Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Winter's Tale Or Two

Good stuff here today kids, as a smattering of 1960 Topps Venezuelan Baseball Tattoos surfaced recently, which is a akin to a Brigadoon sighting I'm sure. Previously, I was aware of a Don Drysdale example and I think two others were out there but that's not confirmed. Obviously, they are scarce as hell.

Luis Arroyo was one of the subjects in this batch but here's the thing, he doesn't appear in the US checklist:

Here's the outside, which is a much batter scan than the roached out Drysdale I posted in 2013:

So the obvious questions are:

1) How many subjects are in the Venezuelan set? (the US set has 96 subjects)

2) How many subjects from the major Caribbean, Central and South American Winter Leagues did Topps create for the Venezuelan release?

At a guess the Venezuelan Tattoo set contains less than 96 subjects (of which only 55 are actual ball players in the US release).  My reasoning is that, since Topps did not replicate their entire 572 card 1960 Baseball set for release in the country, issuing only 198 cards (essentially the first two series), why would they issue a full tattoo set AND add players?  As to who was added locally, well who knows at this point? Much more information is needed and they would add a couple players to replace checklists in the card sets, but now I see there is another question:

3) What year saw the release of the Venezuelan Baseball Tattoos?

If you look at Arroyo, he was essentially a journeyman in the U.S. until 1961, when he plied his screwball into a monster year for the Yankees and finished 6th in the MVP voting as a relief pitcher! However, a native Puerto Rican, he had played locally since 1946 and appeared in 19 seasons overall in his native country, beginning with Ponce in the Puerto Rican Winter League.  He later appeared numerous times with the ostensible Puerto Rican National teams in the Caribbean World Series. In 1948 he began his U.S. Baseball odyssey and despite a 1955 call-up to the Cardinals that led to an All-Star nod and, of course, his 1961 breakout year, Arroyo mostly bounced up and down until 1963 and also in-and-out as he sometimes pitched summer ball in Puerto Rico instead of playing in the minors. 

He was a big deal in the Caribbean and quite well known in the Winter Leagues and their associated World Series tournament but did Topps make up a tattoo because of that or because of his big 1961 season with the Yankees?  If the latter, it points to this being a 1961 or even a 1962 release, which seems quite possible given the straddling of calendar years for their Venezuelan issues.  A full checklist might help answer all three questions but I'm not too optimistic we'll ever see or develop one fully. What we do have is the following:

Ed Mathews, Nellie Fox, Rocky Colavito were in this latest batch, photo ID-only Early Wynn and Juan Marichal are also not in the US checklist but alas, without a scan right now. Marichal and Mathews are said to have have two known examples, per Joe Morris, who tipped me off to all to this. So this is the ur-checklist, all of seven (ten) subjects in length at present (Update Jan. 2, 2023-Friend o'the Archive and advanced collector Larry Serota advised of two additions to the checklist, Bob Allison and Ruben Amaro and thinks the set was issued after 1960 as a standalone, with a cello overwrap). (Update Jan. 5, 2023-HArmon Killebrew is now a confirmed subject):

Bob Allison
Ruben Amaro (Venezuelan only)
Luis Arroyo (Venezuelan only)
Rocky Colavito
Don Drysdale
Nellie Fox
Harmon Killebrew
Juan Marichal  (Venezuelan only)
Ed Mathews
Early Wynn

I'd love to see some uncut sheets from the U.S. release but cannot find any presently.  That might help narrow down how many subjects were produced in Venezuela.  Or not!

Happy New Year all!

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Siren Song

Well, I tried my darndest this year but I don't have any new things to show that relate to Christmas from our good friends at Topps.  Early efforts made by the company to sell Christmas themed items around 1950-53 seem to have gone poorly and much of what I am aware of otherwise consists of things like corporate greeting cards. So instead I've turned to good old Bazooka Joe and a bit of an anomaly involving everybody's favorite mascot.

Check out this Bazooka Joe Club Membership kit ephemera:

The anomaly may be easier to spot when the introductory letter is blown up:

Yes, "Young America's Favorite" Bubble Gum was being used with the A&BC plant address in Essex, England!  Topps had previously done this "YAM" thing with Bazooka in Canada too, as part of their packaging and promotions in that country.  You would think it should say "Young England's Favorite", right?

Based upon the mailing address on the letterhead, I make this out to be be circa 1970-71 or so, when Topps was trying to kill off A&BC after zombie-fying the venerable UK company they had done business with for years. It could be a little later even as A&BC lost this plant to a fire around 1972 or 1973. Topps took the company over by 1975, calling Bazooka the "World's No. 1" but also switched to a different Essex address, so it can't really be later than that. 

