Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mays and Means

Exciting times here at the Main Topps Archives Research Complex kids! I was recently contacted by Ken Liss, whose father, Norman, handled PR for Topps for more than 30 years. I'll hopefully fill in his details a little more down the road (a brief overview is here) but it looks to me that Norman Liss commenced his work for Topps right around the time the Rookie All Star project (1959 start) got underway, maybe a just a smidgen later.

Ken has kindly sent along three shots featuring Willie Mays during a 1974 visit to the Topps plant in Duryea, Pennsylvania that also feature his dad:

Clockwise from left:  Norman Liss, the Say Hey Kid and a man believed to be Ken Byrnes, Topps VP of Manufacturing. If I didn't tell you the year, you could probably guess at it pretty closely given the haberdashery and grooming of the times.

Here's a bit more of a closeup:

Wide ties were definitely the "in thing" in '74!

Here the boys are touring the manufacturing floor, with none other than Sy Berger (a Mays confidant and friend) in tow:

Look at those bags of what must be sugar off to the right-and can't you just smell the Bazooka?! Ken Byrnes recollected this visit a couple of years ago, it's a fascinating read.

There was a groundswell of publicity surrounding Topps and the Duryea plant in the mid 1970's, from Sy Berger's starring role in the Great American Baseball Card Flipping ,Trading and Bubblegum Book to inserts in various baseball annuals and mainstream magazines through things like Willie's visit to Duryea. Norman Liss would have been the instigator of all this PR.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Doctor Is Out

Topps produced their first novelty premium in 1948 with the introduction of the initial series of Tatoo. Originally a one cent tab like the rest of their chewing gum line at the time, the product was soon tweaked and a larger unit (still a penny) was developed with a three panel graphic detailing how to apply the tatoo to your skin, although is was still a penny piece.  1953 saw a further increase in size (but not price) and an opened wrapper now measured 1 9/16" x 3 1/2". This basic design, size and price point would remain in effect for fifteen years, across an array of different issues covering sports and non-sports subjects alike. From about 1958 onward Topps tried to have at least one tattoo issue in the market each year, many themed to the children's cartoon shows that were proliferating on television during this era.  The run finally ended in 1967 with Doctor Dolittle Tattoo, although a 1968 issue called Magic Funny Fortune, while not a tattoo, retained the size and price point, likely making it the last Topps one cent product. It's worth pointing out though, that the film was only released six days before Christmas so essentially the tattoos were sold into early 1968.

Doctor Dolittle was first a series of books that began in the 1920's, depicting the improbable tales of a veterinarian who could talk to animals and set about 100 years in the past.  While it was a prestigious, award winning series of books, the Doctor's adventures were largely confined to the literary world until a fairly stilted musical was filmed in 1967 starring Rex Harrison. Topps linked the tattoo issue to the film, which was a colossal flop (although it won two Oscars) and almost bankrupted 20th Century Fox.  Needless to say, the tattoo set didn't exactly set the world on fire and it's a toughie to track down these days.  There is not a lot of information on the set available and it's tough to even find scans, let alone a checklist but I've tracked down a few images over the years.

The wrapper was pretty groovy in one respect (lettering) and I believe it's one of only two penny tattoo produced by Topps that sports a production code (aka commodity number), with the other being Comic Book Tattoos issued earlier in 1967:


Those scans are from the wonderful site!

The tattoos are standard issue and only needed a couple of primary colors when produced:

I suspect there were 48 different tattoos, but like similar issues, unless specific subjects are identified, the checklist is either incomplete or uncompiled in the extant guides. It's no matter, since the outside of the wrapper is really the collectible item.

Speaking of Doctor Dolittle, it survived in Woody Gelman's Idea Book:

You can see the little production rip that was a "feature and not a bug" on a host of Topps penny issues from their founding in 1938 until they stopped using the equipment in the kate 60's or early 70's. Topps would convert to a "floppy" five cent pack and new design (accordion style) for their later tattoo issues, ala 1971 Baseball Tattoos but they certainly got a lot of cheap mileage out of the old ones over the years.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Spooktacular Fun!

