Saturday, July 24, 2021

How Great It Is!

I've not touched upon the somewhat puzzling 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set in quite some time and my prior peeks have been somewhat cursory.  I ran through the two proof sheets and before that gave a super short capsule review in a kind of catchall post a while back so it's high time I readdress these oversized (2 1/2" x 4 3/4") cards.

Their origins in the hobby are a little murky but the set of 55 was seemingly tested in Brooklyn and the Boston metro area during the summer of 1971. It's likely one or two other areas saw them as well (you would have to surmise test stores around the Topps plant in Duryea, PA had them) but Brooklyn and Boston are the only areas I've seen positively identified. A display box is known as is a test wrapper:

While the box clearly says they came with gum, examples of the cards showing this are hard to find, at least in my experience. The wrapper is typical of the era's test issues; this one is courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Al Richter and it is ridiculously hard to find:

The earliest hobby reference I can find is in October 1971, where The Trader Speaks editor Dan Dischley gave his readers a checklist and quick rundown:

The cards look super nice.  I have three, two of which are Mets and those two are also short-printed.  Topps must have really liked the black border look in '71 - I know I do:

The backs tell the tales (both of which I remember happening as a wee lad):

Topps was very much trying to get "super" sized sports cards going in 1970-71 and I have to assume they thought there would be enhanced profit margins selling such behemoths. They probably wanted to create a full "super" line, which was clearly being ironed out from 1968 to 1971, but the plug got pulled before any large size 1971 Football set would have been issued. It seems to me it's likely a combination of poor sales and cost-cutting efforts due to their imoending March 1972 IPO (the latter possibly influencing the poor retail distribution of Greatest Moments) killed these sets off.

The set has 33 short prints and 22 double prints.  The DP's are often found in groups of 22 while the SP's are usually found as singles in my experience.  The Double Prints are as follows:

1 Thurman Munson
4 Carl Morton
5 Sal Bando
6 Bert Campaneris
15 Pete Rose
16 Jim Fregosi
17 Alex Johnson
18 Clyde Wright
19 Al Kaline
24 Bob Gibson
25 Tim McCarver
26 Orlando Cepeda
27 Lou Brock
28 Nate Colbert
36 Ernie Banks
39 Rico Petrocelli
40 Carl Yastrzemski
41 Willie Mays
43 Jim Bunning
50 Sam McDowell
51 Luis Aparicio
52 Willie McCovey

As you have no doubt observed having read this far, the cards are mostly grouped by team.

Bob Solon, writing in the same October 1971 issue of TTS, was unimpressed by Topps "distribution" network shenanigans, although his prediction from 1972 was wrong:

The ad from TTS November 1972 has a typo or two (I think he meant "55" not "33" and the year of issue is wrong) but gives an indication of how the DP's would be found in groups:

Supply was affected by the 1975 fire at the Card Collectors Company warehouse as this ad from February 1978 shows:

Looks like they lost a bunch of SP's and DP's alike based upon the Mint ones left unscathed by the blaze! Despite this setback, it seems most extant examples came from Card Collectors Company.

PSA has graded just under 4,900 of these, or about 63 of each slot (of 77) on the press sheet. Clearly an aftermarket supply, deservedly derided by Bob Solon, was made available and three or four favored dealers got some post-test stock one way or the other. The SP/DP pops run roughly 50-60/110-120 and of course for every graded card, especially black bordered ones, there are resubs and superstar skews, plus raw examples still in the wild (at some kind of multiplier like 3x I'd say if you sleuth eBay listings) but it's a good confirmation of the double print vs. single print ratio.

The set is one of the better looking extras issued by Topps over the years IMO.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

A Variety Of Unconnected Items

More mix 'n match today kids!  I continue to plumb the depths of my hard drive and the wilds of eBay and cool stuff continues to emerge!

First, we stop in Philadelphia, where Bowman, like their eventual purchaser Topps, offered premiums in exchange via a magically derived formula of wrappers, comics and cash.  This 1949 Baseball card had a premium offer for a baseball ring:

The ring is a tough item but here it is in all its 15 cent glory (hat tip to Dan Barcomb for this elusive image):

Football and Basketball rings also were produced but they are nowhere near as nice as the Baseball version. 

