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!

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Phantastic Phantom Phillies

Well best laid plans gang aft agley sometimes as I was going to table my look at unissued Bowman card subjects until the MLB offseason (which looks like Thanksgiving almost, sheesh!) but then Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann pointed me to a couple of finished paintings that Huggins & Scott recently offered.  These are really neat and colorful, so I'm treating this like a burst of Spring, which I think you will all enjoy.

These are all Phillies subjects and were framed by a collector years ago and apparently not kept out of sunlight for some portion of their time as wall hangings.  Bill "Swish" Nicholson" is up first:

The lot description states the original painting measured 4" x 6" and while that is obviously not an issued card on the right, the 1952 Bowman's measure out at 2 1/16" x 3 1/8".  You can see how the reduction smoothed out the imperfections in the original, which may have had a couple areas ready for retouching (look at the area under the bill of his cap).  The original collector had Nicholson sign his ersatz 52, a nice touch!  Swish was a third series card for Topps in 1952 who appeared in the 1950 and '51 Bowman sets and then returned in Black-and-White in 1953. It seems he was deemed Topps property for 1952. 

Nicholson's story is fairly well-known and he made his mark as a Cub, especially during the World War 2 years. He got his nickname in Brooklyn as a result of practice swings while stepping to the plate and while today he may be recalled as a power hitter who struck out a lot, that wasn't really the case.  He was a solid ballplayer, with four All Star appearances and he received National League MVP votes in five consecutive seasons, finished third in 1943 and second in 1944. He lost his mojo after that and ended up with the Phillies for his last five seasons, bowing out after 1953. He was a Whiz Kid in 1950 but missed the final month or so of the season and postseason after being diagnosed with diabetes.

Less well known is Lou Possehl, a pitcher who put in very small parts of five seasons over seven years with the Phillies. He wasn't very good in the minors either and looks to have had high walk but middling strikeout counts.  He never actually appeared on a Bowman or Topps card, so his artwork was likely prepared as a hedge against setbacks in litigation with Topps, since neither his 1951 (2 games, 6.00 ERA) nor 1952 stats (4 games, 4.97 ERA) seem to have warranted inclusion by Bowman.

So close.....

There was one issued artwork in the auction too, Granville "Granny" Hamner:

If you look closely, some retouching must have been done after the larger painting was completed. 

Hamner had a very long career with the Phillies (1944-59) although he bounced up and down until sticking for good in 1948 and was a key member of their 1950 NL pennant winning team as their starting Shortstop. He almost ended his career in Cleveland during the latter half of the 1959 season when, oddly enough, he was trying to convert himself into a pitcher.  Indeed,  he returned in that fashion for three games with Kansas City in 1962 after three years in the minors as a two-way player. A fan favorite, he had some real issues with his teammates and management over the years he played in Philadelphia, although he eventually made his way back to the Phillies organization in various roles.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

What a Mess!

For a fairly long period of time in the hobby, print freaks, miscuts and whatever else you want to call them, were generally shunned by collectors.  There were exceptions, particularly those that crept into the old guides like the 1957 Topps Gene "Bakep" or their 1958 Pancho "Herrer" error, which were really just printing hiccups. These days a small but growing cadre of collectors is actively searching out such oddities and lobbying the grading companies to recognize more and more of them.

Some of these misfit cards hail from discards of full and partial scrap press sheets.  When Topps had their main plant in Brooklyn, several dumpster divers would score such prizes and take them home for distribution to their kids, some of which were later introduced into the hobby recycling stream - shallow as it was back then - usually as singles that looked very much like they had been hacked by an eight year old (which they often were!).  Topps scrap does pop up here and there (and will be looked at down the road) but when it comes to scarp sheets, Bowman is (was?) where it's at.

The black and white inaugural Bowman Baseball issue in 1948 was, well, kinda blah and Football followed in the same manner, but it was Basketball that brought color to their sports offerings in '48.  Here's a look at a fully printed card of good ol' Speed" Spector:

Now take a look at the second card from the left in the third row to see Speed with a missing red color process. It results in a striking slate gray background:

The reverse is fine (that's a wire to hang the framed sheet) and suggests it was printed first:

That's a "neat" error and it was carried through to their 1949 Baseball set as things got fugly fast.  This 1949 Baseball 3rd series remnant was posted by Ted Zanidakis over at Net54 Baseball a few years ago.  Ted also wrote an excellent article on these in an early issue of Baseball Cards magazine.

There were other production issues too that year. The front of the '49 Murry Dickson isn't so bad despite a missing pass:

But the back-yeeeesh!

Their move to larger, illustrated cards also had some hiccups.  1951 saw this beauty roll off the presses:

I'm not positive but don't think the backs should also be printed on the fronts! Also, in case you thought all Bowman cards were printed on smaller sheets of 32 or 36, the above remnant disproves that. My thought is this particular sheet, if full, would have an array of 18 x 12 and hold 216 cards. That gives you 36 cards in six iterations on a sheet, or 72 in three.

Here's six high numbers that are a bit more clear on how the reverses were applied to the fronts, courtesy of REA (as is the above); Ramsdell seems to be from an entirely different sheet than the other five cards below:

And to be fair, these types of misprints and sheets were likely produced on purpose to get ink rolling before a full run.  The sheets could also be used on the tops and bottoms of stacked sheets on pallets to absorb the damage that shipment, warehousing and other handling would deliver. Bowman's rejects seem more prevalent due to "paper dealers" buying such things by the pound in Philadelphia from the garbage and refuse haulers in that city back in the day. I'm not sure such monetization existed in Brooklyn back then.

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Paper Works

I love stumbling across various bits of Topps ephemera on my computer (or should I say cloud?). You can sometimes get a sense of how the company was promoting certain brands or distributing products.  

Here's three different bits o'paper from a long time ago, recently rediscovered and sent to me by Jeff Shepherd. First up is an order form for a trade association that managed shipments for The National Association of Variety Stores.  This is quite similar in nature to a form used by the  Consolidated Merchants Syndicate.

So 2,880 pieces (tabs in the vernacular) of Bazooka was $16.32 east of the Rockies and $17.28 out west, as long as you bought two cases minimum.  Pricing seems to be the same as wholesale for the time so the cost to a trade association was the same as that offered to any other jobber or wholesaler buyer.  NAVS  members each had their own exclusive territory, although non-members could have as many stores as they wanted of course. I wish the rest of the form was visible!

Speaking of jobbers, Ventura County Tobacco Co. appears to be one; note the pricing for 1957 Football matches the Bazooka pricing above for the west coast (60% of retail).  Bazooka proper was the same price from two years earlier to boot:

The handwritten calculations indicate the jobber was working out the "2% net" prompt payment discount.

Finally, we get what looks like an "extension bonus" payment to Frank Howard. He seems to have preferred cash to merch!

Stamping and mutilation (what, no folding?)-that's a long way from snapping two images on your phone to deposit a check!