Saturday, May 27, 2023

That's MISTER Topps To You or, We're All Bozo's On This Train

Some time around 1949, when it became clear to Topps that their one cent version of Bazooka was going to be a monster seller, they started converting their "changemaker" Topps Gum, previously a traditional wafer "tab" (like penny Bazooka) into a Chiclets style product.  This was a two-fold process.

First, Topps reconfigured the one cent version of their namesake gum into mint coated "nuggets" like this:

Those all carry 1949 copyrights and it's my understanding they were primarily meant for military field ration kits.  I believe but cannot currently confirm, these one cent tabs also sold at retail.  However, a five cent version certainly did and Topps made up a matchbook to promote the product:

That little chef mixing up a batch of ammoniated gum is today's quarry. It's hard to see but his toque says "Mr. Topps" in what is a quite mysterious advertising technique, i.e. obscuring your company name:

The packaging was eventually reconfigured:

I've blogged at length about Topps Gum over the years and won't rehash it here, just find and click on the appropriate label.  What I haven't posted about though, is Mr. Topps long-lived career as a company pitchman.

Topps would, from time-to-time, refresh their Bozo ball gum product and by 1971 had come up with a colorful redesign of the packaging as this box top shows:

I'll be damned if that isn't our old friend Mr. Topps! He's been updated and lost the old toque but it's clearly the same character. Here's a closeup, he's got more cauldrons now:

Here he is pouring out some grape candy coating:

Why Topps decided to use a character from almost a quarter century prior again is a question that will probably never be answered but I think it's pretty cool. Now, on to another cool thing...

Bozo ball gum was not affiliated with Bozo the Clown, although it's up-and-down past may indicate some legal battles with Larry Harmon had occurred.  But what's funny is that the clown was originally created as a macot for Capitol Records in 1949 and they sold various rights and licenses to the character to Harmon in 1956. The two corporate entities were getting along well enough by 1979  1969 to combine forces for this oddball product:

(UPDATE: 6/14/23: Snack food wizard Jason Liebig via Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins advises this is a 1969 product). 

Here's the commodity code: 

So the product you would think best associated with Bozo the Clown didn't make the cut and Topps went with Gold Rush instead, for what looks to be a very scarce package. There would also seem to be some additional train cars in the series, which I'm guessing never made it to a full retail release. 

Saturday, May 20, 2023

You CAN Go Home Again

It's a pretty well know fact, at least among collectors of 1953 Topps Baseball cards, that three cards feature background ads for the company that produced the set.  There's a couple of dozen "generic" ad representations as well, plus a handful that feature parts of actual ballpark billboard ads (Camel cigarettes for one) but the Topps ones are the most fun:

Yes, the Dodgers relief ace Clem Labine gets the first Topps ad on card #14, which seems appropriate, although that background in no way resembles Ebbets Field.  We have to wait for the high numbers (#252) to find the next one:

Well, that ain't Fenway! Willie Miranda, card # 278, gives us our final Topps ad, somewhat reminiscent of Labine's I think:

However, I believe there may be another Topps homage and it leads off the set.  Take a look at the background of Jackie Robinson's card:

At first glance it seems like it could be a ballpark superstructure looming behind Jackie but it's not Ebbets Field and there's no way the Brooklyn based Topps Chewing Gum would allow an image of the Polo Grounds - which I guess it vaguely resembles - appear on a Dodgers card.  If you look closely, it doesn't really look like a ballpark at all as there are no stands visible. In fact, the image used to create this card, a photograph by Brooklyn's team photographer Barney Stein, has no background, except for some clouds:

So what is it?  Well, my money is on a slightly cleaned up view of the elevated Gowanus Expressway superstructure and, behind it, Topps HQ at Bush Terminal.  Here's a couple shots of the Gowanus from the wonderful Newtown Pentacle:

This is about 16 blocks south of Topps HQ - note the cars parked underneath (and random tire-yikes!).  Sy Berger and Woody Gelman, who car pooled with some other Topps employees from their homes on Long Island, would park under the viaduct near the Topps office in Bush Terminal.  

Here's another shot of the underbelly:

Now here's a shot of their Bush Terminal building in 1940, courtesy of Brownstoner (their offices were in the second building down along the viaduct from the larger one sporting the ad):

Well, take a look at this cropped close up of the Robinson card:

I'm pretty sure that's the roofline of their Bush Terminal building behind the viaduct! It's all slightly altered by the artist but I have to think Woody Gelman could have been behind this little in-joke.

