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.