Saturday, March 27, 2021

Who's Who?

Here's a peek at the Topps Art Department's responsibilities circa 1977-78 that shows just how much detail went into some of the artwork used on their display boxes. The box in question housed 1978 Baseball wax packs and you probably know it on sight:


Topps was masterful at deploying images on their display pieces that almost looked like actual players. Yes, I'm looking at you "Barely Bench", "Maybe Martinez" and "Counterfeit Carl"! (NOTE: 5/11/21: The "Barely Bench" mug belongs to Joel Shorin, per an anonymous comment just received, and I have to say it's pretty darn obvious now that I look at it again!)

The side panel was a little more generic but that batter has no clue how to lay down a bunt:


What looked like a laydown by Topps though, was actually anything but. Check out this proof of that side panel art sold via REA a while back:

"Ted" is Ted Moskowitz, the assistant art director under Ben Solomon and that is his boss's handwriting indicating "fixative" will be needed.  Fixative spray adds a protective layer to paints and inks and it looks like the rest of the box art was essentially done at this point but an annoying sheen was still present.  

The height of the original was greatly reduced in the final version above but there was certainly latitude in how much could be excised given the background striping. I'm not sure why the targets are cockeyed but imagine they've moved over the years.  The art looks like it's about ten years older than the issue date, especially compared to the box top art which certainly looks more modernized.  This almost looks like a piece created for internal mockups that eventually found its way to display boxes.

Ben Solomon essentially had his own ecosystem at Topps in terms of the art mechanicals and worked in conjunction with New Product Development (NPD) under Woody Gelman and Len Brown.  Their influence on the company's visual imprints informed about five decades worth of Topps products.

EDIT 3/28/21: A tip o'the baseball cap to Mark R. Pekrul for info on the Rivers-Morgan photo Topps hijacked for the bottom right corner of the box top and split out Joe Morgan to the upper left, making him look like a very ill Johnny Bench. Voila:




Saturday, March 20, 2021

Rosen Bloom

Last October I took a look at Sam Rosen, who was Woody Galman's Stepfather and ran the concern that Woody turned into the Card Collectors Company in 1959.  I've been deep-diving Woody of late and found a few more tidbits on Rosen I thought I'd share. This was triggered by finding another matchcover featuring Sam from a 1951 convention (the previous post had a '49), at which point I thought had a pretty good post teed up.  Then a whole bunch more of these turned up all at once and I was able to piece together a much richer (and more colorful) story.

We get a prismatic and geomterically diverse set of five for the Rathkamp Matchcover Society's (RMS) 1948 do in Cleveland:

I've shown the '49 cover previously but WTH here it is again; it coincided with Sam being named the RMS Outstanding Collector of the Year, which resulted in a commemorative plaque and a bestowment of 500 matchcovers:

So the question is, can you find multple colors in every year Sam had these made up?  Based upon the array from 1950, I am going with "yes, yes you can":

You have to hand it to Mr. Rosen, he did not spare any expense!  I'm still thinking Solomon & Gelman created the artwork for these but they do not seem to be in either Ben or Woody's hand.  1951 brings up another question, namely if there are color sets for every year, are they all complete at a count of five? Check it out:


I believe by 1953 he was rolling with the after-market card business following his retirement from the garment business and he passed in 1958, so there's a fairly short post-war window of years where matchcovers of Sam could have been created. You could turn that 1951 image, featuring an album, into one for the hobby dealer known as "Sam Rosen" quite easily!

Speaking of 1952, we're not quite done.  This disappearing and repeating type of "infinity" illustration was quite in vogue at the time on the covers of comic books, which makes me think an artist from that field came up with this one:


1953 is presently our end marker and I have only a single example to present.  It's outside the color palette seen previously but I'll bet more exist (four, natch, at a guess). Note the address changed from 110 West 34th St. in Manhattan to #233, which is right across the street from the present day Madison Square Garden.  Since the card business was located at #110 I'm not sure why this change of address occurred. Also, I am reminded of the Topps Funny Foldee issues given Sam's visage here:


The back of the dome on the reverse is a nice touch!

What's amazing, beyond the fact these even exist, is that Rosen became a world class collector in eight short years and that was after starting from scratch!  Check out this blurb from a 2005 RMS Bulletin (in the "Hobby History" section):


That "tolerant' woman he married was Woody's mom.  She must have been used to it by then! I have to wonder if he had covers made up for events in those other collector societies.

The Decatur (Illinois) Daily Review ran a piece on January 12, 1953 noting:

That was from what looks like a regular column in that paper, written by Otto R. Kyle, who as near as I can tell was a local Decatur historian of some national renown, so exactly where that little tidbit originated would probably make for an interesting story.

The May 24, 1956 issue of the Madera (California) Tribune ran what must have been a syndicated article about presidential matchcover collectors which noted: "Sam Rosen of New York claims the title of holding the largest number of political match books.  His presidential series runs back to William Howard Taft."

