Saturday, November 17, 2018

Tax Time

More NYC Municipal Archives tax photos today kids!  Unlike the post here last week featuring buildings that no longer exist, everything I am showing you today is still standing, although Topps is no longer in any of them. I've posted more current pictures of these places before but since the Municipal Archives material is only readily available now I though I'd time trip a bit, so forgive any repitition.

Topps started life by renting a floor in the Gretsch Building at 60 Broadway in Brooklyn.  Mere blocks from the Williamsburg Bridge, this ten story building was where Gretsch Instruments manufactured some of their products.  The Shorin and Gretsch families seem to have known each other and in fact Morris Shorin bought a house on tony President Street from Fred Gretsch around 1920.

The "four Shorin boys" (Abram, Ira, Phil and Joseph) founded and ran Topps from the get go.  Morris either provided funding and/or was a silent partner until he died in 1947, having likely retired from the leaf tobacco business in 1938. They set up here right around the time this photo was taken, with a bunch of old machinery installed to make their first product, Topps Gum.


Dig that infrastructure either going up or coming down (I suspect the latter).  The other feature I see a lot in old pictures of Brooklyn and Manhattan are domes, like the one atop the building next to Gretsch. This is not the main view of 60 Broadway; it's mysteriously missing from the tax photos online.

By 1944 Topps appear to have their moved their executive offices out of the Gretsch Building, which was still their production floor in Brooklyn (they also had one in Chattanooga, Tennessee following the purchase of Bennett-Hubbard in 1943).  They ended up at 134 Broadway:


Right around this time they also purchased a local Brooklyn concern called Shapiro Candy, who were running things out of 383 3rd Avenue.  Topps would eventually run their Candy Division out of this building for a couple of years:


It's the building with the truck in front of it. There's a small, low-slung garage/loading bay attached to it, which you can see on the right just past the truck as your eye looks toward the vanishing point. It's funny how the trucks look pretty modern while you expect Murder Incorporated to come out of the sedan passing by the building with tommy guns blazing.

By the middle of 1946 though, Topps had decamped to Bush Terminal, where they maintained production for the next twenty years.  Don't worry, they were still using all of their older spaces for storage during this period as well! Nothing got cleaned out of them until the Duryea, PA move in 1966. This is the 237 37th St. address on the right, with 254 36th St., where they expanded operations in the mid 50's to the left. I can't get the address locator to show the right building for 254 36th St., it keeps showing Building No. 4 (using Bush Terminal building numbering scheme) when I believe it should be No. 2. Their apace at 237 37th St. was in  Building No. 1 by the way.


Topps kept their executive offices in Bush Terminal until 1996, when the moved to One Whitehall St. in Manhattan, upending 58 years of running things from Brooklyn. With production facilities moving to Pennsylvania in 1966, Ben Solomon devised a series of codes to be used on production materials to keep track of what was going on with the various sets being put together in Duryea.  One Whitehall St. was only erected in 1962, so I had to go with a more with a recent picture as the 80's tax photos are horrible:


I used to occasionally visit One Whitehall as part of my job in the 1980's but that was before Topps moved in.  Word is they still have a trove of test issues up there, many unseen outside of a few select folks, just waiting for the right offer.  I would not put anything past this company, so who knows?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Photo Finish

The New York City Municipal Archives recently made available their trove of their 1939-41 tax photos (over 900,000 in all) and let me tell you, it is like traveling back in a time machine.  Upon seeing the announcement I immediately set to investigating several address associated with the American Leaf Tobacco Company (1908-38) and American Gas Stations (1928-39), which as all of  my intrepid readers undoubtedly recall, were the two Shorin family businesses that were closed and sold, respectively, as they were launching Topps Chewing Gum in December 1938.

The two addresses associated with the American Leaf Tobacco Company (ALTC)  that I have found, both in Brooklyn like all other Shorin family ventures of the time, were located at 140 Throop Avenue and 7 Debevoise St.  I started with the aboriginal address at 140 Throop Ave and found....nothing.  It was clear the original building had been either knocked down or so modified as to be useless to me.

So I crossed my fingers and went hunting for 7 Debevoise St., hoping I could at last find an image of the name or company logo but alas, it looks like the tax photo was taken just after ALTC would have vacated.  7 Debevoise St is the building in the middle:


Zooming in shows what looks like the succeeding business moving in-you can see the boxes piled up in the window:


The detail is pretty remarkable on these pictures-although the official image of #7 was at the end of a film roll and not usable but the one I found was for the address next door, which gives a perfectly fine view of the building I previously showed on a circa 1905 Brooklyn Eagle postcard. You can easily identify #7 to the left, although it had what I gather were lightning rods atop it then:


