Saturday, December 25, 2021

Merry Christmas!

 Read to the end for a Christmas surprise!  But first...

And last but certainly not least, a tip o' the Santa hat to Jason Rhodes, who alerted me to this stellar image of Santa's Fun Pack from 1950, which was discussed not too long ago:

(copyright Christopher Benjamin & Dennis W. Eckes, 
Sport-Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards 1930-1960, Edgewater Book Co., 1991)

The "surprises" are just the novelties (inserts) included with each pack but I am wonderng if the Fruit flavor Gum tab had something like a "Topps Daffy-nition" on its wrapper interior as I don't believe they came with anything like a comic insert. Questions, questions....which will keep us busy in to 2022 and beyond!

Friday, December 24, 2021

Appreciation Sensation

Yes, I am a day early for some but I come bearing a Christmas Eve gift!

Here's a bit of an oddity, a greeting from the distant past ( 1945 to be exact) although it's essentially an announcement introducing Warren's Gum, a five cent line of Clorets-style candy shell coated chews. I don't have a scan of the actual front so I subbed in the back as it kind of makes sense to do so! I'm not sure if this was originally meant as a holiday greeting or not but the color scheme suggests it could have been and it would have been prepared after the end of the hostilities with Japan, so close enough.

The mistletoe and holly are upon us, so I'm going to just let this speak for itself.  I'll have a little "present" tomorrow for you all as well, on our normal posting day.  May your holiday be bright!

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Purple People Sheeters

A few weeks ago I posted some Topps Football Salesman Samples and a comment thereon marveled at the 1963 example shown, which had a purple background variation along with two "normal" blue backgrounds.  I don't collect the 1963 Football set and am unfamiliar with the variations for the most part, so I thought I'd try to gather what information I could find about the them and the set itself here in a simple, easy (LOL) to read post.  To refresh your memory (and mine) this was the '63 sample:

Blue, blue, purple-easy enough, right?  Well, not exactly....especially after reading this ur-variation article: click over for a well researched piece.  It's from an older, albeit oft-linked site and it notes the lesser known green background variants as well.

I've nicked the above scan from the linked site ( or "rb" merely for reference purposes but you can see purple on the left-most card and (over-saturated) green on the right-most in the Nomellini card backgrounds.  The green variations seem to have been done to correct for very drab looking grass and trees in many cases. The salesmen sample I showed in my original post and above is also referenced over at "rb" so it's been known for a while (2014 at least).  This is all starting to remind me of the 1962 Baseball green tint variations!

PSA has a nice article on the set as well and notes the 116 purple background varieties, although I think "rb" has 115.  I am not sure if all the green variations have been counted anywhere but there are a fair number of them. Neither color variant seems to follow the Topps "rule of 11" and as "rb" notes, they were changed at the lithographic level.

The set is 170 cards in length, which is an odd total in Topps-land and Mike Thomas's Vintage Football Card Gallery has a nice "reconstruction" project covering the sheet arrays.  Here is sheet #1 via Mr. Thomas, which is reproduced from an actual half sheet that doesn't display too well:

Here is Mike's second sheet reconstruction; what a wonderfully colorful set, especially in uncut form:


I'll get into the print arrays momentarily but first here is a nice Cardboard Connection capsule summary of the set.  The first sheet is quite interesting to me; it shows how Topps was locked into a format of 11 players and a team card per franchise, so adding additional subjects to bring the total to a more "elegant" and somewhat normal 176 (ideally 98 cards on one sheet plus next series checklist + 76 cards on the second with a DP checklist) could not have been done unless they broke the pattern (or issued non-single player cards like they did with Baseball for several years). Topps was team-centric in football for many years prior, perhaps due to the nature of its deal with the NFL. Here is the array for the first sheet which is easy to digest, as each row, excepting rows 3 and 4, contains all 11 player cards of a specific team:

1 Eagles
2 Steelers
3 Team Cards
4 Team Cards-Checklists
5 49'ers
6 Colts
7 Vikings
8 Packers
9 Rams 
10 Lions
11 Bears
12 Cardinals

You will see both checklists (nos. 85 & 170) appear twice in the fourth row.  In addition, the team cards of the Rams (#48), Giants (#60), Packers (#97) and Vikings (#109) repeat from the third row as well.  The ten other team cards appear only once between both rows so we get a first sheet count of: 

110 Players
  10 Single Print Team Cards
    8 Double Print Team Cards
    4 Checklist Cards
132 Cards

The second sheet has the following row array:

1 49'ers
2 Colts
3 Vikings
4 Packers
5 Rams 
6 Lions
7 Bears
8 Cardinals
9 Giants
10 Cowboys
11 Redskins
12 Browns

The last first two rows for the first sheet and the last four rows of the second contain the single printed cards.  Adding in the ten single printed team cards there are 76 short prints in the set.  If issued in two waves then I tend to think there were two identical half sheets made up for each.  If released all at once, each half sheet may just have been different from the other.

