Saturday, January 18, 2020

The Blue Period

Back at it i.r.o Topps cello packs kids, this time our quarry is 1968-69.  Topps was killing off the rak pak encased cello issues with the commencement of the 1968 baseball season and the more familiar modern rak pak was born:

(Courtesy Mile High Card Co.)

Now it may look like the rak contained three cellos but it did not, Topps was just using old wording on a new style header, probably so as not to confuse young consumers. One of the implications of this move was that you would not be able to get an insert in the rak paks anymore; they still came in the wax and cello packs of course.

A 1968 cello pack therefore could only be had for a dime:

(Courtesy Heritage Auctions) 

And who's in here?
(Courtesy Heritage Auctions)

1969 saw a big MLB expansion and Topps followed suite with their biggest set yet, 664 cards in a classic design.  They also expanded their cello offerings, which I will get to in a New York minute:

Kinda weird seeing Maury on an Expos card....the reverse has a couple of Mets:

 (Courtesy Robert Edward Auctions)

Topps was grappling with rising costs in 1969 and as was their M.O. at the time, took to some experimentation.  Wax packs were still a nickel in 1969 and the margins must have been getting pretty thin with more cards to produce, higher royalties to pay the MLBPA (as of 1968) and a myriad of supplemental sets they were trying out, so it made sense when they did this, although it was done as a cello, with gum no less (you can see it straining through):

(Courtesy Heritage Auctions)

The reverse is very, very interesting to me.  This is a first series pack, evidenced by the Twins Rookie Stars card peeking through (hello Graig Nettles):

The Duryea in the indicia is, I believe the first mention Topps put of their production facility move since it occurred in 1966.  The odd thing though, is that the regular, nickel wax packs in 1969 listed Brooklyn until series five, when they too switched over.

The blue cellos are very, very hard to find.  The 69's are tough generally but check out these PSA pop report ratios:

1968 Cello: 200
1969 Cello: 67
1969 Blue Cello: 1

That 1 count is possibly wrong as PSA likely didn't start differentiating the two styles for a while but they are tough packs even though they were seemingly issued across all series (seven series, but only six press runs I think).  Topps probably pushed the raks more and more and throttled back the cellos, especially with two styles issued.

The 1969 rak pak header continued the cello reference but the blue cello experiment must have been considered a failure as Topps took a whole new approach to how they sold cards in 1970.  We'll take a look next time at what they did.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Cello There

Some really nice vintage Topps cello packs popped up recently at REA's fall auction. They are killer items of course and sometimes they give a glimpse as to when certain inserts were popped into the packs. Plus they look great! This got me thinking about a look at some of these packs that didn't push gum and were "only" brimming with cardboard.

Topps issued Baseball cards in (mostly) 12 card cello wrapped packs from 1953 onward, although 1952 cellos are alluded to by both Darren Prince and Mark Murphy in their unopened pack guides, while it's unclear if any have been seen or photographed. PSA doesn't list any in their pop reports but a non-sports issue from that year, the massively overproduced Wings set, is there.

From 1953-57 Topps issued cellos in retail boxes using Trading Card Guild packaging. This 1953 box shows one way this was done, using clear cello wraps, which is how they were issued most years:

They continued apace in 1954-56 then in 1957 Topps put some graphics on the cellos, although I am not sure why but probably an early attempt at branding their various lines:

I'm not sure how 1958 and 1959 were handled by Topps.  They were dealing with a true geographic western expansion of the game past the Mississippi River and their distribution was getting pretty far afield. They issued cellos in these years but I'm not sure if they had ten cent retail boxes that used the Trading Card Guild (TCG) boxes, stuck them in "long sleeve" 29 cent rak paks or both. At a guess I'd say both.

1959 seems to be more abundant no matter how they were issued though and that year was a seeming high point in terms of the sheer number of cards issued in the 1950's measured against the US population. By 1960 those long sleeve raks were how a lot of cellos got distributed, still in generic red, yellow and blue TCG-style livery through at least 1962 and which I will get to in a jif.

Here's a 1961 cello, I can't seem to find any with the stamp inserts and Topps may have only included them in the wax packs:


1962 was a different story though:

(Courtesy Memory Lane)

Many cellos can be found "reversed," with the folds on the front of the pack.These are the Trading Card Guild colors I mentioned earlier along with the"long sleeve" rak paks (sports raks of the era named the sport instead of saying "Hobby Cards"):

Talk about burying the lead with the currency insert!

Retail cello boxes held 36 packs at this time. It looks like the rak headers went to a kind of hybrid look in '63 then in 1964 and '65 sometimes went to set specific graphics that mentioned the Trading Card Guild again; this bastardized rak packing lasted through 1967-ish. Check out this Topps sell sheet for 1963, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive John Moran:

I haven't had any luck finding a '63 cello with a Peel Off on the back and the insert marketing schemes by set and series seemed to vary each year in the 60's. I'll keep looking as I want to document more of these. 

Topps changed the cello livery in 1964 for Baseball.  It was a special year for Topps with the 1964 All-Star Game being held locally at Shea Stadium and they did a lot of extras that year - some big (1964 Giants) and some small, like mixing up the packaging:

I'm not sure if the cello material is a little stronger due to the coin duo inserted within but red is the theme here!  The back mentions Topps and not the Trading Card Guild:

Meanwhile, back in Liverpool, the cello boxes were still using leftover stock I guess:

(Courtesy Lelands)

But the Beatles Color Photo raks had a nice header and then some while still identifying the Trading Card Guild:

The '65 Baseball raks seem to be relatively hard to find (one is shown here, but here's a fugly reverse wrapped cello from the first series: 

1966 raks are much easier but we're here for the cello's:

It has nothing to do with this post really, but my dad was a teacher who brought home all the stuff he took away from his junior high students every three or four years when he cleared out his desk. When I was 10 or so, one of the items he hauled back home was a 1964 Jerry Lumpe card.  I thought his name was the funniest thing I had ever seen at the time.  

The back includes a Ruboff of Moose Skowron. Poor guy's upside down!

There were 120 Ruboffs that year, issued in their own series structure in a way, 20 or 24 at a clip just doing the math.

Anyhoo....sometimes it's what's not there that tells the tale. Check out this first series pack from 1967:

On the back?  Bupkis:

Just having the cards come out in the spring was enough incentive I guess.   Actually, Topps sometimes included inserts in the first series cellos and sometimes they did not. However, in 1967  the high numbers had an added extra.  Check out this amazing pack:

Doubly amazing actually as that Seaver rookie looks centered!  Underneath it all, was a Player Poster:

That browning seems to be caused by the acidic pulp paper used by Topps for the posters reacting with the adhesive holding the pack together. Other cellos from other years with different inserts don't exhibit this problem. 

From 1967-69 Topps issued 48 count cello boxes and went to the three pocket "loose" 3-cell rak pak style that didn't overwrap cellos anymore. 1970 brought the bigger 33 card cello packs that came in their own little box through 1972 and I'll pick up with the 1968-69 cellos next time out.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Cotton Pickin'

Well gang, it's been over decade since I last took a look at the 1976 Topps Cloth Baseball Stickers. Thanks to a recent Love of the Game auction, an interesting proof or concept piece has turned up.

The stickers themselves are of course,a  two man set: Duffy Dyer (shown as a Pirate) and Bob Apodaca (depicted with the Mets).  The unique thing about the prototypes is that four different textures were believed to have produced, some with out any backing affixed.  These were:

Thin Felt
Thick Felt
Textured Felt

However, the LOTG lot featured two additional types, namely an almost sheer cotton material and a thin paper version, which looks like final production proofs on bright white paper, which was how Topps would check colors back in the day, as evidenced by the 1967 Baseball white proof panel that I showed here almost around the time I first posted about these stickers:

The reversed images are interesting as at least one type of material had the image printed on the reverse of sheer material.  I wonder if Topps also experimented with iron-ons as well, given the cotton proof panel LOTG offered:

The lack of uniformity and upside down examples among the spacing is odd, no?  The Dyer/Apodaca combos match the sticker backed two card panel I own and in my last look at this set I opined the Dyer seemed a bit easier then the Apodaca to find (across all types of material).  If the 5:4 ratio on the panel above holds true, that would explain why.

I suspect there is even more to learn about this "set".  Some type of small hoard of at least one material type must have been unearthed at some point in the last 15 years as they are offered somewhat regularly on eBay.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Great White Ape

A pretty great uncut sheet of Planet of the Apes popped up recently on the Topps Vault and is a real eye-opener; it certainly made me go ape! (sorry).

Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins pointed it out to me as I have to admit I am not always on top of the Vault's offerings (thank you, real life....) and it answers a couple of questions about POTA.

This is the set issued in wake of the original movie by the way and there is quite a bit to look at here. Let's zoom in on all the handwritten instructions:

Woody Gelman's distinctive handwriting and red crayon are evident. Paul need to be paying attention I'd say!  Especially since the borders are about to flip from black to white, thereby leaving behind one of the rarest of all Topps proofs, black-bordered POTA cards:

There's some additional notations about making the borders 3/32" and some other production notes as well.  But that upper left corner is very interesting indeed compared to sizing requirements:

How does a card not yet made get affixed as a visual aid on a Topps proof sheet?  Why via an Art Department paste-up!  You can just see the hint of a line running from the bottom left corner to the right under the image and there is the smallest hint of shadow at the upper right corner.  Topps did mockups all the time (click on the "Mockup"label at right to see many such examples) but this is the first one I've seen that was used to direct production of a full, issued set.

Now, it is hard to see but the commodity code for the set appears on the left side of the sheet.  It's partially obscured by pen marks but you can blow it up and clearly see this was a 1968 issue, not a 1967 as commonly assumed:

The dating discrepancy comes from the card backs.  Note the 1967 copyright date:

The wrappers clearly have a 1968 commodity code, so it's definitely a '68 issue once you see the US national release date of April 3, 1968. None of this though, explains why PSA calls this a 1969 set:

Well, now you know what it's all about on the Planet of the Apes!

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Roll The Presses!

Well about a month ago I promised a look at the very strange time when Topps took their printing in-house and thanks to Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins, I now have the pictures to prove it.

Topps Magazine, which lasted 16 issues and premiered the year prior, ran a feature in one of their 1991 issues detailing the printing of the then-current, 40th Anniversary Baseball cards. A large number of pictures were included and I've snagged some instructive ones to share here.

The article notes the Topps Art Department prepared everything to produce this 792 card set and then sent the films to Duryea for production.  So the art was all composed in Brooklyn at Bush Terminal then shipped out for printing.  As noted in the prior post about the various printers used by Topps over the years, the backs were once printed separately from the fronts, then trucked to the printer of the day to have the fronts applied.  Going by the article here, that may not have been the case anymore by 1991 but it's not clear.

Here are sheets hot off the press, ready for inspection:

The sheets passing muster (which must have been 99.99% of them) went off to the cutting and collating department, where the slitting machines did their thing:

The article goes on to say the cards went on to their coded boxes and then into to their coded cases, yielding the finished stacks o'wax seen here:

If you've ever wondered how many wax cases of cards fit on a skid, the answer is 24! I assume those above were about to be banded to avoid toppling over in transit. Alternatively, they could have been hand loaded, which if done correctly fill the shipping container to the point nothing would shift. I spent a couple of years working in a warehouse during college and spent time both stuffing and unstuffing containers by hand; oh, I put in my time with the banding gun too! It was a good, physical job-not too, too strenuous but enough that you got a pretty good workout most days.

I'm not sure but Topps could have bought those presses from one of the defunct printers that did their work over the years.  They don't look all that old and there were plenty of skilled printers around Pennsylvania to run these at Topps.  This didn't go on for long I don't think and marked a massive change from how their cards were printed over the previous decades but as transport costs rose, it does seem to have been a sensible solution.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Round And Round

Back at it on the 1970 Baseball Stars Candy Lids this week kids, with a look at the dozen American Leaguers in the set.

Yankee Stadium shots are ubiquitous in vintage Topps sets.  Luis looks pretty happy here, doesn't he?

Jim Fregosi in the classic Angels cap; it would change in 1971.

One of the nice things about this set is it mostly captures the 1969 expansion teams in their inaugural duds; Topps still had the Pilots on the banner for Mike Hegan, which gives us another dating clue as they didn't move to Milwaukee until April Fool's Day 1970.

 The Capitol Punisher at the height of his powers:

More staining above and below. Instead of finding a centered lid for Mr. October, I thought it would be instructive to show the die cut was not always on the money.  Quite a few of these lids are found off center.

Another Yankee Stadium shot for The Killer: 

Sudden Sam and his stellar sideburns are also shown at Yankee Stadium, he is upwardly off-center!

My vote for worst shot in the set goes to Denny McLain:

Sweet Lou was traded to the Royals on April 1, 1969 after being taken by the Pilots in the expansion draft but I guess Topps never got a shot of the upcoming Rookie of the Year in Royals attire in time for this set. That airbrushed hat is an atrocity....and given all the new pix taken in '69, I have to think he was in his Indians togs in the original shot. Did you know the Indians almost moved to Seattle in 1965?

Frank Robinson at Yankee Stadium in a "Big Bird" Orioles cap-classic:

Speaking of the Yankees, poor Mel Stottlemyre essentially spanned their dark years:

What better way to end our look at the set than with Yaz in --where else?--Yankee Stadium:

Topps followed with another candy lid set featuring baseball players in 1973 after extensively working up what appears to have been an intended 1972 versionGum Berries and Rocks O'Gum were issued on the Non-Sports side in various stages from 1971 to 1974 or so, indicating Topps clearly was enamored of the format.