Saturday, August 24, 2019

Litoven's First

I am back from a very enjoyable three days at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago (my 8th overall and 4th in the City of Big Shoulders).  I ate quite well, drank a little bit of cheer and hung out with many of my friends in what has become a biennial ritual.  I wish I could say the selection of esoteric vintage Topps cards and ephemera was arrayed in spades but alas, I cannot.  Most of the good stuff is routed to auctions these days and the trend is definitely toward more modern cards at the moment, which was amply evident at the Natty.  I found a few oddball items but nothing of note.  My friend Ryan Christoff, on the other hand, made a purchase that still boggles my mind. I am talking of none other than a 1968 Venezuelan Baseball album!

Check this bad boy out:

The Rookie Award trophy indicates to me this was likely a legit album, much like the one issued in 1966, although that one replicated the full Topps packaging design.  There are also Venezeulan albums from 1964 and '67. I'm not sure of the legitimacy of either but they do exist (even though I don't have a scan of the '64 edition).

The '68 Venezuelan's (370 across four series) were manufactured in Caracas by C.A. Litoven, as shown on the back of this card:

Here's the easier to read indicia

The back of the album is interesting as it appears to advertise a competitor's product I make it as Gonzalez y Cia), namely an orange gum:

I only managed a couple of interior shots:

It took some effort to create the album; these were not just blank pages.

This was it for Topps in Venezuela; bootlegs would be created in the 70's that were passed off as officially licensed Topps product but it's all BS after 1968.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Tons Of TV Fun

There are some Topps sets that live multiple lives.  Topps was an international company very early on in their history, well before they started putting cards into packs and by the mid 70's were established in a couple of dozen countries at least, usually through local licensing deals. Licensees used Topps artwork from US sets for the most part, although sometimes it was the opposite (like the Beatles B&W sets they rushed out in the US that originated in the UK). You could easily fill a book with how they did business in the UK alone during this time.  Canada though, was always their go to secondary market, through a long time association with O-Pee-Chee, of London, Ontario.

I've been trying to piece together a rather devilishly related grouping of cards that start with the 1968 Topps Crazy TV test set and also two semi-related issues with a decidedly Canadian bent.

What I can tell you about Crazy TV is that it was tested in the US as a 22 card set (skip-numbered to 55) and then reissued twice, with at least one reissue probably just relegated to the purgatory of Topps Fun Packs; both reissues were 22 cards in length. There is some packaging material out there and I will address this aspect at the end of this post.

The original test of Crazy TV  (referred to as Type 1)  had a wood grained front and a finished back that presented a humorous cartoon gag under the guise of TV Knock-Knocks, which appeared in an "orange"colored scheme that I don't think is really "salmon" (as per most guides).  There is also a version (Type 2) with identical fronts (wood grain) to the finished cards but with a blank back that is white, possibly indicating a proof, possibly not.  The third type of Crazy TV has a coral colored obverse, with a plain brown back that shows signs of having been in a wax pack. The coral color is darker than the traditional salmon Topps used in the late 60's that allegedly appears on the back of the Type 1 cards and also some other sets that Topps definitely put into Fun Packs.

Here are the various variants:

Type 1, the "regular" test issue and it's more "orange" reverse:

Type 2, possibly a proof with this white back:

Type 3, in "Coral" with a tan/brown back that looks to have been issued in a wax pack:

In terms of lightest to darkest colors, I see Salmon, then Orange in the middle and then the darker Coral. Its hard to tell from my scans but "Gut Smart" is darker than (the pretty racist) "Eye Spy" and it's quite obvious when you compare the two in person.  We'll get to Salmon momentarily but need to go north of the border first, then nip south again before heading north one last time.

As far back as when I first cracked my earliest non-sports reference books--the Sport Americana guides of the late 80's early 90's--I have struggled to understand why Crazy TV, a series called Knock-Knocks (note the lack of a "TV" prefix) and another called Ton O' Laffs have all been lumped together under the Crazy TV rubric but thanks to Friend o'the Archive Terry Gomes, who is deep into Canadian card research and wrote a comprehensive article on the various Ton O' Gum issues that appeared in The Wrapper #299, I now have a clearer understanding.

Terry sent a scan of the US Ton' O Gum wrapper that was an illustration for his Wrapper article.

That commodity code indicates the product was greenlit in 1968 by Topps and in fact, the original iteration of Ton O' Gum may have been a US test of the larger Bazooka slabs that followed in the 70's. I make it to be from 1968-69.

Check out this link to Worthpoint, showing a US pack contents, namely two wood grain Crazy TV cards (there are two different "Gut Smart" cards in the set), two Ton O' Laffs and a single Knock-Knocks. All the non-Crazy TV cards are red bordered so I guess when Topps dropped the "TV" from the name they changed the color from orange too. In fact, Terry purchased this exact pack and opened it but that is not his scan! He has advised all cards in the pack were blank backed, so the Crazy TV examples are type 2.

