Saturday, June 15, 2024

Swann Song

Further to some recent posts about the quite nicely-done Topps Sports Club News, Friend o'the Archive John Moran sent along scans of all six pages of what I believe is the final issue, Volume 2, Number 2, released for the Fall of 1976. As surmised last time out, Lynn Swann was the Guest Columnist du jour and the subject of the color 8"x 10" insert for this issue.

Here then, is the last of it:


Yup, Herb Goren gets another byline and I still suspect he pretty much wrote most of the content. The 1976 Football set preview kicks off what was a mostly mundane half-decade for Topps sports card design.  

Page two is all continuity:


Fun and games abound on page three plus book reviews that cover all four major sports.  Give the talent available to Topps in their stable of freelance artists and in-house in 1976, I have to say the illustrations continue to underwhelm, remaining the one really weak area in the whole publication:


The collecting network continues to network on page four:


There some inside dope on various athletes on page five.  Always a popular feature in the sports mags of the day, so why not here?


More underwhelming artwork with "Hot Dog: and some quiz/crossword answers.  


And that was that. As I've mentioned, the Sports Club seemed like a pretty good idea, with a clean, professional look.  The ride-along extras though, were what really made this a sweet deal for the audience it reached. It sure seems like fun while it lasted!

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Blankety Blanks

I had long thought the saga of the 1971 Topps Winners Cards (OK, technically they hail from 1972 but no one refers to them that way) was concluded here but as it turns out I was, wrong about that.  Oh, the set's subject count remains complete at 19 and we know all about the original distribution and populations of these cards but the one thing that has eluded study has been the entry blank.

The special retail box that promoted the contest was only released in select areas for a limited time.  It's not clear why Topps elected to limit this promotion but the geographical array of contest winners certainly indicates only a select few locales had any chance of entering the contest.  To refresh your collective memories, this was the box in question:


It was plain to see that you had to ask the "storekeeper" for an entry blank and it's assumed they resided inside the box when first delivered, with instructions.  (UPDATE 6/10/24: They were stuck to the box top-see below for further details.) Thanks to a recently online auction, we can finally show said blank:


Sorry for the kludgy "watermark" but so it goes....

So you had to either send in your entry with five Baseball wrappers or just print the word "Topps" on an index card. Interestingly, there was both an upper (15) and lower (6) age limit for entrants:


No clue on what the poster would be and that 350 commodity code doesn't seem to marry up with the wax box or wrapper codes.  The "regular" codes I've found are:

1-401-37-01-1 (wax box advertising "Extra! Real Metal Coins"))
1-402-37-01-1 (wax box advertising "Collect All The Top Stars)
0-402-09-01-1 (wax wrapper with "Collect All The Top Stars" slug)
0-402-90-01-1 (wax wrapper with "Extra Insert in Each Pack" slug
1-368-15-01-1 (small blue box that held a cello pack of 30 cards)

The wax retail box hawking the contest had this code:
1-347-37-01-1

Topps tracked expenses for each issue using the codes so 347 clearly is a misfit in the 401/402 wax box/wrapper sequence.  I suspect the 350 code was assigned to track expenses for the firm that tabulated the results but the initiating 4 is curious. I hope to investigate all this further at some point and welcome any comments about the 347 and 350 codes.

Update 6/10/24: Lonnie Cummins advises the forms were in a pad that was stuck to the display box.  He further notes: "The reason the forms pad might have had a beginning ‘4’ is because that was normally the commodity for a sticker uncut sheet and if there was a sticker on the back of the form pad, then, there you go" Makes sense to me, thanks Lonnie!  He sent a nice scan as well to illustrate:


If I had enough brain cells left, I would have recalled the Baseball Card Exchange wrapped boxes from last year's National!  Nice price if you can get it! Lonnie also found the name of the firm that coordinated the contest: D.L. Blair, which was founded in 1959 and closed in 2016. They may have carried on as an advertising consultant based out of Long Island. So Blair of Blair!

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Berry Bad

So I've quite inadvertently compounded a longstanding mystery, thanks to a couple of wayward scans I stumbled upon back in April on eBay.  Perhaps only the nerdiest among us recall my posts concerning 1971 Topps Rocks O'Gum and 1972 Topps Grape Gum Berries way back in 2017. There were also Raspberry Gum Berries offered, which I've not touched upon (until now). 

Well one of the perplexing things about the colorful set of 55 humorous lids that were used, so I thought, to top off the little Dixie Cup that held these three related products was that the Rocks O'Gum lids often showed up in years past as complete sets and pretty much mint ones at that, while the Grape and Raspberry lids are very hard to find. In fact, I still need an example of the Grape lid and since my want list for Topps type cards is pretty much down to the scarcest of subjects, I have to think I'll be looking for awhile. 

Some Rocks O'Gum lids do show signs of use but the majority of examples I've seen and owned over the years never topped a container, such as this one featuring Topps Creative Director Woody Gelman:


Not an exact likeness LOL. The outside has the ingredients and some added flair:


Rob Lifson unearthed a sell sheet some time back, it's pretty groovy:


You get a very good idea of the packaging from the sheet but for reasons we'll get to in a minute, I don't think the gum looked like actual little berries. First though, two more fruity lids, Raspberry first:


This too has the cartoon underside:


And while I only have a topside scan featuring a proof, I'm sure the Grape version also sports a cartoon underneath:

You will note both of these flavor variants come with the ingredients prominently displayed.  Which makes these next two scans quite perplexing:


OK, there is a clear plastic lid sitting on top, which thinking about it, is not all that odd.  Then there is this image:


I doubt it was placed over a cardboard lid as it contains the ingredients, just as they do. Which begs the question then: what are we looking at?  Is it a test or a redesign?  I lean toward the former and tend to reject the latter but as it turns out, Topps supposedly stopped making the little gum nuggets that came in these containers in 1974 due to their shape and a rather far-out development, so there could be more to the story on the clear lid. (Same day update-there is, Mark Newgarden recalls seeing the clear lid version around the Topps offices in the 80's and it indeed seems like it could have been a "reboot" test.)

What happened was their Block BusterBazooka Bits, Presto and Gumniks brands also deployed candy-coated gum in this small shape (the latter brand was key to developments) and, I am not making this up, Topps succumbed to a concerned mother in Florida, who complained that her kids, who were carrying the little gum nuggets around in a medicine bottle, were treating them like drugs. Furthermore, pharmacists had told her that the gum resembled brightly colored amphetamines and barbiturates!  Putting aside the mom of the year that let the kids put the gum in used pill bottles in the first place, this seems really, really dumb and also really, really staged. But I digress.

Remember Gumniks?  The colors, man...


Anyway, here's the lowdown from the Orlando Sentinel, February 8, 1974.  Oddly her name is not Karen, although I express no surprise this happened in Florida:


No matter, a Topps spokesman at the time indicated they would change their little bits o'gum into something closer to a jellybean but acknowledged that it was "almost impossible to make candy that doesn't in some form or other represent a pharmaceutical." 

This pressure campaign may explain why the Grape and Raspberry lids are so hard to find and possibly too the use of a clear plastic lid as Topps, being Topps, would have almost certainly sold off any remaining "drug gum" still in their warehouse. But maybe they decided to show what was in the container before killing the brand. Or maybe it was already dead as I suspect these...


...were just repurposed Grape Gum Berries they were possibly burning off as well.  Aye, more mysteries!