Saturday, November 30, 2019

Every Little Thing

Quick-name the first year Topps sold complete boxed Baseball sets to collectors.  Many readers probably think 1980's (1982 started a long run of these) when the question comes up but the first time they did this was 1974, when Sears and (I believe) JC Penney offered them in their stores and catalogs.

Behold this magnificent beast, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Brian Marcy (of Scottsdale Baseball Cards) :

These are hard to find these days but happily even though the above is example is devoid of any cards, a recent eBay auction filled in the missing bits:

I'm not sure what kind of pattern these should display if unmolested (like the zebra pattern in Topps vending boxes) but there ya go. Another Friend o'the Archive - Brian Yossef - advises the "Washington NL" variations are not present but that the red team checklists found their way into these, as did the Traded cards.

The bottom reveals the commodity code:

The 02 revision number is interesting but doesn't always mean the first version was retailed.

Some more views here, looks like a mouse got to some of the box:

Sears price stickers can be found on sometimes on one of the flaps, not sure about JC Penney versions, if they indeed sold these.  These are not easy to find these days, hard to believe they are 45 years old! Now, compare the above to the regular 1974 wax box graphics:

The basic background is the same.  We get a bottom view too:

That's a 1-302-70-01-4 commodity code if you are keeping score at home. Not a match to the full set's at all.  Side view, check, just not quite as tall:

The other long side is, of course, not something the full set graphics could have shown:

I mark this as the true starting point of the modern era cards.  Once the various series got the boot, it was off to a pretty generic look for most of the decade thereafter.  When Topps had no direct competition in a market, that's how they blandly rolled.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Fancy That

One of the stranger things about collecting type cards is that once you settle upon a collecting plan, you can end up with some pretty esoteric items to fill out your run. My plan consists of finding an example of anything Topps released in a pack at retail from 1948-1980, across all lines, excluding pure confectionery items that did not have an accompanying product. Topps referred to such issues as "novelties" originally, meaning a candy or gum issue that came with an "extra" component or two and I've tried to stick to that meaning.

This puts true test issues, limited and regional products and of course run-of-the-mill general releases, plus things like wrappers that have tattoos on their flip sides. I do also collect some ancillary items like internal mockups, premiums, examples of Bazooka comics and the original Topps Gum wrappers, but those are not part of the main sequence.

Of course, this means things get a little weird sometimes and one issue that certainly fits that particular bill is 1976's Fancy Pants.  Dubbed "Real Cloth Jean Stickers", this small set consists of 31 denim-like stickers that were meant to be applied to clothing and in particular, from the look and shape of them, pockets thereon.

Tell me this isn't a period piece!

There's action on the reverse as well:

Also in the pack was a puzzle/checklist card, designed like those that came with Wacky Packages, where you needed nine cards to complete the puzzle.  It appears to be an enlargement of the George Washington For President sticker.

Some observations:

1) The set is clearly truncated at 31 stickers.  33 subjects would be the norm at the time, so 31 screams that something or two deemed potentially offensive was removed by Topps brass at the last minute. I'd wager the original length was intended to be 33 stickers.

2) The sticker adhesive looks to be seeping through to the backs on most examples I've seen, which ain't many. This effect happens with many sticker sets of the era.

3) These are incredibly hard to find. The PSA pop reports reveal they have graded 11 stickers overall, with no more than one of each subject graded, plus two checklist cards  That's it and the majority of stickers have received a grade of 4.

4) Images of all 31 stickers can be found over at Todd Riley's site

5) The wrapper is clearly done test-style and coded T85-5:

This is without a doubt, one of the toughest test issues from Topps, even more impressive since it's a mid-70's release and their issued quantities at the at time generally were in excess of their 1960's test output.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Shifty Stuff

As a follow up to my recent post on the the 1968 Topps 3-D Baseball set Friend o'the Archive Keith Olbermann has kindly sent along a slate of scans that will help illustrate the variants on several cards but before we gt to what are the less obvious variations represented by these images let's look at the two easiest to identify..

