Saturday, April 13, 2019

Boarding Process

A trove of Topps Presentation Boards was auctioned on eBay a couple of months ago and it was, to put it mildly, a diverse lot.  These do pop up from time to time but this batch was particularly large and also had a geographic reference to its location in Honesdale, PA (in an attic, no less), which is about 40 miles from where the Topps plant was in Duryea.

I'm not sure about the process of presenting with these boards-it seems likely they were meant for Topps brass in Brooklyn, but most seem to originate near Duryea so I could have that backwards.  Or they just ended up in Duryea for storage and went home with people at various points in time.  This latest batch looks to cover a period beginning in the mid 70's and running into the mid 80's.

Here's the full Monty-you can plainly  see the wide range of products and years:


Let's start with the baseball proposals.  The first is, without a doubt, what evolved into the 1974 Baseball Stamps issue.  It looks to me like the stamps (or stickers, depending) were already designed and the presentation was to nail down the album concept:


The stamps would ultimately be issued in a 2 x 6 array and the albums ended up being shrunk down from the proposal, which went as big as looseleaf pages.  We know Topps had been working since 1970 on a full size sticker release and it looks like the 74's got pretty close to realizing that concept.  What's unfortunate is that the stamp set seems like it failed-stamps were dumped or had issues in production and the albums were not produced in quantities to match.  In fact, the 1974 Baseball Stamp Albums are pretty tough to find these days while the stamp sheets are a breeze.

Meanwhile, we see an intriguing Hit to Win mockup that closely resembles the (different) contest cards inserted in the 1980 and 1981 Baseball packs.


Check out the Guidry mockup-Did Topps intended for the cards to also include a player insert or have a two sided insert?  Seems like the Guidry part of the pitch came very late.  Or maybe it was intended to show some detail from the Baseball Guidebook offered as a prize for hitting (scratching off) a single in the game.  Either way it's a neat, unique Yankees piece. Never seen the guidebook?  Here ya go:


This concept seems a bit mundane:



More intriguing, although out of my wheelhouse in terms of scope (I tend to end things here at 1980 so don't profess much knowledge beyond that year) and subject (Smurfs? No....) but the gum sure resembles some old Topps product like Rock's O' Gum.


To me though, the most interesting proposal had to do with a 3-D set:


Those are the fronts of two 1953-54 Topps Tarzan cards being used to show a new concept-check out the artwork for the proposed 3-D glasses:


That very much looks like Jack Kirby's work, or heavily inspired by it. Joe Kubert actually did the line art for the Tarzan sets so if it is by Kirby, it's a nice tie-in of two legendary comic book artists. Can anyone ID the superhero? He looks like a Marvel product of the times but my comic book knowledge is pretty much kaput these days. The original title is no longer with the board so it's anybody's guess what the product was supposed to be I guess.

Decades after they were created, the boards show the creativity and thought processes that went into designing and issuing a set of cards or inserts in the pre-digital design days.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

How Irregular

Well it's been just over a year since my last post on The Card Collector and now that I've dusted off some more issues, I thought I'd share some additional fun facts.

I don't have a full run of issues but I did note that sometime between issue 11 (5/15/61) and 16 (12/30/61) Woody Gelman turned over the editorship to Jim Zak of Cicero, Illinois, although it remained essentially a house organ for Gelman's Card Collectors Company, which still published the little 'zine.

First up, from number 19 (3/30/62) we get an issue date for the Bazooka Presidents set, namely 1962:

Previously attributed for the most part to 1960, this 33 card sets runs through Eisenhower.  These were issued in the familiar 3 panel package designs.  Here's old Zachary Taylor:


Later in the same issue we see that the 1962 Topps Baseball Stamps were being issued 40 at a time, at least in the beginning.
The Stamps did clock in at 200 subjects, although Roy Sievers is shown with two teams (Athletics and Phillies) as Topps corrected a mistake as he was never on the A's. This little hiccup meant 201 stamps were actually issued!

Anyhoo......Fleer's FTC complaint against Topps makes news.  Fleer would win one of their arguments in 1965 before the decision was overturned and they sold all their player contracts to Topps in '66. Topps had 414 of 421 major leaguers locked up and Fleer took exception.

Things pick up a bit in the next issue, dated 4/20/62, check out the CCC ad:
1949 Bowman PCL cards are one thing but 1956 (really 1955) small Hocus Focus cards in uncut sheet form for $2.00???!!!  The $1.00 price point for the PCL cards is intriguing as the recently reappeared 1952 Baseball high numbers (garbage scow, my ass) were going for the same rate.  As it has turned out, the former are a good bit harder to find that the latter.  And I've never seen an uncut sheet of the Hocus Focus cards-the mind reels at what that would be worth today.  Other ho-hum items include T205's, Hopalong Cassidy foils and the rare #68 Fleer Ted Williams card. Jim Zak had some deals too, no?

In issue 22 (6/20/62)  we get one of the first inklings of the 1962 Baseball green tints:
Meanwhile issue #24 (8/20/.62) brings 1949 Bowman misprint sheets and 1952 Topps highs. Woody was really turning up some goodies!


I hope to fill in the missing issues (I have about half of the run) but these seem a little harder to find than some other hobby mags of the day. Some are also very mundane but the hobby was visibly nascent for two decades and the Card Collector was a vital early publication that helped fuel the wide-ranging world of cards that exists today.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

March Mix

Some more odds and sods today kids, showcasing some rarely seen, albeit not particularly valuable, Topps items.

Let's commence with a double of a triple!  After Topps bough Bowman out in early 1956, they continued issuing Blony bubble gum (and probably some other legacy confectionery products) in to 60's and even tried to revive it in the 70's. At a guess it was probably intended for sale mostly in the Philadelphia area and suburbs, maybe down into the Chesapeake, and likely encompassing old, defensive Bowman jobber territory.  Blony was wrapped with Archie comics for a few years in the mid to late 50's and this example is a prime one:


Mirthful comic aside, the real star here is the offer for Triple Nickel Books, which were a Woody Gelman and Ben Solomon production.  Talk about your cross promotion!

An old series of threads on Valentines Day issues showed a single example of the 1962 Valentine Stickers Topps produced for this once annual offering in 1962.  A recent eBay auction, which I happily won, provides visuals for three more stickers, plus a peek at the reverse.  These are very, very hard to find, no doubt partly due to the stickers being used for their intended purposes, namely being peeled off and applied to a plain sheet of paper for a low cost "card". However, they are so much harder to find than just about any other sticker issue from the 60's, I have to think they were not widely distributed and suspect Topps may have pawned off one of their Funny Valentine issues from years prior as well in '62. I hesitate to call my look at these a Visual Checklist since only four color shots are known to me (there is a B&W example of a fifth sticker in the Sport-Americana Non-Sports Guides as well). You can go over to Todd Riley's http://non-sport.com/ and find examples of all of 44 them I believe, as I'm not copying images out to populate a checklist.

Here are the three:





The backs are tan, which is expected but nice to actually see:


1967 Giant Plaks box flat anyone?



That's the ten cent version that held packs with two plaks of the thinner variety (vs. the thicker ones sold in five cent packs) and it's a set not a lot of people really follow, but at the bottom right of this proof box slick is a very interesting stamp:


As documented a while back, Chromographic Press was another Topps printer, but it was family owned (by P. Peter Shorin) and I believe it printed mostly oddball issues, a moniker the Giant Plaks richly deserve but this is a mere box flat, so who knows if I'm right. It was shut down prior to the original Topps IPO in 1972 and probably was started up in the early 60's.

See ya in April!


Saturday, March 23, 2019

Random Miscellany

Well Mrs Archives and I are are just back from an extended trip out West, which included a stop in Scottsdale for some Arizona style spring training and meet ups with some very good Friends o' the Archive.  I'm pretty tuckered out, so today is a good day to show some random baseball stuff I think.

