Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Wisdom Of Solomon

There were some super sweet Topps related items up for bid in the just concluded Legendary Auction for September 2014.  Over a dozen lots featuring Match Print photos taken by William Jacobellis have turned up and while only a scant few feature Topps images, they come with an added bonus, namely the scrawled approval of Ben Solomon, who was Woody Gelman's ad agency partner and at some point became the Topps Art Director.

The Match Prints are from the 1954 and 1956 sets.  Here is Larry Doby's, featuring both the main photo (with classic Yankee Stadium centerfield background) and the inset:

You can clearly see the "Ben Sol" OK on the reverse of each.  Pretty neat!

Here is the finished product:

Topps clearly was concerned with quality control and appears to be avoiding the use of wire photos to create their cards. Someone did a real nice job colorizing the main photo as well; art was a true art form in the 50's!

On a related note, I have not yet been able to figure out when Ben Solomon went to work for Topps as an employee.  While his Solomon & Gelman partner Woody worked on the 1952 Topps baseball set and is said to have joined the firm around that time (late 1951), I am not so sure.  Solomon & Gelman lived on until at least 1957 --and possibly even as late as 1962-- from what I have been able to find and they may have been taken in house by Topps before finally hiring on at some point.

I do note Jacobellis had an address fairly close to Solomon & Gelman's (230 W 41 St at one time before they moved three or four blocks north). There were probably dozens of commercial photographers in Manhattan at that time.  I wonder if this guy was one of them?

Here is a Net54 thread on Jacobellis and some other vintage era photographers that is well worth a look.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Two Way Player

Far less well known than the 1960 Baseball Tattoo issue, Topps also issued a football counterpart in 1960 that does not even make the pages of some major price guides.  It's been discussed here before but the length of the set was a mystery, although surmised to be 96. The way we knew this is thanks to some stellar work by Jon over at the (almost-but-hopefully-not-dormant) Fleer Sticker Project blog in detailing two 32 subject uncut sheets and the existence of poses not on those sheets. But a full checklist of all 96 subjects has never been published (until today).

Working with Friend o'the Archive Mike Blaisdell, every one of the little buggers has been now confirmed.

First though, here is a much better scan of the wrapper exterior than I have ever had before, thanks to Mike:

Mike also has a great sell sheet for the set.  Check this out:

Here are the two uncut sheets from the Fleer Sticker Project, I usually link to scans others have posted first (and if you look near the top of this post you can click through to that site) but I've mirrored the two sheets Jon posted over there to make them easier to decipher. 

Once I did that I thought it would be a good idea to start putting together a checklist based on his scans and tattoos that exist but are not on the known sheets.I got it down to four or maybe six missing subjects but it's a little tricky with the generic subjects. Mike's yeoman work on the unknown scans did the trick though.

All subjects below are identified as they would look after applied to the skin (i.e. not reversed) and verified by a scan seen by either Mike (a trustworthy lad) or yours truly.  An (H) indicates a horizontally oriented tattoo within the generic subjects, of which there are eight.  As it turns out there are 13 NFL player portraits (one player from each team), 13 NFL team logos, 47 college logos and 23 generic subjects.

Walt Anderson (actually Bill Anderson)
Chuck Bednarik
Jimmy Brown
Rick Casares
Howard Cassady
Bobby Joe Conrad
Frank Gifford
Paul Hornung
Bobby Layne
Ray Mathews
Y.A. Tittle
Johnny Unitas
Bill Wade 

Baltimore Colts
Chicago Bears
Cleveland Browns
Dallas Cowboys
Detroit Lions
Green Bay Packers 
Los Angeles Rams
New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers
St. Louis Cardinals
San Francisco 49'ers
Washington Redskins

Air Force Academy
Boston College Eagles
Iowa Hawkeyes
Michigan State 
Minnesota Golden Gophers
Mississippi Rebels
Notre Dame
Oregon Ducks
Oregon State
Penn Quakers
Penn State
Pittsburgh Panthers
Purdue Boilermakers
Rice Owls
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
South Carolina Gamecocks
So. Cal
S.M.U. Mustangs
Virginia Cavaliers
Washington Huskies
Washington State Cougars
Wisconsin Badgers

