Saturday, October 12, 2019

Semi Tough

One of the more fascinating, popular and somewhat studied byways of the 1952 Topps Baseball set is, of course, the high numbers spanning #311-407.  Planned to coincide with the 1952 World Series, the set is heavy with New York and Boston players -- more than half of the high numbers at 49 in total -- reflecting the main, limited distribution areas of the time. The highs followed on the heels of the semi-high numbers, a fifth series spanning #251-310 and the last one planned to be part of the now legendary 1952 set until Sy Berger allegedly/possibly/definitely talked Joe Shorin into issuing a sixth and final series (or "second" series as Topps referred to it at the time).

The highs fanned out from the Northeast, spreading south and west and some didn't hit the West Coast until 1953, but the general gist is sales were extremely subpar.  I believe there was vending produced too, although any Topps vending numbers at the time were miniscule. I have never seen mention of a penny pack or ten cent cellos for the high numbers and some highs were issued in a blue and red wrapper, distinct from the green and red wrapper that held cards from #1-310. This wrapper is probably the source for the stories of 1952 cards being found in 1953 wax packs. Conversely, Topps did sometimes use older wrappers for newer product, a practice they followed into at least the mid-1970's. There would have been returns for the highs from the wholesale jobbers, consolidators and direct accounts as well and Topps likely had a bunch that never left the warehouse floor.  

Topps kept their set counts lower in the following years and didn't issue a set as large as the 52's until 1957, when they matched its 407 cards, albeit without what we would call high numbers today. That was partially due to lack of players under contract prior to the acquisition of Bowman in 1956 and there may have been some gun shyness involved as well. The first set to really go all in again on high numbers would be issued in 1958, as baseball expanded to California, and they continued through 1972 (or 1973, sort of) in patterns tat sometimes defy logic. Topps attempted to smooth out the availability issue of the highs in 1968 and '69 but 1970-72 resulted in traditional high numbers being marketed before they went to issuing all their cards at once following a phase-in during 1973. But make no mistake about it, the 1952 high numbers are the daddy of them all, in large part due what is assuredly a Sy Berger tall tale detailing how a couple truckloads of high numbers were loaded from Topps HQ on a garbage scow one day in 1960 or so, after various creative attempts to dispose of same failed, and towed out to the Atlantic Bight, where they became fish food.

Topps certainly could have hired a barge to dump their stock as there were ample dock facilities available to them at Bush Terminal, which commands a large stretch of the Brooklyn waterfront along Gowanus Bay.  There are, to my mind, several problems with the barge story though:

1) Topps would never have spent money to discard something they could have just tossed out or flash fried in the incinerator at Bush Terminal back in the day.

2) The excess 1952 inventory was probably not located at Topps HQ in Bush Terminal. rather, it probably ended up at one of their historical Brooklyn locations, all still in use as storage and distribution facilities during the Swingin' Sixties.  I would think either 60 Broadway (the Gretsch Building) or 383 3rd Avenue (the old Shapiro Candy plant) would suffice for such purposes and then whatever was left just sat around for several years until it was either rediscovered or someone came up with a plan, to wit:

3) Card Collectors Company, Topps preferred secondary selling market for leftovers and the like, and operated by Woody Gelman, ran out of the '52 highs by the late 50's.  They then restocked sometime after 1960 and were selling singles and full high number runs through at least 1968. That many highs being sold for that long?  They would have to come from Topps in such quantity, especially as they were already known to be hard to find by the time of the alleged dumping at sea.

4) Topps never tossed anything unless they had to.  They would just put it out in Fun Packs, or some other type of setup.  The one set I am aware of them dumping is the 1968 B&W Football Team cards, which look more and more to me  like they had to be destroyed on orders from the NFL.

So I call shenanigans on the barge story!

This all got me curious about the potential universe of 1952 semi highs and highs, so I did a canvass of eBay on October 4, 2019 which yielded some interesting figures.  Here's the raw data:

