Saturday, June 22, 2019

Greetings And Salutations

Little odds and ends keep getting dug up that help fill in some gaps in the Topps archaeological record. Today we have an auction entry from Vintage Non-Sports Auctions, run by Friend o'the Archive Tom Boblitt featuring some greeting cards thats hows just how far afield Topps would range in promoting their nascent card issues in the late 40's and early 50's.

Some of you may recall I posted a long time ago about a 1949 Topps Varsity pack that had been stuck to a greeting card, which likely have been issued in 1950. I thought at the time it had been issued by the Barker Greeting Card Company as my book described how they struck a deal with that firm in '49 to affix Magic Photo packs on some of their greeting cards but as will be seen momentarily, it was another manufacturer that did the deed.  Penny Packs of Hopalong Cassidy would be burned off this way as well in a deal made with a company called Buzza Cardozo but they were not involved with the Varsity promotion as it turns out.  Tom has a lot in his June auction that sheds more light on this oddity.

The card below is the same as the one I posted about eleven (!) years ago but the 1949 Varsity pack affixed to is is legit and not clumsily restuffed with foil like my prior exemplar:

However, it turns out to be one from a box of 14 (wow) different cards -- with matching white envelopes of course -- measuring about 6" x 6" that was sold around 1950-51. Not all of these had confections attached and only nine remain from the original packaging but it's a neat little find.  Here's one with a lollipop attached:

I would not be surprised if it was a leftover or excess Rudolph Pop as the lolly looks like it was wrapped in a similar fashion to these:

My research dates Rudolph Pops to 1950 and Topps Candy Division, at least under that specific name, started either that year or a year prior I believe. However, I need to try and date this image BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd recently sent me from a stereographic promotional slide that prominently features said lolly's:

Look at all that candy!  And Cigars!  And Vitalis? Anyhoo, I digress.

Not everything came with candy in this box of greeting cards, here's a hippo with a monocle!

Other cards are described as Get Well or for other occasions.  What a fantastic little package of fun! Here's how they came originally, as "Toycards":

As it turns out, the manufacturer was Doehla Fine Arts:


Now, speaking of Christmas, I think a different manufacturer came up with these, which I have also blogged about previously Note the more traditional greeting card size from a boxed series called Christmas Fun's A Poppin':

Here's more on that, check out the card in the middle:

And here is the aforementioned Hoppy:

Hoppy had Pops as well, plus as a candy issue from Topps if I may digress again:

"Hoppily" that saddle bag is mine!

I'm bereft of a scan for greeting cards that attached Magic Photo packs but it's interesting how these are all centered around 1950 give or take-I suspect Topps had a marketing plan that covered third party sources of revenue for a year or two involving the greeting card trade.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Saw It In The Funny Papers

Topps had a tradition of reselling and/or rewrapping excess inventory just about from the get-go, with their first bulk discount occurring in early 1950, as this ad I've previously posted from Billboard (4/29) shows.  Sorry for the yellow highlights, I can't find my original scan to convert it back to good ol' black and white:

Topps ran that ad for a few issues in the late winter and early spring of 1950, no doubt burning off returns or unsold inventory.  I suspect they had lots of their original penny tab packs - with a single tiny card inserted between the inner and outer wrappers - left over as they transitioned to a larger size card (the second of five within three years) and more sanitary packaging.

That Novelty Pack had a couple of nickel packs as well (Golden Coin and Flip-O-Vision) removed by the time Hallowe'en rolled around that year and 30 tabs were offered in a smaller configuration.  I believe this is the first of the annual Topps Hallowe'en campaigns and the first mention of "Fun Packs" by them:

They clearly had a lot of volume to move-that gum must have been stale as those packs were all sold in 1948-49!

1950 is clearly documented Fun Pack-wise but 1951-64 is not!  I'm not sure how Topps sold their bulk discounts for Hallowe'en in that span but suspect it was mostly leftover penny packs.