The "whistle" or siren ring is missing from this lot, but it looked like this:

The membership card looks like it had the cipher for the secret code used in the letter:

I took the liberty of translating it, although it's a real Ralphie Parker moment in actual fact (hey, I got a Christmas reference in after all!):

Oh, fudge! 

I think there was a pin in this kit as well, despite it not being mentioned in the letter:

So, that's a bit of shambolic marketing by Topps I'd say! No surprise, they often did things like this.

Merry Christmas everybody!

UPDATE 12/27/22: The comic insert advertising the Magic Circle Club just popped up on eBay:

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Edison's Medicine

Today we will explore a mysterious hybrid Topps half sheet from what looks to be 1969. But first, we need to peek into the Summer of Love and examine a wonderfully gimmicky set called Who Am I?

Topps used a scratch off feature for the set, which was nothing new as they had used such technology as far back as 1949. What was new however, was using it on the front of the card and not the reverse.  Another gimmick involved a question and answer format, time tested again and again in Topps-land, with some additional hints offered as well if the initial question proved to be too vexing.  It's a great set and one of my favorites from the 60's:

I forgot to mention it but there's four baseball players in the 44 subject set, every one of them a bona fide top-tier Hall-of-Famer. It's made things pricey!   We'll get to the front artwork momentarily but here's the reverse, where the little floating heads looks almost amateurish as they swirl around.  Great design, partially lousy execution!

The scratch off material seems to have caused some issues in production as it would often streak the uncoated portion of the front of the card, or foul the reverse with little dots.  Once scratched, the result was revealed:

Messy, innit?  That's the general result with these.  The set is loaded with historical figures:

1 George Washington
2 Andrew Jackson
3 James Monroe
4 Joan of Arc
5 Nero
6 Franklin D. Roosevelt
7 Henry VIII
8 William Shakespeare
9 Clara Barton
10 Napoleon Bonaparte
11 Harry Truman
12 Babe Ruth
13 Thomas Jefferson
14 Dolly Madison
15 Julius Caesar
16 Robert L. Stevenson
17 Woodrow Wilson
18 Stonewall Jackson 
19 Charles DeGaulle
20 John Quincy Adams
21 Christopher Columbus

22 Mickey Mantle 
23 Albert Einstein
24 Benjamin Franklin 
25 Abraham Lincoln 
26 Leif Ericsson
27 Adm. Richard Byrd
28 Capt. Kidd
29 Thomas Edison 
30 Ulysses S. Grant
31 Queen Elizabeth II
32 Alexander Graham Bell
33 Willie Mays 
34 Teddy Roosevelt
35 Genghis Khan
36 Daniel Boone
37 Winston Churchill
38 Paul Revere
39 Florence Nightingale
40 Dwight Eisenhower
41 Sandy Koufax
42 Jackie Kennedy
43 Lady Bird Johnson
44 Lyndon Johnson

There is a twist though, as a later version had uncoated cards but excised 8 original subjects, which were not replaced.  That later, sorta-reissue-sorta-not, is what I really want to explore today.

Here is a reissued card:

Topps had to change the reverse as there was nothing to scratch off. Note how the dot under the crook is now blank:

Here's what I think happened, short version first...

In 1968 Topps created a half sheet of cards that mixed bits and pieces of 1965 Hot Rods, 1967 Football, 1968 Baseball for a game produced by Milton Bradley called "Win A Card", as below:

I won't bore you with the details as Dr. Carlton Miller, the absolute expert on the game, has a piece on it over it over at SCD, just click here for a good read on it.  I do note the cards Topps made up on this special sheet have bright yellow backs, a dead giveaway once you've seen some mixed in with, say 1968 Baseball. The "Win A Card" game was a big failure but I think it's the reason the uncoated Who Am I? cards were produced.

Topps produced another hybrid half sheet with salmon colored backs (some call the color coral, it's as above no matter what name is used) that included 38 Who Am I? cards, 44 Hot Rods (again with the Hot Rods!) and 44 Target: Moon cards, which originally hailed from 1958 (and which were, in turn,  a rebranding of 1957's Space cards.

If you have been reading this blog for a while or are a student of the Topps production sheets, you know that a half sheet should have 132 slots.  Well 44+44+38=126, so what happened?  Well, Topps pulled eight Who Am I? cards is what happened and replaced them with eight Double Prints. The sheet was arrayed like so.

