Saturday, July 2, 2022

Highly Logical Outcome

As promised last time out, today we look at the press sheet array of the 1967 Topps Baseball high numbers.  This series set me on a path of unswerving nerdiness almost 40 years ago as I attempted to decipher a grainy photo of an uncut sheet and correlate it with the price guide short print designations of the day.  It would be many years before I realized Topps used a two slit (or sheet) press sheet encompassing 264 cards, with 132 cards per slit in a standard sized card array, 12 rows of 11 cards per slit.  132 card slits are called uncut sheets in the hobby, which is correct but doesn't account for all 264 cards, which I refer to as a press sheet. Within these parameters, cards sometimes became short or over printed as Topps changed the arrays from one slit to the other.

Why this happened is open to speculation but by the time 1967 rolled around I don't believe it was done to entice the kids to buy more cards looking for subjects that were suppressed in production. Rather, I think it had something to do with how they filled their various packaging configurations, at least in theory. Plus, I'd wager Topps really didn't want a lot of overstock or returns of the high numbers.

Many of the old price guide SP and DP notations were based upon the "tabulation" method where cards were observed as packs or vending boxes and cases were opened.  Depending upon the sample size, this was either accurate, or not.  I believe the idea of the 1967 Brooks Robinson high number card (#600) being super short printed - an idea which still somewhat persists to this day despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary - was due to the tabulation of a single 500 count vending box's contents.  

Well, there is still a wild card in the mix, which is a row or card's position in a sheet.  Corner cards,  those in bottom rows (but not necessarily tops) and the occasional random spot on the sheet do seem to have distribution issues sometimes and the 1967 high numbers are certainly affected by this. Topps must have had a way to segregate and pull certain cards, something that they had been able to do since at least the early 1950's, when various disputed player contracts with Bowman caused certain cards to be pulled due to court orders.

Putting that random production method issue aside for the moment, when this two slit brainstorm finally took hold, I searched for the second 1967 high number uncut sheet .  And I searched and I searched and I searched. Every example I found just showed the same sheet I had already deciphered as a young buck, like so:

It's an old scan but the basic row setup, with each letter representing a row and with the first, or head,  card in each identified, is:

A     Pinson

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

G    Orioles Rookies

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist

Then one day, over ten years ago, Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann sent along a partial section of a sheet with a different array-huzzah!  You can tell it's taken from the top left corner of an uncut slit:

That A row headed by Pinson is a match to the top of the other sheet but then the array changes.  So now we have a sheet that goes:

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

A    Pinson

So a little odd but not 100% unexpected as the semi's seem to feature a 44x3 and 33x4 array and those Pinson rows get us to four. What to do now?

Well, I did an eBay count a couple of years ago and got this average count per row over 2,539 cards, with an overall average of 33 cards per subject:

A    77    Pinson

B    22    Ferrara

C    25    NL Rookies

D    22    Colavito

E    29    7th Series Checklist

F    34    Red Sox Rookies

G    26    Orioles Rookies

Row E has a slightly higher skew due having Brooks Robinson, a popular slabbing subject, in it and the checklist also being printed with the semi-highs (#531) but that Pinson row is such an outlier.  So where does this lead us? Well I thought here, using this pattern for the "other" sheet:

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

G    Orioles Rookies

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist

A    Pinson

F    Red Sox Rookies

Orioles Rookies


Five impressions:

A    Pinson

Four impressions:

F    Red Sox Rookies

Three impressions:

B    Ferrara

C    NL Rookies

D    Colavito

E    7th Series Checklist (contain Brooks Robinson)

G    Orioles Rookies  (contains Seaver Rookie)

But when you look at the PSA pops (from June 17, which total 42,165) it smooths out, just like with the semi's.  I'll save you all the math but when you factor out Hall-of-Famers, the Robinson and some other more widely collected cards, you get an average count per card of 405.  These are the per row averages using PSA's figures:

A    450

B    382

C    393

D    412

E    397

F    414

G    390

Ferrara is the lowest pop card at 293 and the White Sox Team is the highest at 530, factoring out all the "popular" cards but there is no discernable pattern, it's totally random.  The lowest pops are all over the place, as are the highest ones. The Seaver rookie leads the way among the glitterati, as you might expect, with 3,540 slaberoni's. Maybe the Ferrara was prone to damage or it's just not a card that's graded a lot, possibly due to centering issues. It occurs to me a production issue midway through printing could have occurred, requiring a quick fix of some rows on one of the slits, but good luck figuring that out if it even happened.

I once correlated the known SP and DP information as of December 2011 in a post and came up with 11 cards that didn't quite jibe among my source materials (i.e one source having an SP designation for cards from a specific row while another having the row as being full of DP's); all 11 cards that eneded up without overlapping SP/DP info were in the G Row. I still can't explain why the cards in this row caused set collectors the most reported difficulty (not counting the expensive Seaver card) other than confirmation bias playing a part, nor can I explain the relatively high A Row count, which is two standard deviations away from the mean where none of the other rows are more than one standard deviation away, although B is close on the short side and has the the lowest overall pop count average per PSA!