It's not the only card to feature the environs of their Brooklyn headquarters.  In 1955 the Rails & Sails set had a card that prominently featured not only Bazooka bubble gum, but what looks to be a small sliver of the same Gowanus Expressway viaduct, off to the right of the boxcar; quite appropriate given the extensive railroad tracks in the facility:

Fun stuff!

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Fast As A Shark

A little curveball today kids, or maybe just a frisbee slider.  Poring through various eBay listings of late, I came across an image from the 1967 "Topps "Venezuelan set of Luis Aparicio. Luis Aparicio, Sr. that is, father of Luis Aparicio Jr., the Hall-of-Fame shortstop.

Now, he is not a new name, nor is his legacy as a player, manager and foundational pillar of  Venezuelan baseball lost on me. I've been delving into the various winter leagues and tournaments that sprang up in earnest following World War 2 and for some reason I just decided to take a look at the man you see here:

I've covered the "3 in 1" 1967 Venezuelan "Topps" set a few times here, and the specific Venezuelan Winter League subset as well and it's a wonderful issue, with all sorts of ins and outs. The 138 subject VWL subset offers a substantial look at the wide array of players and coaches who participated in 1967-68.  Obviously, Aparicio is one of the coaches.

Luis Aparicio Ortega (the mother's name comes after the father's name) was born on August 28, 1912 in Maracaibo (an oil rich city in Zulia state) and was an athletic kid who gravitated to football (soccer), playing as a Forward for several talented teams in Venezuela. He also played baseball, founding a local team with his brother Ernesto, and that was the sport he made his own. Aparicio would soon become renowned as the slickest fielding shortstop in Venezuela.

In 1931 Luis, Sr. played in his first National Baseball Series and would be a perennial participant.   In the mid-1930's he became the first Venezuelan born player to appear for a team outside of the country and in 1946 was a founder of the Venezuelan Professional Baseball League, both playing and the managing, permanently cementing his already notable status as a scion of baseball in his home country. stadium in Maracaibo is named after him in honor.

After retiring from active play in 1953, where he had Luis, Jr. pinch hit for him in the season opening game for Gavilanes, Aparicio remained a manager, essentially gravitating to where his son played and in 1962 found himself at the helm of the newly rebranded Tiburones de la Guaira, or as we would know them in English, the Sharks. We see him with the team on his 1967 card.

Aparicio, Sr. moved on to another newly founded team in Zulia, known as the Aguilas (Eagles) in 1969 and died of a heart attack on January 1, 1971. He was elected to the Venezuelan Baseball Hall of Fame in 2005.

Here's the reverse of his 1967 card:

It reads, according to Google Translate, as follows:

"Luis the Great of Maracaibo filled a golden age of Venezuela baseball since it debuted in Caracas by the Concordia in the early years of the 30's. Your man has been brilliantly linked to the history of baseball actively until he retired in November 1953, bequeathing in his son Luis Ernesto a worthy representative of fervor and the mystique that he sowed. Professionally he played for Magallanes and Vargas, he works as a coach in La Guaira."

My grammar is off but you get the idea. The Concordia (Eagles) were a well known team from Caracas that in 1934 had players such as Martin Dihigo and Josh Gibson join Aparacio and other Latin American players, laying waste to all teams that faced them, not only in Venezuela but Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican tournament play (twice) as well, truly a legendary squad.

I love the look of the VWL cards in this hard to complete set!

Saturday, May 6, 2023

Shipping Out

Last week we saw some interesting Topps Baseball shipping cases, taken from the depths of the Fritsch Cards warehouse and auctioned by Collect Auctions. There were other sports represented as well and once again, it's a fascinating peek into how and when Topps got their products out of their warehouse and on to Fritsch's.

Unlike Super Baseball, which was issued in both 1971 and 1971, Super Football was "one and done" after a 1970 release.  Poor sales and/or the impending consolidation of costs in preparing for their March 1972 IPO were certainly to blame.  The shipping case for the set is a colorful one:

Using the "Cummins method" we know Topps packed this case on September 16, 1970, which is a rock solid date for a football issue to my mind. 

Next, here is a 1972-73 Basketball wax case:

Easily dated to November 21, 1972, but what intrigues me here are the logos of the Player's Associations for the NBA and ABA, printed right on the shipping case:

While it's possible something predates these, this seems to be the first instance of such "outside' sports-related logos appearing on a Topps case and I have no idea why.  Perhaps it was a requirement laid down by both associations but it's pretty neat.

We can't forget about hockey, can we? Here's a 1973-74 Topps Hockey shipping case:

December 11, 1973 is when this vending case was packed.  I really dislike that Stepford Kid Topps used on these cartons!