Saturday, February 24, 2018

What A Difference A Year Makes

I spotted a bit of an anomaly while surfing eBay recently but wrote it off before reconsidering.  It's nothing really but this little 2 card proof panel of 1976 Baseball caught my eye:


I love little items like this that show remnants of the production process. This one shows that the process was fully along as Christmas approached in 1975.  I've seen other mid 70's Topps proofs from various sports and non-sorts sets stamped like this but the one above is really colorful.  However, you can plainly see that the sheet information along the right edge is incorrect as it states "1975 Baseball".  Weird, right?

Other things can appear on uncut strips and sheets.  Witness this star driven upper right corner strip from 1977:


"Slits" in Toppspeak are, in this instance, representative of the two 132 card sides of a 264 master.  

Different stars are on display on this 1977 strip:


Sorry it's so blurry. "Side A S. Guide Gripper" is what is says to the left of the stars.  I've seen many miscut cards over the years with some gripper stars showing, usually cut into some bizarre geometric shape. Those edge cards bedevilled Topps for decades!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Valentines Slay

As seen in our last adventure, while things got a bit wobbly for Topps for the 1966 Valentine season, it looks like they got a lot looser the next year and even moreso following that.

At some point in 1967 Topps issued  a set of 32 Nasty Notes, designed to look like the folded up sheets of paper kids passed as notes in class.  The box is pretty generic looking:


The actual product though, is a Wally Wood tour-de-force:


You can see how the Nasty Notes were designed to be folded to fit into a standard sized wax pack.  And see that blank space above the series and printing information?  That's important in distinguishing this set from it's Valentines related cousin, which we will get to in a moment. First though, the gag:


Measuring at 6 7/8" x 9 11/16" when unfurled, the 32 subjects in this set are mixed up in various checklists with a series called Valentine Nasty Notes.  Those look like this:


See how the empty back panel now has a "To" addressing the intended recipient. These also measure out a quarter inch shorter than Nasty Valentines at 6 7/8" x 9 7/16". You can see they are still a series of 32 however.

More Wally Wood awesomeness:


I have to say the larger, paper Topps issues of the late 60's are almost unparalleled in quality-and the best artwork seemingly went to the most ephemeral sets of the era.  As noted (hah!) above, the two sets need their checklists disentangled. A task for another day....but what about year of issue?  Well here is the box for the Valentine version of the notes:


That plastered on sticker makes me think the VD version is from 1968.  I am assuming they didn't bother to change the wrapper:


This brings us to 1969, a year where I have no clue what Topps did for their Valentines issue. It's highly likely to me they reissued something because 1970 brought no less than three distinct issues, all with -0 Commodity Codes and also sold together in a "Subscription Series".  I have to think the first in the series (more on that in a sec), since our carton below is clearly the second release, was from Hallowe'en (more on that in a sec too):


Valentine Foldees were essentially a reissue of the same set from 1963, with some minor alterations plus the "wheel design" of the past was replaced with one amusingly referred to in the hobby as "bananas".  They came in this pack:


I always find it odd when a baseball or sports related premium offer ends up on a non-sports pack:


You can see Babe Ruth peeking out the back and here he is now:


That's actually one of two Ruth cards in the set.  The Babe was still popular a generation after he had passed.


Nice Or Nasty Valentines were quite interactive for the day.  As the card says: 


This was not the first time Topps gave you a postcard to mail; they first did it with Goofy Postcards in 1957;



Here's two of the thirty three stickers in the set.  Pithy, no?


 That brings us to Valentine Postcards, easily the most mundane of the three 1970 sets:


The color scheme makes me think Topps had designed something for Hallowe'en before changing their minds!

The cards are a direct descendant of 1966's Insult Postcards, another set that may have been intended for Hallowe'en as well:



OK, now here's thing.  Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins recently sent me the following about the kick off of the Novelty Assortment Subscription Series:



Those are all 1970 sets as well.  My guess is that, since Football was the current offering they packed 'em all together and dumped the first of the subscription series on unsuspecting wholesalers and retail accounts for Hallowe'en 1970. That would mean the "second series" Valentines offering was sent to subscribers for Valentines Day 1971.

The last phase of Valentines issues ends with a set partially drawn by Art Spiegelman (hey, that's "gelman" at the end!) called Nasty Valentine Notes in 1971, easily the most hippie looking set ever issued by Topps:


According to the Dangerous Minds website, where I nicked that wrapper from, Spiegelman did the box and wrapper art, plus some of the notes proper, while the rest were drawn by Ralph Reece.  most of the artwork is well-removed from Wood's finely drafted pieces (although it looks like he may have done one or two of these) but stellar in its own way:


The R. Crumb influence is hard to miss! Note there are only 30 subjects in 1971.

Like its predecessors, it's a two sided affair:


There's also something floating around out there purported to be "Nasty Valentine Posters" from the same year but are really just proofs of the larger panels, run off two at a time:


Topps must have segregated where the subscription series was sold vs the current (or even test) release in 1971. So anything in the series would have been issued for a retail release as well, making them something like a cross between a test set and a regional release, where the cards (posters, what have you), are reasonably hard to find but not impossible. A neat trick (once again) by Topps to dump their overstock!

Topps went public in 1972 and in preparing for the IPO shaved a lot of expenses.  It looks like the Valentines Day issues were one of the casualties and sales would seemingly have been on the wane as well, making it an easy decision.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Folding Funny

Continuing on into 1963, Topps revisited their past (shocking I know!) by repurposing the metamorphic "picture tricks" Funny Foldees sets they had issued twice before (in 1949 & 1955) into their Valentines day release for the year, Valentine Foldees.