I've always been a big fan of the 1956 Topps Baseball Button set, it's just so-o-o colorful.  I used to have a lot of Brooklyn Dodgers stuff but have divested most of it.  This is my only remaining vintage Jackie item:



Here's a 1962 Bazooka box back strip, Hank is hammerin' and I love these little sets:


1973 Topps Mail-In Team Checklist partial sheet anybody?  I still need a type example of this one, which is a little bit of an unknown premium piece:


Did you know that in 1984, Topps would print off ten extra cards for you? Yup, it was part of a promotional test offer in the Midwest as this old SCD article shows:


Back at it next week kids!

Saturday, March 16, 2019

A Tale Of Two Trophies

As anyone who collects baseball cards and is also a reader of this blog knows, Topps has trotted out All Star Rookie trophy logos on their cards since 1960, when the players who got the nod at the 1959 Rookie Banquet were highlighted. It's been sporadic sometimes and they've missed putting the logo on a fairly large contingent of players' cards over the years but it's a pretty impressive run.

The trophy looked like this from 1959-72:



Here's the trophy logo displayed on Willie McCovey's 1960 Topps card; you can see how it replicates the actual awarded version:


Topps made a game attempt at reproducing the engraved words from the actual trophy on the card but it's pretty obvious they failed.  Jim O'Toole's card had a little bit more clarity but the presentation of the rookie all star winners in 1960 (in a 10 card subset no less) highlighted things well enough:


Topps went all out to promote the rookies in 1960 who had won the award in 1959 as they had included millions of ballots in packs for the Youth of America to fill out and send in (and populate the burgeoning Topps marketing databases with valuable information). This is the 1960 ballot but the one from '59 was very similar:


The in pack ballots would be eliminated the following year but no matter, the annual tradition of crowning an all rookie team after every season was already well established and, in fact, continues to this day.   By year two though, Topps came up with a more familiar way to honor the 10 players who won the award for 1960:


Things continued apace through 1972:


But then.....


So what happened?  Two theories emerge:

1) Topps couldn't get the "top hat" trophies made any more, or
2) After the company went public in 1972, they cheaped out.

I'm really not sure which would be the correct theory but I suspect it's #2.

The trophy itself now looked like this (nice photo Heritage!):


The year designation was gone in '73 and things got generic right quick:


While the major league winners are well known, the banquet and associated awards and recognition programs went deep into the minors and even into scouting territory.  The minor leagues are where Topps got the inspiration for the new design of the trophy.  Here check it out:



So the minor league trophy became the major league trophy!  As posited by more than a few folks, 1972 really was the last good year.....

Saturday, March 9, 2019

Give 'Em The Bird

Two or three years ago I posted about a large index card that showed a bunch of information concerning Jim Palmer, specifically what he received from Topps each year in the form of cash or merchandise, in exchange for the right to use his image on their products.  Palmer had a long career and his card had been annexed, with a small additional piece stapled onto it.  It turns out that little stapled flip was concealing some good information about the process Topps used to sign and retain baseball players.  Thanks to a Friend o' a Friend o' the Archive Chuck Wolf, name one Andrew W., there is a player payment card we can examine that covered to totality of Mark "The Bird" Fidrych's Topps career.

Fidrych, who was tagged with his nickname by his first professional manager due to his resemblance to Big Bird on Sesame Street, had an extremely parabolic major league career and attained lasting fame in 1976, putting together a rookie campaign that ranked with the best of any postwar pitcher but also gained attention due to an eccentric personality and mound presence.  He made the Tigers out of Spring Training but didn't really get going until May, when he uncorked a string of stellar starts.  He would talk to the baseball before pitches, excessively groom the mound like a Bonsai garden, circle around it and then shoo away groundskeepers who came near it. He became a media sensation almost overnight, back in a time when that actually required some effort, made the All Star team (starting but losing the game) and ended up finishing second in the AL Cy Young race to, of all people, the aforementioned Jim Palmer.

He was also the 1976 AL Rookie of the Year and of course made the Topps Rookie All Star team. This would earn him the distinction of being , I believe, the only player with a Topps All Star card featuring a Topps rookie trophy symbol:


He hurt his knee early in 1977, still pitching well but his arm went dead and he was never the same and threw his last major league pitch in 1980, then pitched in the minors for three more years and that was it.  If you want more of the story, his ledger card at Topps tells it well:


You can see at the top left he got sent down in July of '78, likely for a couple of rehab starts after missing the vast majority of the season. He did not pitch well the next two years and was demoted to AAA by Detroit in 1981, which ended any interest Topps had in him.

The top right portion of the card details a few things.  Firstly, once he signed a professional contract in 1974, Topps gave him $5 in "steak money" in exchange for his contractual rights to appear on cards sold with bubble gum. They did this for thousands of minor leaguers.  Fidrych then  got a $75 extension bonus for a two year period in 1975, which roughly corresponds to his promotion to AAA ball that year.  That extension bonus was referenced in the Jim Palmer post and I'll show a relevant excerpt for the Topps Gift Catalog provided to players that appeared here previously (this one if for 1973-74:


Once you made the majors (and stayed on a roster for 30 consecutive days), an annual $250 payment was made by Topps and your extension bonus kicked; I think it took a little longer in the 60's to extend but I guess the players (or more accurately, Marvin Miller) got better at negotiating with Topps. Fidrych got his for 1976 and '77 then they gave another two year extension in 1978. You could combine payments for gifts, take the cash or bank what you had.  These lovely and underpaid ladies kept track of it all for Topps:



Sometimes players picked gifts that exceeded their bank or annual allotment.  They would then write a check to Topps for the difference; Jim Palmer did it so why not The Bird?!

You can also see Fidrych was delinquent for a time, likely due to his thinking he would get his extension bonus for 1981!  Somewhat tragically, you can see he was taking some machinery as gifts, possibly as he was buying a farm, where he would be killed in an accident in 2009. He also took some state of the art audio equipment prior to that. It's fascinating to me how all of this dovetails and this ledger shows the sad arc of his career.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

A Real Knife Time

You may have noticed I'm wading into Bazooka territorial waters with increasing frequency these days; it's certainly true and I'm even diving into the Blony tidal pool where I can. This has been prompted by a mini wave of uncut material from the 1950's surfacing along with some random single pieces and lots coming up for auction and a barrage of incoming scans from BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd.  In short, I have not seen this much comical activity since the last time I saw Dave Attell and Lewis Black perform together (with Mitch Hedberg and Mike Birbiglia supporting no less-true story).

First up is our old pal Buzzy.  This particular Bazooka comic, featuring the namesake character, saw at least two if not three distinct printings around 1953-54 as these scans from Shep show:



The top two are essentially the same but the first is waxed while the second is not.  The unwaxed comics are out there in significant enough numbers that they appear not to be print freaks but rather a separate run.  Maybe the unwaxed versions were sold in the party boxes of Bazooka?

The bottom Buzzy is clearly from a second print run as the font for the Fortune is different and the premium offer has had an expiration date added.  Here are closeups of these areas of interest from the top and bottom comics:



The life of the premium offers is generally 15-18 months, so the undated varieties are likely from 1953 and sold into 1954 while the dated versions are from 1954-55 and contemporary with the first Bazooka Joe and Henry comics, last seen here. The knife also became "free" as it aged! I realize only about six dozen people on the whole planet care about this all but these are clues to the dating of these comics, which are scarce.

Next, more pre-Joe:


Well, looks like the undated comics had a nice little secret code kit that ran its course and a quick substitution was made.  Since Buzzy had the knife in color and Honey Bun didn't, it suggests the color separations were not prepared for the goggles and knife due to rushed production and only the line art was used to print these. The font changes we saw with the Buzzy comic above also come through on both of these. I wonder if Topps thought their market was skewing very young at the time due to the mostly non-textual nature of these strips?

More New York News Syndicate goodness.  The lack of text continues with Little Brother Hugo; no real insights from these but I just like showing them:


I like the 22 and 24 karat rings!  The Bazooka Double Feature Comics get a little more texty:


Now, take a gander at these 1957 Blony comics featuring Archie characters:


That top left one looks like it has a familiar premium offer, no?  I like how they never even bothered to prepare color separations for the knife but changed the text from the Bazooka version!  Maybe this means the comics were printed in more than one location?  I really don't know but color and no-color versions of the knife offer occurring over a 3 or 4 year period does seem to point at something like that.

I'll post more findings here as things turn up.