Summing up, the eBay dataset I used a decade ago was probably not robust enough. The PSA data suggest to me that rows A, D & F were printed 4x each and rows B,C, E & G were printed 3x each across the full 264 card press sheet, although A appears to be a bit of an outlier still (5% chance that it's random).  But it's not a guarantee and there could still be a 5x row, a 4x row and five 3x rows but there's too much noise I think to dissect this any further with the data at hand. I will say whatever old SP and DP data certain guides had in the past seem to be have been based upon incomplete information at the time. And it just feels like that Pinson "A" row is a fiver!

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Short Sighted

There's been several concerted efforts these past two or three years by some intrepid researchers over at Net54 Baseball trying to piece together various uncut sheets arrays for Topps series' where short prints either reside or are thought to.  I chime in on these threads sometimes and there's been some impressive debunking of various SP and DP theories as a result of a kind of crowdsourced look at miscuts and sheet remnants.  Since my interest in off-the-beaten-path Topps stuff started with trying to decipher the 1967 high number SP's four decades(!) ago, I love following these discussions.

The 1967 highs have been pretty much put to rest in terms of SP and DP rows and I'll get into that next time out as I've not posted anything on what I hope and believe are the final findings, but today I want to look at the 1967 semi-highs.  These span nos. 458 to 533 and include eight Hall-of-Famers. Like the high numbers in 1967, it's a 77 card series, which seems to be a magic number for Topps tomfoolery. Of particular note is the long held impression in the hobby that card #476 of Tony Perez was short printed, often the only one from the series identified as such in the guides.  A single SP in a full series is a rare thing with Topps and it implies the "broke the pattern" for some reason.  Before eBay and the internet, it was hard to prove or disprove such things.  Not so anymore.

You can pretty much assume, with a couple of exceptions, that any standard sized Baseball sets (2 1/2" x 3 1/2")  issued by Topps in series will not have short or double prints if the series count was 66 or 88.  The former gives you four impressions of each subject across a full 264 card uncut sheet, the latter three. Outside of those two, the only other series that is an even number is 110 , which Topps used to lead off the first every year from 1958-69, although once they started printing checklists as discrete cards (1961), those series run only 109 cards, with a preview checklist covering the next series tipped in. Those generally result in 44 (or 43 with the extra checklist added) over prints (vs. a more unwieldy-to-describe 88 - or 87 - short prints) in the series as the first wave in most years was produced in massive quantities, which seems to smooth out the press run.  Rule of thumb: if it's not detectable in the pricing, then there aren't short prints in the abstract sense, as there were too many cards produced in the series to matter.

The odd number series are where all the fun is, especially those that are 77 (76) in number.  55 subject series tend to be like the 110's in that they produce over prints.  There's only one 99 card series (the 4th in 1969) and then we get into the 1970-72 era, which had 132 card first series runs.  There's an anomalous 121 card series (the 5th) in 1971 plus the drawdown from 7 to 6 series in 1971 & 1972, before the bottom dropped out in 1973 with a mere 5 series as Topps went over to issuing all cards at once, although there is certainly some SP-DP fun thereafter. So we get some good, old-fashioned variety!

So here are the 77 card (76 in all cases) series:

1961 5th

1961 6th

1962 5th

1962 6th

1962 7th

1963 5th

1964 5th

1964 6th

1965 5th

1965 6th

1965 7th

1966 5th

1966 6th

1966 7th

1967 6th

1967 7th

1968 6th

1969 6th

1969 7th

That's 20 distinct 77 card series!  I'll try not to step on all the work done over at Net54 so am limiting the discussion here to 1967.  I ran the semi-highs through an eBay search on June 13th and came up with this:

I designated the two World Series teams from 1967 (Cardinals and Red Sox), Hall-of Famers and Yankees to make sure to weed them out if they had weirdly high counts.  I wanted to see if the semi-highs were as strange as the highs when it comes to double printed and short printed rows.

It sure seems like the Coombs, McFarlane, Dodgers Team, Rigney, Hicks and Martinez should be in a "super print" row based on eBay's listings, while Palmer as a HOF skews some numbers in the Merritt/Santiago row it's been determined he resides in.  Palmer is really popular to grade for some reason and I don't think there is a true super-print row in the semi's based on his positioning and counts I will show below.  I still suspect the 67 highs had a production issue that really changed two planned row counts but believe the semi's were not similarly affected. I say this because of the PSA populations.

If you take the HOF'ers out for a minute, the top 11 counts from eBay are (with eBay to the left, PSA pops to the right):

Coombs 106 - 199

McFarlane 105 - 295

Dodgers Team 101 - 523

Rigney 94 - 230

Hicks 91 - 245

Martinez 89 - 276

Senators Rookies 80 - 260

Landis 80 - 303

Bowens 72 - 259

Wert 70 - 253

Davidson 61 - 237

The Dodgers Team probably skews high due to Koufax being in the team picture. 

But based upon research over at Hicks (91 eBay hits) is in a row with Menke (60) and Talbot (50), whose PSA pops are: 245, 253 and 279 respectively.  That is a major eBay disparity on Hicks, like Palmer.  Maybe there's commons that are so lowly literally nobody buys them?