You can see how Rosen's hobby could have led Woody to think he would be a good choice to sell off extra Topps cards (and eventually those of other manufacturers) as a way to keep Sam active in retirement.

For the record, the RMS annual conventions started in 1939 and with Rosen entering the hobby in 1942, he could possibly have attended 1942's (Wilkes-Barre, PA) but I doubt he would have had matchcovers made up during the war. 1943 and 1945 saw no conventions held and sandwiched in between was one in Asbury Park, NJ.  That same shoreside resort town got the nod in 1946 and '47, so it's possible by then Rosen was doing his thing.  As you can see above, it moved around after that and with Sam dying at the very end of 1958, it's possible the following conventions got the matchcover treatment as well:

1954: Indianapolis

1955: Los Angeles

1956: New York City

1957: Wilkes-Barre

1958: San Francisco

It's quite possible 1953 was the last year Sam worked in the garment business and stopped with the matchbooks.  Of course, excepting perhaps that very year, his Woody-inspired card company was run out of the same location as his garment business so who knows? 

2020 saw a pandemic cancellation but the RMS has been holding a convention every year since 1946 and a handful have been thrown north of the border. 1965's was even held in London, Ontario, home of O-Pee-Chee! If Sam made up covers for other societies' gatherings it would not be surprising but the RMS annual affair was clearly the "National" for matchcover collectors and fertile ground for a splashy promo.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

American Samplers

Friends o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has come up with yet another find as his survey of Topps oddities and curiosities continues. Today we turn to 1951 and look at some samples printed up in absolutely fabulous fashion.  I'm not sure these are true salesmen's samples, which Topps was on the cusp of producing but rather I suspect these were trade show handouts and the like, or perhaps provided to the jobbers who distributed products for Topps.  It's a fine distinction and one that deserves further study.

As near as I can figure Topps debuted four sets in 1951 and continued with Freedom's War which was introduced in 1950. It was a time of rapid transition for Topps as they dramatically and thricely increased their card sizes in 1950-51 before getting into the Giant Size issues during what many hobbyists consider to be their golden age spanning 1952-56.

The first size increase stemmed from the tiny cards issued with their non-Bazooka penny tabs and were merely reissues of two 1949 sets: Soldiers of All Nations/Flags of the World and Licence Plates,, which measured 1 3/4" x 2 7/8". I have dubbed these "post-tab" and they were quite transitory. Topps quickly moved to a 2 1/16" x 2 5/8" card that also ushered in a two year period of cards issued in two card panels that were sold in elongated nickel packs. In addition, these panels came in ten cent red cello's sold with out gum via their Trading Card Guild. This is why certain sets can be found with cards that are either non-perforated or perforated on one or two sides. This size I call "early-panel" and it kicked off wth Hopalong Cassidy and Bring 'Em Back Alive, or BEBA for short. Freedom's War came next and unknown to Topps at the time, was to be inexorably tied to BEBA in a decidely negative way (back to this momentarily).

Before that though, Topps issued Baseball Candy, a somewhat haphazardly thought out and produced set of cards that came with caramel and was their opening salvo against Bowman.  In addition to Team cards, Major League All Stars and Connie Mack All Stars found in five cent and higher packs, Red and Blue Backs also flew solo in penny packs in additon to being sold in panel form with cards from these other three sets riding along in some fashion. 

As Baseball Candy fought for shelf space Freedom's War was on the receiving end of a number of protests that ended what must have been a top-selling set as a third series was planned but ultimately scrapped in the spring.  Topps President Joseph Shorin announced via press releases that  second series of BEBA would be issued instead but there must have been complaints about that as well (and/or Frank Buck's etstate declined to re-license to Topps) and they never appeared.  What did come out was Animals Of The World (AOTW) which continued the BEBA numbering but was the most benign looking set of the era.

This is all leading up to this, which was originally uncovered by Jason Rhodes (yes, another FO'tA) and then re-found by Lonnie:


Note the nine card array.  The reverse though (or is it the front?) reproduced the display box art.  AOTW was the set name, Zoo was the name of the gum as Topps still made a distinction between product and confection at the time:

I had not seen this example previously but believed it existed and Lonnie proved me right.  What I'm not at all sure about is if Hoppy or BEBA ever had similar samples made up by Topps. I lean well toward no but never say never, right?

