Saturday, May 19, 2018

Stamp Act

Among the myriad wonders offered in the Spring 2018 Robert Edward Auctions catalog, I think we can all say there was one that got away. In my case there were many more than that, although I did catch a big fish.  Of particular interest to me were the two 1955 Topps Baseball Stamps, surfacing after many years of being landlocked in a private collection.

In addition to producing the 1954 and 1955 paper inserts for four issues of Sports Illustrated magazine, Topps produced what I believe to be a 40 subject sheet of baseball stamps that were never released to the public. These were direct copies of the 1955 Baseball cards that were perforated on at least one side and had gummed, blank backs.  A sister internal sheet of the same year's Rails & Sails stamps was also produced, which was, you guessed it, 40 subjects long.

The known checklist is 24 subjects, 23 of which have been sighted and/or previously checklisted by Beckett or the Standard Catalog.and are listed below.  All appear in both the regular Topps issue plus the Double-Header set as well and I've included the corresponding numbering for both.


The 24th subject is Hank Aaron, "confirmed" by some prominent hobbyists but not yet in scanned form or on the major checklists. It is thought all of these came from Woody Gelman's personal collection. In addition to the Rails & Sails stamps being 40 in number, another reason I think this set is also comprised of 40 subjects is the way the regular issue cards were laid out. The usual orientation is off because of the horizontal printing but you can see where all subjects were taken from a chunk of the 110 card uncut sheet that runs from columns 2-5 and down rows A-E. (U) means unconfirmed of course and Hammerin' Hank gets an asterisk):

Some observations are in order.  There is another 40 subject section of sheet real estate that has Wally Moon at B5 and Hank Sauer at C5 but since both those slots are occupied by confirmed stamps, I think this is the proper array.  As you can see, each row and column has at least one confirmed stamp as do all "borders" so the 40 stamp universe seems highly likely to me. And that lower right corner, which is an entirely missing quad-save possibly for Aaron-can you imagine what a Ted Williams stamp would be worth?!

Two of the stamps made it into REA, Jack Shepard and Bob Skinner. I was underbidder on the Skinner (a PSA 1) but didn't go after the Shepard (a PSA 3). I'm showing the backs so each can be identified in the future if another comes up (it's not 100% confirmed but there may actually be two of some subjects out there in the wild).

The lot description has that little curl at the bottom of the Skinner reverse as "excess paper." The ink spray and off-registration on the fronts doesn't surprise me as I think these were a materials test as Topps was very much putting a lot of effort into alternate media at the time, something that was killed off forthwith once they purchased Bowman in early 1956.

Ironically, the first mention of these I ever saw was from a Rob Lifson ad in the January 31, 1986 issue of Sports Collectors Digest, where he had four for sale. I am hoping more pop up down the road as I would very much like to have one for my collection. Kudos to whoever won these!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Wackadoodle Too

Well, on the heels of last week's post about the 1966 Topps Wacky Labels Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins sent along scans of five more subjects.  I'm still hoping more come in from other sources but this is a massive increase in the known checklist. There's hints in Lonnie's scans too as to why the set may be so scarce. Here goes!

This one is a little snarky but ultimately I think it's pretty tame:

This one however, may have caused some parental consternation:

Too far?  Very possibly.  Meanwhile:

OK, here's another problematic label for the mid 60's adult:

If Junior slapped one of these somewhere around the house or on a school book, I can see a complaint being made to Topps. Execs were sensitive to such things and it would be quite possible to my mind they would have stopped the set in its tracks in that scenario.  It would certainly explain how scarce these things are.

There are more benign entries though:

More of these are known and I'm trying to get the appropriate scans.  I can't say if more than one of any subject is out there though.  The ones above look like there's no perforations, but Lonnie points the bottom edges indeed have perfs-tabs would have been below those edges but it's strange there's no side nubs. Maybe they were just printed in a long roll. It looks like two distinct styles exist: either humorous or deceptive, the latter using a word or phrase in tiny letters to drive the joke home.

Hopefully more to come on these.

Saturday, May 5, 2018


I had a rare bird fly into coop the other day, namely a 1966 Topps Wacky Label, one of the rarest issues of the 1960's.  In Chris Benjamin's The Sport Americana Price Guide to The Non-Sports Cards Number 4, he had identified one lonely label and an associated wrapper. In the years since a small handful of wrappers have surfaced and, if my count is correct, a total of two more Wacky Labels have popped since.

Benjamin's sole subject was illustrated in the book identified as "Earn Extra Cash...Blackmail Your Friends".  I can now add:

You will note the bottom is perforated.  That's because a small tab was originally there (shown by Benjamin), which also held the small black bar used by the cutting machine.  The top of mine isn't perfed though, it likely was in the topmost row of the printed sheet. The back is gummed, whereas Benjamin incorrectly had it as a peel off. It measures 2 9/16" x 1 1/8" without the tab.

The third positively identified subject unrelated to the small find (see below)  is not yet known to me.

An old Topps Vault auction yielded a wrapper:

And Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins sent along a nice box proof scan:

That's it!  I'm aware of a small find of a dozen or so Wacky Labels at some point in the past and am hoping to get details on the subjects involved but a lot more information is needed on this obscure and rare set!

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Let's Make Believe

All sorts of great things are popping up lately kids!  In addition to the bounty of Topps (and other) goodness in the latest REA auction, all manner of offerings have been incoming to the Topps Archives Research Complex these past few weeks.  Today's entry is courtesy of BFF o'the Archive, Jeff Shepherd, who sent a link and also went to the auction in person and snapped some very relevant pix. Thanks Shep!

JMW Auction Gallery had a sketchbook from Woody Gelman's daughter's estate offered recently, which seems like it contained a lot of very early work, some pre-Topps (and further, some post-Fleischer/Famous Studios):

This first batch dates to 1931-35.  Cicero, anyone?

This would be a hundred year peek into the future at his his high school and seems like something that would be published in the yearbook, so that could be the year he graduated, 1932 that is:

A year later he drew some awesome playing cards:

Three years later when Woody was attending college in New York City (City University of New York, Cooper Union and The Pratt Institute were his schools), he came up with these next two:

Woody's inimitable later ALL CAPS handwriting is featured at the top of these pages, juxtaposed with his very neat contemporary writing below his drawings, which had evolved from four years earlier at the time he drew this couple. From the looks of things, they are going to end up back at the dorm!

Holiday themed pipe dreams:

Here's some slightly later promotional work, I suspect accomplished as a freelancer:

Within two years he would be off to Fleischer Studios, eventually working on cartoons directed by future Topps Art Director Ben Solomon.  But there was other work to be done.  This looks like a commissioned book cover, possibly inspired by the earlier playing card illustrations but I'm not sure of the year here. Actually I'm not even sure it's for a book.  Woody seemed to be quite taken with the Tales of the Arabian Nights.

I'll leave off with a bit of a later family portrait, in pencil, and from 1956 by which time Woody was well integrated at Topps.  His handwriting had gone off the rails by then:

Richie was (and is) Richard Gelman, who ran the Card Collectors Company for a good length of time after Woody's passing and also did the hobby a huge solid in the late 80's by reissuing the American Card Catalog. His daughter Barbara does not look to be present. She was an author of sorts and did some brief work for Topps in the 60's.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Package Deal

Here's a look at some tougher Topps boxes, packs and the like I've seen this year on eBay.  Some really neat items here.

Here'a a great idea, why not mix real wood with bubble gum?  In 1963 you could:

Ever wonder how cello packs were sold until the mid 60's?  For the most part it was in boxes like these:

This particular box held the "1966" Monster Laffs:

No gum in these packs when sold under the rubric of Trading Card Guild. Good way to avoid splinters, LOL.

Another gumless wonder, these Letraset licensed Magic Rub Offs from 1970 are tough, tough, tough to find, let alone the wrapper:

Speaking of tough, how about a 1971 Nasty Valentine Notes pack:

Love the instructions:

See ya next week!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Young America's Favorite Way To Fly

Bazooka was famous for its comics once Bazooka Joe got into the mix in 1954 and on those comics were almost always those crazy premium offers.  Some were cheesy, some were not but I have to say a recent eBay auction featuring the "Bazooka Airfleet" from 1974-75 may take the cake.

Check THIS out:

Eastern was still a major airline in the mid 1970's so I presume Topps got a good deal on the whole shebang. The cardboard airport was probably an item they sold in their terminal gift shops and knowing Topps they took advantage of an overstock situation. The planes are styrofoam and meant to glide when thrown. The terminal graphics look to me like they could be a fanciful rendering of their space at LaGuardia Airport but really could represent any of their airport homes.

That pamphlet has some good information on assembly and basic aeronautics for both 70's kids and modern collectors (and researchers):

Check out this miscut comic from the fabulous Bazooka Joe Comics Website:

I love miscuts as they reveal all sorts of information.  Here we see Topps was mixing in some larger premium offers along with their usual comics.  The sting of not having the normal comic was thought by Topps to be alleviated by doubling the value of the insert vs a regular comic I guess.  I've seen others that are only worth one comic so your experience may vary.

The mail in address (Woodbury, NY) is the only time I have seen that particular town, which is located only a couple of miles from Westbury, where a large number of premiums (and me!) came from in the 1970's.  In addition, there is no number number assigned to the premium.  It's all a bit mysterious but the larger "comic" would have been useful showing how big the airfleet was.

This is even neater than the infamous Exploding Battleship premium!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Solid Gold

One of the fun parts of writing this blog is that I'm often rewarded when I keep my eyes peeled for new or unusual items related to the history of Topps.  This can be a previously known card set, some kind of mockup or in-house test or even just a fact or two I never knew about.  Recently, I acquired an item that really made me look at the early Topps sets in a different light.

If you ever pulled a prize out of a cereal box or mailed away for a premium or two, then you have brushed up against greatness. Those little items you treasured as a kid (and some of you to this day) have their origins with a company called American Advertising & Research Corporation and a man called Sam Gold.

Gold founded his firm in Chicago in the early 1920's after a stint at Whitman publishing, where he developed children's books and hit upon a novel idea, namely that the biggest influencers among adult consumers were children. Sam's company was a "vertical and horizontal" marketing juggernaut.  Cereal box inserts and premium offers were his bread and butter and one of his projects that would be well know to readers of this blog would be the buttons included inside boxes of Kellogg's Pep cereal in the mid to late 40's.

It appears that from this world of cereal promotions, Topps first card issue, properly known as Hocus Focus but referred to in the hobby as Magic Photo to avoid mixing it up with a very similar set issued in 1955, sprung.

Faithful readers of this blog know that Topps issued their first novelty set, Tatoo, in 1948 but it was merely vegetable dye printed on a wrapper interior. Hot on its heels was Magic Photo, which was out by the summer of 1948 and saw success well into 1949.  Where Tatoo was simple, Magic Photo was complex.

The concept for Magic Photo featured, of all things, a card with a blank front. This was because a quiz on the back of the card had instructions directing the young un's to refer to the wrapper, which in turn directed them to dip the card in water and rub the front of the card against the underside of the very same wrapper, which had a developing agent baked in, to make the "magic photo" appear.

Well, given its importance as the ur Topps card set, when I saw a very interesting lot in a recent catalog auction, I pounced. There are several components to it but this draft of a promotional banner really caught my eye:

Looks familiar right?  That Lou Gehrig image is different that the one used in the issued set but it's a real link between the concept in the poster and final product.

Remember back in the day, almost everything was done by hand.  Backs first:

Note the different categories, just like Magic Photo but a bit more erudite! Shakespeare anyone?! See the "F" numbering pencilled in?   The "cards" in the lot were six in number, although I suspect that a 7th existed and was possibly the Gehrig, long ago removed and sold. The poster displays an "F8" so what indeed was no. 7?  I certainly don't have it!  Fronts now:

Like I said, erudite.  Interestingly, Natural Bridge made an appearance in both the 1949 and 1950 Topps License Plates sets.

See that glue residue atop each mockup?  It came from these:

One more shy but oh well!  The "cards" and "flappers" measure 1 7/8" x 2 1/2" which is quite a bit larger than the issued set at  7/8" x 1 7/16".  You can compare and contrast:

I'm not sure how Topps and Sam Gold got together but my guess is at one of the huge marketing conventions that were often held in Chicago in the 40's.  A particularly raucous one occurred in 1947 and maybe the Shorins saw the very banner from this lot and converted a cereal premium to an insert.