Conversely, the lowest 11 counts are, with PSA pops to the right:

Twins Rookies 15 - 235

Arrigo 16 - 227

Stephenson 17 - 265

Cloninger 18-235

Clemens 19 - 227

Humphreys 21 - 225

Lachemann 21 - 194

Campbell 22 - 194

Braves Team 22 -251

Pirates Rookies 22 - 196

Houk 22-317

I think this relative smoothness among the two sets of counts means that 33 x 4 and 44 x 3 is the likely row setup for the semi's then over the 264 card press sheet array.  Nothing really jumps out when you look at PSA's figures.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Foiled Again, or, Two Wrights Don't Right A Wrong

Topps was starting to experiment a bit with production methods and materials in the years leading up to their February 1966 plant and warehouse move from Brooklyn to Duryea, Pennsylvania.  For reasons that may or may not be linked, after this occured some really innovative products and almost-products being worked upon by Woody Gelman's New Product Development department for a period of six or seven years, right up until the company started reigning in costs to prepare for their IPO.  NPD were still getting their bearings though in 1965 when they popped out not one but two sets featuring foil embossing.

The most well-known of these embossed sets are the 72 inserts that came with the 1965 Baseball cards,  which I've touched upon these briefly in the past and won't dwell on here.  That set is heavily documented and I'll probably end up dissecting it more fully down the road in a sports inserts series I'm contemplating anyway.  Those cards were essentially credit card sized while today's subject, Presidents and Famous Americans, were produced as "tall boys" that measured 2 1/2" x 4 11/16".  Topps was enamored with using these larger cards in many of their mainstream 1964-65 issues, for reasons I cannot quite determine. 

The 44 subjects in the set include 35 U.S. Presidents and 9 Famous Americans. The run of Chief Executives includes Lyndon Johnson and with Grover Cleveland's two terms only requiring a single card, the first 35 cards in the set are presented in a straightforward chronological manner, with a short paragraph of description and the some indicia. The cards, which were blank backed, spread the subjects amid five colors, with black reserved for Presidents who had been assassinated, as shown here:

Presidents who did not die at the hands of others were issued with red, white or blue backgrounds and the Famous Americans were all done in green. There is no variation among colors and subjects, if Woodrow Wilson was blue, he stayed blue.

The wrapper, to my eye,  is one of the better ones produced by Topps in the 60's and the tall boy format let them go horizontal, unleashing Mount Rushmore to great effect:

The red, white & blue theme was also one dear to the Shorin family, the owners of Topps, going back to 1908 and Morris Shorin's American Leaf Tobacco Company, although no examples of any ephemera exist to show this, only family recollections. This patriotic livery is still on display today with Bazooka.

I'll not bother with a checklist for all 44 cards but will detail the 9 Famous Americans that close out the set:

36. Benjamin Franklin

37. Charles Lindbergh

38. Alexander Graham Bell

39. Alexander Hamilton

40. Albert Einstein

41. Henry Ford

42. Orville Wright

43. Douglas MacArthur

44. Frank Lloyd Wright

While one of the Wright brothers apparently got short shrift, the inclusion of another similarly surnamed fellow, the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, was unexpected:

(Courtesy The Wright Library)

Most of the others are no-brainers though and it's worth noting Albert Einstein was a frequently depicted Topps subject, going back to 1952's Look 'N' See set.  

As you can imagine, the combination of the tall boy sizing and foil embossing is not one that allowed higher grade examples to survive in any kind of quantity.  The set also seems to have been pretty limited in release and it's not the easiest thing to find these days. Demand is low and let's face it, the portraits look, well, kinda boring.  It's an odd duck of a set, albeit one that pulled together a few overarching themes at Topps in 1965.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Opening Day

I stumbled across something that was both interesting and infuriating a couple of weeks ago concerning a 1952 Topps Baseball pack opening. Yes, certainly an interesting thing to do but it's infuriating to me that it survived 70 years and then got dismantled. Here's a link to the whole video but you will need to watch it on Cardporn's Facebook feed (sorry).

However, there's a silver lining, or at least a white one.  I've known for some time that many of the early penny and nickel packs sold by Topps came with a glassine insert that I thought helped protect the cards from the gum.  However, it seems, after watching the video, it's possible the insert was fashioned in order to allow the gum to be inserted into the pack to allow for a neat final sealing job vs. being a purely protective measure.  

Here, check out these two frame grabs to see what I mean.  This is the arrangement after the pack was opened; you can see how the white insert is partially, but neatly, folded around the five cards within:

Then on the flipside, you can see how the insert is still only providing partial cover.

Now, it's possible the gum rotated sometime during its 70 year nap and was meant to be inserted horizontally and just lightly adhere to the glassine, but it sure seems like the inner wrap was needed to help stabilize the gum and cards for outside wrapping.

Topps would often have in-house advertising or premium offers on the inserts and I'm not sure why they didn't in 1952, at least for the Baseball set (this was a first series pack, with first run black backed cards within) but this video, which essentially documented the destruction of a $80,000 pack in what I have to assume was a quest for a really nice #1 Andy Pafko, at least has given us some good information.

