Saturday, November 7, 2020

Sheets Getting Real

After a bit of a pause to gather more information, the deciphering of the aboriginal Topps Tatoo issues continues today, with a look well past the 1948-53 sets in order to determine what a checklist might look like. First, let's look at the full list of tatoo/tattoo issues that Topps came out with in order to determine a potential universe of subjects (self-contained gum tab wrappers unless indicated):
  • 1948 Tatoo
  • 1949 Tatoo
  • 1953 Tatoo
  • 1955 Davy Crockett Tatoo
  • 1957 Popeye Tattoo
  • 1958 Popeye "New Series" Tattoo
  • 1959 Woody Woodpecker Tatoo
  • 1960 Popeye Mystery Color Tattoo
  • 1960 Magic Tatoo
  • 1960 Baseball Tattoo 
  • 1961 Superman Tattoo
  • 1962 Monster Tatoo (of relevance)
  • 1963 Astroboy Tattoo
  • 1963 Walt Disney Character Tattoo
  • 1964 Baseball Photo Tattoo
  • 1965 Tom & Jerry Tattoo
  • 1966 Mighty Mouse And His Pals Tattoo
  • 1966 Popeye Tattoo (commodity code confirms date for this and subsequent issues)
  • 1967 Comic Book Tattoo
  • 1967 Dr. Doolittle Tattoo
  • 1968 21 Tattoos (folded sheet/accordion hybrid)
  • 1969 Archie Tattoo (accordion style)
  • 1970 Bugs Bunny Tattoo (accordion style)
  • 1971 Baseball Tattoo (accordion style)
  • 1971 TV Cartoon Tattoos (accordion style)
  • 1973 Wacky Packages Tattoo
  • 1975 Bugs Bunny Road Runner Tattoos (stick gum wrapper)
  • 1975 Monster Tattoo
  • 1981 24 Tattoos (folded sheet/accordion hybrid)
Take some of those dates with a little salt but that's pretty much a continuous run from 1948 through 1975 (in fact it's an average of exactly one set per year) that looks to have finally ended only when it was not possible to sell such a product for two cents (such pricing starting with Wacky Packages Tattoo) or a nickel (accordion and hybrid styles) anymore.  Topps went to a 25 cent package for the much bigger 24 Tattoos in 1981 and then issued many more tattoo sets thereafter with the higher price points apparently finding a sweet spot that solved the 1970's post oil crisis profit problem. Anyhoo....

One thing that is not clear to me is the origin of the dating of the 1953 Tatoo set. The 1948 set is documented in Topps sales and advertising literature and the 1949 set is as well (to a degree).  But I've never found anything to date the 1953's and it may be as simple as one of the early hobby publications reported on these and I just haven't stumbled across the reference.  I also think it's possible that there was something of a continuous run of these little novelties from 1948-54 or so, than is described in hobby literature then and now. Why wouldn't you keep a cheaply produced novelty like Tatoo in production during the baby boom?

A generic, unlicensed Davy Crockett Tatoo came around in 1955 and then Popeye caught up with the cartoons that had been packaged up for TV in the fall of 1956 some time in '57. This began an impressive run of tattoos featuring everybody's Spinach guzzling sailor, with Topps issuing three distinct sets under a licensing deal with King Features Syndicate (KFS). Then new, made-for-TV Popeye cartoons debuted in 1960 and Topps moved on as a new licensing deal was probably needed because of the newly created cartoons. They certainly went all in on licensed comic and animation themed tattoos once they tasted the profits Popeye generated.

They did revisit Popeye in 1966 with a new (or possibly reissued) tattoo set in the wake of a 1965 re-syndication that was by all accounts, a massive televison success.  When it comes to tattoo issues though, the Baseball issues of 1960 and 1964 reign supreme with collectors, as does 1962's Monster Tatoo, although the latter does not seem to have been all that popular when issued. What Monster Tattoo has going for it is fabulous Jack Davis artwork-artwork so good it joined a host of old Tatoo images in 1981's 24 Tattoos. The 1968 21 Tattoos issue also reused a bunch but also had new designs.  So far, I've checked only two of the sixteen 21 Tatoos sheets but the designs match up with the original Tatoo subjects

24 Tattoos cost a quarter per pack, for which you got a sheet of 24 tattoos. With 12 sheets that made 288 impressions and almost all of them were culled from either Tatoo or the Monster Tatoo sets. I think this is why some of the Topps Vault numbering on original art extends into the 200's. I'm going to feature all 12 sheets here, so be warned!

I'll need a matrix reference system to go through all of this and it's a little tricky as there are some tattoos that are half the size of the others and several that repeat across the sheets (I'll sort those out in a recap at the end).  For Sheet #1, it would look like this and it's worth noting all sheets have the same array:

1 Top Top
Bottom Bottom
2 Top Top
Bottom Bottom
3 Top Top
Bottom Bottom
4 Top Top
Bottom Bottom

So on Sheet #1, below, 1A would be the monster in the upper left corner, whereas 1B Top is Uncle Sam. Each master sheet has 8 large tattoos and 16 small ones. I'll take each sheet one-by-one and try to determine:
  • Repeat Tatoo subjects
  • Likely Repeat Tatoo subjects (based upon their design) highlighted in green
  • Known Art subjects (without confirmed Tatoo) including Benjamin's illos.
  • Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects
  • Unknown subjects
I'd say the top three categories are all at least potentially "original" Tatoo-worthy; the first obviously is, with subjects from the second and third categories remaining to be confirmed as originals. Off we go with the first sheet:


9 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1B Top, 1C, 1D Bottom, 2A, 2C Top, 2D, 4A, 4B Bottom, 4D
8 Likely Repeats: 2B Top, 2C Bottom, 3A, 3B Top, 3B Bottom, 3C Bottom, 4C Top, 4C Bottom
1 Known Art Subject: 2B Bottom
6 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1A, 1B Bottom, 1D Top, 3C Top, 3D, 4B Top

You will see immediately on Sheet 2 that subjects within this set repeat as well (the Flying Saucer is in slot 4 D bottom above and 2A below).


4 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1A, 2A, 2D, 4B Top
11 Likely Repeats: 1B Top, 1D Top, 2B Top, 2C Bottom, 3A, 3B Bottom, 3C Top, 3C Bottom, 4A, 4B Bottom, 4D
1 Known Art Subject: 1C
7 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1B Bottom, 2B Bottom, 2C Top, 3B Top, 3D, 4C Top, 4C Bottom
1 Unknown: 1D Bottom

NB: 2B (Strongman) seems to be taken from the display box/canister art for Tatoo, while 4D (Porpoise with Compass) seems to match a very badly abused and washed out Tatoo I've seen on eBay.


4 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 2A, 2C Bottom, 2D (seen but not scanned on Tatoo), 3C Bottom
12 Likely Repeats: 1B Top, 1B Bottom, 1C, 1D Top, 1D Bottom, 2B Top, 2B Bottom, 3B Bottom, 4A, 4B Top, 4C Bottom, 4D
1 Known Art Subjects: 3A
7 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: A1, 2C Top, 3B Top, 3C Top, 3D, 4B Bottom, 4C Top


7 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1A, 1D Top, 2A, 3A (just missing tethers here), 3D, 4B Top, 4C Bottom
6 Likely Repeats:  2C Top, 2C Bottom, 3B Bottom, 4A, 4B Bottom, 4C Top
10 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1B Top, 1C, 1D Bottom, 2B Top, 2B Bottom, 2D, 3B Top, 3C Top, 3C Bottom, 4D
1 Unknown: 1B


4 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1B Bottom, 2A, 3A, 4A
11 Likely Repeats: 1C, 1D Top, 1D Bottom,  2C Top, 2C Bottom, 2D, 3B Top, 3B Bottom, 3D (seen but not scanned on Tatoo), 4B Top, 4D
9 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1A, 1B Top, 2B Top, 2B Bottom, 3C Top, 3C Bottom, 4B Bottom, 4C Top, 4C Bottom