Undaunted I next turned my attention to American Gas Stations (AGS), which is a better documented company than ALTC both on the web and in my own collection of Topps ephemera (I have zero on ALTC, not even a matchbook cover, and have never seen anything at all associated with the company).  The AGS HQ and main location was at 1619 Bedford Avenue, which was a block north of Ebbets Field.  Here's a view of the fabled ballpark you rarely see:


A caveat: the sliver of gas station shown to the right (this view is from Sullivan Place) is probably not the AGS HQ. The block and lot numbers don't quite match up in some locations on the tax photo database and search pages to current day coordinates but I'm pretty sure this was actually a Sobol Brothers operation with AGS up Bedford Avenue (running in the direction of the Camel sign from right field to center) about a block from here. The address of Ebbets Field was 55 Sullivan Place, which may explain this picture (can't tell, it's garbled on the locator site) and it's such a neat shot I wanted to show it to add some flavor.

I can definitely ID this next shot at 1381 Atlantic Avenue (Brooklyn Avenue at the corner of  Atlantic Avenue) as an AGS location, although it had been sold by then to Socony (who bought out AGS in 1939).


I was a little disappointed not to find an actual American Gas station but I persevered and found this spectacular shot finally, from 547 Vanderbilt Avenue (at the corner of Pacific Avenue):


AGS sold Socony (Standard Oil of NY) products, which were usually branded as Mobil, so that's why you see the name on this shot, which must slightly predate the other one, but this is the quarry I was after.  Check out the three attendants, all in their spiffy uniforms, standing near the pumps!

I plan to keep digging through the tax photos to see what pops up.  The search functions are a little off kilter sometimes and more than a few addresses seem to be missing but it's 95% accurate from what I'm seeing and you can suss out some more of it yourself after you poke around and get the lay of the land. Find out how to navigate the photos yourself by going here.

All the buildings above are gone, although several AGS locations remain as gas station sites.  The zoning laws in New York City probably have something to do with that but I think the last extant AGS structure at 1815 Ocean Avenue was torn down around 2012 and replaced with a more modern building (a Sunoco) which now in turn looks to have been quickly eradicated for an apartment building expansion Progress...

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Presto Change-o!

Every once in a while, something comes down the pike that still blows my doors off. I was just trolling the waters of eBay the other day when this bad boy popped up:


There was another one as well but it was more than triple the price of this one and not even as nice, so I BO'd this sucker and it arrived a short time ago.  It's about 9 inches in length and the straw is pretty thick  plastic. It's in solid enough shape I'm sure you could still use it to drink something if you were so inclined.

While it's a neat piece, I don't necessarily collect Topps pure candy and gum items but I bought it because of the contents, which I will get to momentarily. But first, a closer look at the label, which actually doesn't reveal much more:


There's no product code on it anywhere but I'd guess it's from around 1973-74 because I'm pretty sure this was leftover Block Buster gum from a failed attempt to resurrect that brand.  Take a closer look:

Block Buster debuted around 1951 or so and looks to have fizzled out as a stand alone retail product around 1955.  Topps then looks to have used leftover gum from this product in their 1956 Baseball Button issue as the "Candy Coated Bubble Gum' that came in the box with the Button. I'm sure it was cello-bagged as I've never seen a pin with any kind of residue and the box insides I've seen look clean as a whistle.


After bringing the Block Busters brand back in the early 70's, it appears Topps once again sold off excess gum in Presto straw. I have more on Block Buster here if you want to know a little more.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Acetate Trip

Well a whole lotta 1968 Topps Mod Generation production materials have been showing up on eBay of late-boy howdy!  This trove of original paste-ups and acetate overlays shows how tough the original set is to find examples from-I have seen more production materials (dozens of subjects) than original stickers (2) since I started tracking this set in earnest 7 or 8 years ago.

Here is Jimmy's original art and black acetate overlay.  You needed rubber cement, white-out, an Exact-o knife and a steady hand to make a set back in the 60's:


Groovy man-dig those elephant flares! Note that we have seen these acetate overlays before-it was how things were done into the 1970's before a different, albeit somewhat similar process that involved more color layers, became the norm before digital layouts were even a glimmer in Ben Solomon's eye.  Here's how they looked once stacked:


 Not far out enough for you?  Check this dude out:


George has really got some threads, I mean wow!


Probstein always has a bunch of Mod Generation proofs up on the 'bay but these are not part of his offerings.  He has enough out there that I may be able to eventually use the process of elimination to determine what name belongs to this image:


You can see it's a short name but all the pasted on bits have been lost. I'll take a whack at it when I have a little down time and update if I find anything.  It's not Ann though:


Those earrings would have hurt in real life!  And who's this happy couple?


Why it's me and my wife!  I had this framed up for our 30th Anniversary a little while back.  Sorry about the glare!

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Do The Nasty

Well campers, I picked up a pack of 1971's Nasty Valentine Notes off eBay the other day and was able to do a bit more sleuthing now that I have it in hand.  I've posted about this set in context with other Topps Valentine sets (click the link in the Labels at right to see) but having an example to look at closely is always better than relying upon fuzzy scans lifted from various corners on the interwebs.

Where to start, where to start?  How about with the pack itself:


Art Spiegelman drew that kids.  He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for his graphic novel Maus and that is just mind-bending.  The back has the usual instructions for an interactive Topps set and a contents description that clearly states "cards" in the plural, although I only pulled a single valentine. The flaps were actually unsealed but I don't think the contents were futzed with.


Compare this to 1967's Nasty Notes pack:


You can't really see it but the top line has a Brooklyn address and not Duryea, whcih matches the Brooklyn in the penultimate line and the illustration is identical on both versions, down to the "Nasty Notes" reference.

Here is an unfurled wrapper:


As for the Nasty Valentine Note proper, it appears to work two ways:


The "payoff" side is very colorful:


I am toying with the idea the set is so hard to find due to its being sold in head shops. I'm really not sure about that and the Topps themed sets are always tougher than most, as are the paper sets and the metamorphic sets, etc but these are really hard to find and not a lot of people know about them, not even some very advanced non-sports collectors.  A full set would be very difficult to put together in my estimation and on the scarcity scale, it's almost test-issue like, although we know it wasn't.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Stain Stick

I'll be posting a large number of real juicy scans of 1968 Giant Stand Ups soon thanks to a phalanx of JPEG's received from Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann but wanted to highlight something specific about the set today.

Despite extant (empty) retail boxes and (full) packs, the retail issuance of this set has been questioned by some as it's just so hard to find.  So what then does it mean when PSA has graded only 22 examples from this issue,wrongly ID'd as from 1967 to boot, inclusive of proofs? I think it means:

a) test issues are tough and;

b) any type of set that could be played with, punched out, peeled, scratched off or stood up is a lot harder to find in an otherwise apples-to-apples comparison than one that isn't and;

c) the set tested poorly.

There's some SGC slabs out there too but I can't make heads or tails of their pop report other than to note they have four Frank Howard examples graded (one is mine). But really, no matter how you slice it, not many of these things exists in the wild.

So anyhoo, take a gander at this Frank Robinson from the Olbermann collection:


Frank always seemed to be smiling! He's doing so here even though his reverse is gum stained:


So how did that stain get there if the set wasn't issued at some retail level?  And for that matter, how did poor Jim Fregosi get gum stained on the front:


Issued set, 1968.  Now, where did all those furshlgginer proofs come from?!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

What Year Is It?

Dating of certain Topps issues can be tricky, especially from about 1965 through the start of reliable real-time hobby press monitoring around 1980-81. Once they started gushing forth an unrelenting river of test issues and products around the time they moved from Brooklyn to Duryea (Winter of 1965-66), which seemingly coincided with Woody Gelman attaining huge artistic street cred with his brief hiring of Robert Crumb (also 1965), the confusion really started.

Prior to mid 1966, when they started the commodity code (and later "T" numbered test) system most of their testing was done with what became issued product, although sometimes tested in wrapper variants.  Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins is doing some fantastic work deciphering all the codes and I am not going to step on his work but every once in a while a piece pops up that makes one reconsider an issue date.  I don't know why some of us obsess over the fact whether a card set came out in one year vs. the next year but we do. In reality, some issues would span two years or more while three "seasons" (Valentines Day, Hallowee'n, Christmas) would be defined by staccato bursts of issues, themed ones for the first and second and then a combination of rebagged, rewrapped and bulk product for the second and third. The one constant in this all, without full access to a run of Topps product catalogs, is that all evidence must be examined to come up with a proper date.

Take Comic Book Heroes. Now there's no artistic vision here at all and in fact it may be the most poorly illustrated set Topps ever issued outside of some tattoo issues. Featuring DC Comics superheroes mixed in with usual goofy array of subjects found in such sets, these cards also feature perhaps the worst rendition ever of Babe Ruth:


See?  Heinous. But note the 1966 copyright.  here's the other side which is actually the front:


This set is identified as being issued in 1966 in most guides.  But look the box bottom shows it's a 1967 release:


Here's a closeup of the commodity code:


The wrapper shows the 1966 copyright for the DC characters but no code.  It's a hybrid (or a mutant if you will):


Same 1966 copyright (hard to see but it's there) and no other dating information.  I suspect the wrapper design predated the introduction of the commodity codes and further that the set was probably intended to come out in 1966.  For some reason a delay occurred and it came out the following year.  That commodity code font on the box bottom is a little funky as well, so Topps was still tweaking things in 1966-67.

And not to leave you all hanging, here's some more box art, which is slightly nicer than what was on the cards: