Saturday, September 25, 2021

Hit Parade

Topps was very much focused on entertainers as they launched what we now call standard sized (2 1/2" x 3 1/2") cards in late 1956. Elvis Presley was the first set issued in this now ubiquitous format and the majority of sports and non-sports sets followed thereafter in rapid succession. This card and related press sheet sizing dictated set counts to a large degree as the familiar 12 row by 11 column half-sheets debuted.  Sometimes (and properly) called "slits" but commonly thought of these days as an "uncut sheet", these became the default for Topps, with variations and other groupings such as short prints and double/over prints usually following the "rule of 11" as a result. You need two half slits to make a full sheet up and in standard sizing that results in 264 cards being arrayed across the A and B slits. In 1957 this all came together (or maybe apart!) in a diverse set called Hit Stars.

While some guides indicate the 88 subject set has 33 overprints, this appears to be based upon an erroneous assumption that the uncut sheets were produced in an 11 x 11 array, yielding 121 cards per slit. I'm not sure why the sheet was assumed to be set up that way but it may have something to do with several sheets from various sets that have surfaced from 1957-58 over the years that are ultimately missing a row. It would be very strange if Topps had pared back to a 121 card slit at this point and to me, as I will explain, it's clear the Hit Stars was originally to have been 99 subjects in length. This theoretically would have yielded--you guessed it--33 overprints! 

We'll see how it's known the original set length was truncated in a minute but if there are indeed 33 overprints (and I am not convinced of this due to PSA pop reports), then it's likely due to the original configuration of 99 cards being abandoned vs. an 11 x 11 array being deployed. A simple mathematical exercise shows that could (and I stress "could" not "would") have resulted in 33 extra slots across each slit (99*2=198+66=264). My own thought is Hit Stars repeats three times across both slits in classic ABA BAB pattern, where each letter represents a discrete 44 card block. And I will also point out the 11 x 11 arrays were used for smaller sized cards like Scoop and not those of standard size.

The set itself has a pretty good mix of movie stars, TV personalities and recording artists-including a large percentage of cards devoted to African-American singers, who were not necessarily considered "mainstream" at the time- and there are a hefty number of record labels, both large and small, represented amongst the Recording Stars. Some very big names are included and the entire set is a veritable Flexichrome wonderland. 62 Recording Stars kick off the set and Elvis reappears after his '56 Topps solo stint:

Elizabeth Taylor was certainly rounding into"A" List celebrity status at this point in her career and a good "get" for Topps:

Some subjects appear more than once (4 posthumous cards for James Dean!) and a couple are considered both Recording Stars and TV/Movie Stars.  Here's a good example of that in Debbie Reynolds, first seen on #17 as a Coral Recording Star:

The reverse confirms the count of 62 Recording Stars (Frankie Laine repeats too in this sub-grouping and Alan Freed is included as well, even though he was a DJ):  

Ms. Reynolds also concludes the set on card #88, clearly as a Movie Star:

But look at this-she is number 26 of "37" Movie & TV Stars (and don't forget that includes James Dean with his four appearances):

Well 62 + 37 definitely equals 99 so something clearly happened to truncate the set 11 cards shy of the promised number. At a guess, rights for some planned subjects never matarialized or a studio or two pulled their stars.  No matter, the Topps math just didn't add up!  Go figure!

Saturday, September 18, 2021

One Of A Kind

Topps has produced all sorts of "affinity" and "event" sets over the years, including some I doubt have ever been documented anywhere.  Collectors of a certain age might recall the late 70's Burger King branded baseball sets for example but there's many more, some of which are quite hard to find. I've covered some here already, such as the somewhat infamous Bowie Kuhn card issued for a Saints & Sinners Dinner held in New Jersey in 1971 and the Frank Cashen card they prepared in his honor when the New York Sports Commission named him as their "Sportsman of the Year" in 1992 and threw a luncheon to fete him.

Then there is the 1990 George W. Bush card that may or may not have had a handful of wayward examples snuck into packs (and which had at least two issued versions, one more glossy than the other).  That card's story has been told often and elsewhere; you can read up on it here and also explore some of the related links. It's gotten pretty pricey these days in case you are thinking about buying one.

There's some others though. Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch, co-owners of the New York Football Giants were given the solo treatment in 1997 and 1998 resepctively as they were honored for their election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame (Mara) or efforts raising money for Ronald McDonald House (Tisch).

The Mara card can be found with a little hunting, the Tisch not so much.  Here's Wellington, an original NFL owner's scion BTW:

There's nothing sweeter to this Giants fan than that trophy he is cradling. Love the back too:

As for Mr. Tisch, we'll let this news article do the talking (I think it was from Sports Collectors Digest):

Another fun one is Paul Rudd, who not only got a card but an entire pack in 2014 as the Royals made the first of two back-to-back World Series appearances.  They beat my Mets in 2015 but I'm showing this one anyway:

Check out the 1975 copyright!

(images courtesy Simeon Lipman)

There's more of these out there, including a Slugger's Wife card of "Darryl Palmer" Topps produced for the movie, which may or may not have been a prop and I need to do some more research on that one and a couple of others.  Stay tuned on those, just not sure when.....


Saturday, September 11, 2021

Stack In Black

I am on a basketball kick of late, there's no doubt about it. And what better set than to take a peek at than one of my all time favorites, the 1971-72 Topps Basketball Trio Stickers!  I collected the 1970, 71, and 72 Topps Basketball sets quite heavily as a kid and 1971 was a real boon year for me. As a result, I had a boatload of the Trio Stickers and drove my parents crazy sticking them everywhere, especially the little team logos. Of particular interest to me that year were the ABA regular issue cards and insert stickers as I was mad for the league and in particular the NY Nets. None of these, as you can imagine, survived as the years zipped along.

The black borders of the Trios mimiced the Baseball cards issued earlier in 1971.  I put together a set quite some time ago and enjoy it just as much as I did as a kid, although all my stickers now remain unpeeled and unstuck!  So I was quite pleased to find this uncut sheet image in an old Huggins & Scott auction and add it to my collection of partial sheet scans.  And then it got.....weird.

This is the A slit and it's got a  LOT going on in this 7 x 11 array:

Logo sticker heaven!  Now the full set is comprised of 46 numbered stickers, where each little 1/3 slice of a full sticker has a number (so three per "card") and the logo sticker has a number as well.  In addition the ABA cards have an "A" suffix after their numbers.  There's 10 full stickers of ABA'ers: 7 trios and three variants of the logo stickers.  The ABA run spans numbers 1A though 24A.  

NBA stickers are numbered 1 through 46, with 15 trios and a lone logo sticker.  So that's kind of weird, right?  Why three ABA logo variants and none for the NBA? Well I think it had to do with the number of teams in each league. The ABA had ten teams for the 1971-72 season and the NBA 17. So Topps jumbled up the ABA logos, essentially drawing attention away from the "repeats" on each sticker.

Here's an example:

Some germane and not so germane points. I saw most of these teams play and usually up close at the Nets home arena for most of the season, The Island Garden, which essentially looked like a high school gym and was possibly the worst major sports venue in the United States at the time, although personally I loved it.  

They moved to the Nassau Coliseum as the season wore on but you would get sweat on you from the players if you sat close enough to the court at Island Garden.  After a game you could wander onto the court and mingle with the players and get autographs. Not so at the Coliseum.  I still have some of the stubs from Island Garden:


A year prior to the stickers but you can't have everything.  The End Court seating was literally pull out bleachers! I was 9, so I guess I just fit in between the assigned spots! I saw a real circus there too around this time, with a full sideshow (sword swallowers, fat lady, the whole nine yards).  I'm sure it was a broken down, decrepit place at the time but it shines brightly in my memory and always will.

While I'm at it, the Carolina Cougars logo sticker above is great but not my favorite version of it, that being this one:

OK, back to the set. You could also peel off and stick the ABA logo and even the main splash at upper right.