My recent post on the 1957 Popeye Tattoos lamented that only partial remnants of a display box had been sighted by yours truly. Well Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins came up with a full box flat and it is glorious.  No additonal helpful information resided on the bottom though, rats!

How about a 1959 Funny Valentines saleman sample, with sweet Jack Davis artwork?

Dig that shot of Frankie on the reverse!

Finally, we time trip to 1971, when Rocks O' Gum hit the candy stands. I can't ever recall seeing this product in a store but its offspring Gum Berries persisted into at least the mid 1970's so it must have had some success.  Here's a Topps reference copy (yes, they folded the larger sheets and filed them away):

Note the handwritten note along the bottom left side regarding the varnish to be used for the retail box and a date of April 29, 1971 signifying some step anywhere from final art approval to filing away something likely not to be seen again for many years:

Man, that's a great graphic!  Bam!

Saturday, July 10, 2021

American-International Intrigue

World On Wheels was a classic Topps Giant Size set, issued in at least two and possibly four series.  The low numbers span from #1-160 and appear to have been issued in two distinct series, generally thought to be 80 cards in number apiece. Ten high numbers follow and while difficult, they are do-able compared to the "high-high" numbers spanning #171-180, which are extremely tough and possibly came out, either in whole or in part, after the rest of the issue had been put to bed.

The method of distribution of the last ten cards has never been fully determined so far as I am aware. A handful of wrappers exist that indicate 1955 models were included, so that makes sense but almost all end at 1954, like so:

(courtesy Huggins & Scott)

I'll leave them out of the mix here but there are at least two varieties of nickel wrappers as well that span 1896-1954.  They are close to each other in appearance but not quite the same. Here is a "55" one cent wrapper:

(courtesy Lonnie Cummins)

I can't say I've seen a nickel wrap with 1955 on it but that doesn't mean they weren't issued.

Paging through my set the other day, I noticed the subject matter of the four cards that were not 1955 models in the"high-highs", which we will get back to shortly:

171 Pontiac Strato-Star
172 Chevrolet Biscayne
173 Buick Wildcat III
174 Messerschmitt

The Messerschmitt is the only foreign car in the "high-highs", all the others were US models. We'll also get back to that tidbit momentarily.

These last ten nosebleeders can be found with red backs (matching the first 170 cards), or blue, which is unique to the last ten subjects. The use of blue ink is a mystery and it's worth pointing out the red or blue color bars on the reverses of these ten in either color do not extend to both edges of the card, they fall slightly short, which is not always noticeable due to miscuts, which plague these last ten cards. The color blocks on the front also fall short of their side edge border, which are also sometimes noticeable due to miscuts but seem to have been designed this way. Allowing for the blue ink examples, none of the earlier 170 cards in this set exhibit these characteristics. 

In additon, the color of the red bars and secondary red coloring in the cartoon background on the backs of the "high-highs"matches the color of the red bars on the lower numbers while the blue seems to match the primary and secondary ink colors on the backs of Topps 1955 All American Football cards. Yup.

Here, check it out.  Here are a high-high front followed by a low number front:

Note how the left yellow border of the Nash does not bleed into the left edge of the card. The backs are like so:

The Roadster is on dingier stock than the Nash and the colors are a little muted but hey are the same reds.  Now here is a Caddy matched with an All American Football player:

Once again, the left border of the obverse color block does not have a full bleed. Now for the backs:

Note the Eldorado's blue color bar does not bleed to either edge!  We have matching blues on these two backs to boot.

So I got to thinking a little and am wondering of the "high-highs" were, in addition to a limited appearance in the "55" wrappers,  partially distributed at the New York International Auto Show, which was held every year back then at Madison Square Garden.  As near as I can tell the event was usually staged back then at the end of March and.or beginning of April.  It kind of makes sense-maybe Topps was a sponsor or just got a contract to print the cards. Maybe they just took advantage and issued a limited release in the NYC metro area.  