251 62 311 42 MANTLE
252 92 312 22 ROBINSON
253 80 313 51 THOMSON
254 100 314 23 CAMPANELLA
255 81 315 26 DUROCHER
256 107 316 27
257 57 317 22
258 83 318 37
259 87 319 31
260 84 320 30
261 72 MAYS 321 26
262 38 322 26
263 57 323 37
264 99 324 22
265 83 325 31
266 78 326 47
267 87 327 21
268 52 328 23
269 69 329 20
270 92 330 16
271 49 331 20
272 31 332 7 BARTIROME
273 36 333 37 REESE
274 28 334 22
275 60 335 13
276 35 336 38
277 41 337 39
278 53 338 25
279 57 339 14
280 25 340 24
281 36 341 23
282 30 342 23
283 54 343 27
284 55 344 33
285 67 345 24
286 48 346 38
287 25 347 22
288 61 348 26
289 20 349 41
290 41 350 34
291 53 351 38
292 67 352 28
293 61 353 27
294 36 354 17
295 27 355 29
296 27 356 28
297 48 357 19
298 49 358 48
299 60 359 17
300 50 360 28
301 51 361 31
302 51 362 16
303 43 363 41
304 45 364 37
305 42 365 48
306 53 366 45
307 31 CAMPOS 367 52
308 33 368 60
309 34 369 13
310 37 370 17
TOTAL 3,310 371 30
372 30
373 28
374 28
375 26
376 16
377 54
378 23
379 38
380 28
381 32
382 22
383 22
384 21
385 38
386 16
387 41
388 38
389 36
390 38
391 39
393 33
394 34
395 30
397 31
398 16
399 30
400 20 DICKEY
401 29
402 27
403 19
404 24
405 29
406 19
407 15 MATHEWS
TOTAL 2,776

There were between 25 and 107 of any individual semi high's available on the 'bay on October 4, vs. 7 to 60 of the highs. The decadal tranches reveal cards #251-270 were the extra prints in the semi-highs (three of them for every two between #271-310):

833 251-260 84.3
727 261-270 73.7
415 271-280 42.5
437 281-290 44.7
478 291-300 48.8
420 301-310 > 3,310 43.0
253.5 311-320 26.4
269 321-330 27.9
239 331-340 24.9
291 341-350 30.1
279 351-360 28.9
360 361-370 37.0
301 371-380 31.1
304 381-390 31.4
260 391-400 27.0
219.5 401-407 > 2,776 23.0

It further works out to 55 semi highs on average compared to 28 highs (I accounted for the DP's of #311, #312 and #313), or almost exactly a 2:1 ratio. Furthermore, the PSA pop reports show several hundred of each high number have been slabbed. I would think there is a bit of a skew toward a higher percentage of high numbers being listed on Ebay vs. semi-highs and also in the pop reports but the 1952 highs can certainly be found without much of a problem. Your experience may vary, especially if you want a certain card in a certain condition, but they are out there.

Popularity certainly seems to be a big driver with the highs.  They were hard to find in 1952, could eventually be found at Card Collectors Company (or more accurately "Sam Rosen" prior to Woody's Father-In-Law passing away on New Year's Eve 1958) and eventually saw a rebirth in the 60's at CCC.  Woody really amped up the CCC presence once he took over in 1959 and was a big advertiser in The Sporting News, Boys Life and other publications, raising visibility of the hobby and the 1952 high numbers. The ither thing driving them could also be appearance-they look super, at least to me.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Cloth Makes The Man

Topps spent a fair bit of time getting their cloth baseball stickers down in the 1970's.  Finally seeing the official light of day in 1977, there were materials tests undertaken in 1970, 1972, and 1976, plus a series of 1973--74 Cloth Emblems that spanned a few sports, not to mention the 1968 Football Paches and some non-sports issues. I'm not sure why it proved to be so difficult for Topps to work up proper specifications for the national pastime, those '68 Football Patches have held up remarkably well, although most of the press ended up being rescued from a Pennsylvania dump along with the black and white Football Team cards test issue they were packaged with. And let's not forget their 1949 Flags Of All Nations/Soldiers Of The World issue which used a similar cloth-like material.

I've covered the 1970 and 1976 cloth stickers previously and the former are famous hobby rarities, while the latter are not.  The 1977 set needs no commentary today, it's still found in abundance and is, to my mind, quite nice. I may do a post on it shortly as the checklist/puzzle cards that came with it are harder to find and kinda neat as well.

I remember seeing a few of the 1972 Cloth Stickers at shows in the 80's in uncut form, which is how all of these have entered the hobby. I'm sure they came via a Topps back door somewhere, possibly in the outflow of Card Collectors inventory following Woody Gelman's death in 1978, and which took some time to disseminate as the earliest mention of these I can trace so far is from 1981. The sheets were fairly reasonably priced back then, not so today due to the Roberto Clemente In Action being included in the array and a lot of times you find them with the plain sticker backing gone or discorporated.  Some are missing a slice across the top of the sticker as well. Still, they are pretty cool.