I've seen videos like this before but this is the best view I've seen of such proceedings, disturbing as they may be.

Saturday, June 4, 2022


I'm sure some regular readers of this blog recall the old Baseball Hobby News, which competed against The Trader SpeaksSports Collectors Digest and a couple other of the more "major" pubs back in the heady hobby days of the late 1970's and into the 1990's.  I subscribed from around 1982 to 1990 and BHN probably peaked around 1986 in terms of content and influence. Published by Frank and Vivian Barning, a married couple who were active card dealers, BHN was probably the best in terms of "pure" hobby content among the major hobby periodicals of the time.

When this July 1986 issue came out, Beckett was just getting his footing in the pricing rag trade (where your faithful blogger also trafficked at Current Card Prices in its two earliest years), Baseball Card News was in year three of existence and The Trader Speaks was a distant memory that remained adrift then lost for good after its mailing list was bought by Sports Collectors Digest in 1984 and a relaunch (as a monthly SCD special insert) failed to generate any traction for the brand.  There were others at the fringes and also the formidable Baseball Cards magazine, slickly produced and sold at newsstands across the country.  Tuff Stuff  was another slicker looking mag that debuted in 1984;  Baseball Hobby News persisted amid this competition for a quarter-century (1979-93):

Frank Barning passed away last month after a long illness.  I never met him, not even at a show, but he always seemed like an old friend, his smiling face atop his regular "Barnstorming" column (which later became a less hobby-centric blog) saying hello every month:

(courtesy David Kathman)

He also made it onto a Topps Stadium of Stars card, shot at at the 1992 Atlanta National, each subject (66 hobby-centric folks) getting a 500 count "vending box"  of their own cards, which used the 1992 retail Topps design:

I've heard Frank never liked this image but trust me, it's better than many others in the set!  

Here's the back:

It's a little fuzzy, sorry.  I'll be looking a the set, and a companion issue, hopefully with less fuzz, shortly but wanted to pay tribute to a hobby lifer.  RIP.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Wouldn't It Be Nice

Some more white wax test packs and wrappers today kids!  I'm really just scratching the surface but dig the look of these.

Captain Nice debuted and was cancelled by NBC, all in 1967.  Created by Buck Henry (Get Smart), the show, which always struck me as having a certain Don Martin-esque inspiration, never gained traction with viewers despite a pretty good cast (William Daniels, Amy Prentiss, Alice Ghostley).  A mid-season replacement show, fifteen episodes came and went in the span of four months, in a time slot that competed with The Lucy Show.  Topps tested a 30 card set based upon the show and it seems possible they just pulled the plug when it was clear it would not be renewed.  It's a tough test issue as such things go; I can't even find an unopened pack scan, just a wrapper:

Note how translucent the wrapper is, especially when you look at the left panel where the ingredients label is affixed. I suspect Topps could have burned off excess stock of these cards in 1967's Hallowe'en Fun Packs given the relative lack of wrappers out there.  Black and white images probably didn't help matters:

There was a little comic strip on the reverse that's far more colorful than the obverse's subject matter:

Speaking comic strip reverses, Topps tested a set of 55 cards in 1968 based upon the Irwin Allen TV series Land of the Giants.  I've covered these before but today's theme begs a repeat of sorts:

As noted above, the white test wrappers were fairly translucent, nicely evidenced here on the reverse of the pack (which is missing the ingredients label, a fairly common occurrence on surviving test pack examples of any flavor):

The cards were just as ridiculous as the show, where the premise was seven passengers on a commuter spaceship called the "Spindrift" went awry and crashed in a land of, well, giants with a decided mean streak:

The show was designed with all sorts of size-related gimmicks taking center stage. The first 44 cards had a comic strip on the reverse, just like Captain Nice:

All the online and print set checklists I can find indicate the next ten cards had a puzzle back and the final card had a checklist, possibly just of the comic strip backs but I've never seen any of those that I can recall; it's another really-hard-to-find test issue for sure. PSA pop reports don't indicate the last 11 cards are more difficult but it's kinda weird as the highest count of any card in the set over there is 10.  I wonder why LOTG got a 55 card tryout vs. only 30 for Captain Nice?  Perhaps there were licensing issues for certain actors in the latter?

The show and set were not a big hit here - it did better than Captain Nice though, lasting two full seasons from 1968-70 -  but A&BC released the series in the UK as a regular issue. The US test cards are scarce and have indicia with a USA printing notation.  The UK indicia references A&BC and are slightly smaller in size.

A year later, 1969 brought Baseball Mini Stickers, 25 in number with four stickers per card yielding 100 subjects.  These are hotly pursued by collectors today and while there are about five times as many overall compared to Land of the Giants, they are tough:

The random selection of stickers, which replicated the regular issue cards, could be bizarre:

More often than not, these are referred to as 4 on 1 Stickers and I've covered these extensively here. I think they look great but it seems they didn't test well.  Go figure...

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Getting Testy

Going to lay some eye candy on you today kids, in the form of some Topps test packs.