I'm thinking this was made for an intended update of the Milton Bradley game, which never happened as the game company went on to issue a more traditional baseball board game in 1969 instead:

Now that is only a guess but the scuttlebutt on the salmon backed cards has been that they were found in 1969 Fun Packs. This is not something that's 100% proven but it's a persistent story. I have serious doubts that Topps composed and ran off a substantial number of press sheets just to fill up Fun Packs, which they had never done before and never did after from what I know of it. No, they used Fun Packs to get rid of excess inventory and that part of the story makes sense if my theory holds any water. In that scenario Topps salvaged things and used these cards for the 1969 Fun Packs.

Now about those missing eight Who Am I? subjects. Three baseball players weren't reused: Mantle, Willie Mays and Sandy Koufax. Mays and Mantle were active players in 1967 while Koufax had retired on 11/18/66 but his contract, and all MLB ballplayers contracts with Topps, essentially ran season-to-season, with one year extensions for most veteran players built in. Had he played in '67, Koufax's contract likely would have renewed on Opening Day 1967, which was on April 10th.  There is a box proof for Baseball Punch-Out, an ancillary 1967 baseball set Koufax was in after he retired, dated 3/1/67 so his appearance in the coated WAI? set seems like it was composed before the 1967 season commenced, since his retirement voided his one year contract extension.

Mantle retired as well on 3/1/69, five weeks before before the 1969 season kicked off, so he was another baseball subject pulled, maybe for the same reason as Koufax or just due to the changeover to 1969 for the Fun Pack sheet, being a "stale" player by then as the calendar flipped from 1968 to 1969.  Mays was likely on a 1967-69 extended contract that didn't end in until April 7, 1969, or one that ran 1968-70 but Topps never did anything to jeopardize the baseball card licenses and perhaps they just pulled another stale player. Ruth's image was licensed by Topps on and off, as needed, from 1952 until around 1970 I believe, so they kept him on the Fun Pack sheet as they had him in the bag in 1967 and 1969 (Babe is on some Bazooka Baseball All Time Great cards in 1969-70).

Three other 1967 subjects that were dropped can be explained easily enough.  Jackie Kennedy married Ari Onassis on 10/19/68 and was no longer a Kennedy, so she was out. Lady Bird and Lyndon Johnson would have been known to not be continuing on as First Lady and US President. The election was held on 11/5/68 but LBJ had announced he wasn't running well before that and he was out of office on 1/20/69 anyway.

That leaves two headscratchers: Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Edison. About the only thing I can think of is that Edison's card mentions electricity and Franklin, while his card is silent on that, was unmistakably associated with it and they were removed due to an overabundance of caution, lest some kid stick a fork in an outlet.

The Milton Bradley game was released no later than the Summer of 1968 based upon Dr. Miller's recollections, so the timing of an early 1969 update for the game makes sense. Miller notes the 1968 game was prepared to be marketed at the NY Toy Fair, which started on Feb. 16, 1968. Based on all this, I surmise the 1967 coated Who Am I? set was made up sometime in the first six weeks of 1967 and the 1969, uncoated Fun Pack cards were produced after March 1, 1969 and likely after the start of the 1969 baseball season in April. None of this explains why they rejiggered the WAI? cards. Target: Moon makes sense due to the impending moon launch in July 1969 and Hot Rods were always popular with young boys.

For the record, the eight 1969 Who Am I? uncoated Double Prints are:

 8 William Shakespeare
10 Napoleon Bonaparte
12 Babe Ruth
18 Stonewall Jackson
21 Christopher Columbus
15 Abraham Lincoln
35 Genghis Kahn
39 Florence Nightingale

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Taking Stock

Well, we're on our to the next 1,000 posts here kids!  Recently I acquired a batch of hobby publications that included some issues of the annual Card Collectors Company  Price List that I was lacking. Eighty or Ninety percent or so of each catalog would regurgitate the last version, some newer stuff would work its way in and a rotation of certain other things would be offered.  Occasionally though, some interesting overstock would be offered.  Take a look at the January 15, 1971 list:

I don't have the 1970 edition yet so I can't tell if 1969 Topps Super Baseball was offered but I suspect it was as there was an alleged massive overstock and barrage of returns on the item.  Later, a large chunk of whatever CCC held of this release was famously burned up or singed in their 1975 warehouse fire and realistically, the "rarity" of the set and 1970's larger version was being overstated here.  And dig these Berk-Ross prices (that's their 1951 set) compared to the 1969 Supers-there's been a massive reversal of fortune and interest there, eh?

The January 15, 1972 Price List saw a massive expansion of these "miscellaneous issues" and tellingly there are no 1971 Supers offered, while 1969 and 1970 remain in stock despite their "rarity": 

The Bazooka cards would pop up in these lists occasionally, likely as Woody Gelman or Topps uncovered more somewhere in their respectively vast inventories. Too, it's worth noting they ran regular ads in the Sporting News, Boys Life and some hobby publications like The Trader Speaks, where they would offer various, newly-uncovered goodies, especially in the latter, which once offered the three pulled-from-production 1951 Topps Major League All Stars at auction.  

Back to 1972, there are some scarcer offerings here, namely in the upper right corner.  There you get both 33 Sticker sets of the Red Sox and Pirates for under three bucks combined-certainly indicating the test of these failed.  Those 1967 Pin-Ups would be offered for years, it's kind of curious why there was so much overstock on those as you would think Topps would know hoe many were needed to insert in the packs. But take a gander at the 1969 Mini Baseball Stickers, which are a tough issue to find nowadays. I'll take all you have at $3 a throw please! Ringside at that price, even for random lots of 60, were also a good deal at four bucks.

The rest of the offerings are older inserts that mirror the 1967 Pin-Ups and beg the question of why there was so much overstock available.  One interesting offering though, are the 1968 Game cards (Batter-Up), which may be the boxed set version (and may be why so many have the retail price blotted out on the box).

The January 15, 1973 Price List (the latest one I currently have) was offering items that are still tough today. A full set of 1971 Topps Greatest Moments for $19.95 was a steal even then due to the 22 short prints within. And 1964 Topps Stand-Ups at six bucks for the set?  What a deal! The 1967 and 1969 Stickers were still available and Ringside was right-sized to a lot of 25 for the same price as a year earlier.

As for those 1956 Baseball Buttons (not sure what the coins are from that year, maybe they had the pins removed?), Sam Rosen (Woody Gelman's Step-Father, who ran the proto-CCC), had ya covered back in the day (1958 actually):

What's old was new again.....

Saturday, December 3, 2022

Batting A Thousand

Well the inevitable has happened-this is post number 1,000!  September 12, 2008 saw my first post - a short introduction as it were - and a whole lot has happened since then and hopefully a lot more will follow. This blog is essentially my experimental lab and I end up circling back and updating things as developments occur. Really, a major reason I started this project was just to keep track of all the myriad things Topps, in their "vintage" era, was involved with in one place. 

There would be far fewer discoveries over the past fourteen years if not for a good number of folks who have contributed leads, scans, links, cards and wrappers, publications and the occasional reprimand or correction to whatever my fevered mind relays to my fingers.  I sometimes wedge the posts in here among a gaggle of other activities occurring in my day-to-day life and time and again (and again) the eagle eyed among you have caught errors big and small.  So thank you all!

The whole Topps vintage era (which ended sometime in the 1970's I say) suffers from a lack of documentation and small details from readers often lead to big discoveries and aha! moments. Special shout outs and thanks do need to be extended then to various Friends o'the Blog: Jeff Shepherd, Lonnie Cummins, Keith Olbermann, Mark Newgarden, Len Brown, Richard Gelman, Bobby Burrell, Tom Boblitt, Bill Christensen, Al Crisafulli, Al Richter, Bob Fisk, Peter Fishman, John Moran, Anthony Nex, Roy Carlson, George Vrechek, Josh Alpert, Doug Goodman, Dan Calandriello, Rob Lifson, Dean Faragi, Brian Dwyer, Jason Rhodes, Jon Helfenstein, Larry Tipton, Spike Glidden, Terry Gomes, Marty Krim, Mark Hellman, Mike Thomas, Jason Liebig, Jake Ingebrigston and a gaggle of others.  If I missed you I'm sorry, names don't come to me like they used to 14 years ago but thank you one and all for your insights big and small over the years! Will I make it to 2,000 posts? Beats me! 

Meanwhile, to illustrate the point that all sorts of things come my way thanks to this blog, a recent eBay auction featured what I consider to be the "missing" Topps Candy Division wrapper from their Brooklyn-Chattanooga years.  Here then is a unicorn, their 1947 Cocoanut-Marshmallow Roll wrapper that turns out to have been swathed in foil. Jeff Shepherd alerted me to the auction but as it turns out, we both missed it and it went to a good home with someone in the thanks list above! 

Dig those graphics! That bad boy joins ranks with the Caramel Nut Roll, Mairzy and Marshmallow Opera Bars with known wrappers. How something like this survived from 75 years ago is beyond me but there it is, resplendent despite my wonder!

See ya in post #1,001!

Saturday, November 26, 2022

And Then There Were Three

Well, hopefully everybody's worked off their post-Thanksgiving torpor! Assuming so, I am looking for a little help today.  67 years after it came and quickly went, the 1955 Topps Hocus Focus self-developing issue remains a thorn in my hide, at least in terms of completing the full checklist.  To refresh your collective memories, Topps issued the set in two sizes, a 96 subject affair known in the the hobby as "Large" and a 126 subject nightmare similarly dubbed as "Small" with the size of the card dictating, i.e. the Large cards measure 1" x 1 5/8" while the Small ones clock in at 7/8" x 1 3/8", which was the same size as the first Topps Magic Photo cards from 1948, which used a similar process to develop the images.

When I published my book covering Topps in the years 1938-1956 a decade ago, I realized that the checklists for both sizes had been hopelessly co-mingled and set about to extract one from the other.  It turned out the first 96 subjects in each size were shared and that Topps had issued an additional 30 cards in the smaller size, which were unique.  They took five of the subsets and added either five or ten cards for this "extended" 30 card series (I hate to use the term high numbers here because the last 30 Small cards exists in the same numbers as the first 96 in that size). This numbering scheme has caused confusion since 1955!

Look at Johnny Schmitz's two cards here.  The 1955 (Small) has four imperforate edges, since they were only issued with penny tabs of gum, inserted between the inner and outer wrapper:

The reverse has a short question that also, with a little bit of research, revealed his E.R.A. "feat" (second best, really?) occurred in 1954:

Note the number in the black circle at bottom right.  That's the overall set number for Schmitz, where as the Photo No. 18 of 23 Baseball Stars represents his subset numbering.  So he is 84 of 126 subjects in the Small Hocus Focus set. The Large size Schmitz is identical in appearance on the front...

...while the reverse shows the score lines used to separate one of the large cards from another as these were issued in panels in five cent packs. In addition, the subset numbering of 16 of 18 has been altered to reflect the smaller number of Baseball Stars issued in the larger size, while the overall set number remains at 84, in this case 84 of 96.

As a result, when separated, the Large cards are always scored/perforated on one or or two of the long edges.  The short edges are both imperforate. While the Large size cards are hard to find today, the Smalls are almost impossible at a ratio that could be worse then 40:1. My best guess is that Topps was testing both the ability to issue something in the style of an older set (which they had already done with their original Tatoo issue) and to see if the one cent penny "tab" packs, which had the card inserted between the inner and outer wrappers (a process they had abandoned by 1950) would sell.  Clearly, they did not.

The way Topps renumbered the smaller version's subsets was inconsistent as they added cards in the beginning as well as the end of the subset numbering sequences. There were five subjects added to the smaller Baseball Stars and this list highlights how Topps wedged in some of them.  Overall set number is to the left of the player's name, then the large subset numbering, followed by the small, with the subjects in purple being the ones added to the Baseball Stars subset in the extended series. This is how they break down:

117 Babe Ruth None - 1/23
Unknown Lou Gehrig None - 2/23
43 Dick Groat 1/18 - 3/23
44 Ed Lopat 2/18 - 4/23
30 Hank Sauer 3/18 - 5/23
86 Dusty Rhodes 4/18 - 6/23
5 Ted Williams 5/18 - 7/23
26 Harvey Haddix 6/18 - 8/23
31 Ray Boone 7/18 - 9/23
69 Al Rosen 8/18 - 10/23
51 Mayo Smith 9/18 = 11/23
87 Warren Spahn 10/18 - 12/23
67 Jim Rivera 11/18 - 13/23
79 Ted Kluszewski 12/18 - 14/23
49 Gus Zernial 13/18 - 15/23
13 Jackie Robinson 14/18 - 16/23
42 Hal Smith 15/18 - 17/23
84 Johnny Schmitz 16/18 - 18/23
60 Spook Jacobs 17/18 - 22/23
8 Mel Parnell 18/18 - 23/23
103 Wally Moon None - 19/23
122 Karl Spooner None - 20/23
109 Ed Mathews None  - 21/23

Crazy, right?  However, that Gehrig gives us a major clue as to the ultimate makeup of the extended series Topps used for the smaller cards.  The front of his card is known from an old auction:

However, while we know the subset numbering is 2/23, we don't know Lou's overall set number.  I can tell you it's either #97 or #111 as every other subject has been identified in the 1-126 sequencing. The other hole is that of a World Leader using one of those two numbers (and either 17 or 25 of 25 in that subset). The only other unknown is the subset numbering is #123 Jefferson Davis (perversely a World Leader and with a subset number that's also either #17 or #25) although a reliable source relayed his details to me (but I'd really like some scans). 

I know these are out there, but who has scans?  I'm partially holding up the second edition of my book due to the missing subjects so am quite anxious to get this sorted.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Pocket Full Of Miracles

Time sure flies here at the main Topps Archives Research Center.  I last posted about an esoteric Topps test issue involving a generic baseball product dubbed Pocket Size Baseball Game way back in 2011 and basically never looked back.  It's a practically unknown issue in the hobby; not too many people are aware of them.  I first picked up on the possibility of this set from an old hobby publication article that ran through a long list of Topps test packs.  I assumed, incorrectly at the time, that the pack held previously overstocked 1970 and/or 1971 Topps Baseball Scratch Off games but when I won a handful of unopened packs many years later they were clearly a different beast:

The set title comes from the test wrapper:

These strange cards seemingly belong in the 1970-72 time frame, for reasons you can explore in my old post from 2011. 1972 seems like as good a guess as any though for year of issue, based upon the "Baseball" typeface found on the reverse.  I've shown that previously in both red/yellow and blue/yellow varieties but Friend o'the Archive Roy Carlson has, quite remarkably, unearthed two new colors out of a small cache of cards he recently acquired.  Here is green/blue:

And here is yellow/blue, which makes four distinct reverses overall:

Note how the team roster block changes color as well.  These were cheap ways to create variety and the look is quite appealing.

Now Roy took it upon himself to scratch off one of his cards, which to my surprise, worked out quite well. The 11 x 4 array matches those of the 1970 and '71 inserts and it turns out the revealed typeface did as well.  Here's the results, showing next to a scratched 1970 insert:

It's still a bit of a chicken-and-egg routine in terms of which came first but I think the larger size used for the test issue is a clue and indicates it came after the inserts were issued in 1970 and '71. But that is still just a guess. We'll need a miracle to get a correct date on these I'm afraid.

Saturday, November 12, 2022

The Thing That Should Not Be

It's been almost 13 years since I last commented on the purported "1963" "Topps" Mickey Mantle "mask" "high number premium" which, to reiterate:

  • Cannot be tied to 1963,
  • Bears no evidence of being a Topps product,
  • Is not a mask and
  • Cannot be attributed to any known premium offer from any Topps pack or insert in 1963 or any other year.

You've seen one or two of these I'm sure:

Said to measure about 6 x 8 inches, as with the front, there is no indication of manufacturer on the back:
One of these went for $6,000 over the summer, with a description that linked it to, you guessed it, a premium offer on some 1963 Topps high numbers packs.

Well, there's still a decent amount of 1963 wrappers and packs out there and this has never been sighted as an offer on one of them.  Zero, zip, zilch, nada. More properly a plaque, and while this is something reasonably hard to find, they do come up now and then. But there is no evidence anywhere of Topps, or anyone else for that matter, offering this as a premium and frankly, checking the known wrapper premium offers is not all that difficult. The use of the year 1963 in connection with these is also purely speculative.

My own personal opinion is that this was tied to some local store or manufacturer, quite possibly domiciled in Texas, and was intended to be used in a very limited promotion.  Unlike the 1956 Mac Boy Mantle decals, which have been found in some quantity and were apparently used as premiums well past their original intended use (affixed to a bat rack made in Texas by a small furniture maker), these don't seem to have been made in any type of significant quantity. PSA also does not grade these, whereas the Mac Boy Decals have been graded by them over 170 times, with about three dozen assessed over at SGC to boot. I've seen a reference or two connecting the plaque to a liquor store or promotion but again, it's all speculative.

I'm not sure if the Topps mis-attribution does anything negative to the value at this time.  I suspect if it could ever be tied to Topps it might increase the value but it's something that, should that connection ever be discovered, was likely sourced elsewhere for an internal mockup.

One final point, if you look closely at the reverse, it does not appear that either the NY on the cap nor the New York on the uniform was part of the mold.  They seem painted on, although if the cap is embossed it's hard to discern from a scan and I wonder if this was even tooled to resemble Mantle originally. The reverse peek shows what looks to me like a shadow of the NY logo on the cap but it doesn't seem to go deeper than that. An original would be needed to tell for sure but quite a bit of the appeal is the painted look of the Mick. 

I also find it odd that something associated with Mantle and known for as long as this has been known, still has no identifiable source.

Saturday, November 5, 2022

Historic Pace

I've briefly touched upon the 1949 Bazooka Historical Almanac series previously and thanks to some spoils hard-won in a recent eBay auction, I'm able to detail a few more of these sepia-styled comics.

Historical Almanac was co-issued with the Willard Mullin Spalding Sport Show comics as the first to envelope one-cent Bazooka bubble gum.  I've got to update all sorts of information on the Mullin comics so won't link to my prior posts, but believe there may have only been about 25 subjects in that series. Given that each Historical Almanac comic covers an event on a specific calendar date, it has a potential universe of at least 366 subjects! I say "at least" as BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd reports he has seen at least one date for two different subjects and over 110 different comics!.

Now I doubt that Topps created 366 (or more) different comics for the series but I've learned to never say never! My eBay haul shows some consecutive dates among the nine in the lot:

I've seen some short-cut comics from the series issued after these as well and its not clear when the trimming occurred, it's possible some even came this way originally. The use of dates before 1752 is fungible, thanks to the Gregorian Calendar being implemented by England and its colonies.  The Julian Calendar used previously was originally 10 days ahead of the Gregorian, presently there is a differential of 13 days. So which date is which?!

Well, here's one from my haul that matches on the Julian date-Louis Napoleon's escape from prison:

The aphorism on Top/Event Description on Bottom seems to be the most prevalent style but it's switched on several examples such as this one, detailing my maternal ancestors arriving in the New World:

I've seen January dates with that style as well so they seem to span the entire twelve month calendar. The two different placements of  text (let alone the typefaces for the "people born on this day" bits make me think the issue was extended beyond whatever number of dates were used originally as it would be quite odd for more than 50 or so subjects to be printed in one go for anything Topps ever issued with Bazooka.

Here's some history:  The Pilgrims, after a detour to Cape Cod, arrived at Plymouth on December 16 (or 26 actually) so it looks like Topps used a mix of Julian and Gregorian dates for the earlier events in the series! That would now be December 29th in the Julian calendar given the gap spreads by a day every century.

February 12 goes presidential:

I dunno, do you think Honest Abe had a lot of energy and bounce?!

More recent events overseas also made the cut:

There's at least one other comic detailing Japanese aggression in China, so the psychic and physical wounds from the events of World War 2 were clearly still raw and I wonder if Pearl Harbor was part of the series as well (I'm thinking it was).

It's certainly an entertaining and even reasonably informative series as Topps navigated their way through the end of the 1940's with aplomb.

Saturday, October 29, 2022


Well Hallowe'en, or what passes for it now, is a couple of days away kids!  Every year, when it rolls around, I am reminded of one of my favorites as a trick-or-treater, a sleeve of Bozo bubble gum balls.  I was all about chocolate and bubble gum as a kid, with the chalky Necco wafers, Mary Jane's and the like going to my dad straight out of my bag, while I hoarded $100,000 Bars, Baby Ruth's, Almond Joys and any and all bubble gum.

Bozo, at the time (mid 60's to mid 70's) came in a clear sleeve.  This promo ad gives you a good idea of the look:

I always seemed to get the assorted flavors and the whole shebang got popped into my mouth in one swoop once opened.  Happy days!

Bozo was a very early Topps product, sold in bulk originally to the wholesalers, who in turn supplied the folks with vending machine routes and businesses.  It was a very important early line for Topps and they were able to avoid a lot of packaging costs by dealing in bulk.

This July 29, 1950 Billboard article indicates a surge in popularity for ball gum, which caused some consternation at Topps (or more likely, their PR firm).  At a guess, this is when all those red topped Oak vending machine "trees' started appearing in the exit corridors and vestibules of grocery stores:

Bozo popped up in something resembling the party-sized Bazooka boxes found in stores for a spell in the 1960's but it seems to have flitted in and out of US retail consciousness for a couple of decades, possibly due to waxing and waning legal issues with Bozo the Clown.  It seems to have had a more sustained existence in Canada and there were countertop vendors that carried the branding, distributed by O-Pee-Chee:

I think a good supply of "new old stock" Bozo gumball machines has been unearthed as you can find those pretty easily in close to pristine condition.  Those were clearly designed to sit on a countertop as the top just screws off.