In 1965 (possibly a year earlier according to the TPG's), we see the beginning of the more traditional Fun Packs, where they got their own wrappers. These usually held individual cards and a slab o'gum but in at least one season, cello packs of the ultra-rare Flash Gordon cards lurked within.

I believe that pack was used through 1966 but it's most commonly referred to as 1964 or 1965. I have not been able to find a dated version of it as of yet but here is a 1965 Hallowe'en catalog page showing the above style pack:

As an aside, the top left bag, dubbed Flavormates, is interesting.  I believe the twist wrapped pieces just say "Bubble Gum" and Topps didn't file for a Trademark on this brand until 1969 but had been selling it since 1963. Too bad there's no Blony on the page, it would run the full gamut of Topps bubblegum if it was!

By 1967 (more likely 1966 I think) the Fun Pack design had changed:
That curved Topps logo on the Fun Bag only started appearing in 1966 and the below wrappers clearly cap the above style in 1967, although they may be a version without a commodity code out there.

Here's the yellow version (with a 1968 Baseball card within).  I think the orange sliver above is an oversaturated scan of the yellow:

You can see the commodity code ends with an 8.  The Brooklyn address would change the year following, resulting in a code indicating 1969:

Note the address change to Duryea, which led to a new copyright filing and design.

I'm not sure when these stopped being used.  Topps would sometimes use a regular issue pack with two cards in it for some of the Fun Bags, as they would designate the bulk package, and possibly even some cello's, which I seem to hazily recall getting in my trick or treat bag as a kid around 1970 or so. These 1974 Football packs had the two card monte going on; I believe Creature Feature and Kung Fu also got this treatment.

1976 brought a new and very colorful design.  This top one has a 1977 Football card within so they got multi-year use out of these:

The color permutations are super groovy and these are described in my notes as containing 1981 or 1982 cards while still retaining the 1976 commodity code:

The Fun Bags could also hold regular issue wax and various types of cello packs and I think that practice became more common as the 1970's and 80's wore on. I'll look at those in a follow up post some time soon.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Let's Get Ready For Adventure

No, not the 1956 Gum Products set that often gets attributed to Topps (it's actually from the same manufacturer that issued the 1941 Double Play cards) but rather this rather bizarre repackaging of Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman's Triple Nickel Books, previously covered here and here.

I stumbled across an eBay listing with these quite by accident but it adds yet another layer to the rich, dense cake that was Card Collectors Company, namely the Teen-Age Adventure Library (remember, Arthur Benwood is an anagram of Ben & Woody, while Arthur may have been a nod to Arthur Shorin):

I'm not sure if these are missing covers but I don't think so. Here's how they originally looked when issued in the 50's:

And here's the indicia from the inside front cover of the original book:

Here are the backs of the Teen-Age Adventure Series pamphlets, with indicia all included, indicating they came without a true cover:

Here's a better look:

I can't swear I've seen entries in the Card Collectors Company catalogs for anything like this-they may have just advertised them in Boys Life and maybe some comic books.  I doubt many have survived given how fragile these look.

The eBay listing from seller fieryfb states:

These are another series with no connection to the Mel Lyle books. This earlier Power Boys series involves Ted and Steve Power, who are boy reporters on their fathers small town newspaper who become involved in mysteries similar to the Hardy Boys. Some of these (such as the two listed for auction) were published by The Card Collectors Company as fairly plain pamphlet like books, while some were printed by Triple Nickel Books with higher quality paper and full color covers. As far as I can tell, a total of 5 Power Boy books were actually published - the other 3 being  Riddle of the Sunken Ship, Castle of Curious Creatures, and Mystery of the Marble. There are also 2 "phantom" titles; the Mystery of the Aztec Archer and The Secret of Canyon Creek.

The Mel Lyle books referred to featured a different set of Power Boys who headlined a handful of books in the mid 60's. I'm not sure of the assertion that some of the Power Boy Titles from Triple Nickel Books were phantoms, more research is needed.

This is one of those neat little byways in the history of Topps and Woody Gelman.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Tasty Blony

I've covered Bowman's Blony Bubble Gum before in these parts, mostly focusing on the multi-year Archie Comics that inner-wrapped their (by-then-Topps) gum in the late 50's, but today I'm pleased to showcase a number of their earlier comics thanks to a wealth of scans recently provided by BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd.

Blony was originally marketed for the better part of the decade preceding World War 2 and was manufactured by Warren Bowman's aboriginal confectionery company Gum Inc.  He mostly or completely suspended production during the war and got things going again with the brand around 1947, at which time he had already turned his concern into Bowman Gum, Inc with a mid-war rebranding four years prior.  Blony was a big seller and had presumably included some rudimentary inner wraps with their penny tabs and/or twists prior to the war, although like many things associated with the brand, they remain hard to document. This was from a retail box end and it gives you an idea of how things were pasted up for Blony around 1952-53:

So Shep sent me scans of several dozen Blony "comics" that look to fall into the period between 1947 and the purchase of Bowman by Topps in 1956.  These are, by and large, inferior to what Bazooka was giving the kiddies as you will see.

These appear to be the earliest example in the group, which is pretty obvious given the graphics and (very helpful) numbering scheme.  I think this was from a twist wrap:

Pretty boring, I'd wager sure the kiddies didn't think much of the quiz format.  Here's a couple from a little later, check out how lame the 3rd question is on the Hidden Metals quiz in the second example:

The Wild West was a big theme but man, the production values are pretty much sub-par. Still, this seems to be where more than one spot color was introduced:

Looks like the color bleed problem went away as the series progressed.  I seem to recall Bowman offering wrapper premiums previously but don't seem to have a scan of anything offering same. 

In the below example, an older, larger example appears on the right but it's the insert on the left I'm looking at.  It's a bit of a reversion color-wise, so maybe these were produced independently to a degree but I really don't know. Note the Cincinnati address, just like Topps different locales provided premium redemptions:

Furthering the "independently produced" theory, the pencils from the above left make a reappearance:

None of these are scaled, so who knows how things actually went down but maybe twists had one style and tabs the other.

Here's that heart story, rotated:

Pretty gruesome, just the thing for the kids who were voraciously lapping up EC Comics and such!

It's plain, to me at least, that Bazooka featured much better comics and premiums but I doubt that had anything much to do with sales.  Besides, Bowman also was able to offer this in Blony's stead:

 Thanks to an opened wrapper over at Tick Tock Toys, we can get a peek at some indicia:

Hard to see but Haelan Laboratories are detailed and that became a business entity as of April 28, 1952 so Uncle Miltie was issued after that date. I suspect 1952 was indeed the year of issue as the Milton Berle Show (really Texaco Star Theatre) was peaking that year, with an average rating around 50%!

Now, all I need is a scan of the inside of that wrapper!

Saturday, May 25, 2019

It's All In The Presentation

After digesting Bowman in early 1956, Topps would ride the cresting age curve of baby boomers by cutting back on ancillary sets such as 1955's Double Header and 56's Baseball Buttons--the latter truncated as a result of said purchase--and concentrating on cranking out their regular baseball and football issues.  Simple card designs were the norm in the years following as the marketplace, devoid of any major competitors for a handful of years, was reset by Topps.

1959 though brought resistance from Fleer, who were able to snag an exclusive contract with Ted Williams and also brought out a big seller with a Three Stooges set. Topps, as usual, responded once it became clear measures had to be taken.  They added some (gorgeous) baseball and football cards to the back of their Bazooka party boxes and rapidly cranked up their PR and marketing apparatus.  The end result of the latter was the "Elect Your Favorite Rookie" campaign and the inaugural Rookie Banquet, held after the end of the baseball season.

Topps would really start bulking up their response to Fleer in 1960 and continue with a growing onslaught of extra sets and bonus inserts through 1963 before they prevailed against their Philly based baseball card issuing competitor in court and downshifted a bit in '65. During this period, yet another campaign was also waged, with Fleer offering ballplayers extra funds if they provided a copy of their Topps contract. Fleer was signing up players at a furious clip, although not under as many exclusives as Topps, at least at the major league level. Topps began firing back with their own campaign, this one primarily at more of an executive level.

The annual Rookie Banquets were one likely part of this campaign; I've written extensively about them and it's worth clicking over via the labels at right if you want to bone up. The other thing I think they did was start sending out Presentation Sets of their baseball cards every year. These went to various team executives, key ball players and other such luminaries.

Sy Berger is on record saying he gave presentation sets to Willie Mays and it would be very interesting to see what players actually got these from Topps.  Was it just superstars?  Of interest in particular in this regard, is Joe Adcock receiving a set in 1963, which was much later consigned to auction. Adcock, no longer a major name in the sport, was famously part of the 1963 Fleer set and is semi-short printed therein (replaced by a checklist, or vice-versa).  He is also in the second series of Topps that year. Coincidence?

Not very well known today, these sets were issued in five boxes annually, each with roughly 114-120 apiece inside and designated a "Limited Edition" by Topps.  Here's the breakdown by year of set lengths and how they divide out:

1959: 572 cards with 114.4 per box average
1960: 572 cards with 114.4 per box average
1961: 587 cards with 117.4 per box average
1962: 598 cards with 119.6 per box average
1963: 576 cards with 117.4 per box average

The boxed sets were all issued at once, like so:

It's a little hard to see but each box states "XXXXX Collectors Set 1959" with "XXXXX" being First, Second, Third, Fourth or Fifth as filled.  Here's a better shot, with one example from each year through 1962:

To state the obvious:

1959 Red
1960 Black
1961 Green
1962 Blue
1963 Brown

Here is the '63, with a couple of side views thrown in:

These have never been plentiful and a few sets (very few) were auctioned here and there in the 90's but most all have been broken up and only the empty boxes pop up now, and infrequently at that.  The reason these have all been pillaged is that the cards within are super high quality in general, although some pinching of the inner and outer-most cards has been noted by (lucky) prior owners.

Friend o'the Archive Don Johnson, who has seen several cards liberated from the 1962 boxes and owns a '63 presentation set, describes the presentation cards as "stunning, name the adjective." He goes on to say they are "a little smaller" (more on this in a second) but also "outrageously glossy and colorful".

The smaller dimensions seem to be the result of a different cutting method being used when compared to how the "regular" cards were sliced. Anthony Nex, yet another Friend o'the Archive, describes the cuts as a "bevel" and I have seen a couple of references to this phenomenon over the years.  The end result is some of these get rejected by PSA when submitted for grading as not meeting minimum size requirements.

I have also heard the gloss referred to as being similar to the gloss found on the 1980's Topps insert "All Star" and "Rookie" sets, which would make it very noticeable indeed .

A couple of auctions have featured mailing cartons that give a glimpse as to who might have received these treasures.  Here is a 1963 set with its Topps labeled mailer, slightly blurred address-wise by Heritage Auctions:

Here is a better view of the label:

Hamey, as almost none of us will recall, served as the Yankees General Manager from 1961-63, succeeding George Weiss.

Here's another 1963 set addressed to Clarence Campbell, the President of the National Hockey League from 1946-77:

O-Pee-Chee was issuing Hockey cards in Canada at this time, using Topps supplied materials, so maybe this wasn't as big a stretch as it seems. Friends in high places.....have influence in many corners. And to answer an obvious question, I am unaware of presentation sets for any other sports.

Keith Olbermann advises he recalls the son of Irv Kaze bringing Presentation Sets from 1961-63 to work one day in the 80's.  The elder Kaze was the Angels Director of PR in those years and those sets ended up with his son. A lot of these sets probably went directly to the kiddies in the house when dad got home from work.

Some slabs from PSA and SGC identify the entombed card as being from a presentation set. Here's a 1961 Bob Friend.  You can see that despite the many superlatives one could assign to these, at least one derogatory adjective, namely "snowy", can also apply!

There's clearly a lot more to learn about these sets and the ways they were manufactured and distributed. If you know anything, drop me a line.