Also unknown-was Baseball Candy was given a similar treatment?  I say this because a subway car ad that Friend o'the Archive John Moran sent along some time back suggests it was possible:


Back to the known-the next four sets Topps issued all got this ad treatment and also were produced in a  larger size card ("late panel" as I call it) that measured 2 1/16" x 2 15/16". Ringside was the next in line I believe and debuted the bigger cards. Friend o'the Archive Adam Warshaw has this bad boy in his collection (I have a cut up example that's similar-front subjects could vary- but his is quite intact and features Rocky Marciano):


The larger card brought the samples down to eight in number. I love this graphic as it really shows the brutality of a prize fight :


Next up is Magic Football and it's not nearly as great unfortunately, as this example from Friend o'the Archive Mike Blaisdell shows:


The up/down orientation is due to the scratch off feature on the reverse being located at the bottom. I think you'll agree this is not as nice as Ringside:

This brings us to Fighting Marines.  I'm not 100% certain but believe a sample exists.  It was probably offered in an old Legendary auction, whose archive is now guarded like Fort Knox by the present owners of that problematic concern. However, I found a scan of the display box art and I think it's entirely possible it saw sampling too:


Given that Fighting Marines likely was issued at the end of 1952, this teases that other sets in this size like Look 'N See could also have been given this treatment given that it debuted earlier that year.  Scoop from 1954 probably didn't though and the photographic set Jets in '56 (the last that measured this way) was done up in a different style of sampler that used proper reverses, or ones that were very close to those on the issued product. Other than Fighting (or Fightin') Marines (the card back differs from the display box), those sets were not issued in panel form however, so I may need a new moniker for them!


Saturday, March 6, 2021

Triple Double

In support of my recent efforts to move past 1980 as my cutoff point for this blog, mainly due to a rekindled inerest in the weirder and tougher Topps baseball issues of the Post-Glut/Pre-Eisner eras, todays' post will examine an old concept made new by Topps in the late eighties.

In 1955 Topps issued a fairly famous set of cards called Double Header.  I'll not delve into them again today (for that, click back) as they are quite well known and documented in the hobby.  They essentially were inspired by a set of tobacco cards referred to as Mecca Double Folders that were issued in 1911.  I have no doubt Woody Gelman used that aboriginal set as an inspiration in designing the 1955 issue but I cannot attest as to who semi-revisited the idea 33 years later at Topps, although it could have been Len Brown I guess.  There was a twist though, as the modern sets used the idea of pairing a miniature version of a players rookie card with a mini version of their regular issue current year card in a stand up plastic frame. They also added an "s' to make ii Doubleheaders (I'll leave it up to you to determine if the 55's are two words and/or the latter version is one).

The holders measure  2 1/2" tall by 1 15/16" wide at their base (which is a little wider than the portion holding the paper "card") which also has a depth of 5/8" as it flares out from the top.  The double sided paper inserts measure out at 1 1/16" x 2 1/4" and I guess you could liberate them if you wanted to crack 'em out, or more properly slide them out the top of the holder. The most well known versions of these were issued in 1989 and 1990 but there's a test issue from 1988 that not everybody is familiar with.

In addition to the 24 player set referred to as All Stars, a similarly sized set of  Mets and Yankees was issued in 1989. They must have sold well as a 72 player release followed in 1990. But there was a test issue in 1988 that involved a set of 8 Mets and Yankees (4 from each team) and paired the rookie card with one from that year.

Here's the Mets subset, front and back, with Carter being a ginned-up image, his original being on a four player Rookie Stars card:



The test pack was a small and fairly attractive paper envelope....



...except when it wasn't.  Check out this scan of the full test set over at my buddy Jeff's teamsets4u website:


You can clearly (*groan*) see it's the same set and checklist.  I suspect Topps wanted to see if one wrapper outsold the other (not an uncommon move for Topps tests of the 70's and 80's) but that's pretty neat. They ended up going with the paper wrappers for 1989 and '90.  

Here's a liberated Mike Greenwell from the 1989 set:


One little diff-no wood grain border on the '87!  The current 1989 reverse looks OK though:


I can't see they did much to any of the other rookie cards in '89 and when 1990 rolled around, the wood was once again good:



Beats me why the 1989 issued Greenie rookie side went astray.

The '89 Mets/Yankees set is the same size as the All Stars issue but the Noow Yawkers had their own checklist wrapper:


13 Mets and 11 Yankees, not sure why it wasn't even-steven.  The 1989 All Stars are split 12-12 between the leagues:



As you can imagine, with a really weird and pointy frame, the packs suffer greatly.

In 1990, with 72 subjects it took three pack backs to detail the full checklist, here's one of them:


The All Star issues from 1989 and 1990 set are extremely easy to find and boxes can be bought very cheaply.  The 1989 Mets/Yankees is tougher and the 1988 tests are even more difficult and it also seems to me that the Yankees are the tougher of the two 1988 NY teams but that's hard to gauge since:

a) I'm a Mets fan and 

b) not too many of these are around.

The Mets/Yankees set must have tested well in 1988 -- indeed, the Mets were incandescent at the time compared to the Yankees if you lived in the NYC metro area -- but the 1989 "home team" returns must have disabused Topps of three-peating the feat in '90. Like a few other Topps oddities of the time, three seasons saw a release and then Topps moved on to something else.