Most famous for the Babe Ruth card within this 55 card set featured a design motif described as "wheels" and was quite a bit larger than its historic predecessors at 2 1/2" x 4 11/16":



What the heck, lets show some uncut partial sheets from my friend Al's Love Of The Game Auctions.  Note the Babe Ruth's at lower right:




These Wally Wood creations came in a vertically oriented wrapper:

 (From Non--Sports Archive by Adam Tucker and Marc Simon)

Five straight years of no-nonsense Valentines issues through 1963. Then, things get weird.......

None of the major (or minor) hobby guides show an 1964 Valentines issue for Topps.  My money is on Valentine Wood Plaks, which is generally attributed to 1962. My issue with that date is the original issue of Real Wood Plaks came out in 1962, a year which already had Valentine Stickers.  The Wood Plak issues get mixed up rather easily but I believe this is a 1962 Real Wood Plak:




While this is what I believe to be a Valentine Wood Plak:


There are two distinct wrappers:



My current thinking is the Valentine version came out in 1964. Todd Riley's non-sport.com site has 74 different plaks ID'd and based upon that I would be willing to bet between the two sets there are 77 different, likely one set with 33 and the other with 44.

1965 brought a reissue of the 1961 Giant Size Funny Valentines.  The backs were red this time, not orange:





The 1965 wrapper was very, very close to the 1961 version with the boy's hair now blond and not red:

 (From Non--Sports Archive by Adam Tucker and Marc Simon)

1966 would seem to be more settled but I'm not so sure about that.  Conventional Hobby Wisdom has Frankenstein Valentine Stickers coming out in 1966, presumably based upon the Commodity Code on the wrapper.  These were first used in 1966 but after I show the pix, I will expound:




The wrapper is one of the best ever by Topps IMHO:



But the thing is it doesn't say anything about Valentines.  Not 100% unusual for Topps as the box sometimes held the key:


So here is that Commodity Code:


Clearly 1966 based upon the last digit.  But the problem I am having is the codes generally give the year of concept origination and for a Valentines Day issue to get out the door, it would be an awfully quick turnaround I think.  Topps started using the codes only in this year after moving their plant to Duryea, PA so it's possible the early issues in '66 were not handled the way they would be a few short months later. Still, Frankie could be from 1967.  I am also of the opinion a planned regular issue monster set was tabled and the Valentine connection was hastily added to the box art.

Things get weirder still as we hit "1967".

Topps issued a set called Insult Postcards in (possibly) 1966.  They are exactly what you would think but with one enhancement:



They all have a Valentines theme!  Also of interest, you can see things are getting a little underground-y comixy here as Woody Gelman got the heads up on talent from Robert Crumb before he departed Topps and NYC:


We'll get back to that back in a minute. First, take a gander at the wrapper:
You can just make out that Commodity Code- it ends in 6. They came in this box:


And check out one of the side panels:


An extra word and a couple of floating hearts and voila-a match for the wrapper!  This set was probably conceived as a non-Valentines issue and then converted. I wish I could see the Commodity code but no dice.  There are no distinct Valentine Insult Postcards backs. So did this set come out in 1967?  I have to believe either it or Frankenstein Valentine Stickers did, with the other coming out in the other year. Crazy man!

You would have to think one of the sets with the -6 codes came out in 1966, right?  Or maybe Topps fooled us all and reissued something in cello packs or some other sinister way designed to thwart my research a half century later......

Just you wait...it gets even more confusing in the last years of the Valentines Day cards. See you next time!


Saturday, February 3, 2018

Valentines Davis

I know a good trend when I see one.  After highlighting some Al Capp work last time out, this week brings us, quite serendipitously, to the intersection of Topps annual Valentines Day themed sets and Jack Davis.  There's even another trend at play as this is a two-parter on the VD front and if you really want to to push the envelope, Davis was part of EC's "New Trend!"

Davis did quite a bit of work for Topps over the years but made his first big splash with 1959's Funny Valentines.  This 66 card set marks the beginning of an annual Valentines Day set  being issued by Topps and set quite a high bar. This well-known issue came out in the year I consider to be the first to begin serious overproduction by Topps and is easily found today:




The wrapper is another bit of Davis awesomeness as well. With 1959 falling squarely in the middle of Monster Mania in the US, who not feature Frankenstein on it, and from a scene that was censored for years from the original Universal movie:


As we'll see down the road, Frankie would return.  1960 brought another set of 66, sporting an "A" suffix after the card number:




The wrapper art the second time around was much less monster-y and more cutesy:





What do you do in 1961 after a repeat?  A Giant Size repeat!


We are leaving Davis-land it seems, at this point:



The wrapper is much more like the 1960 version:


(courtesy Non Sport Archive Identification Reference by Adam R. Tucker and Mark T. Simon)

Those 2 1/2" x 4 3/4" dimensions were the updated version of the original Topps "Giant Size" cards that were prevalent from 1952-56.

The 1962 issue changed things up by offering a series of lesser-seen stickers that appear to have been executed by Wally Wood.

(courtesy www.non-sport.com)

The 1962 wrapper is a Wood work as well:


Topps would roll out a different type of Valentines Day product in 1963 and then it would get weird for a couple of years.  More on that next time out!