Saturday, January 6, 2024

A May-September Marriage

Happy New Year folks!  Today I want to dip into the recent past, December 9th, 2023 to be exact, wherein I examined some of the subtleties of a 1959 Topps Baseball 3rd series proof sheet. Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann recently posted some images of a 7th series proof sheet on Net54 Baseball and was kind enough to send me some higher-res scans. I don't want to usurp the discussion on Net54 but do want to look at some of the production details, just like last time.

Here is the front side, with all 66 cards showing, including the Bob Gibson rookie and Roy Campanella's Symbol of Courage tribute card among its very colorful array:

As with the 3rd series, there is production detail on the sheet itself:

The reference number for the third series sheet was G-803 and we're all the way up to G-1174 here.

While it seems like the high numbers were issued just in August and September most years, their preparation clearly was undertaken in May, at least in 1959. Since the 3rd series was being prepped in March, it seems like a new series was being created every three weeks or so.  With May seeing work this advanced on the high numbers, even allowing for final printing in say, June, there seems to be a bit of a lag built in. This surprised me as it may indicate sheets were stored onsite at Topps Warehouse/HQ in Brooklyn (or in another nearby warehouse of theirs) or even packed and held for a spell.  There's a reason that gum tasted so stale even in a newly issued series!

Intriguingly, this sheet has the backs as well:

That looks really cool, I must say.

Topps made an attempt in '59 to track some trades and options by adding a short statement to the text on the reverse.  The earliest these appear is in the 4th series, referencing transactions from March. They disappear from the 5th and 6th series then reappear in the seventh series of high numbers. There's some subtleties to these, which I plan to examine quite soon but today I just want to look at card #541, which features Gary Thurman.

Thurman's regular issue card has his May option described like so:

With the proof version looking like this:

Clearly a work in progress.  The typeface, font size, color and the use of quotes all differ from the issued version. Topps wisely abandoned such updates the following season. The proof stock is not nearly as white as the regular issue's, which is a little odd.

Spoiler alert-Thurman did NOT regain his 1956 form (and he seems to have actually had a better year in 1957 if measured by WAR). His failure to replicate things may have been because, despite the birth date used by Topps, he was actually born in 1917 and in 1958 turned 41 midseason!

Little details like this fascinate me and also lay bare the amount of work that went into issuing a set of Baseball cards.  Work on their flagship set would begin annually after the end of the World Series and then the set would roar to life as Spring Training and the regular season got underway. It was an entirely mechanical process with many, many time-consuming steps along the way. And until the 1973 oil crisis or thereabouts, it worked out to a mere penny a card for the consumer!

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