There were four or five flavors available along with the assorted:

I'll have to hit up my grand-nieces and nephews next week to see if Bozo even makes an appearance anymore!

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Buzz Kill

Somewhat lost in the wake of Batman capturing the attention of the nation's TV viewers, both young and old, in the Fall of 1966, The Green Hornet is primarily remembered today as the show that introduced Bruce Lee to America. Originally a 1930's radio program originating out of Detroit, Britt Reid, a.k.a. the Green Hornet was eventually revealed to be the grand-nephew of John Reid, known to millions as The Lone Ranger. The Green Hornet fought crime wearing a mask and using a gun (sound familiar?) and the show had a compelling theme song, a fully orchestrated "Flight of the Bumblebee".

Commercial radio took off in 1920 and by 1933 was firmly entrenched in America. Detroit, thanks to the concentration of automobile manufacturers and related industries located there and nearby, had a wealth of resources available when it came to creating and marketing entertainment, no surprise for the fourth largest city in the United States at the time. The Lone Ranger debuted on George Trendle's station WXYZ on January 31, 1933, the same day the eight station Michigan Regional Network it spearheaded was hatched. The show was broadcast three times a week and quickly worked its way east, conquering Cincinnati (on WLW, which had the highest powered transmitter in the country at the time), Chicago (WGN) and New York (WOR) by 1934.  That in turn led to the formation and rise of the Mutual Broadcasting System among these four stations, the first national network in the country to have content created by each market, as opposed to the three existing networks (CBS and NBC's Red and Blue) where content was created in New York and then distributed downstream. 

The Green Hornet was in coast-to-coast markets by 1937 and Trendle, looking to expand the audience for the show, eventually ported his own station's creation from Mutual to the NBC Blue Network.  After some government induced gyrations NBC Blue several years later became ABC and that is where The Green Hornet premiered on television in September 1966, nine months after Batman hit the airwaves, with the "Flight of the Bumblebee" theme music still intact. Despite being given the important, and kid-oriented 7:30 PM slot on Fridays (Batman, with which it shared a production company, had that time slot as well but on Wednesdays and Thursdays), The show was thought to be a star vehicle for Van Williams but the Green Hornet, lacking the camp and wonderfully odd comedic gravitas that defined Batman, played it straight and tanked with only 26 episodes produced.  Lee, of course, became a worldwide star while Williams faded to occasional guest star roles for the most part thereafter.

Topps produced a 44 sticker set that was a bit of a mess design-wise. Donruss ended up with the rights to produce a set of trading cards commemorating the show, so it appears two licenses for similar products were granted.  Actually make that three, as Ed-U-Cards also made a deck of 52 playing cards using black-and-white images from the show. A lot of tied-in geegaws were also created outside the realm of cards and stickers and it's clear the show was considered, prior to launch, to be can't miss viewing, especially as Batman was in full ascension as it entered its second season in September of 1966.

Topps was not able to include gum in their Green Hornet packs as a result of Donruss obtaining the confectionery license and it's noteworthy that this was the first time Topps dropped their bespoke chew for a licensed property:

It's a very green theme, as you would expect.  Note the primordial commodity code at the top right.  That wrapper was a miscut (common for some reason with these) and the full code was like so:

I can't quite make it out but believe that reads 466-01-1-6.  Topps had just started using such codes in 1966 after all production was moved from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA.

The box used similar colors:

The bottom indicia was typical of the times and provided an excellent looks at the new curved-T Topps logo, which was never a feature on the pack and visible box graphics for licensed properties:

466-06-1-6 for that indicia I think.

The stickers were all over the place and may feature the most designs on a per-capita basis of any Topps set up to this point.  Here are just some of them:

Nice five o'clock shadow there Van.  Topps must have run out of publicity stills as some cards were illustrated:

That's just weird! The backs were typical pressure stock, scored once:

While the stickers can have their issues and were essentially designed to be destroyed, they are found quite easily today as Topps must have been stuck with a ton of unsold inventory. I suspect they ended up selling a lot of these in Fun Packs and at a guess that would have been during Hallowe'en 1967.

The set is a right mess, especially when compared to the Donruss cards, which are among the nicest that company produced but the main problem was with the show itself. I've seen a handful of episodes and they are, well, kinda boring. I know some folks are fans of the show but Batman pretty much sucked up all the oxygen in 1966 and The Green Hornet wasn't even rerun much, probably due to the low number of shows available for syndication (where 65 episodes was the magic minimum number), so it has still not been widely seen to this day. As noted above, it's mostly remembered today for Bruce Lee.