Blocker on one knee facing right, yellow helmet, red shirt, green pants (H)
Lateral, both players red helmet, yellow uniform (H)
Player arguing with Referee, player is tall and in green uniform, ref has red shirt & green pants
Player leaping with hands up, green shirt, #41, yellow pants
Player on one knee, all yellow uniform, #52
Player portrait, #25, TOUGH! in red letters
Punter, #16, in follow through, Defender nearby, punter red shirt, yellow pants and helmet, Defender white uniform #22
Punter or Receiver, yellow shirt #11, red pants
Quarterback about to throw, red helmet, green shirt, #15, yellow pants
Quarterback about to throw, red helmet, green shirt, red pants, #45
Quarterback about to throw, yellow uniform, red helmet, #62
Receiver about to catch ball, yellow helmet, green shirt, red pants
Receiver and Defender going for ball, player on left blue shirt, #40, green pants, player on right red shirt, #15
Referee running with whistle in mouth, yellow striped shirt, red pants and hat
Runner with ball, red helmet, red shirt, green pants
Runner with no ball, green shirt,#8, green pants & helmet, red square on bottom half
Runner with no ball, green uniform, yellow helmet, white square on bottom half
Tackler in yellow uniform with red helmet bringing down receiver with green uniform & red helmet (H)
Tackler grabbing receiver's shirt, tackler yellow helmet & pants, green shirt, receiver green helmet & pants, yellow shirt, red rectangle on bottom half (H)
Tackler in green shirt, red pants, yellow helmet causing receiver in red shirt, white pants & green helmet to fumble (H)
Tackler missing Receiver with ball, tackler red uniform, receiver yellow uniform (H)
Three Players Running,  green, yellow & red (H)
Two Players diving for loose ball, lowest player has yellow shirt & red pants, highest player has red shirt (H)

I also had an O-Pee-Chee version listed on my master checklist but am now convinced it's the same as the US one; in true Topps fashion the wrapper also lists information for Canadian sale.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Holsum Goodness

Many collectors are familiar with the late 70's - early 80's baseball cards that Topps produced for Burger King.  Featuring specific teams, these sets were usually about 22 cards in length, with a checklist added to each packs given away at participating "restaurants". Packs were usually clear cello and had three cards within. While the appearance of these cards made them look just like, or very close to, their regular issue counterparts, they had their own numbering scheme and Burger King manufacturing information on the backs. A Topps logo appeared on most checklist cards though.

Less well known in the world of third party produced cards are two football sets that Topps made for Holsum Bread in 1977 and 1978.  Rather than use regular issue cards from each year's national football set, Topps created new looks for these sets, which were regionally issued in bags of Holsum Bread and initially featured Packers and Vikings players (11 from each team in the 22 card 1977 set) and players from across the NFL in the 33 card 1978 set.  Here are examples from each, 1977 first:

However, look closely at the indicia on the back of each. There is no mention of Holsum bread anywhere on these cards: 

Strange but true. If you are interested in checklists for these sets, you should go to my buddy Mike's site, the Vintage Football Card Gallery.

Topps also produced two "update" cards for Holsum in 1976, in a reissue of their U.S. Presidents set that featured a notation on Richard Nixon's card (#36) about his resignation and added a card of Gerald Ford as #37. These are marked as Topps items but distributed with the bread along with 35 other cards that were unchanged from their 1972 Topps release:

There's even a less-than-snazzy album to house the cards, as this scan from Friend o'the Archive Ken Bush shows:

These were not the first Holsum Bread card sets, not by a long shot.  In 1920 or so they issued a scarce set of baseball players with an ACC number of D327. The present player count is 82 but it's a checklist in flux. The cards are often referred to as Weil Baking and are essentially E121's with different reverses.

The two Topps efforts were also not the last set issued by Holsum either. From 1989 to 1991, 20 card sets of discs were issued each year featuring top major league baseball players and a set of Phoenix Cardinals came out in 1989 and may have been issued in other years based upon the "Annual" notation on the cards. All of these later cards were produced by Michael Schecter Associates.




1989 Football:

Holsum Bread has a good, long history and is well over 100 years old.  It's progeny continues on to this day; in fact I bought a loaf of one of their brands this morning.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Packing It In

Friend o'the Archive Mark Hoyle sent along, quite a ways back, some scans from the early 70's that are of interest. Mark's mother worked at a pharmacy in the hazy, crazy 70's and occasionally brought home a few goodies for her son, namely:

Those little partial uncut sheets (showing the extreme right and left edges methinks) came packed in retail boxes that arrived at the pharmacy...but the boxes were from 1974!  I guess that means Topps saved up old waste sheets and used them up when needed, likely to fill out some air in a box prior to packing and shipping. The examples above are from the high numbers by the way. Perhaps Topps kept an old pallet or two of sheets around in case a few more cards could be sold?  It's a little odd but the very act of their holding onto something a year or two past its retailing occurred quite a bit back then.  Witness all the Fun Packs they used to issue.

It wasn't limited to baseball either.  These 1972 Football partials came in 1975 Football boxes:

Double Prints abound, as you can plainly see. Unfortunately, these are not from the uber-scarce 3rd, high series but rather from the rather pedestrian 2nd.  Still, pretty neat!

I'm not sure if Topps did this every year (probably not) and suspect it was only when they retrofitted box blanks from one issue to another before adding the graphics and needed some cushioning. Topps was great at making do with what was at hand if a run fizzled out so using a box for another purpose would be right in their wheelhouse.  As for the sheets, they would be shipped to the Topps factory from the printer on large pallets and, if they used the methods in vogue when I was but a 'twee warehouse shipper, would use metal banding to holds the stacks in place. Between the straps and the pallet bottoms and rough handling during shipment, you would have extra sheets from every pallet that came through the door in damaged condition. So why not put them to use?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Mug Shot

eBay ain't what it used to be but sometimes things pop up and I've just landed a strange item that looks like some kind of internal Topps piece (but actually isn't).  Check out this this bad boy:

I originally thought the the "bad" theme related to some type of internal initiative at Topps but as we'll see below, it's not so.  The mug itself is 3 1/4" in diameter and 3 1/16" high.  It's white as shown in the pictures above but it has a translucent, almost glowing quality to it. I think that it is made with what is called opalescent glass.

The bottom won't really scan but there is an Anchor Hocking mark with a model number: 5120 and it's noted to be oven-proof and made in the USA.

A little internet sleuthing turns up that it's actually a milk mug. Here's another from a bank in Iowa, circa 1982:

This finding didn't eliminate the possibility the mug was from a dedicated internal Topps campaign but my next search killed the idea completely.  At least a half dozen similar mugs can be found on eBay with ease, such as this:

I found others for outfits such as Roper, Travelers, Marathon Cheese and S.P.U to name a mere few and then sussed out BAD stands for "Buck A Day".  BAD was a coordinated (and apparently national) cost cutting efficiency effort to "save a buck a day". Here is more on the subject from Inc. Magazine. It would appear the Topps mug is a circa 1983 product but the BAD campaign may still be an active one.

The seller I purchased it from said it was his grandmother's and she worked at Topps Duryea plant in quality control form the 1960's to the 1990's. Even though it's not a true internal Topps item, it's still pretty cool.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

What A Hoot!

Boy I go away for a week and return only to find out a 60 year old hobby mystery has been solved and that said solving was accomplished over 40 years ago...sheesh!

Mired in legal salvos with Bowman, the 1953 Topps Baseball set is infamous for having six missing high numbers.  In addition, it appears five numbers were withheld from the first series of 80 cards either by reason of court order, cease-and-desist demand or intentional skip-numbering (which could have been planned either to account for anticipated legal problems with player contracts or to keep the kiddies looking for cards that did not yet exist).