It's worth noting the season-long suspensions of Alex Karras and Paul Horning on April 17, 1963 for gambling at this point in the discussion.  The Lions cards ran from #25-35 with the team card clocking in at #36.  Karras, however, was not a guaranteed appearance in a Topps NFL set at the time.  He was not in their 1960 set after his cardboard debut a year prior and even star defensive players often got left out of the shorter Topps sets.  While he made it in 1961 and 1962, Topps lost the NFL contract to Philadephia Gum in 1964 but Karras doesn't appear in any of their sets either until 1966 and then is a miss in 1967.  He then re-appears in 1968 with Topps.  So he's in no mainstream sets from 1963-65 and therefore may not have been in the plans for Topps in 1963. 

Hornung on the other hand, was a star offensive player (one of the biggest) and it's interesting to me that card #85, which theoretically would have kicked off the Packers numbering run, instead was assigned to the first checklist card. 

So my question is this: were the Packers supposed to have Paul Hornung included? Furthermore, was "series 1" supposed to end at #84, preserving the 11 player + "following" team card formula, where the team card was always divible by 12?  We'll never know but it certainly seems possible.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Phantoms Of The Parks

I'm going to do something a little different today, which is present in full a nearly 40 year old story from the January 1982 issue of Baseball Hobby News that tells the story of Richard Gelman's "find" of 29 original Bowman art pieces from 1952. Original Bowman art is always notable but these illustrations included 15 players who did not appear in the issued set and a changed team for Willard Ramsdell, who was traded from the Reds to the Cubs for Frank Hiller on January 3rd in the first deal of the year.  

Here is ol' Willard from the 1952 Bowman set:

Note the mention of the trade on the reverse:

You will see in the BHN article below that the original artwork for Ramsdell has Cincinnati on his uniform, so it was changed to Chicago in pre-production. I haven't been able to find an image of the Cincinnati version of the painting, if there even is one, but did find the photo it was copied from:

Given the 414 Ft. sign, towering apartment buildings in the background and a NYC photographer it's pretty easy to surmise that shot was taken in the Polo Grounds. Ramsdell was traded by the Dodgers on May 10, 1950 to the Reds, so the photo is probably either from before then or was snapped sometime in 1951. Either way, here is the skinny from four decades ago:


Saturday, December 4, 2021

Splendid Swat

Well more deep diving into my stash of old hobby publication tearsheets has yielded a couple of sets I had long forgotten about.  In fact, they showcase two of the biggest superstars the game ever had.  Yup, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams both got a short and odd treatment from Topps in the 1990's.

"Babe Ruth" was broadcast by NBC TV on October 6, 1991, which was a couple of days before the MLB Playoffs began.  Babe Ruth the card set was produced by Topps for the producer of the movie, Lawrence Lyttle and it seems only 500 sets were printed.  The 11 card set mostly features actors, as one would expect, but there are two noteworthy exceptions.  Pete Rose, two years on from the lifetime ban that derailed his surefire first ballot HOF election, played Ty Cobb:

Ironically, Cobb and Tris Speaker (both of whom are certainly in the Hall of Fame) each ended up as teammates on the Philadelphia Athletics in 1928 as a result of a game they had bet on toward the end of the 1919 regular season. Dutch Leonard and Smokey Joe Wood were also in on the action but they had already left the majors by the time the matter came to light in 1926.  American League President Ban Johnson and Tigers owner Frank Navin paid off Leonard, who had damning correspondence implicating all four players, in what sounds like a successful blackmail scheme.  

The Commissioner's Office was duly informed toward the end of 1926 and the two players were forced to resign (Cobb as Tigers player-manager with Speaker in the same role for Cleveland).  The scandal was not exactly squashed but it was certainly covered up by Landis, Johnson and Navin.  Cobb and Speaker were both released as well, with Ty going to play for Connie Mack in 1927 while Speaker ended up with the Senators before joining the Athletics for 1928, which was the last active season for both men. Inspired casting, I say!

The set however, does include a Hall of Famer in Rod Carew, who served as the hitting consultant for the movie.

As his write-up noted, Stephen Lang played the Babe:

Topps would do things like this on occasion and such sets would have been used as part of a promotional package or even as a thank you to certain people involved with the making of the movie.  The checklist is like so:

1. Babe Ruth - Sunday, October 6th-NBC

2. Stephen Lang as Babe Ruth

3. Bruce Weitz as Miller Huggins

4. Lisa Zane as Claire Ruth

5. Donald Moffat as Jacob Ruppert

6. Neil NcDonough as Lou Gehrig

7. Pete Rose as Ty Cobb

8. Rod Carew-Baseball Consultant

9. Ruth and Mgr. Huggins

10. Ruth in Action

11 Babe Calls His Shot

Topps got to use their "40 Years of Baseball" logo and the set looks pretty sharp!

As for Ted Williams, when I said short and odd at the beginning of this post, I meant it.  On December 15, 1995, at the dedication of the Ted Williams Tunnel, which connects Logan Airport to the city of Boston (and was part of the infamous "Big Dig"). Williams had been driven through the tunnel as part of the opening ceremonies by the governor of Massachusetts and once they arrived at Fenway Park an invitation-only luncheon was held.  Attendees received a 13 card set sponsored by Boston Sand & Gravel Company as a favor, which featured 12 cards produced by Choice Marketing but also sported a single card made by Topps.

And what a card it was:

Naturally, it was card #9, although I believe it was used as the "header" for the set:

It's reported 3,000 sets were produced and the Williams is definitely easier to find than the cards from the Babe Ruth set. (UPDATE December 9, 2021: Keith Olbermann advises far more than 500 Babe Ruth sets were printed up, likely several thousand).

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Witch Craft

Well both Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving have come and gone, save for some leftovers but Friend o'the Archive Jeff Noll has come up with a Trick or Treat retail box for our post-prandial viewing pleasure. We last saw this style of box the day before Hallowe'en of course and now we can have a much better looksee.

It's in rough shape but these are extremely rare, so you take what you can get:

Love the graphics! Note the 49 cent price stamped on the box.  In fact, that was was a dime above suggested retail! Topps must have sold these for about 23 cents at most when averaged out (60% was the standard wholesale (jobber) rate, although terms were 2% net, so prompt remittance meant you only had to cough up about 22 cents per. If you assume a 48 box case (an educated guess, I have no hard information) then that was a mere $11 or so for what amounted to 2,880 cards-yikes! That extra dime per box was a pretty healthy uptick for the retailer who stamped this one.

We know the jobber rate thanks to some Topps promotional verbiage; 1956's Jets is one confirmed occupant and the key to knowing the suggested retail price:

(Courtesy Lonnie Cummins)

I'm not sure if that Airplane Picture Cards bit peeking through the cello window was just a paper insert or just there for the photo but it's too big to be a penny pack.

Here's the back view, a little more intact than the top:

Very simple elements convey the Hallowe'en theme quite nicely.

The end view is pretty plain but there was no mistaking what time of year these were intended for:

Per Jeff, these boxes measure up like so: 2 1/8" x 8 1/8" x 3 7/8", the first number being the height. He further advises there are no product codes or other markings anywhere on the box.

From what I can tell Topps had given up on Christmas themes after about 1953 and Valentine's Day livery doesn't seem to have come around for a few years still, so this must have really been a big seller, even with the discount pricing.  Topps provided cardboard displays too for larger buyers, those profit margins must have been scary!

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Ersatz All Folks

Hey kids-kind of a "so good it could be real" post today, so hang on for a fun ride!

Here's a couple of esoteric Topps sales stimulators I found from an old Morphy Auction some time ago.  These are of the neater items I've seen in the ersatz-promo vein.  The first is a "Baseball Certificate" which very much resembles an admission ticket of yore-because it actually was one!  It's hard to read but it indeed bestowed a granstand seat to the bearer.  This may have been from a Bazooka contest but I'm having trouble tracking which one so perhaps it was instead from a distributor contest, something Topps ran with regularity.

Next up, we get this fantastic item from two years later, hawking the first Topps Baseball inserts (Baseball Stamps) and the standalone albums used to house them:

That was clearly designed to look like a Western Union telegram and given that Thanksgiving is almost upon us, this one seems apt to show as an example (plus it was sent on the exact day I was born!):

Western Union killed off telegrams on January 27, 2006 in case you were wondering why you hadn't received one lately!

Topps would up their game considerably in 1962 with faux fiat currency.  I can't find any promotional material for these, which doesn't mean there wasn't any of course, but it's MIA right now.

Baseball Bucks came first and were an entirely separate product from the flagship Baseball, sold in one and five cent retail packs.  This is a typical example, tilt and all:

The change of seasons brought Football Bucks of course, which might be the most miscut-prone issue Topps ever produced.  These were pack inserts with the regular issue Football set:

And if you lived in Canada Hockey Bucks also saw daylight once a pack of Hockey cards was opened, although they had a decidely North of the Border look. These are not the easiest things to find:

Still tilted after all these years!

Saturday, November 13, 2021

On The Roads

While I am still unable to locate anything at all from the ur-Shorin company known as American Leaf Tobacco Company, new (to me) items from their successor company American Gas Stations keep popping up. Today it's a thoroughly magnificent circular touring "wheel" chart:

It's fairly large, measuring 10 1/2 inches in diameter and fully functional, although I doubt very few of the routes given are viable anymore. With only four AGS locations shown, I can date this item to circa 1934, which is when the Shorin family had at least four corner service stations in operation; they would end up with about fifteen of them before Socony (now Mobil) scooped them all up as they blotted out smaller competitors in New York throughout the 30's and early 40's.  

Here's some better detail, although the size of this sucker makes it a little difficult to get everything in the shot (the above is from the eBay auction):

One of those two California trunk lines would still be recognizable to modern travelers, although you would be hard pressed to use it now for its original purpose.  I'm referring to Route 66, which still begins in Chicago and ends in Los Angeles, or vice-versa. The second would be the older Lincoln Highway, which actually ran from New York City to San Francisco but was more of a series of interconnected roads (and occasional almost-roads) rather than a planned highway like 66 was.

The back had a reasonably organized list of the various destinations you could reach:

Here's some more detail; I note "Interstate" has a totally different meaning these days!

I'm not sure how these wheels would have been distributed but they certainly could have been a premium-style "loyalty" product given to the more free-spending customers of the day or even retailed along with other maps, such as they were, at the time. No matter, it's a fabulous piece of a fast-receding American past.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

The First Christmas...

 ...Fun Packs! And it seems appropriate to look at Christmas just after Hallowe'en, although I'm a bit of a piker as my local Home Depot stores have had their holiday displays up since mid-September.

Among the many mundane tasks I undertake to keep this blog and my related research going, I sporadically scan (or download if I can) pertinent articles from various hobby magazines, auction catalogs and the like.  I'm in the midst of a monster scan-a-thon of almost 340 issues of The Wrapper and I've already extracted a ton of great articles and ads just from the first 77 issues.  

But this one took the (fruit) cake, from issue #51 (May 15-July 1, 1985) as Wrapper King John Neuner describes buying Topps Gum tabs in 1949:

You will note he specifically mentions the Fruit flavor.  Well that is interesting as the only example of a Fruit wrapper that I have ever seen came from Chris Benjamin's' Sport Americana Non-Sports Guide, whcih featured this singular image:

I can't make out the copyright date but suspect it's 1946 as the wrapper style matches the other flavors (Spearmint, Peppermint, Cinnamon and Pepsin) from that year and by 1949 Topps had converted to selling Chiclets style gum in their non-Bazooka penny tabs (2 pieces per pack) [Update Nov. 8, 2021-it is indeed a '46, see postscrip below]:

I'm not 100% sure but think only Spearmint and Peppermint survived the transition period. Dig that LBP (Lord Baltimore Press) logo on the back's waste area!

Getting back to the Fruit wrapper, I have to believe it came from Neuner's collection.  1939 Ginger wrappers have popped up (2 tabs and a wrapper at last count) so the Fruit variety seven years hence is presently the holiest grail for Topps Gum.

Notice too the sell sheet that makes up the article's background art shows the last round retail canister Topps sold their tab gum in, for the original 1948 issue of Tatoo. By 1949 they had switched to true display box format, which would have elimiated the need for overboxing each canister in a shipping carton.

The Stop 'N' Go (aka License Plates) set is, other than 1955's Hocus Focus series of 126, the hardest gum tab card issue of them all. I suspect it had only just been introduced when Topps switched over to the larger, 1950 version for the reissued Stop 'N' Go set (and the slightly renamed Flags of the World-Parade) and pulled the ol' retail plug. Given the paucity of surviving cards I doubt it even saw a vending issue like X-Ray Roundup --and I suspect Flags of All Nations-Soldiers of the World-- which can be found with relative ease.  

The story does not end there though, as Neuner saves the best for last, describing a "Santa's Fun Pack" (per the header card but with no illustration provided, alas, he had picked up for what looks to be $420, or a little less if the Fun Pack was dicounted (can't tell):

That backdates Fun Packs to 1949 and not 1950 as I had previously thought.  

For the record, it's not clear if all the products he listed could be found in Santa Fun Packs.  That Hocus Focus is Magic Photo of  course and Pixie is X-Ray Roundup. The theory was, if the card set failed, the gum name (Hocus Focus, Pixie) could live on I guess.

OK, who's got a Santa Fun Pack to show?!

Postscript Nov. 8, 2021 - Lonnie Cummins reminded me that he now owns a Fruit wrapper and I believe it's likely the one shown in Benjamin.  Embarassingly, he had sent me scans of it awhile back, which I promptly misfiled!  So here is the 1946 Fruit wrapper in all it's considerable glory, with a tip of the Topps cap to Lonnie: