Saturday, October 23, 2021

Are You Ready For Some Football Salesmen Samples?

I realize that Baseball Salesmen Samples get most of the attention whe it comes to such things but Topps issued these little teasers for most, it not all, of their standard card sets through 1967 or so and the 1963 and '64 Football samples below are one such example:

Pretty sweet, right?  The proportions on these "three-strips" always seem just right to me, probably due to some extension of the "golden ratio" or some similar type of aesthetically pleasing combination of length and width:

The reverse is quite wonderful:

That "special feature" may have been fun to rub off as a kid but it certainly bedevils modern day collectors!

Sometimes samples got cut up, probably by a wholesaler's or retailer's kid:

Still nice but I really prefer my strips unsullied.

1964 brought this; I have to say I'm not a fan of this design as I want to cut along the stars, which resemble dotted lines to me:

1964 was an AFL only affair for Topps, a big leap of faitth in a way but I'm betting the contractual rights were cheap.  I like the back better than the front:

Too bad these ended prior to 1969-the first series Football cards from that season would have looked stupendous given their full bleed borders-this uncut sheet certainly gives you an idea though:

It still pains me that Topps added white borders to the second series and it seems like a real head-scratcher. Ah well.......

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Planes Of Existence

Last week's post about standard sized Topps sets that might have been designed with their Giant Size issues in mind has led me to the 1957 Planes set.  Seemingly unremarkable, this 120 card aviation themed issue continued a commitment by Topps to feature airplanes and other flying craft in wide-ranging sets.  They did it in all different sizes too: with Wings in 1952 (Giant Size), a Hocus Focus subset in 1955 (in two sizes, no less: OG gum tab and one never-seen-again size issued in panel form inside nickel packs at 1" x 1 9/16") before coming out with the 240 card Jets set (a "tweener"the same size as Scoop and Look 'N See) in 1956.  Jets was designed using real black and white photos --almost a Topps first barring the 1954 Baseball inset photos--that could be saved in collector albums themed to the set.

So it's unclear to me why Topps went with an illustrated set just a year after Jets had apparently sold through the roof. Perhaps they were held back, or maybe using real photos proved too costly; possibly they just didn't want another B&W avaition set but it's kind of a head-scratcher.

Planes look more like Wings than anything else:

I daresay the reverse somewhat resembles that of Wings from a half-decade earlier. Here's Planes:

I spot checked that Aviation Photography Pix indicia and it's only on certain cards. More on that in a sec but first, here's a Wings reverse:

However, there is a twist as Planes was also issued with Blue Backs!

If you are keeping score, the 1951 Baseball Candy Red and Blue Backs and the 1953-54 World On Wheels set can also be found with similar red and blue reverses, although the Blue Backs are a different subset than the Red Backs in Baseball Candy. Unlike World On Wheels, the Planes blue does not match up with that of the 1955 All American set's reverse inking (another Topps mega-mystery).  And that Aviation Photogaphy Pix indicia does not only appear on one color or the other but it definitely was sporadic. I'm not sure why other than Topps possibly ripped off the other images from various Jane's books on aviation like they did with Wings (hat tip to Pete L'uhosch and John Stupek and a few other folks for that little bit of info).

The story on Planes is that it was printed in two 60 card series and that cards 9 and 65 were arrayed on the "wrong" sheets.  This was a common ploy Topps used for early sets with an issued checklist, which were still a novelty in 1957 and just like what they pulled with Jets (inside back cover of the album held the list) a year earlier to keep kids looking for a "hole" that didn't yet exist.  Todd Riley, who knows as much about such things as anybody, believes #9, which is considered to be a "scarce" card, is only as scarce as other cards from the second series 2.

Here is the Planes checklist card, which was "pushed" into the packs as it was printed separately, as was the Topps method at the time. You can tell as the card stock isn't gray like the issued set it chronicles.

Here's one of the two checklist backs:

As they were also wont to do at the time, a Big Blony checklist back also exists:

There's no value difference on the checklists but red backed Planes cards are 2-3 times tougher than the blues. No one knows why both colors were used, although some speculation among hobbyists back in the day intimated Topps was testing Bowman's printing facilities with one of the colors.  I highly doubt that but it must have been intentional if the set was indeed issued in two series, as all cards from 1-120 can be found with either color. 

In 1963 Topps licensed the second series to Stani of Argentina, a long running South American business partner for a set dubbed Aviones.  Stani cards are renumbered from 1-60 but follow the exact order of the second series of Planes, with one notable exception as #65 is not in sequence as #5 in the set but it is replaced by...#9!

Check out a Stani reverse:

The blue on the Stani card above is washed out due to the scan, it's a little darker than it shows but not as dark as the US blue. Note that, in additon to the differences in language, some other subtle differences also crop up:

I don't believe a checklist card was issued with the Stani set, nor were any red backs. The Stani cards may also have been retailed in Mexico.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Factory Upsettings

1957 was the first year since 1951 where Topps didn't issue any cards in their formerly ubiquitous "Giant Size" format of 2 5/8" x 3 3/4".  Instead, "Standard Size" cards measuring the still-familiar-to-this-day 2 1/2" x 3 1/2".  However, it seems this decision to shrink the card size by a smidge over 11%--and the corresponding increase from a 110 card half sheet (arrayed 11 rows x 10 columns if measured the long way top to bottom) to one with 132 impressions (arrayed 12 rows x 11 columns measured in the same manner)--resulted in 11 being the eventual "divisor" for many sets, variations and short prints.  It took Topps a little while though to sort this out and while they were operating in an 11 column environment after the switch, it seems they were still often designing sets in a 10 column framework some time into 1957.

Elvis Presley was, of course, the first standard sized set and it managed to clock in at 66 cards, neatly fitting into the new order.  Considering every card set Topps issued in 1957 was standard sized, it's odd that they managed to issue four that were still designed in "base 10" after Elvis hit the streets.  These were:

Basketball (80 cards)

Goofy Series Postcards (60 cards)

Planes (two series, in theory, of 60 cards each)

Robin Hood (60 cards)

So what happened?  Well for the Goofy Series Postcards and Planes sets, since both used illustrations and not photographs, the design and numbering had likely been locked in place prior to Elvis Presley being issued.  But what of Robin Hood and the Basketball sets? Well as it turns out, the NBA had eight teams in place for the 1957 season and each could sport a ten man roster.  If you look at the distribution of players in the set, each team gets 10! So that one is no mystery.

Now Robin Hood was not limited by roster size but it may have been impacted by Maid Marian being played by a new actress for its final two seasons (and which I note, was a British TV show that was rebroadcast in the US).  Bernadette O'Farrell bowed out of the role and Patricia Driscoll then took over until the series concluded.  Check out this card, #37 in the set:

I believe that is Ms. O'Farrell...

 ...and not Ms. Driscoll:

Here's the gist, then. A lot of Topps TV-themed sets were understandably tuned to the normal September start of the annual season but I don't necessarily think this one was.  Given the show was an already established import and the new Maid Marian would have debuted in September of 1957 in the US, the set could have been released while the 1956-57 season was being broadcast with O'Farrell still in the role and Topps still dividing by ten.  Could this have impacted the set total?  Possibly, but we will never know.

We can't even look to 1958 for help.  The reissue of Space Cards as Target: Moon was 88 cards, as was the Zorro set while T.V. Westerns, a bizarre mish-mash of shows and stars, totaled a clearly truncated and extremely odd 71 subjects, likely impacted by threats of lawsuits or the inability of Topps to secure certain rights.  There was no Basketball set in '59 and the three other major sports all were firmly in step with a "base 11" setup so that was that.  

With Topps, always expect the unexpected, even if expected! Speaking of which, stay tuned for next week's look at Planes...

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball!

Count Basie & Co. said it first but back when the song debuted in 1949 you either had to catch the Dodgers in action at Ebbets Field or another NL park, or find a TV in a year where only 172,000 were sold nationally, to actually see Jackie hit that ball.  As the 1950's  kicked off though, another method allowed kids to do just that.  All you needed was was a "Pocket Television Theatre" as shown here by Adam Warshaw:

This reverse is from a different flipbook but appears to be from the original issue (getting to that kids)  as, per Friend o'the Archive Tim Begley, the "How To Bunt" book was never produced:

The books were also issued with blank backs, excepting the copyright indicia. At a point after that, a mailer card was prepared with the  "How To Bunt" title excised on the checklist:

The back of this mailer tells the tale though and you will quickly see why I am bringing this up in a Topps-centric blog:

Yes, Topps did indeed issue a skip-numbered series of 40 Flip-O-Vision "movies" in 1949 and they have been covered here previously.  I will however, point you to the most comprehensive overview of that issue I have ever seen, over at Drew Freidman's blog.

OK then, what is going on and why are we here?  Well I'm beginning to think that, despite PR to the contrary, Topps just licensed the Flip-O-Vision name and that Flip Book "Television," Inc. a year or so later just issued their own, otherwise unrelated, flipbooks. But wait, there's definitely more-Topps originally got kick-started in the baseball card game by establishing an in-house agency called Players Enterprises in July of 1950 to sign ballplayers to a contract allowing the use of their image in connection with candy (and later, gum) products. Their first signees were inked in December of that year and they had by then bought or acquired licenses for the photgraphic images of 248 Major Leaguers from an entitity called Russell Publishing, which had one year player contracts in hand for a planned series of--wait for it--flipbooks (!) beginning in October of 1950. So in the midst of all this, Bowman issued Robinson cards in 1949 and '50 while Topps was just beginning to navigate the flipbook and baseball fields.

Jackie was, of course, a Topps subject from 1952-56 as we all very well know. So what of the fact that he had no 1951 cards available from either Topps or Bowman? It's really just inexplicable that neither company issued a card of him in 1951. The two companies had many legal issues between them of course but players with disputed contracts always seem to have appeared in at least one issuer's sets, if not both, whereas players with exclusive deals with another confectionery company or ones that had a full non-compete with a product (Stan Musial for a good many years in the 50's for example was tied up by Rawlings) did not

Examining things a bit more closely, the 1952 Topps Jackie Robinson wasn't issued until August of that year and with the infamous high numbers at that. So he was not even considered as a Topps subject until June of '52 after Sy Berger allegedly convinced management to issue a "second series" beyond the originally planned 310 cards. Remember, this was in a year where they were in a huge push to sell their new "Giant Size" cards and stomp all over Bowman!  When Topps ultimately decided to produce the highs in June/July of 1952, they seemingly would have known Robinson was available to them as they were clearly in tight with the Dodgers clubhouse (Ebbets Field was practically in the Shorin's familial Crown Heights backyard) for the high number cards; witness 16 of the 97 subjects therein being Bums.  

If we go back to 1949, Flip-O-Vision was issued prior to Oct. 1st (it's captured in the same-dated issue of Card Collectors Bulletin) and even had a televison ad campaign attached to it.  I suspect it was a summer product as there were movie theatre tie-ins with the FOV in in New York City via  a "Mystery Star of the Week" contest and boy, kids went to the movies in droves back then when school was out to cool off. However, Topps was blowing out overstock and returns of Flip-O-Vision by early 1950 as part of "Fun Boxes" they advertised for several months in Billboard magazine through the final week of May 1950, then abruptly dropped their ads showcasing same and started hawking Bozo gumballs in the first June issue instead.  

I suspect Flip Book "Television," Inc. and/or Sylvan had Jackie's rights locked up from May or June 1950 until May or June 1952, passing from one firm to the other it seems. The flipbooks probably did not sell well, given how scarce they are today or perhaps the promotion just ran its course. It's unclear how they were sold originally but it looks like the overstock got dumped either by or to Sylvan Sweets.

Perhaps Sylvan obtained, the Flip-O-Vision license (doubt it) or just said "screw it, let's just steal the name" (there ya go) and off they went with their own promotion, which I believe, ut cannot yet prove, included a sample pack of candy cigarettes. Robinson is a low # in 1950 Bowman to boot, so his card was issued well before June that year. The timing of the 1952 Topps highs certainly ties in to this.

Jackie was a star on the field and a celebrity off, so it makes sense that he could have signed an exclusive deal with another company that wasn't Topps or Bowman, almost certainly for more than he could extract from either of them.  Therefore, it would seemingly explain his absence from the two major BB card sets of 1951 in a hugely competitive marketing and sales space. Seriously, why would he not have a 1951 Topps or Bowman card otherwise?