Saturday, April 22, 2017

How To Make A Monster

Topps would often release a set or two of Monster themed products around Hallowe'en every year. They had briefly issued a product called Trick or Treat Bubble Gum around 1950 but it wasn't until the end of that decade that Monsters started showing up on a regular basis with the introduction of You'll Die Laughing.  Those cards and other similar stickers,tattoos and novelties were a staple of many a Hallowe'en well into the early 1980's and card and sticker overstock was often recycled in Fun Packs in years where a fresh set was not issued. I recall getting two "funny monster" card cello packs with gum on Hallowe'en in the early 70's and Topps easily got another ten years out of the theme.

However, there is one Monster set that doesn't seem to be tied to Hallowe'en and it's 1974-75's Monster Tattoo. Harkening back to a  classic 1962 issue (Monster Tatoo), Topps revived the vegetable dye wrapper interior classic with a modern touch.  Consisting of two 30 subject series (Topps helpfully numbered each wrapper) these followed on the heels of a similar Wacky Packages Tattoo series of 1973-74.  The Wacky tats sold for two cents and it's presumed the Monster Tattoos did as well (I have not seen a box).

Monster Tattoo wrappers are quite colorful:


The tattoos are typical Topps fare, drawn by Jack Davis. Here are examples with the "A" and "B" series numbering scheme (30 in each):

I nicked those images above from by the way. 

So how do I know the set wasn't issued around Hallowe'en?  Because of the original artwork:

They look just about ready to go to print at that point, no? That last bit is interesting as it looks like a 2 was changed to a 4 (although I think the 2 is just a check mark) but the real fun is the "Dec" notation. I'm not sure why a Monster set was being prepared for a winter release but the relative scarcity of examples makes it likely sales were poor.  The Wacky Packages Tattoos are not that easy to find either but these seem more difficult. Did Jack Davis did all his artwork on couple of sheets and draw his own registration marks?!

These are popular; monster themed sets certainly draw a crowd!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Willie, Mickey & The Duke (& Cleon)

It's spring, baseball is in the air and your blogmaster is knee deep in outside world problems at the moment, so hang on for what may be a brief run of lighter posts until my schedule sorts out a little bit. I thought today I'd just show some favorite cards of mine and after I picked out the first three realized I was in Terry Cashman territory and decided to just run with it.

My obsession with baseball began in the summer of 1969, when the Mets were making their run to the most improbable of outcomes and I can still remember watching on the black & white Zenith TV in our living room as Cleon Jones secured the final out in Game 5 of the World Series.  The next four seasons were prime ones in terms of sucking up everything I could about the game.  The Mets landed Willie Mays in 1972 and of course this was the biggest thing in the world. The two hugest names in baseball, at least to me at the time, among the non-Mets of the planet were Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.  Having one of them come to my team was just fantastic, although I did not grasp at the time just how close to the end of his career Willie was.

Rounding into form as the nerd I would eventually become, the New York Times Book Review led me to Roger Kahn's The Boys of Summer (still my favorite baseball book) in the winter of 1972-73 and a further obsession with the Brooklyn Dodgers, a team I never saw play as they had left town four years before I was born.  They were my dad's team though and he knew their history as well as anyone. I found the Duke Snider story particularly moving, although in later years realized that perhaps the Duke's failed avocado farm was not quite the earth shattering disaster Roger Kahn made it out to be. A couple of years later a friend gave me a paperback copy of Jim Bouton's Ball Four and I marveled at the antics of one Mickey Charles Mantle within.

So here they are, my favorite cards of four players who define a certain time of my life.  We'll start with Duke Snider in 1952:

I'm not sure if it's the slightly blurry, pastel background (I'm a sucker for those in the 52 set), the follow through pose (not a common one) or maybe the backdrop of the Ebbets Field stands but for some reason this is my favorite card of the Silver Fox and one of the first cards I picked up upon re-entering the hobby in 1981.  

The 1967 Topps card of the Mick is a departure of sorts from the customary shots Topps used of him over the years. I just love this card, it looks like Mantle was remembering the great time he had shooting beaver the night before. Plus it's a dugout shot, which I also partial to as they were pretty offbeat poses back then:

Everybody raved about Willie Mays in his prime in New York but my favorite card of his comes from his last year in San Francisco. The 72 set has one of my favorite designs and Willie is j-u-u-u-u-s-t pre-grin here:

Finally, we have Cleon Jones. Along with Tom Seaver he was my favorite Met and while he had a solid, if unspectacular career and ended his tenure with the team in ignomy, I still count him as such. A favorite pose of mine generally:

C'mon, play ball!

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Vacant Lot

So I was perusing the Mile High catalog for the March 10th auction the other day and noted a neat partial uncut sheet within, for the 1968-69 O-Pee-Chee Push Out Stickers. I went to the website to grab a scan but the lot (#600) appears to have been withdrawn.  So I scanned the catalog image instead since it's such an interesting piece, which I will get to momentarily.

The stickers were inserts with the regular OPC cards from the 1968-69 season and had 22 subjects. 21 of these were player images superimposed on a hockey puck and you had to "push out' the puck and then lick the back (like the original 1967 Wacky Packages) to get it to stick to something:

The whole back was ready for expectoration:

The 22nd sticker was a salute to Gordie Howe for scoring his 700th goal. It's quite the sticker actually:

There was no push out option for Mr. Hockey, but his back was gummed so I guess the whole enchilada could have been stuck anywhere! You can see how this special sticker was produced with the rest of the insert set:

That is definitely a partial sheet. There is no bottom gutter and it's clearly hand cut down there. As the stickers are standard sized, my guess is at least a 66 card sheet was made of them, if not the ubiquitous 132/264 array.  A 44 sticker partial also exists.

It's too bad more sheets don't exist.  More used to but many have been cut up for grading over the past couple of decades. I prefer 'em like my Blu-Rays: uncut!

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Where Have You Gone Dom DiMaggio?

I've dabbled over the years in researching the Baseball issues Topps licensed and/or printed from 1959-68 in Venezuela but even with a lot of digging not much information is available.  One large bit of information I overlooked though, relates to distribution of Topps baseball cards prior to 1959.  I warn you, some foreknowledge of the subject is helpful as you read along.

Thanks to Friend o' the Archive Josh Alpert, who is the king of all that is Venezuelan Topps, I was redirected to an ad from the January 16, 1987 issue of Sports Collectors Digest that had all sorts of interesting things going on:

Pat Quinn of the Sports Collectors Store, along with the now infamous Bill Mastro and later John Rumierz, were among the earliest dealers to undertake buying trips in Venezuela.  This probably took some nerve but it opened up an important pipeline for the hobby. The relevant portion of the ad, at least today, is not the great stuff for sale but rather the preamble:

While I'm particularly interested in the 1952 high number distribution, the big takeaway is how Topps was getting rid of some excess stock and returns for most of the 1950's.  Venezuela was (and is) baseball mad and the fact their Winter League season began a little after the end of the MLB season each year before a January tournament-style to crown a champion occurred, was a happy little development I'm sure when it came time for the excess Topps baseball cards to be dumped.

A Bill Mastro article from the January 17, 1986 issue of SCD actually predates the ad above but has a very interesting little tidbit:

I didn't reprint it but Mastro states some of the albums produced to house the cards beginning in 1964 were made by Topps. The 1964 and 1966 versions seem to be the most likely candidates as their covers feature the Rookie Team trophy and the 66 cover in particular seems to mimic the advertising for that set in the US. Here, take a look at the 1966 album and then a Topps wax box from the US:

That's from Friend o'the Archives Spike Glidden's blog. Here is the US wax box:

Topps would have had to have a hand in the design of the Venezuelan album, don't you think?

Back to our blurb. The ultimate fate of the 1952 high numbers seems to be a bit of a mixed bag.  Sy Berger of course alleged a garbage scow dumped all remaining stock in the Atlantic Bight in 1960 following years of effort to unload them on "carnivals"; there's evidence some went to PX stores at US Military bases; and it seems Canada got them on both coasts, with possible leeching in the west down into the Seattle area.  In addition, we have a Venezuelan connection as described above and let's not forget the Card Collectors Company, which seems to have regained their stock of highs (last seen in their 1958 catalogs) starting around 1960, which totally dovetails with the alleged dumping at sea.

The Shorin family was very comfortable dealing with Latin and South American interests due to the family tobacco business founded by their father Morris, first as an individual entrepreneur in the 1890's and following that, for thirty years starting in 1908 as the American Leaf Tobacco Company.

The 1959 Venezuelan cards were printed by Industrias Benco, who are identified on some card backs that year.  Some later issues (although not 1962) show evidence of being printed in the US and the final set of cards issued in 1968 were made by a Venezuelan printer called Litoven.  Any local print work would have been done in Caracas. Benco was acquired by the Beatrice Foods conglomerate in the mid 1960's and they were quite involved in snack foods and confections at the same time the Topps cards were being sold. Beatrice also acquired a distributor in Caracas called Distribuidor Marsanita around the same time.

Some points to ponder: 

1) Who printed the Venezuelan cards in the  US in the years after 1959?  I can't believe it was the usual Topps printers of the time (Zabel Brothers, A. Hoen, Chromographic Press, or Stecher-Traung) as they did fairly high quality work and the Vennies are usually not up to snuff when compared to the US issues.

2) What was the relationship between Topps and Litoven?

3) Did Distribuidor Marsanita handle the Topps Venezuelan cards?

4) And what of the mysterious 1967 MLB/VWL/Retirado issue that does not conform to the standard look of Topps cards during the Venezuelan run?

5) How many 1952 highs made it to Venezuela?

6) What kind of idiot carnival owner would agree to take on old baseball cards as prizes anyway?

7) How did Card Collectors Company restock their 1952 high numbers in 1960?

That last question is relevant specifically to Sy's barge story I think and the Venezuelan Topps story in general.  The Card Collectors Company (which sold off Topps overstock and returns from about 1955 onwards and was first run by Woody Gelman's stepfather Sam Rosen until his death in 1958--when Woody took over), was out of 52 highs by the time their March 1959 catalog came out.  In a July 1958 price list, put out by Rosen, the highs were a dime apiece, compared to three or five cents for the lower numbers. So sometime between 1958 and 1959 Card Collectors Co. ran out of their original 1952 high number stock.

The 1960 ACC, which had Woody Gelman's input on "R" cards, listed the 52 highs at thirty cents apiece. I don't have scans or copies of catalogs from 1960 or 61 but in the March 1, 1962 catalog and through at least early 1968 CCC offered the highs at a dollar apiece in every catalog, vs either ten or fifteen cents for the lows. I find it a big coincidence that the Berger barge dumped the excess 1952 Topps high number inventory just around the time CCC restocked theirs. From what I have seen when it comes to Topps, there are zero coincidences on product that entered either the wholesale or retail distribution chains or the hobby directly.

So let's hope more turns up on Venezuela.  I'm also hoping for more details to be revealed on the operations of Topps in Mexico but that is a ways off as it's even harder to find information on that than it is on their Venezuelan operations.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Punnily Enough

One of the greatest Topps inserts ever came with the 1967 AFL Football cards.  With no NFL license at the time, Topps was in the doldrums and, for a second year, down to a 132 card set of the new-ish league's players. So of course this limited type of set contained the fantastic 31 sticker set known as Comic Pennants.  But wait....there's a lot more to the story! For some reason known only to Topps, there are three varieties of this set.

Right now I'm tracking a die cut sticker variety and a numbered and unnumbered variety on cardboard stock. Both cards are exactly that: cards and they are not die cut. There could be a non-die cut variety on sticker stock as I've seen a reference to same but can't find one in the wild and am presuming it's a red herring at this point after checking with some noted FB collectors. The set has been discussed here before but not in depth.

Here's a die cut sticker and reverse:

A numbered card and its reverse;

And the unnumbered card with reverse:

All three types are standard sized.

But I'm not really here to dissect the different flavors of this set today.  I'm here because the current BST Auctions offering, which is full of wondrous treasures (and run by some friends of mine) has an uncut sheet of the stickers and it is a thing of beauty:

That's a 90 sticker array (10 x 9) and it's obvious not all subjects are printed in equal quantities. There can be 2, 3, 4 or 6 imprints of the same sticker on this sheet!  It looks like a full sheet and Topps, from what I have seen, did not print A and B sheets of their inserts like they did with the regular issue cards.  The breakdown is quite odd but of course it's an odd set.  I've capitalized the names of actual schools, places (but not Transylvania!) and AFL teams in the checklist below and listed the number of times each appears on the sheet in parentheses:

1. Navel Academy (4)
2. City College Of Useless Knowledge (2)
3. My Teacher Looks Like The Hunchback of NOTRE DAME (3)
4. Psychedelic State (4)
5. MINNEAPOLIS Mini-Skirts Are On The Rise (2)
6. School Of Art - Go, Van Gogh (3)
7. WASHINGTON Is Dead (4)
8. School Of Hard Knocks (2)
9. If I See Her ALASKA (3)
10. Confused State (4)
11. YALE Locks Are Tough To Pick (2)
12. University Of Transylvania (3)
13. Down With Teachers (4)
14. They Caught Me Cheating At CORNELL (2)
15. You're A Fink If You Don't Root For The HOUSTON OILERS (3)
16. I Flunked Out Of HARVARD (6)
17. Diskotech (2)
18. Dropout U (3)
19. Polluted AIR Will FORCE You To Wear Gas Masks (2)
20. Nutstu U. (2)
21. MICHIGAN State Pen (3)
22. The Girls In DENVER Look Like BRONCOS (4)
23. I Left BUFFALO Without Paying My BILLS (2)
24. ARMY of Dropouts (3)
25. In MIAMI I Was Bitten By Two DOLPHINS (4)
26. KANSAS CITY Has Too Few Workers And Too Many CHIEFS (2)
27. Everything Is Banned In BOSTON Except PATRIOTS (3)
28. Fat People In OAKLAND Are Usually Ice Box RAIDERS (2)
29. I'd Go WEST If You'd Just POINT In The Right Direction (2)
30. NEW YORK Skies Are Crowded With JETS (3)
31. SAN DIEGO Police Will Press CHARGERS (2)

Or, to present it another way:

Two Times: Nos. 2, 5, 8, 11, 14, 17, 19, 20, 23, 26, 28, 29, 31 - Thirteen Cards
Three Times: Nos. 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27, 30 - Ten Cards
Four Times: Nos. 1, 4, 7, 10, 13, 22, 25 - Seven Cards
Six Times: No. 16  - One Card

That's an odd pattern, even for Topps. Harvard gets 6 impressions, which leads me to believe one other subject was pulled and replaced by the "Crimson Tide". That would make 32 subjects and I could easily see another to make 33, using the common 11 divisor of the time. Maybe a second sheet does exist, it would not surprise me given this way the above sheet is arrayed. If that's the case, it may have started life as a standalone set.

The set is full of anarchic style humor and was clearly worked on by some of the underground comix artists Topps used as free-lancers at the time.  I'd say Wally Wood did a lot of the artwork but the captions sound like Jay Lynch had a hand in them.

The set is also known as Krazy Pennants.  I have seen anecdotal evidence a wrapper by that name exists and it's possible the cards were found in those or perhaps they were stiffeners in the following year's Krazy People Posters. The possibility of Fun Pack distribution always exists as well.

There is some speculation the insert set was pulled due to its shocking humor and according to Friend o'the Archive Mike Blaisdell, wax boxes are known with the Sticker splash panel covered over with a sticker of its own indicating extra cards were in the packs. As Comic Pennants was the only insert in 1967 Football, nothing else could have replaced it in the packs so I guess Topps had to do something to stay ahead of Philly Gum's NFL cards!

 I don't think we are done looking at this set yet...

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Jay Lynch 1945-2017

Some of the readers here may have seen this already in the news or online but Jay Lynch passed away on March 5th, age 72.  In addition to being a renowned underground comix artist, Jay freelanced on many Topps projects over almost fifty years and worked closely with Woody Gelman on the creation of Wacky Packages. He was also one of the main artists and gag men on Garbage Pail Kids and the longtime writer of Bazooka Joe comics among many other projects.  He was a founder of Bijou Funnies to boot and can be seen below in a picture from the first issue holding the artwork from Nard 'N Pat, his most famous strip. Quite the assemblage, no?


I was put in touch with Jay by Jeff Shepherd and he was quite helpful when I was researching my book, The Modern Guide To Topps Chewing Gum: 1938-56. From what I have seen, he was like this with everybody.  I'm slowly working on a Topps artists project and while I won't be able to hit him up for information, he will be a focal point nonetheless. I'm also sorry I didn't get a chance to get into longer discussions with him about Woody and folks like Len Brown and Ben Solomon. He was around the place for such a long time, through the IPO in 1972 and the ceding of control by the Shorin's later on, through the sale to Michael Eisner in 2007 and beyond.

His papers (which are voluminous) are being donated to Ohio State University. They include documents and artwork from his entire career; he apparently saved everything he could over his 72 years. Considering the circles he worked in, this will be a valuable resource to a number of disparate folks.

Topps has put out a commemorative set to help his family defray his medical expenses, it's available here if you are interested.

RIP Jay.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Oh, Oh, Mexico

Hola Amigos!  Some interesting tidbits from the southern part of North America today, although they result in more questions than answers I think.

Friend o'the Archive Ken Cope contacted me to see if I knew anything about a Superman, The Movie card he acquired in a stack of Mexican issued Topps sets.  I most certainly did not, so of course I was intrigued.

Behold the card in question:

Compare that the the US issue:

What you see above is all I know about the Mexican issue.  I have to wonder if they also issued the second series, red bordered cards in Mexico.  I knnow there were at least two series of Star Wars released in Mexico. Charlie's Angels and the Six Million Dollar Man are also known to me, as is the 1977 NFL Football issue. In addition Mr. Cope advises he has a set of Mexican Planet of the Apes cards, which, presuming they are for the TV series and not the movie, would be roughly contemporary with Six Million Dollar Man, i.e from 1974-75, depending upon the vagaries of the Mexican TV schedule vs. that in the US. I've posted before about some of these other issues if you are interested.

Mexican, Venezuelan and other issues south of the US border are poorly documented and checklisted. I assume there are, in addition to the Topps issues described above, many others from additional manufacturers. I am aware of an Argentinian card guide but beyond that, can't swear there are any others specific to North America (outside of the US or Canada), Central or South America. And North America would include Cuba, which has issued many interesting sets over the decades.

Back to my original thought-if you have any information on this Man of Steel from Mexico (or the Apes), let me know!