Now, in Canada, OPC issued Ton O' Gum multiple times, running from roughly 1968-69 to 1977-78. They also introduced Grape and Cherry flavors, mirroring the Bazooka marketing in the lower 48 and Terry has tracked 17 wrapper variants for OPC!  They mucked around with the orientation as well.  First, various wrappers; later ones use grams to measure the gum weight and tend toward the horizontal, those with no weight seem to be "middle period". I found most of these on the web, Terry supplied the final one below:

I spy a Ton O' Laffs card, more on that in a bit.

Got any grape?

You can see a card through the back of this pack too.

Cherry seems to have come last and does not seem to have been issued in a vertical pack format:

Yes another card. Hang tight, almost there, gotta get to the day-glo eye-popper from Terry first!

Far out man!

OK, so you got one card (sometimes 2, sometimes none per Terry) with your slab of gum.  These were red bordered Ton O'Laffs backed by Rigolons (a French translation of Ton O' Laffs) and the set is complete at 55 subjects. Terry sent me these to show:

John Bell's Canadian Non-Sports Catalogue indicates the packs sometimes came with two cards, one being an OPC Hockey card and Terry's article confirms it was of the 1974-75 variety. It's certainly an interesting way to burn off excess stock.

So here's the thing-there are versions of Ton O' Laffs (coral front, back is blank but from a wax pack) and Knock-Knocks (salmon front, tannish, unissued looking back) out there:

Seems to match the Coral Crazy TV, no?

Where did these come from then?  They are US issued, but when and where?  Both have 22 subjects, seemingly indicating test status. The coral colored cards must have been issued together, perhaps in Fun Packs. But these salmon Knock-Knocks are mystifying me and are definitely not from the coral Ton O' Laffs school. Is there yet another issue of these out there?!

Right now I count 8 different styles:
  • three Crazy TV (Types 1,2,3)
  • two Knock-Knocks (Red US, Salmon)
  • three Ton O'Laffs (Red US, Red Canadian with Rigolons reverse, Coral)
So which Crazy TV version came in this wrapper and this box? It seems like wood grain but the coloring is darker than on the cards:

That packs using that test wrapper likely were not issued in that box, which would have been designed for a full release to stores. In fact, that box may never have seen the light of day; these marked up proof flats often indicate an item was changed for the final version. Did a full retail release get canned at the last second?  Perhaps fallout from the 1967 Wacky Packages led to a fear of lawsuits if Crazy TV was given a full retail release? Did the pack have a Type 1 where the box was planned to hold a Type 3?  And why did each of the three Crazy TV printings result in 22 card, truncated and skip numbered sets all with the same subjects?

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Bazooka Box Bash!

One of my current projects is determining Bazooka packaging from 1947-56 as I slow roll the second edition of my book to the early years of Topps. Actually, I'm looking past that period as well as there are a number of box back sets issued in the 60's and early 70's that are not sufficiently documented in the hobby so I guess this is all part of one bigger quest.

Early (pre-1957) display packaging from Topps is very hard to find for the most part., with a couple of exceptions.  It's easier to find vending and cello packaging and display items as they were often generic in appearance and also seem to have been supplied to early hobby dealers such as Card Collectors Company.  Not a whole lot exists beyond wrappers and the occasional gum canister or counter display box and both can give us clues on dating.  A 1955 Bazooka 80 count box recently was up on eBay and it's worth a look I think, as it somewhat defies the norm.

It's a very basic box:

The cello window is interesting as it implies a need to keep the gum protected yet viewable. This seems like it was meant for either supermarkets or variety stores given the pricing circle implies you should be buying the whole shebang at once.  The Quality & Purity logo is something I am tracking, as it seems to have commenced being shown around 1949.  It even appears on an early paper Bazooka test wrapper,  possibly from '49 as well since prior to the summer of that year Bazooka was strictly sold in nickel form but the indicia is illegible on this scan, alas!

It's also possible it's from a later year but they style certainly suggests late 40's:

"The Atom" was used through mid-1958 so I would like to cipher when the Quality & Purity logo was discontinued to further narrow down the time frame for this and certain other issues.

As an aside, on the middle of the time spectrum were issues such as this, from a set I am pretty sure is not fully checklisted:

That missile was produced from 1956-61 so if the box front could be found, it would be nice to see what little logo might appear on it.  That scan and the one above comes from BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd by the way.

More from our 1955 box, to show how things looked:

More slogans above and, crucially, a date on the bottom:

If anyone has Bazooka box scans from 1947 into the mid 70's, I am happy to accept them.  Likewise the old Topps sales catalogs, which are another elusive thing that is unbeatable for dating and identifying products.  I think they issued three or four different catalogs each year and I only have scans of a scant few.  The more the merrier!

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Garber Talks!

Further to my previous musings on the Topps Rookie award and related trophies, which you can find here, an example showed up on eBay recently of the minor league style "cup" that was adapted into the full Rookie Award, both represented iconically on Topps cards of the last 60 years.

Here is the award in question, presented to Gene Garber on the occasion of his selection to the 1972 National Association AAA All Star team.

This design was carried through (with an added wooden base, of which more in a split second) to the 1973 baseball cards, replacing the much classier (and more expensive) "top hatted batter" trophy that had been implemented on the 1960 cards and which mirrored the first award trophies given out in 1959.

The Gary Carter Rookie Award I showed previously came atop a wooden base, with plaque, and matches the icon on the 1973 and later cards, but I don't think this one ever did.  It does though, being unplinthed, present us with some basic information.  Here is the bottom view:

Ah yes, there are markings!

It's eroded a little but reads:



Deciphered, it means Electro Plated Copper Alloy with a layer of Silverplate applied, i.e. a real cheapo award. that is degraded even more when you realize "Bristol" Silver was a less expensive substitute for actual silver plate and contains no actual silver. Silverplate has a very minimal silver content but it is there. The advantage of Bristol is that is does not tarnish.

The Poole Silver Company was founded in 1893 and based in Taunton, Massachusetts (perhaps not coincidentally an area where a number of Topps test issues got released around the time they presented this trophy). They started producing Bristol Silver products in 1950 and this design (#67) is actually a serving bowl (!) and produced from that date through 1970. The company was taken over by Towle Manufacturing in 1970.  Here is a straight up cup of the era, see how it's identical:

So there you have it, a talking (sort of) serving bowl that exemplifies excellence in baseball!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Mystery Dating

Mile High Auctions recently featured a very scarce pack from either 1967 or '68 and while not quite a unicorn, it's pretty close.  I've posted here previously (click the 1967 Topps Baseball Punch-Out labels for more) about the 1967 Topps Baseball Punch-Outs  which were mostly sold in long cello packs containing two three card panels, a most unwieldy format:

Gotta love the ingenuity, although it seems to have been a limited release--not a test--but seemingly only issued in a few regions-one was around Baltimore, so these may have been printed by a specialty lithographer down there.

The commodity code reads 0-485-51-01-7. These codes commenced in the Spring of 1966, as Topps moved production to Duryea, PA while the top brass and non-production staff remained in Brooklyn and allowed tracking of the various product and components of same. Lonnie Cummins has decoded a good portion of what these strings of numbers mean (see The Wrapper issues #316 & 317 for a very detailed look) and using his method, we can decipher some of this:

0 represents the specific media, in this case the Wrapper

485 is the Product Line/Stock Number, which can be tricky.  These can be inconsistent within a specific issue that was issued over a long period of time (often in series) and would often be reused in later years for different products.  The first digit usually signifies the product line, with a 0 for a candy or gum issue (1 is used here instead for some sets). Generally a 4 is for Entertainment Cards, which includes Sports Cards, but oddball sets (and some regular ones) don't always follow the pattern and it's not clear why.  My own take is that it may represent which group within Topps was responsible for the set but I am not real solid on that. The last two digits are the project number, which reset every calendar year and was assigned once Topps brass gave the go ahead for a particular set or product.

51 is the Format, or Style and is thought by Lonnie to relate to the printing and/or packaging process, possibly even detailing the machinery used to wrap the packs.

01 is the revision number and starts at these two digits.  This means the first iteration.

7 is for the last digit of the year of conception (and likely copyright).  For the period of 1966-68-ish it's not uncommon for a test or oddball product to be issued the year after this digit indicates (or even later in a couple of cases).

Look, a code!

That reads: 1-485-35-01-7 and means:

Display Box-Entertainment/Sports Stock #-Format Code (unknown)-First issue (no revision)-approved 1967.

Now, here is where it gets intriguing.  I have long thought that the set was first issued in the above cello livery and then reissued in wax the following year after it was revised to remove some retired a handful of players that changed leagues or retired after the 1966 season (and seemingly Bob Gibson as well) but I think I got it backwards. Check out this sucker from Mile High:

The back tells the tale, as (almost) always:

The stock number is quite a bit earlier than 485, while the format number is not really decipherable it is different than 51 and this is a second revision wrapper, which is looking like it came out in 1967.

A proof for the wax box exists and it's dated (in pen, with illegible commodity number) on March 7, 1967

Given the sixteen product gap between issues I now think both versions came out in 1967 as the Topps stock numbers go into the 90's that year. The timing of the wax wrapped Punch-Outs looks like Spring Training or just after, then once the roster moves could be processed, the cello timing looks like mid-season.

I believe this is the only Topps set issued in this super elongated cello format. The wax likely held two "cards" as you need that many to play the game.  The auction listing stated the wax packs were not issued but I disagree as we are looking at a second revision wax pack. Maybe there wasn't enough profit there, or it was the test version but some escaped in wax and while the set is tough, there are enough out there that the extant subjects are slightly beyond normal test issue territory. The PSA pop report is sparse, which seemingly contradicts this, but a lot of the surviving cards have been "popped" and not graded.