The International Auto Show was a major event in New York City and society was only just entering a period where such things started to lose their luster to TV, so it's possible but more evidence would be needed.  Other than the Messerschmitt, the three concept cars (Strato-Star, Biscayne, Wildcat III) all were featured at the 1955 event so I have to think there ws some kind of intentional tie-in to the show by Topps.

What I really need is a program from that event to see if there is any reference to Topps.  I'd also love to know how the All American Football set came to use the same reverse color scheme as I doubt they were printed at the same time as the "high-highs" or in time for a spring release (which would be quite odd).  It's worth noting however, that the All American Football set is complete at 100 subjects while the press sheets were comprised of 110 cards.  Also worth noting is Richard Gelman has told me sometimes Topps would use an extra row on a sheet to print something separately.  However, this does not explain the red backed high-highs.

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Sale-A-Bration Time

Friend o'the Archive Jason Rhodes recently alerted me to a really sweet display box he picked up last month; he snagged a real toughie and the bottom on this particular piece of Topps history revealed something of interest to me (and Jason) as well.  The item in question is a 1967 Funny Travel Posters five cent retail display box:

In addition to showcasing some of Wally Wood's finest work, Funny Travel Posters (click here to see what I mean) the box bottom has a Topps Sale-A-Bration Deal stamp prominently displayed, albeit not quite driven fully home by some poor schlep at Topps' Duryea plant:

We've seen this stamp before on 1968's Batty Book Covers:

Once again, here is the stamped box bottom:

I've re-found a third one, on a 1968 Planet Of The Apes box, thanks to a massive hard drive organization project I've been concentrating on during the pandemic and, while I'll probably still be at it until the end of my days, it will be no doubt help with enhancing future endeavors here:

Here she is:

There must be more of these out there from the late 60's.  The POTA movie premiered on February 8, 1968 and based upon that I would say the Sale-A-Bration deals seen here probably hail from 1968, as the unsold stock came back from various jobbers and the overstock was out out to pasture. Of course it could have run for a time before and after. I would say these were precursors to the X-Out boxes Topps sold later on, so marked as to prevent any further returns on what would have been discounted and discontinued products.

If anyone out there has more examples, please let me know.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Premium Power

Your humble blogger won a sweet lot of two old Bazooka premium catalogs the other day and they have now arrived here at the Topps Archives Research Complex.  Check out the mailing address on the label, it shows the premium enclosed (#105, of which more below) and, as a bonus, the visage of the original Bazooka Joe.  I can't believe this envelope survived all these years but it did:

Bazooka Envelope Mine.jpgThere were two paper items in there as well. One was a Bazooka College Collection Pennant Club catalog, resplendent yet refined in black ink. I previously showed the blue ink version here and as noted previously, there is no numbering of the pennants on the black ink version like there is on the blue.  I suspect Sid Luckman's star billing had a lot to do with his being an Erasmus High student as the Shorin family would have had several of their children grandkids/cousins/etc. educated there over the years and Woody Gelman was also an alumnus.  Woody, if not already working at Topps when this catalog was put together, was certainly working on their account along with Ben Solomon at their co-owned art service. 

Luckman Pamphlet Black Page 1 Mine.jpg 

The baseball pennants and emblems would be the same ones offered on the early 1950's Topps wrappers:
Luckman Pamphlet Black Page 2 Mine.jpg 

So many teams.....

Luckman Pamphlet Black Page 3 Mine.jpg 
And on, and on, and on.............
Luckman Pamphlet Black Page 4 Mine.jpg 

Riding along was this sweet Bazooka Premium catalog, which I think is only their second one and the first only had eight premiums.  "Bazooka The Atom Bubble Boy" was featured in comic book ads from mid 1948 to mid 1950 but the panels along the bottom seem drawn just for the catalog:

Bazooka Gift List Page 1 Mine.jpg 

More baseball emblems can be found here and, ta da!, premium #105, the Mexican Coin Bracelet:

Bazooka Gift List Page 3 Mine.jpg 

Such a clever lad, that Bazooka and dig the O. Henry ending-he usually blew a ginormous bubble, chanted his name backwards (Akoozab! Akoozab!) and flew into the sky to perform a feat of lifesaving derring-do. Not here though, turns out he just some used typical J.D. skills of the day:

Bazooka Gift List Page 2 Mine.jpg 
As I mentioned above, the freckle faced kid below was the first Bazooka Joe:
Bazooka Gift List Page 4 Mine.jpg 

I kind of wish the Mexican Coin Bracelet was still hanging around with the paper items but most of these premiums didn't last too long and those that did have, for the most part, simply been lost through attrition as time marches on.

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Deckle Faced

 Here's something you don't see every day, an uncut sheet of the 1969 Deckle Baseball inserts:

I suspect there should be three more rows at the bottom and you can see some funkiness at the top right side border but it's an impressive sheet no matter. A full 33 card set is printed over the course of three rows and with the sheet having both the Wilhelm and Staub cards, we know this was part of the initial press run as those two were replaced by Jim Wynn and Joe Foy respectively, thereafter. 

Here is a 66 card proof sheet, also from the first press run-note the grayscale color bars (and blue for the fake sig).  There's also handwriting along the top and some arrows along the edges that must have been added by one or both of  Ben Solomon's or Woody Gelman's teams at Topps.

I'm not sure what "ALBAMARL" refers to-could be a specific printer or location of one (say Albemarle, Virginia), or perhaps a note as to the glossy finish or even something else entirely-hopefully someone can comment. The red color of that note matches Woody's predilection in that vein and he also indicated what the deckling should look like (kinda) by drawing it around El Tiante!   However the "33 to set" notation looks like it could have come from Ben Solomon's hand:

I can't make out what's printed along the lower left edge but it's seemingly not an indication of which slit the proof belongs with. Perhaps it's the brand name of the photo stock.

The 33 card array was laid out as follows; why Topps didn't just set it up in numerical order escapes me.  You got one insert per pack and it would seemingly be a little easier when composing the set:

17  10  12  27  7   18  8    31  19  28  1
20   9   33  25  11  4   22  32  29  30  26
13  21  14  15  2   24  23  3    5    6    16

I've shown other proofs for this set previously, or more likely in-house tests, and you can dive in here. There's a look at the issued variations and some other goodies at that linked post as well.

This looks like some of the "process" for making the Rod Carew Deckle:

And a little more (or less) for Richie Allen; check out the rounded corner version, like the Game cards from the year prior:

There's certainly plenty of nuances in what looks like a plain-old insert set, isn't there?

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Dating Game Is Afoot!

The precise dating of Topps sets and those of other issuers is, to my increasingly cluttered mind, primarily a vestige of baseball card collecting, where determining the year of a player's rookie card appeared has a massive impact on value.  Sports are, of course, determined by their seasons and for the most part an issue date for a specific set from the last 75 years can be ciphered quite easily. Peek back earlier than World War 2 though and it's not always so simple, even for baseball and football sets.  As for non-sports, for certain sets it's difficult to figure out exact issue dates well into the 1960's and even into the 70's on occasion.  Compounding things is the propensity of Topps to sell hot sets over more than a one year period or something they issued across the "New Year's Divide".

Popeye Tattoo and its two (or four-stay with me) subsquent offspring is a perfect example of both effects. The original tattoo series has been described as being issued anywhere from 1956 to 1958, with the latter date seemingly the consensus. Here is the original series wrapper:

It's not dated of course, just the King Features Syndicate and Topps copyright lines appear. However, I'm pretty sure it was a 1957 issue that was sold well into 1958.  Take a look at the box, or rather two pieces of it-rather stunning I'd say when the top graphic is blown up-but sadly the only display remnants I can find:

Not exactly a ton of information, although there is a solid clue. I've dug around a little and found that the Quality & Purity logo, which was featured by Topps going back to the 1940's, shows up on both the Isolation Booth ('57) and 1957 Football display boxes. I can't track it into 1958 anywhere, even on the boxes that still have the old "Atom" Bazooka penny tab wraps shown on the back panel issued in the first half of that year. So the Q&P logo appears to have been ditched by late 1957.