Topps was infamous for running very brief tests of products in at least four ways: lab testing with kids and the product in a controlled setting, handing out test items at local schools, giving distributors and salesmen a few samples to see the enthusiasm level among their buyers, and throwing a box or two of boxes on select retail store counters and gauging the public's response. The latter method is by far the most well known today and many test products, especially those from the 1966-74 period are rare and expensive (especially if sports related) these days. Before 1966, well it's not easy to to tell how tests were conducted at the retail level.

The retail test packaging that is known today mostly was created using plain white wax wrappers, with a product sticker on the front sans price and, if the product was being tested with a confectionery item within, a small ingredients label on the back that also served to "seal" the pack.  These, it is said, often resided in a generic white box and that's presumably where the pack price was displayed as these were never marked as to cost. Around 1974 this started being supplanted by different mediums and Topps also started doing more specific tests, such as using two price points. Almost all Topps products, except their recurring annual sports issues were tested in one or more forms and almost always at the retail level. Many products failed their tests and never made it to a full blown release.  Others were designed for a regional sales campaign, or promoted from test status for such a purpose, and are often found in greater numbers than those that were just tested at retail.

Test packaging is not always extant for certain issues and of course some sets are legendary rarities.  One such set is the 1966 Baseball Punchboards where the wrapper is not even known, just a bare description of it, from Rob Lifson:

Topps designed and proofed a retail box for the set:

Great cards, almost impossible to find!

It's possible the full checklist for this set is not complete.  In 2009 14 two card panels out of what I speculated were a set of 18 were known.  I don't believe the count has changed since then.  These are among the hardest-to-find tests Topps ever created and some of the Hall of Famers can go for staggering sums.

1966 (that date may not be firm, I suspect it's a little later) also brought a tough Non-Sports test, Fold-A-Roos.  This pack illustrates how typical stickers on both front and back look:

That front may not match up with this back and at least a couple of packs are known to have survived:

It's a tough set and not may people know about it. Being metamorphic makes it very unlikely many of these are still around:

Examples of a regional test or limited issue are well-known to baseball collectors.  These two 1967 sticker sets appear to have been a test AND a regional issue. You can actually find these in the wild:

If there's a test wrapper with sticker, it may replicate the above two pack fronts. Also on display the retail box which is not plain white:

The Pirates box is known in proof form:

That product code on the reverse eliminates this as a test box proof.  The stickers look great BTW, with 33 per team, so 66 across both sets:

Topps thought about a similar pin issue as well that featured just San Francisco Giants but it never launched in any form except as a proof.

Here's one more for today, from perhaps the most popular of all the test issues, 1968's 3-D Baseball:

Sorry but I can't find an ingredients sticker, maybe someone will send me one and I'll pop it in here.

Back with more tests next week!

Saturday, May 14, 2022

The Write Stuff

Some serious odds 'n' sods examination today buckaroos as we take a look at various ballpoint pens issued, or not, by Topps.

Leading off, here's an Ron Oser ad for some Topps ballpoint pens from the July 1, 1994 issue of Sports Collectors Digest.  There were only two subjects indicated, with three of each available:

Another ad from the September 30, 1994 issue of SCD offers what would be the same pens, one each of Mays and Killebrew:

Did Brian Morris win that Oser auction?! I have never seen one of these in the wild but I did find a recent sale of a Killebrew pen on eBay that I think is the same as the ones from these ads:

I can't find Topps indicia but at a guess they were a mockup and I assume they are legit as Brian Morris was a well-known dealer out of New Jersey back in the day but until I can see something definitively tying them to Topps, I reserve the right to be cautious!

The only vintage Topps pens I am aware of are promotional in nature and don't have specific players adorning them:

Based upon the Topps logos, I'd estimate those as early to mid-60's. A later version (80's I'd say) exists as well and I'm sure more were produced over the years.  It's a no-brainer to hand these out with order slips, at least when such things existed.  Today what do you hand out, a thumb drive or mouse pad?

If you like non-vintage, there were some Wacky Packages writing instruments produced quite a bit later (2006):

Saturday, May 7, 2022


I've been going over some previously trod ground with a keener eye of late when it comes to Bowman and its various corporate reshufflings from 1951-56, much of it involving John Connelly, who assumed control then sold the company in fairly short order. One thing that I noticed doing this was the low figure offered by Bowman for its 1953 baseball card sales, which are described in some of their legal proceedings against Topps.  Bowman's overall sales and those of their "baseball gum" look like they would have peaked in 1951 at $3,050,000 and $973,000 respectively (no prior figures are available but it makes sense given the large size of the 1951 set vs. 1950).  There were probably some vending and cello sales as well but I doubt they approached even 5% of the baseball card sales figures overall.

In 1952, no doubt affected by the new Giant Size Baseball cards issued by Topps, sales trended down a little at $2,750,000 overall and $731,000 in respect of baseball gum.  The decline in overall sales was $300,000 which seems almost entirely driven by their baseball cards dropping off by $242,000.  Then in 1953 the bottom blew out with a thud.  $2,140,000 in overall sales reflected only $301,000 worth of baseball product. The $610,000 drop in sales year over year is massive, almost 25%!  Baseball gum was down $430,000 all on its own, so 70% of the loss in 1953 was related to that specific category. 

It seems odd and the Bowman color cards were gorgeous of course, so why didn't they sell?

Well, I'm not sure they were marketed as they should have been. As it turned out, Bowman's parent company, Haelan Laboratories, mentioned in their annual report, which slightly refined some of the numbers from their lawsuit, that they lost $116,440 in 1952 due to "necessary and realistic adjustments preparatory to our entrance into newer and more profitable fields... inventory write-downs were substantial." The profit in 1952, despite better sales all around, was only $22,000, so there were two consecutive years of considerable "meh" going on for sure. 

Cash flow woes may certainly have played a part in all of this since a write down occurs when your inventory drops below its book value.  It seems to me then (and I am very much not a person who understands Generally Accepted Accounting Principles that well) that they couldn't sell their 1953 cards and the problem had a knock on effect throughout all their lines and businesses in 1953.  Some of that may have been due to almost 30 percent of their baseball product being issued in black and white. I don't have the actual report, only a small excerpt, but assuming the write down represents what they could have sold at wholesale (58 to 60% of the retail price if they operated like Topps) and using the overall write down of $116,440, that projects to around $80,000 or so of unsold baseball gum inventory. And I'd say that's the minimum possible loss given the sales drop off for the baseball cards..

So that's something like 125,000 boxes of cards (over 5,000 cases, assuming five cent packs) that never sold and was probably the best case scenario. But it doesn't explain the enormity of their overall loss - remember the provided figures were representative of sales, not profits - or the loss on baseball gum in '53 and it's strange for sure. It may also explain how John Connelly (see last week's post) managed to get on the Haelan Laboratories board as it seems his business success was at least partially linked to theirs, especially in light of his plant burning down in January 1953. Maybe Bowman could not source enough shipping cartons, even as Connelly got his plant back up to speed?

What I'm not seeing in any of these numbers how this inventory boondoggle is related to the oft-repeated story that production expenses manufacturing the color cards drove Bowman's demise, unless those losses extended to royalty payments. But there were certainly other issues going on that went well beyond their trading card lines. In fact, I think it bolsters my theory that they dropped the color cards in order to avoid paying royalties to Joe DiMaggio, their spokesman for the color set, shown on this five cent wrapper over at Wax Pack Gods:

Joltin' Joe was on the color display box too and there were also ads featuring him:

Compare these to the Black & White set's livery on this one cent pack:

The wrapper is more colorful than both the color version's wrapper and also the cards within! As is the box:

If Joe. D was promised royalties based upon sales and Bowman was having financial problems, it sure makes sense to they would have made the switch. It also suggests that John Connelly was able to impose some degree of influence as he was a master belt-tightener in times of turmoil but I need to dig into that a bit more to be sure. I have to think the young purchasers of Play Ball, a brand last used by predecessor company Gum Inc. in 1942, did not in the least like getting black and white cards after Bowman took their Kodachrome away.

Bowman sales did bounce back quite a bit in 1954, overall they were at $2,480,000 that year and baseball gum amounted to $602,000 of that.  I can't find sales figures for baseball gum in 1955, presumably due to the Topps buyout rendering the need for them to be provided to the court moot, but a short blurb in a contemporary financial publication indicates overall Haelan Laboratories sales were was about the same as in 1954. Haelan seems like they were rebounding quite nicely from their 1953 nadir, certainly they were not reeling in the face of competition from Topps but John Connelly was already making plans to sell Bowman off as 1955 ended and bubble gum cards were not his area of expertise and interest. He needed cash to relaize his ambitions and selling Bowman to Topps certainly gave him a lot of that.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Flame On! And On!

I've touched upon Philadelphia businessman John Connelly here previously and have been looking into his background in deeper detail as I slowly work on the second edition of my 2013 guide to the early days of Topps. I've got an almost ridiculous amount of updates and corrections to make to the book and work continues slowly apace. But I digress.

To refresh your collective memories, Connelly Containers produced the corrugated cardboard shipping cartons used by Bowman (essentially renamed Haelan Laboratories in 1952 with the old brand names retained). It's possible they produced their retail box flats as well but I've not been able to corroborate that yet.  In connection with this, BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd passed along, a long, long time ago, a piece (recently rediscovered by moi) from the March 23, 1953 issue of Life magazine and indicated Connelly was about to join the Haelan board when the article came out but I've got it in my head (and book) that he did so in 1952. I need to do more research obviously, despite the dates being relatively close, but no matter for the purposes of today's post.

Early in the morning of January 24, 1953, a watchman noted a fire burning at the brand new, and still not-quite-finished Connelly Containers plant, located between 51st and 53rd Streets at Botanic Avenue in the heart of a greater-Philadelphia industrial neighborhood.  The blaze quickly engulfed the two blocks long building - no surprise given all the paper pulp and cardboard stored there - then spread to several adjacent business (including a Firestone tire factory).  Thanks to a stiff wind blowing in from the Schuylkill River that day, the fire quickly jumped some railroad tracks and engulfed four tank cars, getting perilously close to a fuel depot after an explosion took down a firewall and almost lit up a nearby ammo dump (!).  News reports described a "spectacular" fire that took took hours to get under control.  Amid suspicions of arson the FBI was called in due to Connelly doing some production work under a government contract but it ultimately turned out a vapor leak from the fuel depot had sparked the fire. It seems that absent the massive firefighter response (it was an 8 alarm fire) the entire lower part of the heavily industrialized neighborhood would have been consumed.

A huge rainstorm hit the area just after the fire was controlled (bad timing, that) and made a quagmire out of the now former factory and environs. According to several news reports, the only thing saved was a picture of Connelly's wife (I think a massive PR spin happened here!) but later that day he had already set up a temporary headquarters across the river at a local hotel and was receiving offers from heavy equipment manufacturers for replacement machinery.  Local competitors allowed already their ordered machinery to be diverted and also manufactured cartons for Connelly as he regrouped. The "all hands" response was inspiring but perhaps no surprise given John Connelly's philanthropic efforts and community support in the city over the years.

Here's some pictures of the carnage:

Despite all the water from fighting the fire and the storm that hit later, there were still smoldering pockets scattered throughout the area that required an around the clock fire watch for weeks-yikes! Damages to Connelly's plant and equipment were ultimately determined to be $3,000,000.

John Connelly, unhesitatingly, quickly bought an old Carnegie Steel plant, known locally as the Pencoyd Iron Works, at the foot of Righters Ferry Road for $500,000, several miles north of the old location. Quite impressively, it was up and running on March 3rd, less than two months after the fire.  Connelly though, wasn't to stay there long.  Following his acquisition of Haelan Laboratories in 1955 he moved his company from the Pencoyd works, heading further north to Bala Cynwyd, a suburb of Philadelphia and all the remaining Bowman and Haelan Labs manufacturing and packaging equipment soon followed from their old Stenton Avenue factory. 

Bowman's plant was only a mile or so away from Bala Cynwyd but the move had a lot more to it than convenience. Connelly had big plans and some Haelan products aligned with his larger vision that resulted in him ultimately taking over Crown Cork & Seal (now Crown Holdings). Prior to this he sold Bowman's remains to Topps in early 1956 while retaining a good chunk of Haelan Labs and making several interesting and inter-related business moves. He sure seems like he was a titan of industry, old school division.

As for the Pencoyd Iron Works, it is no longer old school and looks pretty swank now-check it out!

Saturday, April 23, 2022

These Go To Eleven - Then Go Crazy!

Today we continue the saga of the 1970 Flags Of The World set. I've taken a couple peeks under the hood previously, with the most comprehensive look being made here back in 2017.  Some new and frankly, puzzling, developments have recently occurred with research about the set and its related insert, which I've dubbed Money of the World, after the name given it by Topps on the test wrapper. Check it out:

Ignore that penciled numbering, a long time ago a dealer used this to store cards from what was likely the first test of the 1970 series.  The best part about that is Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins advises they were just reprinted 56's (or even actual 56's; no one can tell apparently, although he's trying)! Except for the splash panel hawking the insert for 1970, the wrapper art is from 1956 too.  Said dealer could do this as the test pack was actually an envelope:

An envelope was needed as the 1956 cards were in the original Giant Size (one of the last to boot), too tall for what we now call a standard sized pack.  The envelope test pack concept was seldom used by Topps; they only did it a handful of times from what I've seen, usually when non-standard size cards or inserts were in the mix. 

The set as issued for retail consumption consisted of 82 stickers (yes, although they look more like cards): 77 Flags and 5 Dictionary "cards" made up the subject release.  The Dictionary cards were  stickers really stickers though, and each showed four phrases or words in English converted into phonetics approximating the featured language.  All 82 stickers required moisture to be applied to allow them to stick, just like 1967's inaugural Wacky Packages set. We'll get to why the Dictionary stickers were called cards in a minute; here are two of them:

The original images sent to me by another Friend o'the Archive, Michael Branigan, and while those two are a bit oblique as snapped, you can easily see from the Japanese example that the factory cuts were often abysmal. I used these as exemplars since they show a key difference between the test and retail releases. This is the reverse of a regular issue sticker for Japanese, No. 3 of 5 in the sub-series and handily doing double duty as it shows why these were, in fact, stickers:

But look at the back of this card for Chinese:

Yes, it goes to eleven!  Not only that, Chinese was sticker No. 4 of 5 in what now turns out to be its retail version, so clearly some rejiggering of the final sheet occurred.  Thing is, I'm not sure why as 77 Flags and 11 Dictionary stickers would be a classic Topps 88 array, with three full sets printed across the 264 count press sheet.

