you get past those left two columns that things become amiss:

There is the aforementioned WST!  You can see it more clearly on the Dick Schofield and Walter Alston cards:

You can see the mirror image black ink that transferred as the sheets were stacked.  Wet sheet transfers are often seen on T206 cards and the like but seem to pretty rare on Topps and OPC cards.

Here's the Schofield...

... and the reverse.

As I noted above, there's also a peculiarity to the OPC set, namely that it includes two series of cards but sports a third series checklist that they actually branded. They had not done this previously (Topps remained) and would not do anything similar until 1973 when some French appeared on the checklists:

Now you would think that left many a Canadian kid scratching his head when series three never showed up in the year major league baseball finally landed in Montreal but this had occurred previously. Why then in 1969 did they change their approach?  I suspect they intended to issue more cards in Canada but 1969 was to bring the Official Languages Act in September that made French co-equal with English. which could have been a consideration, but these cards would all have been printed well before that. Maybe the date of enactment was fungible (depending on the date of the vote) at press time for series 3 and getting stuck with a set that couldn't be sold legally was an issue?

Take a gander at this comparison of Topps vs. O-Pee-Chee set sizes (List # is for the next series checklist included with the "current" series):

1965 598 7 283 3 273 315
1966 598 7 196 2 183 402
1967 609 7 196 2 191 413
1968 598 7 196 2 192 402
1969 664 7 218 2 214 446
1970 720 7 546 5 542 174
1971 752 6 752 6 N/A     0
1972 787 6 525 4 478 262
1973 660 6 660 6 N/A     0

So from 1965-1970 Canadian purchasers had phantom cards to chase and in a couple of those years (1965 & 1967) the line of demarcation was even drawn in the middle of a series! And why did they pull back from fully matching the Topps set count in '72?

Another unintended (or, more likely, ignored) effect can be seen on the reverse though.  Note the Deckle Edge checklist at the bottom on black, neatly displaying all 33 subjects in this seemingly endlessly printed insert set (not counting the Foy & Wynn variations):

All fine and dandy except the OPC version of these B&W inserts only contained 24 subjects!  Here is Boog Powell (note the black autograph vs. blue in the US):

It's even more nefarious when you relaize the backs are blank and not numbered:

I'll save you all the trouble and list the nine missing subjects:
  • Felipe Alou
  • Tommy Davis
  • Al Ferrara
  • Jim Fregosi
  • Don Kessinger
  • Jerry Koosman
  • Rick Monday
  • Pete Rose
  • Hoyt Wilhelm
You would have thought with 24 subjects, one from each team would have been included but no-sirree-Bob!  It is nice though that Staub, who quickly became massively popular in Montreal and was known as Le Grande Orange, had an appearance, even if he is an Astro in the set.  It shows too the Canadian insert set is from the first run of Deckles.  The lone Expo is actually Maury Wills as Staub was traded to Montreal from Houston on January 22, 1969 whereas Wills was selected by them in the National League Expansion draft on October 14 the year prior.  In fact, he didn't last more then three months in Montreal before being traded away to the Dodgers in a homecoming deal.

Fun Maury Wills facts (try to stay with me here)-he was originally signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers in early 1951, ended up being lost to Cincinnati in 1956's minor league draft then ended up back with the now Los Angeles Dodgers in 1958, probably as part of a minor league trade.  The Dodgers then conditionally sent him to Detroit after the end of the 1958 season only to have the Tigers reverse course and do the same, sending him back to LA in 1959 prior to the start of the season.  He started the year in the minors but by early June he had made his MLB debut and ended up securing the starting shortstop job by the All Star break, with a World Series ring to show for all his troubles in October!


Saturday, May 23, 2020


A short time back I posted a canvass of eBay's supply of 1952 semi-high and high number Baseball cards. As long time readers of this blog know, I do not necessarily believe the story of Sy Berger riding a barge out to sea in 1960 and dumping what would now be several zillion dollars worth of '52 high numbers into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey.  Too many of the cards exist today and Topps had so many alternate avenues available to dump excess stock that it just doesn't add up.

We know some high numbers were shipped off to Venezuala. We also know a bunch were sold in Canada (no link here but enough on exists if you want to shuffle over there and take a gander). Take that information, add in a dose of the usual paranoid Topps practice of having their employees deflect any probes into the actual workings of the business and sprinkle it with some oft-repeated hoary bits of PR department blather and you get the idea nobody, but nobody wanted these cards, or so the story went.

But here's the thing....Topps did have ways to burn off excess cards and had being doing so since their first card returns came back in 1949.  They sold early versions of Fun-Paks, slipped overstock into Trading Card Guild aftermarket offers and often, very quietly backdoored unsold and returned product through "unofficial" hobby dealers.  The first of these unofficial dealers was Sam Rosen-Woody Gelman's Stepfather-who started selling excess Topps stock in the early 50's and I suspect handled the Trading Card Guild orders initially before things eventually went to more of an arm's length agreement.

Back to the '52 highs.  The biggest problem I have with the dumping at sea story is the lack of highs from the Card Collectors Company's 1959 catalog after Sam Rosen had stocked them in his prior catalogs:

Look at the 1952 Topps entry.  You cannot buy a card above #310.  A year later, the highs are  available, right around the time Sy Berger purportedly went out to sea:

A dime for anything below #311, 35 cents for highs.  The availability is back and the premium pricing is starting to be baked in right around the time the barge full o'highs dumped her load in the Atlantic Bight.

1961? Well, the catalog got fancier with photos and the '52 highs must have financed the snazzier look (not, really):

Yup, the highs have jumped to fifty cents a pop, an almost 43% increase.  Other dealers had high number inventory at this time and at least one, Bruce Yeko, was on good terms with Woody Gelman.  Yeko had a good inventory of '52 high numbers in 1963, although not enough to offer the full series for a single price:

(courtesy David Kathman)

Those $1 high numbers match CCC in 1962 & '63.  I'm also curious about some other series pricing in these early catalogs. There's no scarce mid-series indicated in '57 and high numbers outside of 1952 are not yet commanding a premium.

That #1-99 pricing tranche is suspect but the highs were going for 7 to 8 times the lows and semi-high's a mere eleven years after they were issued.

Woody maintained his supply of '52 highs at a dollar apiece until at least 1968, where he had enough still to offer a de facto 10% discount if you bought the whole series intact. Woody seems like he still had a gaggle of highs by the time the Year of The Pitcher kicked off:

Not among the "very rare"-Mickey Mantle!  I'm going to track the scarce and high number pricing patterns shortly and will trace the '52 Mantle pricing through the years as well.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Bucket List?

A very interesting bit of Topps history has popped up at Huggins & Scott this past week.  Our most intrepid readers may recall a major Pennsylvania find about a dozen years ago of the 1968 Topps Baseball Plaks test issue being covered here. You can click through for the full story but a former Topps employee in Scranton had saved a bunch of the Plaks (it seems employees could take home failed test products!) and would occasionally hand some out to the neighborhood kids.  Interest in little plastic busts of baseball players remained low however and she literally shelved the Plaks for the next forty years as they resided in a bucket in her garage. There were some intact sprues of three subjects still and some singles but who knows how many she hand handed out forty years prior?

Mile High's Brian Drent ended up with the consignment and began selling them in 2009. The find revealed 19 of the 24 players depicted on the stunningly nice cardboard checklists plus a Mantle variant ("big nose"). A lone Willie Mays Plak was found elsewhere and the set checklist remains I believe at 20, with four players still unaccounted for:
  • Hank Aaron
  • Don Drysdale
  • Gary Peters
  • Frank Robinson
A minimum of four of each subjects (save Mays, with none) were in the original find and some players appeared on three different sprues, fueling thoughts the missing four were just subbed out with duplicates.  I would caution against that scenario being accepted at face value as it's unknown how many Plaks were handed out by the former Topps employee. Here is an example of an intact sprue with the Mays no less, courtesy of Larry Serota:

The Plaks and even the little connecting pegs and blobs are actually quite sturdy, surprisingly so as I found out when I ended up with a "Tom" Davis bust from the find. Prices were depressed a little after the find (it was extremely hard to find examples prior) but the sell through was not completed IIRC. These remain scarce, still with limited appeal I'd say although the colorful photo checklists are popular with HOF collectors and around in a little bit more quantity with 67 showing in the present PSA pop report. 

Now we have another Pennsylvania find (or maybe something held back from 2008)-uncut strips of the checklists!  Check these bad boys out, eleven in a row for each league!

I don't know if these were reference copies, proofs or what but the rows seem to be complete at 11 across.  I had through the checklists were originally cut vertically before the final cut but that may not be the case. Either way, this is a crazy and wonderful find!

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Howser 'Bout That

There's been some Flexichrome related discussion over at Net54 Baseball recently and its inadvertently brought my attention to a neat bit of Topps production art.

Topps used the Kodak Flexichrome process in earnest through their 1962 Baseball issue and then sporadically after that for another several years as needed.  It eventually became an unnecessary process and in fact the Flexichrome product line was discontinued in 1961 by Kodak. Used in combination with some airbrush techniques, you can usually spot a Flexichromed card a mile away.  Here's a couple of examples you may know.

1959 Topps #468:

See how "soft" the pictures look in the triptych? That's Flexichrome.

Here's #130 Lou Jackson from the same set.  If Topps has a sharp color image they would use it and forego the coloring process.  You can see the freckles on his face this shot is so clear:

Compare that to this 1960 Rookie Star, #131 Ed Hobaugh, who looks decidedly unnatural:

This all brings us to a quite stunning piece of pre-production artwork, namely that of Dick Howser, showing how his image was prepared, courtesy of Friend o' the Archive R. C. McKenzie:

There is a bit to unpack here.  The sticker on the bottom lefty indicates this was from the famous 1989 auction of original Topps production materials, and indeed it was lot # C10 on  page 65 of the catalog:

The 17/049 notations must have been a storage location used prior to the auction.  Note the bitchin' Topps Auction stamp in the upper right corner:

Woody Gelman himself hand wrote the player identification...

...and the instructions to the Flexichrome artist:

The upside down writing on the right hand side of the backing board is a little harder to puzzle out and are in a different hand, possibly that of the artist coloring the piece. Sizing instructions are aboard too and that line at the end of the bottom pointing arrow here (pointing up on the original) is where the image was cutoff for the card:

Take a gander at the two left side line markings in red, laying out some macro geographic color real estate levels I think:

And the piece de resistance:

I love how you can see the green and blue Flexichrome paints oozing out from the original, like blotted watercolors.  A lot of masking went into the colorizing and it looks to me like the piece has slipped up a hair off the backing based on how the lines match up (note the one to the left indicting the top of the grass line and the 1 1/2 indicator arrow atop the right side).

What a fabulous piece of Topps history! Here's what all that massively involved work produced, you can see the crop atop Howser's cap indicated by the line shown above (it got cropped a little on the left and right sides, even if you account for the framing neatline:

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Cartoon Reruns

Happy Wednesday folks-more inspired research from Friend o'the Archive Roy Carlson today.

Take a look at these three Topps cards from 1966 and '67:

No apparent connection, right?  Well Mr. C has certainly found one. Check this out:

Yup, those cartoons on the '67 Ribant are recycled from 1966!  Let's take a closer look.  Here's what ended up on his 1967 card:

So poor Sammy Ellis had his cartoon hijacked and then changed.  At least both of the noted events were no hitters! Here's a little peek-a-boo or two:

Roy notes regarding the Ribant that "the 1967 finished card's left cartoon has an extra 2 hash marks by the pitcher's left arm. Those are actually a portion of the number "3" from "377", the card number that was written on Turk Farrell's 1966 cartoon. Also, based on the crudely cut and glued 1967 text board, a portion of the pitcher's glove gets covered.  One needs to look at the 1966 card to fully enjoy the full glove detail.  Plus, the 1967 text on the right cartoon was written on separate board, then apparently cut poorly, slicing a bit of the boxed "I" in the word "IN".  The artist or editor had to re-draw the left portion of the I box on the final cartoon."

Here's more from the Ribant card's back, you can see the glove is cut off on the left cartoon and the redrawn point of the I is broken on the right side one:

More cartoon fun soon!