Well Hallowe'en is once again just around the corner and lo and behold something themed to the day before Samhain (which no one ever talks about) has just come across my bow.  I missed out on the auction but this great piece but a very early Topps sales brochure just sold on eBay:


Those are some serious Leave It To Beaver graphics! I kid, I kid, this is a great brochure actually. For me, one of the best things about it is I've found another piece to add to the Master Topps type list: Trick or Treat Bubble Gum! There's little pictures and games on the interior so it counts: 

Now the sweetest thing of all is the fact I can date the brochure and also show what is likely the second earliest Topps Fun Pack. Take a gander at this, one of the most amazing things I have seen in relation to Topps:

This puts the brochure at 1950 to my mind as all the tiny little Topps card sets issued with penny gum tabs came out in 1949.  In additon License Plates (Stop &Go) and Varsity would still have been active retail products in the fall of that year. In fact, Varsity may not even have been out by the this brochure was created  Some of that gum must have been quite stale!  An earlier bulk pack was offered in the Spring of 1950 with similar items but also included five cent packs and wholesaled for a whopping 94 cents a pop. It also looks like Topps was pushing the Fun Pack idea based on past success with the format. These were just under 15 cents each (or 16 cents farther afield). This is really something as we have another distribution method for the 1949 Felt Backs (Varsity Gum).

Topps Hallowe'en products are on my radar for sure, more to come as I develop things!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Mighty Atom

I have to confess I'm a fan of the various Topps tatoo (tattoo) issues over the years.  I liked 'em as as kid and I like 'em now.  I especially like the one cent packs that were the standard bearer of the skin transfers offered through 1967, where the inside of the wrapper held the tatoo before a change in format brought us five cent packs with folded, cascading sheets and multiple images. Topps came up with a basic template for their penny tatoo packs in 1949 and it lasted for eighteen years-pretty impressive.

I've covered a number of tatoo issues already but the Astro Boy issue of 1963 is uncharted territory.

Originally a manga character created in the 1950's, Astro Boy (in Japan it was "Mighty Atom") was a long running Japanese cartoon (in black & white) that was broadcast in the US on NBC from 1963-65 and then rerun for another decade or so.  It's since been revived but I loved the original series as a kid and it was really the start of anime as we know it today.  There were a ton of these shows on in the 60's (Speed Racer, Tobor the Eight Man, Marine Boy) and some were better than others but Astro Boy got the nod from Topps. I guess their TV rights were fairly cheap and they only had to be dubbed into English as all the animation had been done for the original airings in Japan so any licensing that could be had from Topps was gravy.

There are probably 48 Astro Boy tattoos; I've never seen a full checklist as is common with the tattoo issues and multiples of 24 are fairly common in this era for similar sets. Three wrapper graphics were used, here's one:

The reverse had the standard Topps graphic instructions:

Here's a better look at the wrapper (wrapper graphic #2):

The National Broadcasting Company copyright is prominent and although no year is listed I think it's safe to say it coincided with the US premiere in September 1963. The third wrapper graphic is something I don't have a color scan of and have to show one from Chris Benjamin's Sport Americana Guide:

The tattoo itself is your typical line drawing:

That one has been damaged but that's the thing with these, they are pretty scarce and one of the hardest to find of the Topps tattoo issues.  Here's an acetate proof that has the graphic from above represented:

There's a pretty good Astro Boy site with a decent forum out there.  You can click here to access it.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wise Guys

One of the hobby backroads less traveled that's ripe for further investigation leads to buttons and pins, especially those produced in the 1960's and early 70's. This applies not only to Topps but the other producers of the day, although my interest certainly is with the former.

About a month ago I picked up what I thought was a 1965 Topps Wise Guy Button:

When it arrived I noticed it was much larger than a traditional Wise Guy, measuring 3 3/8" in diameter vs. the standard 2" for the issue.  I also noticed the back was pretty chunky:

It's a two piece button, although the safety pin replaces the original clasp, which I found a likely scan of over at Terapeak:

I can't find any information on the larger pin.  Like the 2 inch version it only has a small "JAPAN" printed on the rim. The late wrapper king John Neuner has a listing for the set from 1961 but I think that's wrong for the big button and he just whiffed on the 1965 set. Here's the 1965 issue from an old Legendary auction:

Friend o'the Archive Bill Christensen thinks the larger buttons came after the smaller ones due to the two piece back.  I think it's possible as the small ones have an edge on the underside of the rolled rim that is very sharp and which is eliminated on the two piece design:

So just when did the larger version come out and how did Topps market it? My master list of Topps issues does not have anything on it resembling the larger pin and I have not had any luck over at Net54 or looking through NS guides.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Disgustingly Yours

Topps hit a creative peak after the move of their production, packaging and warehousing facilities to Duryea, PA in 1966.  I don't know if the move freed up resources as they consolidated a half dozen buildings scattered around Brooklyn or if the Creative Development team just went bonkers but in a roughly five or six year span ending in late '71 or early 1972, mainstream (Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood) and underground artists (Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith) were producing a stunning parade of illustrated sets for the company.

Topps had always used high grade artists since their earliest days of selling cards (Al Capp for instance) and even got a young Robert Crumb into the mix in 1965 (Monster Greeting Cards). Some of their 1950's output really shows off this work but things took off along with the Space Race as packaging, set design, "playability" and innovation all came to the forefront on the non-sports side. Even cards and packaging they were producing for the four major sports were noticeably edgier and dramatic in this period. There were intricate in-house proofs, test issues, premiums and more being produced at a dizzying rate. It all came to a crashing halt once Topps elected to go public and started cutting expenses in 1972 but for a short while it was pretty amazing.

Topps committed to a stretch of sets with die cutting and wearability in mind, often centered on Hallowe'en. The Get Smart Secret Agent Kit, Blockheads, Topps Pak 'o Fun to name but a few and today's subject: Disgusting Disguises.

Issued twice, first in 1967 and again in 1970, Disgusting Disguises featured 24 large, die cut cards to be punched out and worn like a mask or otherwise about the head and then adorned with various, generally creepy stickers, helpfully packaged with the cards and numbering 27 in total.  I never saw these as a kid but they would have been an awesome find if I had:

The cuts on these things are horrible from what I have seen but that looks like Basil Wolverton artwork to me.  The card backs had instructions for you:

But get this, each back illustrated the mask on the front-no generic instructions for the small fry here!

Three of the masks will look familiar if you collect Pee Wee's Playhouse cards from 1988, click the link and see:

The Stickers were also in large format:

I found an uncut sheet scan (likely a partial) of the stickers while I was researching this post, you can see the extra prints pretty easily:

I have scans of a couple of proof sheets of the cards but they are pretty rough:

The box is a classic:

C'mon, that kid is fierce!

It's a great little set and clearly meant to be retailed around Hallowe'en, a subject I'll be exploring here and there this fall.You can see 'em all at:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Philadelphia Storied

I've recently been able to close a loop concerning the sale of Bowman Gum to Topps in early 1956. When I was researching the Modern Hobby Guide a few years ago, it was a surprise to me that Warren Bowman had left his namesake company in May 1951 to develop real estate in Florida. The Board of Directors ultimately changed the name of the company to Haelan Laboratories a year later and by the end of 1952 a local Philadelphia businessman named John Connelly was added to the board, likely because he provided capital to the company. Here is the face of the man who sold Bowman to Topps:

You can see the Haelan branding on the back of this 1952 Pee Wee Reese:

This was contracted and initialized to B.G.H.L.I. by 1953:

I've covered most of the story in my book and in a Wrapper article a while back but a lucky break put a thread about a 1948 Blony (Bowman's flagship bubble gum brand) shipping carton in front of me the other day over at Network 54's Vintage Non-Sports Forum and with a quick response from Mike White, who owns the carton in question, I was able to get a scan of the bottom:

My research had previously found Connelly had a stint as vice president and sales manager during World War 2 at Container Corporation of America (CCA) before starting Connelly Containers.  I had always wondered how he stumbled onto Bowman and the connection with CCA certainly seems to answer that question. Connelly ultimately used his haul from the Bowman sale to gain control of Crown Cork & Seal in 1957, which made cans and bottle caps and made him a very wealthy man. When he stepped down in 1989 the company was worth almost $2 Billion dollars. He passed away in 1990 but his charitable foundation lives on to this day.

I also was able to find an article from this past January in a magazine called Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred about the Connelly family horse farm in New Jersey (still there) that dug into his background a little more as I was googling CCA, so all in all it was a pretty fortunate turn of events