The NBA logo sticker had all 17 teams represented along with the official league logo (as always, modeled on Jerry West) and splash:

That upper right Celtics logo has always bothered me.  Why didn't Topps just make two ABA logo stickers and two for the NBA, leaving intact the 4x4 grid on the latter? The answer may be that the arrays we see must have been due to the need for die cutting, as Topps would need to line up the ABA logo stickers in one column (or row, depending) due to the differing configuration when compared to the NBA logos. But here's the kicker: there's 8 impressions of the three ABA stickers (22A, 23A and 24A if you're playing at home) on the sheet but 14 of the NBA! I'm not even sure what to call that, a Fourteens Print maybe? 

So what will we see on the B slit then?  Presented here in two pieces, one from the Topps Vault, the source of the other lost to time, the full array can almost be extrapolated with a little effort:

I can't make it out but that looks like Ben Solomon's scrawl at upper right in the waste portion. We have to extrapolate the bottom five rows across four columns but again, the die cutting requirement makes me think there's no mystery to it.

Those sheets can get a little eye-boggling, so here's what I came up with across both slits:

All the ABA and NBA trios appear five times across both, except for trios headed with numbers 34, 37, 40 and 43 which appear only four times and are short printed by 20% compared to the other trios-these are the only true short prints in the set and include stickers of Oscar Robertson, Wes Unseld, Connie Hawkins, Lew Alcindor, Billy Cunningham and Wilt Chamberlain.  There's 28 NBA logo stickers (#46) and 20 ABA, with 22A being overprinted at twice the rate of the other two ABA logo stickers (23A and 24A).  99 NBA stickers and 55 ABA stickers make up the 154 slit slots.  Looking at it that way makes it seem quite organized in fact.

Here's something interesting as well, the next year O-Pee-Chee used the trio format for a series of 72 Canadian Football League subjects; here's a peek at an uncut sheet portion:

Neat, huh?!  I'm not going to get into these (well, not yet maybe) but at least one uncut slit is known and it has some oddities as well, although OPC did not make up team logos for the set.  Whew!

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Pretty Fly (For A Tighty-Whitey Guy)

Robert Edward Auctions, as I am sure you all know, is home to some wondrous offerings each and every time they unleash a catalog on the world.  Their recently concluded August auction was no exception.

While Topps test issues ebb and flow, Mantles tick up and Wagner's continue to go for unimaginable sums, there's usually a lot or two with things I've never seen before. This time out it was a cardboard Topps Gum display, mostly still full of product and not round like their canisters nor made of bakelite like their more durable displays. I didn't bid (and the lot went for some relatively big bucks) but boy was I tempted.  Check it out:

I suspect Pepsin ended up stranded in some of those displays, long after the other flavors ran out!

So here's the thing-most of the New York City wrappers I am familiar with had a very prosaic slogan ("No cost has been spared in giving this wholesome and delightful gum every quality that would add to your enjoyment") in the little slug on back whereas these say "Only Natural Flavors".  They switched to a Brooklyn, New York wrapper later in '39  (I think, it could have been the other way around or both co-existed for some reason) and then all the 1946's I have seen just say Brooklyn.  So this is something uncommon and REA advises they can't see any dates on the wrappers.

These came in a sleeve (also undated) with a Fruit of the Loom hanky (!) and ten free tabs:

Seems weird right?  Well, if my hunch is right these gum tabs, display and box hail from 1942 as there are metal and cardboard canisters out there with that copyright date.  A handkerchief in 1942, during World War 2, was probably a little bit of a bigger deal than it is now and some of the sales premiums Topps offered were aimed at "Mrs. Retailer" so it does make some sense. The question that remains uanswered though is-are they, or any wrapper at all, available with Topps Gum, coprighted 1942?

Check out another wartime sales premium item, 1/2 a Topps Certificate with a "U.S. Victory Stamps" tear off tab:

Look at the offered prizes, hot items in some quarters then, I'm sure:

It's pretty amazing Topps could offer all of this with a war raging and rationing occurring but even more astounding to me is this little detail:

At some point during the war, or just after, Topps advertised a return to "Natural Flavors" but I'm not really sure when that occurred now. This is all getting curiouser and curioser! It seems like most certificates started coming out approximately 18 months prior to the expiration date (in this case September 30, 1945), so at least through 1943 it seems there were still no artificial flavors to be found in your standard Topps chew.