 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1A , 1D Top, 3B Top
12 Likely Repeats: 1B Top, 1B Bottom, 2A, 2B Top, 2B Bottom, 2C Top, 3A, 3C Top, 3C Bottom, 3D. 4B Top, 4C Top
1 Known Art Subject: 4A
8 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1C, 1D Bottom, 2C Bottom, 2D, 3B Bottom, 4B Bottom, 4C Bottom, 4D


3 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 2B Top, 2C Bottom, 3C Bottom
13 Likely Repeats: 1A, 1B Bottom, 1C, 1D Top, 2A, 2B Bottom, 3A, 3B Top, 3C Top, 3D, 4A, 4B Top, 4C Bottom, 4D
7 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1B Top, 2C Top, 2D, 3A Top, 4B Bottom, 4C Top, 4D
1 Unknown: 1D Bottom


9 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1C, 1D Bottom, 2B Bottom, 2C Bottom, 3B Top, 3B Bottom, 3C Top, 3C Bottom, 3D
7 Likely Repeats: 1B Bottom, 2A, 2B Top, 2C Top, 2D, 4B Bottom, 4C Bottom
8 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1A, 1B Top, 1D Top, 3A, 4A, 4B Top, 4C Top, 4D


13 Likely Repeats: 1B Top, 1C, 1D Top, 2A, 2B Top, 2C Bottom, 3A, 3B Top, 3C Top, 3D, 4B Top, 4B Bottom, 4D
10 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1A, 1 B Bottom, 2B Bottom, 2C Top, 2D, 3B Bottom, 3C Bottom, 4A (repeats, same as 2C Top), 4C Top, 4C Bottom
1 Unknown: 1D Bottom


10 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1A, 1C, 1D Bottom, 2A, 2B Top (without clouds here), 3B Top (without musical notes here), 3B Bottom, 3B Top, 3D, 4C Top
6 Likely Repeats: 1B Top, 2C Bottom, 2D, 3C Bottom, 4B Bottom, 4D
1 Known Art Subject: 2C Top
6 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1B Bottom, 1D Top, 2B Bottom, 4A, 4B Top, 4C Bottom
1 Unknown: 3A


10 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 1B Top, 1D Top, 2A, 2B Top (without "motion lines" here), 3A, 3B Top, 3C Bottom, 3D, 4A, 4B Top
6 Likely Repeats: 1A, 2B Bottom, 2C Top, 2D, 3B Bottom, 4C Top
1 Known Art Subject: 2B Top,
Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1C, 1D Bottom, 2C Bottom, 3C Top, 4B Bottom, 4C Bottom, 4D


5 Repeat Tatoo Subjects: 2A, 2C Bottom (without "motion lines" here), 3C Top, 4A (mirrored here), 4 C Bottom (without background here)
10 Likely Repeats: 1A, 1B Bottom, 1C, 1D Top, 1D Bottom, 2C Top, 3A, 3D, 4B Top, 4D
8 Repeat Monster Tatoo subjects: 1B Top, 2B Top, 2B Bottom, 2D, 2B Bottom, 2C Bottom, 4B Bottom, 4C Top
1 Unknown: 3B Top (could be a Monster Tatoo)


Now for the fun part.  The "likely subjects" that were in the original Tatoo issues are pretty numerous.  I could be off on a couple I have assigned to Monster Tatoo (all noted here in what I believe is a set of 96 but there are hardly any scans at that site) and the chance any subject I have identified as "unknown" could be in either Tatoo, Monster Tatoo or just culled from something more obscure (Sputnik for example could be from 21 Tattoos), is high. One or two gun or cowboy-themed subjects could be from the extremely obscure Davy Crockett Tatoos but after they issued that rare set the Topps tattoo issues are almost all licensed products (Davy was generic) and I doubt any of those were repeated here.

What we are left with then are the likely original issue Tatoos where I can't find a corresponding single.  I doubt we'll ever truly know how many subjects were created originally and there is no way to tell what the "official" set counts mean.  100 + 100 + 150 = a potential universe of 350 subjects but we know Topps repeated some of those, reissuing them in larger sizes as they went along through 1953 or thereabouts.  Of course the bottom number is theoretically 150 but I'd say the true answer lies in between.

I'll break this all down in the final post in this series, creating a checklist of possible Tatoos that should at least show a nodding acquaintance to fact.

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