Could it have been issued in 1956?  Well, George W. Woolery compiled three volumes about Children's TV back in the 1980's and these books are immensely useful in determining premiere dates, series air date spans and the like. Per Woolery, Popeye premiered in syndication on September 10, 1956 in the New York City and Chicago metro areas and within a month was on the air in LA. He describes the show as a "smash hit" and it certainly was but no one in the fall of '56 really knew at the time how it would play out.  This was, after all, the first theatrical-cartoons-to-TV syndication package ot its kind when the deal was cut between the syndicator and Paramount Pictures (which owned Famous at the time).

The original cartoons in the syndication package were early, black and white ones but color TV was already available and had been since late 1953 (did you know Dragnet was the first show shot in color?), although the sets were quite expensive early on, with small screens and heavy cabinetry abounding.  It wasn't until a year later that the color Popeye cartoons, which kicked off theatrically in the middle of World War 2, were negotiated into the syndication deal cut by Paramount.  As documented here on numerous occasions, Famous and it's predecessor Fleischer Studios employed Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman for several years and the connection should not be lost on people when it came time for Topps to issue their first licensed character tattoo set. Big cities generally sold expensive electronic products first and New York, LA and Chicago perfectly fit that bill with the color shorts becoming available.

By 1960 Popeye was airing on 150 stations nationally and described as the most popular syndicated cartoon show in the country. Topps was on it before that though and I've already detailed a jobber's invoice from March of 1960 covering the "New Series" of Popeye Tattoos

Between that and the American Card Catalog, where Gelman was an editor, giving 1959 as the year of issue, I think it's safe to say these indeed debuted that year. This all suggests a 1957-58 window for the original series and 1959-60 for the second.

Now we come to Popeye's Mystery Color Tattoos. Rights to the theatrical cartoons were controlled by Paramount but don't forget that Popeye was first a comic strip, where the rights were owned by King Features Syndicate. KFS commissioned 220 new shorts, made just for TV, to debut in the 1961-62 season. Popeye was still a hot, hot property and Topps of course wanted to remain onboard while perhaps freshening up their product a little:

I like how Topps subbed in a fish on the wrapper application graphic! That fish appears on the underside of my example, whcih I think was a salesman or promo verison as there's no production rip at the top:

Again, no date is found on the wrapper but the Third American Card Catalog Update, compiled by Buck Barker, appears in the February 1, 1962 issue of the Card Collectors Bulletin and clearly identified the mystery tats as being a 1961 issue, 13 lines down:

Given how the tatoo series would have been timed to the TV season, it seems logical this was a 1961-62 release.

Many thanks BTW to Friend o' the Archive David Kathman for providing definitive dating of this ACC update, which was inexplicably described as undated in Chris Benjamin's compilation pamphlet. There's another great tidbit on the page as well, namely confirmation that Civil War News (see line 14) was indeed issued in time to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of hostilities between the North and the South in 1861. Every source I've seen describes it as a 1962 release but clearly it was not if Barker had it pegged as a 1961 issue.

I did mention four additonal Popeye tattoo series, didn't I?  Having covered a duo, that leaves two still. Well here is one from Venezuela:

Intriguingly, the wrapper sizing is far smaller than the US version of the original series which measured out at 1 5/8" x 3 3/8".  The Venezuelan wrap is only 1 1/8" x 2 3/8", or the size of the original 1948 Topps Tatoo wrapper!

Finally, Popeye and Topps reunited in 1966 with this new/old wrapper:

It's very small and quite hard to read but the commodity code, which was still being developed in the wake of Topps moving all but their executive offices from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA in early 1966, ends in a 6, so it's a 1966 conception and an issue almost certainly designed for the 1966-67 television season.  This is a tough wrapper compared to the others, so maybe the gleam off the spinach can was fading for Topps by then.