Keith Olbermann, in late July, devoted a short segment to the six missing high number cards.  In it he featured a letter from Topps mailed in 1973 to an inquiring mind wanting to know which numbers had been dropped from the fourth (and last) series. The answer was close to what I had guesstimated a while back but I got two names wrong and it turns out one of them was the subject of a painting that has not yet surfaced.

The six missing players were:

Joe Tipton
Ken Wood
Hoot Evers
Harry Brecheen
Billy Cox
Pete Castiglione

Of these, the Evers painting remains MIA.  Topps did include him in the "extended" series of their 1953 reissue but it's clear they did not have the painting in their possession:

Here is KO's amazing piece:

As you can hear, he was given the skinny by Bob Lemke, although the information is over four decades old now.  One mystery still remains, namely that of the five possible pulled subjects from series 1, resulting in skip numbering that was essentially carried through the first three series runs. Paintings of Max Lanier, Richie Ashburn and Andy Pafko are known and while Jim Suchecki is also known, non-established players were generally not first series subjects as a player needed 31 consecutive days on the roster from the start of the season to receive full pay (Lanier just made, he was released on May 15th, Wood lasted another week in the bigs).

Looks like there is still a little legwork to be done on this set.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Best Of Luckman

You have to give Topps an A for Effort in their postwar business plan.  After perfecting Bazooka in 1947, a flurry of promotions, premiums and advertising followed in the wake of its retail debut that summer. Very early on Topps hit upon the premium as a way to boost sales and visibility of the brand. Premium offers didn't really appear on the comics until the early 1950's and Topps used small brochures to advertise their earliest premiums.

The first Bazooka packs were five cent rolls; the one cent tabs did not appear until 1949 and while I have seen separate inserts advertising premiums from the penny packs, I can't recall any from the nickel versions. They did have some small ads for the catalogs alongside some of their their first comic strip efforts, like so:

Topps also had many ads in comic books and magazines such as Boys' Life for a variety of cards and premiums and when they mailed them out a brochure tagged along. This trade ad shows the strategy:

he first brochure was a thing of simplistic beauty but you had to use your imagination to picture the premiums:

A strong military connection was a hallmark of Topps cards and premiums until the great Freedom's War debacle of 1951 when Topps temporarily derailed their association with the military after groups of mothers and veterans protested that they were glorifying combat.  There were always one or two items for the girls as well.

Their first multi-premium catalog was a huge success and they had to send out mailers to people when the first run ran out:

The window display is unrelated to the postcard, it just came along for the ride on the scan.  As noted on this file copy kept by Woody Gelman, 15,000 postcards had to be printed up to meet demand. The original Bazooka Joe was 180 degrees removed from the later, familiar character but this early iteration is from October of '47 or earlier. Some premium numbering would be changed in the years to come but the sequence locked in pretty early in the 50's.

By 1949 Topps was hoping a connection with college football would be the ticket to glory as they marketed Varsity gum. As a tie in, they started pushing letters and numbers to let the kids make up their own football jerseys (see #111 in the middle; the other inserts date a little bit later):

The biggest promotion though, possibly their biggest ever, was for college pennants (or banners, in their parlance).  Check out the bottom of this ad:

If I'm not mistaken that ad states 1800 colleges were available on a 5" x 15" pennant.  However, I think that may have been an exaggeration as this wonderful late 1940's brochure shows:

The mere 708 possibilities on the helpfully numbered brochure could be closer to reality but who knows? The pennants must have just featured generic lettering to pull this promotion off. And did you note the offers for baseball emblems and pennants?  The promise of a new catalog makes me think they also came along with other premiums delivered to the suburbs and cities of America.

The Luckman fronted brochure also came in black:

I have no idea which color came first but do see that no numbering appears on the black version.

Identifying these pennants could be tough today; I don't think they were branded like the 1950's versions but there must be quite a few out there.