Unlike 1970, which came from a specific half sheet section and 1976, which was Frankensteined by Topps using only Duffy Dyer and Bob Apodaca, the 33 sticker run spanned two Topps half sheets from the 3rd series in 1972.  It also includes partials on either edge, echoing the 1970 version in this regard:

I don't know why Topps took things to test from across two sheets like this but it's quite common in their history.  Here's a  look at some real estate from a normal 3rd series sheet:

You can see how the imaged cloth sheet was just the bottom three rows of this section - Topps printed 66 cards from each 1972 series on one half sheet and 66 cards on the other, with the DP checklist for the next series on all but the high number sheet (132*6=792-5 DP's=787 card series) in '72. The top row is interesting as well as the stickers I have seen with the slice taken off the top seem to come from that row, which is indeed sort on this regular issue sheet as well. This could truly be coincidental as I'm not sure why a card board version missing real estate would be replicated in cloth.

Here is the checklist:


Four Hall of Famers and Willie Stargell In Action and Sparky Anderson are partials on the uncut sheet....what could have been!

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Depression's Got A Hold On Me

Well, you learn something new every other day or so I guess.  I was poking around a while back and spotted a very interesting article from the Brooklyn Times-Union October 30, 1933 edition concerning the long-time HQ of the American Leaf Tobacco Company (ALTC) at 7 Debevoise St., which my intrepid readers know as the primordial Shorin family company's second location:

I do believe the ALTC survived as an ongoing entity until 1938 so this foreclosure notice is a very intriguing find. It appears the Shorins partnered with a couple of members of the Rabkin Family and together they owned the four story building that had housed the ALTC since around the time of World War 1. I have not seen any associations between the Shorin and Rabkin families before, so this bears some further investigation. The connection with a paper company is intriguing as well.

The building, as you can see, was auctioned on October 14, 1933 so it seems possible the ALTC continued to maintain a presence within as renters but again more research is needed on my end.  The Shorin's were starting to heavily invest in gas station properties around Brooklyn at this time, so there may have a been a plan in place for dumping losses into 7 Debevoise St., or they just got over-extended. Either way, this further supports some reports I have seen from this era concerning the family's real estate investments. The family and ALTC primarily did business with Manufacturer's Trust, so the Williamsburgh Saving Bank may have been brought to the table by the Rabkin's.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Anaglyph You A Headache

One of the more forgettable fads in the 1950's was 3-D.  A craze developed around this gimmick that went from movies, to comic books to trading cards in short order following the release of a movie in Late 1952 called Bwana Devil.

B Movie fare for sure but it was off to the races in Hollywood and 1953 saw several major motion pictures premiere using one of two different processes, both of which required the viewer to don a pair of cheap cardboard glasses to experience the 3-D effects promised in the posters and adverts of the day.

Topps issued two 3-D sets, both featuring Tarzan, who was featured on the silver screen in Tarzan And The She Devil, released on June 15, 1953, albeit in standard black and white.

Topps took this movie and had a 60 card set made up in 3-D.  A proof panel surfaced recently and the dating is interesting as you can see it's stamped September 15, 1953. So it took Topps three months to bring the set to fruition.

The set sold well and it was followed by Tarzan's Savage Fury, which used scenes from a 1952 movie and given the dating of the proof above, looks to have been issued in 1954.

View some of the cards below, just make sure you have the red and blue version of the glasses!

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Wrappers Delight

I'll spare you all the historic details of the Star Wars movie franchise and lengthy history of the Topps sets issued in the wake of the world's most popular Space Opera saga (40 plus years strong and counting) but do want to focus on an esoteric issue from 1978 today.  Commonly referred to as Star Wars Movie Photo Pin-Ups, Topps printed 56 different images on the backs of sugar free gum wrappers in 1978 as the frenzy around the first Star Wars movie (now known as "A New Hope") continued unabated.

These interior wrapper images are nothing special and were clearly just pumped out with very little editorial effort:

These measure about 2 7/8" x 3 5/16" once opened and flattened but the real money shots are the four exterior wrapper varieties:

Also of particular interest to me, is the little production rip along the blank edge of these wrappers (which images come from, I believe the Twitter feed of one "Mr. Non-Sports"), although where R2-D2 has gotten to, I'll never know.  I've covered this rip in depth previously here and keep progressing the end date for same as I examine newer sets.  The rip is not from opening the packs but rather a result of the packaging process at the factory.  I'll leave it to you all to determine if this should hugely impact the grading of such affected items but it's interesting that the original equipment used to produce the first Topps confections in 1938 was still in use forty years later.  It was described as "ancient" by Topps in 1938 so its exact age is far older.

The box is pretty nice too:

I grabbed that from and you should head over there if you want more details on this set as he has an exhaustive page on it with the full set illustrated along with plenty of ancillary material.

As noted by Mr. Monin, the set didn't sell well and it's not all that easy to find these days.  The real standout though, is a bit of a Topps anomaly, namely a full box wrapper:

The trumpeting of the lack of saccharin was a direct result of of the Saccharine Study and Labeling Act of 1977, which required warning labels for products using this artificial sweetener. I'm not sure if this extra wrap was to maintain the freshness of the gum, draw attention to the lack of saccharin or some kind of attention grabber for the retailer but it's pretty neat no matter what its purpose.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Nice Pull

So I managed to glom another 1968 3D card in the latest REA extravaganza and it's got two characteristics that intrigue me, although since I collect 60's and 70's Mets cards, it's really three characteristics.  I'll leave it at the first two for this post though for you non-Mets fans.

Here is one of the heroes of Game 4 of the 1969 World Series, pre-Miracle:

We will come back to the front momentarily. The back is reason No. 1 I wanted this specific card.

We've seen those stamps here previously and they also come in black.  The auction in question featured one back with a black stamp (Fairly "No Dugout" variation) and a whopping eleven with the red version, including the "Dugout" version of Fairly.  The Clemente was lacking the stamp, otherwise there would have been a complete set of reds, which is the most I have ever seen in one place.

By the way, a master set, per Keith Olbermann, includes five variations (Fairly, Maloney, Flood, Powell and Staub), all of which can come with either a red or black stamp to boot, although only blank backs would have been included in the Topps test packs.

Take a look at that lower left corner of the card front.  You can clearly see two "pull" marks:

Those are similar to those found on my Maloney "No Dugout" card:

The two marks on Maloney are spaced farther apart so I don't think they represent damage from a "grabber" used after the cards were cut apart.

They likely do however, represent a problem related to the cutting process, where portions of the ribbed lenticular coating used to create the 3D effect would pull away from the surface during production.  I suspect problems like this (and expense) contributed to the demise of this set, rather than just a poor test response.  Just look at the long run of Kellogg's 3D cards from 1970-83 and aftermarket interest in this set to gauge what the interest level could have been.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Bunning Stunts

Holey moley kids,a longstanding question has been answered by the recently concluded Robert Edward Auctions summer extravaganza!  A "second series" press sheet finally reveals who replaced No. 145 Ed Bouchee in the set.  Bouchee, you will recall, was arrested and convicted for exposing himself after the 1957 season ended.  He ended up in a psychiatric hospital for a spell, was sentenced to probation and rejoined the Phillies mid-season.  Topps pulled his card, eradicated him from the checklist and double printed another in his place.

Thanks to this amazing press sheet we now know who replaced Bouchee! Scope it out for yourself:

I believe this is the series 2 "A" sheet as the left side looks pretty good, whereas the right side looks like a three year old cut it.  The pattern is A/B/A, with each letter representing an iteration of four 11 card rows.  These are usually identical in their composition as the "B" sheet would use a B/A/B pattern to make up a full 88 card press run.  Thanks to this pattern we can see that #115 Jim Bunning was double printed to replace Bouchee in the "B" block.  Here is a closeup:

One of those Bunning cards replaced Bouchee's!

This sheet also confirms the Theory of Checklist Relativity, where Topps would run off 110 different cards on the first series sheets but only show #1-88 on the first series checklist (and all the succeeding Checklists), saving a full press run in the process over the course of the season.  1958 resolves in Series 5 because I believe the original intent was to issue 440 cards but Topps signed Stan Musial that summer and rushed a series of All Stars, nobodies and has-beens, so it was the semi-high series thereafter. Here is how it worked in 1958:


1 1 - 110 1-88 22
2 111 - 198 89-176 22
3 199 - 286 177-264 22
4 287 - 374 265-352 22
5 375 - 440 352-440 0
6 441 - 495 441-495 0

They used this lagging gimmick into 1966, nice little sales stimulator there Topps!

UPDATE 9/2/19-Reader Eric Loy pointed out in the comments there is  projection difference in the two Bunnings.  The one in row 2 has more of the "t" in "Detroit" showing while the one in row 4 has less and is shifted slightly leftward. 

Here they are, first Row 2's version:

Then Row 4's:

Thanks Eric!