Lonnie sent me some 66 sticker finished half-slit proofs shots from 1970 that may shed a little light. Here is the front: 

Right away you can see the five Dictionary stickers are scattered throughout the array.  Two more columns should get us to the 88 sticker impressions we need for 77 Flags plus 5 Dictionary stickers, with 6 stickers being extra prints.  However, the reverse of the sheet muddies things considerably:

It's hard to make out detail so here's a partial also from Lonnie:

The five Dictionary stickers are all "x of 11" while the Flags are "x of 77" (solve for "x" LOL) which means only 61 Flags are represented. This is not unusual as 22 card/sticker proof arrays split off form the larger ones were quite common with Topps.  Often (but certainly not always) that's because the two rows they encompass were designed to be extra prints.  If you extrapolate this 66 card proof to an 88 card version, it's clear you would need the two extra columns to get enough Flags into the count of 77, 16 to be exact.  Add in 6 more Dictionary stickers and the math works out perfectly for an 88 sticker set (77+5+6).  So what happened?

Well, I am guessing that the set was indeed planned to be 88 subjects in length, using both flavors of sticker to get to that marker but with 6 more countries added to the Flags. Then after the test marketing was done and work commenced on the larger retail set, a mistake occurred that "corrected" the regular issue and nobody at Topps HQ figured out they were off by 6 until it was too late. Lonnie's sheet's reverse math is plainly obvious: 77 +11 to equal 88 once the full array was composed makes a ton of sense. From what I know of it, Topps printed the backs of their cards (stickers here) first so when they were shipped out and then later matched to the fronts, someone must have noticed the numbering mismatch at some very late stage in the proofing ("whaddya mean there's not 11 Dictionary stickers?!"). There was some renumbering of the Dictionary stickers of course to compensate obviously but it's a lot easier to correct five reverses than seventy-seven. 

One of the central questions for test issues of this era is how do you tell the test from the regular issue?  Most 60's and 70's issues have some type of slight difference if a full release followed a successful test.  Topps would sometimes take two rows, or columns (of 11) - depending upon the orientation but you get the idea - from a proposed sheet array, which often resulted in skip-numbering of a test issue, as they used two rows for the test printing.  These, for reasons that I've never really understood, were not necessarily the cards or stickers from the commonly-encountered two "extra print" rows. Generally the minor difference in was that the indicia on the card's reverse would be changed (from T.C.G. for the test to Topps Chewing Gum for example) but in the case of Flags of The World, T.C.G. remained onboard.

So as for the Dictionary stickers, no one has ever seen any languages beyond the five shown here. Which means you can only ID the test stickers if they have the "x of 11" numbering, i.e. the difference is on the Dictionary stickers only. There were only 77 Flags designed it would seem, and Topps just went with six double prints to fill the Dictionary gap, which I'll get to below.

That should be the end of it, right?  Well, there was also a more "cloth-like" version of the stickers tested in 1973!  I actually have one, but it's in the Topps capsule used for their online Vault sales, although close examination does reveal some slight fuzziness (and die cutting):

Note the front indicia that was added for '73.  The reverse is just blank cardboard, numbering be damned!

It's T-5 in the test numbering scheme used by Topps at the time which, thanks to Lonnie's research, we know was chronological and covers at least 126 tested products, not all of them cards or stickers.  These range from T-1 in 1973 (Emergency! - Adam 12) through T-126 in 1980 (a Baseball blister pack). Topps got their own dating wrong on their COA  (not uncommon) as below, with apologies for the cock-eyed scan (my cert is presently MIA) but the sheet used to produce these has a date on it of July 31, 1973.  

Here's the 1973 sheet, which is has 44 Flags and is flimsy since it was probably sticker stock:

You will note this sheet covers the first four columns of the 1970 proof sheet with the notable exception of three Dictionary stickers, which were replaced by Flags in 1973:

    1970                                        1973
Dictionary    Row    Column       Flag
Spanish          R4          C3         Italy
Italian             R8           C1        Sweden
Japanese       R10        C4        Jamaica

There was very random placement on the Dictionary stickers in 1970.  But their replacements in 1973 all were in the fifth column in 1970, so were a bit more orderly:

Italy: Row 2
Sweden: Row 5
Jamaica: Row 7

And take note of the six Flags running down the last column of the 1973 array, starting in row 2 and ending in row 7 (United Nations through United States). These turned out to be the double printed subjects from 1970:
  • United Nations
  • Brazil
  • China
  • Greece
  • Netherlands 
  • United States
Yes, six of them, as Topps "corrected" for the missing Flags! You can see them on this 1970 half sheet; the run from rows 2 through 7 in column 2 and repeat in rows 6 though 11 of column 5 (yes, it's fuzzy but just key on the American flag):

Switching gears, here's the dating and test code from the 1973 sheet:

I'm not sure the 1973 cloth test stickers ever hit retail, although Lonnie thinks the presence of a T-Code means it probably did.  Maybe someone out there can show me one that was found in the wild but I've only seen them as proofs from the Topps Vault, which means they are always encapsulated by the time I eyeball them. 

Topps was very much experimenting with stock and textures at this time, so who knows what they were thinking with the 1973's? The materials may not have melded properly (a common problem for their cloth and sticker experiments in the early and mid-70's) or perhaps the juggernaut 1973 Wacky Packages issue just overwhelmed any thought of putting these out.  Or the test could simply have failed.

At some point reasonably soon I'll tackle the currency inserts, which are yet another tangled web courtesy of Topps!