These two most well known variations are on the Maloney and Fairly cards, the infamous Dugout/No Dugout versions.  These are easy to spot:

Why the dugout was obscured, I do not know but it's fugly, innit? Maloney is also slightly oriented leftward in the bottom example compared to the top one.  Here's Fairly:

The Dugout Fairly looks to use a very similar background to Maloney's, they almost look like the same shot. The No Dugout Fairly though is much neater, there is no amorphous blob at field level like the one showing on Maloney but they added one at upper right, obliterating the fan with glasses sitting in the stands.. His cap is also a smidge closer to his name on the bottom card. I'm not sure which version is tougher, pop reports don't really make an effort to distinguish these.

Now the five other variations are more difficult to spot.  Willie Davis is the easiest, note there is no black around the red circle on one example vs. nothing on the other (all scans below except where indicated came from Mr, Olbermann):

There is some thought that the bottom Davis just exhibits a printing error.  I'm not 100% sure about that as the black process is clearly abundant on the card; however lack of Xograph indicia does seem to indicate it could be a proof and if so, the black circle and production indicia were added atop everything else at the end, just before the coating was applied. There may be a slight change in projection as well in the background, although it's miniscule. It's hard to tell sometimes with these shape shifters! I lean toward unissued proof on this one, although it is not treated like the other known proofs in the set (Tommy Davis, the two O'Donoghue poses and Rick Monday).

Flood is a bit more difficult.  See if you can spot the difference:

Spot it?  Look to the left of his right ear-there is a distinct black and white cast to the fans appearing just under the blue railing.  They are much more colorful in the bottom example.

The Powell is trickier still; it's also one of the tougher 3-D cards to find which doesn't help with the variations being well publicized:

Once again, camera left shows some slight differences next to his helmet.  In addition the bottom Powell is oriented slightly down and to the right-check out the amount of railing to the right of his top hand in both and also the amount of bat handle showing under his bottom hand.

The Staub is tricky too:

There is an ever-so-small difference in the cropping of the player's legs under Staub's right arm.  The entire bottom background is also shifted right a little-there is no room for the full blue dot in the extreme upper right corner of the bottom card. Per Mr. O, the variations are easier to spot on Rusty and most of the others with the cards actually in hand.

As an aside, Rusty was one of my favorite players and I used to dine at his Fifth Avenue restaurant in Manhattan quite a bit back in the 90's.  He would swing by the tables and see how things were doing if he was around. He had two other Manhattan joints at the time, one a BBQ place and one more of a pub.  His Fifth Avenue location served upscale BBQ essentially and had quite the wine list.

The last variation concerns Tony Perez. The top example comes from KO, the bottom one is is "source unknown":

If you look at the space between his forearms and just under his right forearm, you can see another player behind him; the glove is easy to see on the top card and the player much more distinct overall.

Each variety of card in the set can be found with the blank back as produced for sale or the red and black Xograph stamps. I make that 54 varieties plus 5 proofs presently.  There's also the handful of unissued proofs but the above seven cards are all believed to have been issued or at least produced for retail sale.

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Regional Lithographic

One of the longer lasting comments threads on this blog belongs to a post about Zabel Brothers from August of 2010. There are some very informative comments there, a good number by former Zabel employees or children of employees.  The latest comment posted by an alumnus really caught my eye as it mentions Topps printed the backs of their cards at a different plant than the fronts, whcih explains a few things but so far as I know, is something never before mentioned anywhere.

I'm still trying to determine all the nuances of this revelation but I have to say it's something I've never heard before.  The story is a plant in Connecticut printed the backs and then they went off down (and potentially up) I-95 to Philly or Providence or northwest to Rochester, NY.  There is much more to come on this but I thought I would revisit the various Topps lithographers here and see if anything else comes through the pipeline before revisiting.  So.....

Lord Baltimore Press (Baltimore, Maryland) - I believe they printed the majority of Topps cards from 1948-58 or so and also did gum tab wrappers (and probably a lot more) for the company, very possibly all the way back to 1938 but certainly in the 1948-49 time frame as their logo appears on some issues of that era.  Bought out by International Paper in 1958 and converted to a carton printing operation by 1960.  I have a bit here on them but check the links at right as well. They had a major sales office in New York when Topps used them.

Zabel Brothers (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) - A printer for Bowman, they almost certainly produced the 1956 U.S. Presidents set after Topps bought Bowman from Connelly Containers earlier that year and then slowly but surely became the main Topps printer until 1981 when a strike ended things.  This then led to the Engravers Union pillaging of a large historical store of printed, uncut sheets used for reference. Some sheets were later found after the plant was abandoned and before it burned down. The firm was founded in 1885 and was a major printer of sheet music, possibly the largest in the country before World War 2. Zabel was bought by Wagaman Brothers Printers of Lititz, Pennsylvania in 1980 and the Philadelphia plant was closed in the wake of the strike.
Wagaman in turn was bought by American Bag & Paper Corp. (later called American Packaging), also of Lititz, in 1981 and stopped commercial printing in 1983. Topps seems to have stuck with them until the shutdown, then switched to Panel Prints of Old Forge, Pennsylvania. The link at right is your best bet for more Zabel Brothers details. I found this over at

Case-Hoyt (Rochester, New York) - Founded in 1919, they were the biggest lithographer in Rochester and opened a New York City Sales office in 1954.  Some good information is found here. Purchased in 1984 by Bell Canadian Enterprises, they bought Great Lakes Press a year later. They survived until about 2004.

Lebanon Valley Offset (Annville, Pennsylvania) - The firm did work for Topps starting in the 1990's when production switched to smaller sheets.

Chromographic Press (Hamden, Connecticut) - Owned by P. Peter Shorin at the time it was shut down in 1971 (as Topps got ready for their IPO) I think this was previously the Stecher-Traung plant but am not positive. Some firm in Hamden did work for Topps from at least 1962, that I do know.

Federated Lithographers (Providence, Rhode Island) - Friend o'the Archive Bob D'Aangelo best summarized their Topps involvement here.  They did a lot of work for Topps when the big baseball card boom hit in the mid-80's. Bought out by Quebecor in 1989.

A. Hoen & Co. (Baltimore, Maryland) - Not much is known other than they were founded before the Civil War, did some work for Topps at some point and shut down in 1981.  The best information I have on them is here.

Great Lakes Press (Rochester, New York) - The infamous 1962 Baseball second series Green Tints may have been printed by them.  Founded during the Depression, they were acquired in 1985 by Case-Hoyt.

Stecher-Traung (Rochester, New York) - Possible printer of the 1962 Green Tints (I'm starting to lean toward no though, after many years of thinking yes), also believed to have printed some portion of the 1952 Baseball set.

Topps Chewing Gum (Duryea, Pennsylvania) - Len Brown once indicated in an interview that Topps printed cards at their plant in Duryea at some point and Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins sent along some information about this I will get into fairly soon here. I believe this began in the early 1990's.

Who did what when is the thing to suss out! The standard sized issues were cut down from 264 sheets to 132 card half sheets, palletized and trucked to Topps in Brooklyn (until 1966 for the most part), then thereafter to Duryea, PA, before actually being printed there.

Thanks to Karl Schoettle, who worked at Zabel Brothers, American Packaging and Panel Prints for much of the above information. He mentioned sometimes sheets were stolen enroute to Topps!

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Joining A Fan Club

The well of Topps affinity products is a never ending source of wonder.  Case in point: some 1974 ballpark promotions featuring team branded Baseball Rak Paks!

Three teams were involved from what I can determine: Orioles, Tigers and A's.  Scans from the A's promotion seem to be non-existent and word is they are the hardest of the three to find so no luck there but I can show you the other two.

Here's the Orioles Rak, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Rex Morgart, front:

and back:

The front of the header card is plain to see but the reverse is interesting:

Man, remember Labor Day doubleheaders?!  Also, dig the Topps commodity code running along the right side there:

Keep that code (and T-Shirt night) in mind as we move on to Detroit:

That's from an REA auction (Spring 2019) and is an impressive collection of nineteen of these scarce items.  The price?  A cool $20,600 semolians!  I should note a Winfield rookie, a second year Schmidt and several other HOF'ers were showing but that is an impressive haul. All are BBCE overwrapped as well.

Here's a legible look at the front of the header-note the Pepsi Cola connection here that is lacking on the Orioles giveaway.  I do not know if the A's were associated with Pepsi or not but Detroit sure was, in a very local way:

The back of the Tigers header is, uh, not a list of upcoming promotions:

Here too, a commodity code!  The Orioles code is the same, except for the revision number of 01, so this at 02 followed in turn. I am going to say the A's would be 03.

Now about that T-Shirt promotion noted on the Baltimore header.  Detroit went Pepsi-branded again for theirs:

Not related to the Raks but neat-o!

Saturday, October 26, 2019

2-D Or Not 2-D

Like many collectors of prime vintage material, I am enamored of the 1968 Topps 3-D Baseball set. It's a classic looking set (teeing up the 1969 regular issue card design by the way) which has the lure of Hall of Famers (Tony Perez and especially Roberto Clemente), local names (Boog Powell, Mel Stottlemyre) and a preponderance of Yankees within (Bill Robinson, Stottlemyre again comprising 1/6th of the issued set), aided and abetted by test issue status and shimmery, oozin' ah lenticular technology.  It could be argued that it's the most popular, well known and sought after test issued set produced by Topps.

I've certainly posted on it enough over the years (a couple of weeks ago was the latest one and germane to this discussion, so click on over) but when I recently took another look at some production materials, a couple of things jumped out at me.  I also dug out an old scan of a proof sheet from a Bill Goodwin auction many years past, to wit:

Color bar tests by the Topps printers are common enough but I've never really examined the color key along the left side before.  It seems like it should be related to the 3-D effect as it appears quite involved. I wonder if the key was also meant to covered in the final proofing stage with the ribbed material used to create the 3-D effect?

I think it's something akin to a "chromakey" (the green or blue screen background technology used as special effects film or broadcast backgrounds).  Also of note is the lack of the Xograph indicia on the card faces; not surprising as this proof sheet lacks the black color process.

Here is a more trimmed down proof of the same sheet, where the black process has been added and indicia is present..  Maloney and Fairly are shown with their "dugout" variations here:

Note Tommy Davis at center right and John O'Donaghue top center. Here is a second proof sheet, from an old REA auction:

This one has the lenticular coating applied, the two "no dugout" variations and also shows the Xograph indicia plus the pull marks often seen on the issued "no dugout" Maloney.  He's hard left in the bottom row here and my Swoboda card from this set also has pull marks; he's also hard left, bottom row present in the unfinished sheet so I guess we have found the production weak spot! Rick Monday in proof form is dead center and just below him is the variant O'Donoghue.

The unissued proofs being mingled with the finished ones is intriguing and it's worth noting the O'Donoghue variants (Yankee Stadium bleachers background vs. Yankee Stadium facade) as well.  I surmise they were looking for the best options once the coating was applied.

I believe both sheets are blank backed (i.e. unstamped by Visual Panographics), the REA one at bottom certainly is as they mention it in their description.

The 12 issued subjects appear across both sheets but there are Staub, Willie Davis (possibly a proof), Flood, Perez and Powell variants not represented, so I surmise at least one more proof/pre-production sheet was created. A hand cut "squared off" Clemente is known in finished form, so I wonder it it came from a third sheet taken home by an executive at Topps or Visual Panographics and cut up by Junior back in the day.

I am also pondering the thought some sheets were die cut after the test ran its course vs. them all being cut prior. At a guess, given the seemingly New York City-centric testing of this set, Topps did not die cut the remaining stock from sheets in Duryea and could have just done the whole thing out of Brooklyn post-test, knocked out quickly at the executive offices there and then back-channeled into the nascent hobby. Another possibility is they were die cut by Xograph in Texas.

There's about 650 PSA graded examples out there plus roughly 160 SGC's so it's a bit more available than many tests of the 60's-there's a high of 83 graded examples at PSA for the Davis and Fairly cards, with no distinction regarding variations for either. It's hard to tell due to re-subs but just extrapolating those graded figures and figuring there is also an ungraded population, I think each subject can be found in at least the low three figures (200-300), inclusive of variations. It's certainly not one of the tougher test issues in terms of quantities available. It is however, one of ,if the not the most, popular tests out there in the hobby.

I'm gathering scans of the variants involving Willie Davis, Flood, Perez, Powell and Staub.  They are not as obvious as the Maloney and Fairly Dugout/No Dugout variations so there's a fair bit of investigation to be done still on these five.  I'm also trying to cipher if there is another subject will pull marks along the bottom, which would lend credence to the third sheet theory. More to come!

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Team Work

There is a unique proof sheet being offered in the latest highly football-centric auction over at BST, namely a 33 card block from the 1968 Topps Football Teams set -- in turn the insert for the 1968 Real Cloth Football Patches issue. I've briefly covered the patches before, scroll down to the middle of the post on the link if interested.

Here is this beauty, complete with the cutting guide lines:

Eight cards are double prints: The bottom eight cards in the first column are repeated in the top eight rows of the right column. The Packers, Saints, Jets, Dolphins, Steelers, Lions, Rams and Falcons are all DP's on this proof sheet. I'll get back to these shortly.

Here's the back for fun-looks like a final, finished proof:

Both sets were true hybrids as they included both AFL and NFL teams. The Real Cloth Football Patches, which seemingly had a rock solid pairing of "cloth" sticker and backing--an issue that would later vex Topps for the better part of the 70's--had all 10 AFL teams represented along with the 16 NFL teams of the time, plus there were letter and number patches that were half the size of the regular patches but came two to a card.  All told 44 patches can be found with some difficulty but since they used fanciful logos created by Topps, there would be no licensing issues at the time.

The Team cards are a different matter entirely and are much more difficult to track down. First off, there is no Bengals card, that team having just joined the AFL for 1968.  So instead of 26 teams, only 25 had cards in the black and white set (each measured 2 1/2" x 4 11/16").

The story is that the combined patch/card issue sold poorly and the excess (apparently all packaged up and ready for sale otherwise) was dumped in a landfill by Topps near Duryea.  Well, I believe that latter point as it came from an unconnected third party account but think the reason they got dumped there was because of the AFL/NFL combo being used.  Topps combined, for the first time since 1961, both leagues in their 219 card regular issue set in 1968 but did not use official team logos, instead using the ones replicated on the cloth patches. Players had their pictures taken with their uniforms reversed or having any team identifiers carefully hidden from view and any helmets had logos obscured in some fashion.

The B&W Team cards however, looks like formal team pictures and one-the St. Louis Cardinals-features their true NFL logo in the background. I have to think it possible there was some sort of overriding league related licensing issued that quashed the sets and caused the dumping and/or of same; it was not like Topps just to dump excess inventory as they would find ways to reissue or re-use it.  I suspect they had to agree to destroy the remaining stock.  Just a guess but it fits. I also believe there are far fewer team cards available than patches, so Topps may have retained the latter and got them out there somehow later on. Friend o'the Archive Mike Thomas advises any Team cards he has seen have a gum or wax stain on the reverse.

Now, with a 33 card proof sheet, questions arise when a 25 card set is wedged within.  Check out this 99 card 1964-65 Topps Hockey Second Series sheet once offered on

The Hockey cards are also Tall Boys, i.e. the same size as the football Team cards. Topps almost certainly printed the football tall boys in a 99 card array as well but the question is: did they just repeat the pattern of SP's and DP's or did they make up each 33 card block differently?  I lean toward the 33 card proof array just repeating twice more on the sheet myself and existing populations plus comments I solicited from several advanced collectors support this idea. All in all I will say the SP's match up with my understanding of which cards are harder to find.

Here's the 33 card array: