Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Award Season

The 1972 baseball season was a strange one. It started off with the first ever player's strike (an event I have no memory of, despite being a 10 year old with great interest in the sport), saw a team move from DC to Arlington, Texas (the Rangers), resulted in Curt Flood winning his reserve clause lawsuit against Major League Baseball and ended with Charlie Finley's mustachioed Oakland A's taking the first of three straight World Series titles. And after it all ended, the American league decided to adopt the Designated Hitter rule.

It was also the year that Topps went public and, to my mind, the last year in their insane stretch of innovation and creativity that commenced in 1965.  Following the IPO Topps would become a different company, as the Shorin family ceded some control of the firm they had founded in 1938. This resulted in a tamping down of production costs beginning in 1973 and a corresponding slowdown in insert and supplemental sets, especially those that required licensing from the four major sports leagues.

Surely the result of a cost/benefit analysis, in 1972 Topps dropped inserts from their four main sports lines and produced no ancillary sets to speak of, although their Canadian licensee O-Pee-Chee did manage to repurpose some older designs into inserts.  Even their non sport offerings were mostly reissues of older offerings in '72 so it's clear the IPO had taken corporate attention away from production and design matters. But before that all happened, Topps managed to design, produce one of their greatest sets of baseball cards, the psychedelic 1972's.

Without the benefit of inserts, Topps had to get more creative than usual.  They upped the set count to a whopping 787, their largest to date and even for almost another decade into the future.  Printed in six runs, Topps finally utilized all of their 792 slots by eschewing double printing of player cards, although their extra printing of each checklist from the next series with the prior would continue, hence the five "open" slots to bring the count to 792.

In actuality, they had abandoned their prior practice of "lagging" each series on the corresponding press sheet to create seven series over only six sheets in 1971.  Their use of true double printed rows of cards on each press sheet enabled them to do this.  1970 was the last year with a 7th series and it may have become too much of a bother for them to keep doing this as they still had to get out seven series worth of packaging updates, promotional and sales materials, instead of only six.

In 1972, just like the year prior, the first press sheet, corresponding to series 1, would also include a 2nd series checklist. This practice was followed through the fifth press sheet, which contained the 6th series checklist along with the 5th. The sixth press sheet in 1972 does not have any checklists as no further series were to come. Topps did this to preview the next series and stimulate sales.  Sneaky, sneaky....and also the last year a true high number series was issued as 1973 used only five press sheets to issue all 660 cards, which were also released en masse is some areas. And if you don't have the full run, you know how tough and expensive the 1972 highs can be compared to the rest of the set.  If you collect football from this year, the high numbers are even more ridiculous.  Topps clearly was scaling back their last series cards in both sports in '72.

So with 781 numbers to fill out, or over 32 numbers per team, Topps had to really put some thought into their 1972 set.  We'll get back to them momentarily but the first thing they did was issue 72 "In Action" cards, which replicated players but utilized game action photos.

These were likely culled from the many unused action shots taken for the 1971 set, the first to feature on field play instead of posed player shots. The backs of the "In Action" cards had various graphics.  Some advertised what was coming:

As noted on the cards above, there were the usual league leader and playoff/World Series cards, which took another 21 slots but those Series 3 and 4 special  cards were only writeups on the backs of the "In Action" cards.  Ditto the puzzles in Series 5 & 6.  Then you have a team card and at least one rookie card for each franchise.  Still not enough?  Let's put 7 Traded cards in the high numbers (ever notice they only issued traded cards in even numbered years during their heyday?) and then the ballyhooed "Boyhood Photos of the Stars", 17 in number.

Well, six more slots must have needed filling because Topps included a half dozen of the strangest cards they ever issued, namely the "Awards" cards in the semi-high series.


As a kid I was fascinated by these award cards, although they were treated with disdain by pretty much everybody else at the time. Today, they are not too popular except in the graded card set registries.

I'm going to call it here-this is the last great baseball set Topps put out.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mod Top

If there is a Topps set that I'd like to complete but absolutely know is impossible, it would no doubt be 1969's Mod Generation Stickers.  I have covered them here in the past and don't necessarily have a lot to add but a really groovy MGS item has surfaced, namely the original art for the box top:

Is that cosmic or what?!  Really, look at the composition of this thing, it's quite astounding.  The level of detail is just amazing-look at the guitar player's shirt and the girl's scarf if you don't believe me:

I'm thinking that is a Norman Saunders airbrush job deluxe!  Saunders did the finish artwork based upon Trina Robbins' original concepts (although to what degree it's hard to say) and I suspect her work is more properly displayed on this test wrapper detail:

Nice enough illustration but the box top really just pops compared to the wrapper.

In other Mod Generation Stickers news...Topps vault has been selling color separation proofs of late.  I managed to snag the yellow featuring my own character but alas missed out on my wife's.  Perhaps she will show up in another color:

And you can always find any number of finished proofs and partials over on eBay but their continued languishing makes me think they are priced too high to move:

If you click on over to the Norman Saunders website, you can see all 55 stickers presented there, plus some other surprises.  Somewhere out there lurks an unpublished topless girl (oh, you kid!) proof as well. What is painfully and obviously missing of course, are the stickers proper. With 55 in the set you would think more would be out there but the peelablility factor coupled with this issue not making it past the test phase makes finding one of these suckers a right proper problem.

A related issue is the 1969 Love Initials/1972 Mod Initial Stickers set, which is just as day-glowey and far out as Mod Generation. The Saunders site also digs into them and is well worth a look

There is some really groovy information on Love Initials and its related cousins here.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Can't Beat The Real Thing

Yonks ago, or more precisely three years past, I posted on some military themed Bazooka boxes.  Late 50's or early 60's issues all, these were somewhat desultory box backs that are inconsistently checklisted, like many Bazooka issues.  Now John Shupak, who runs a fantastic aviation themed site called skytamer.com has put out a call for a couple of missing birds.

The set, as you might recall, has seven subjects and five are known and checklisted.  However, Nos. 4 and 7 are not and John is looking for any checklist help or scans  You can link to his trading card page here to see what he has on this and many other airplane sets. If you can help him our with his gaps, drop him a line.

I showed # 6 last time I posted on these but a couple more just sold on eBay and I can bring you #2:

and #5:

Bazooka issues of this era are not all that well known and examples such as the above airplanes are not always considered to be actual cards so they get caught in no man's land when it comes to reference material.

I also plan to dig into the Bazooka sets this year so anyone out there who has oddball or unknown information about their non-baseball and football issues from the 1950's to the 70's is urged to get in touch.
Dan Calandriello has some additional Bazooka scans over at the Net54 gallery if you are Ba-curious.

Some other Bazooka box bottoms are very strange, to say the least:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Scout's Honor

A couple of posts ago I made reference to the Topps Scout of the Month Award, as shown in a Baseball Achievements Award program.  I had actually heard of this award prior to seeing that program but only for a couple of weeks as I saw three of them pop up on eBay, one each from 1973, '74 and '75, all issued to Howie Haak who was a legendary scout who primarily worked Latin America.  I bought one, the other two should still be out there if anyone is interested.

The Award itself is printed on a grade of parchment that is maybe a step or two above good bond paper. When I bought my copy it was one of two featuring Miguel Dilone, which confused me at first.  However, all was revealed once I got my prize:

As you can see, the award was presented to the signing scout when a player was named Minor League Player of the Month in their respective league. So Dilone won it at least twice, explaining the multiple awards given to Haak bearing Miguel's name.

The award is "signed" by Henry Peters (President of the National Association) and, in a nice surprise as I could not make it out in the auction listing, Sy Berger of Topps.  Sy's byline is no surprise given his deep involvement with the various award programs sponsored by Topps. It may seem strange to some but Topps invested time and money in these programs, which helped maintain strategic ties to supply their baseball player contract pipeline.  I don't believe they were this involved with other sports, although in the case of the AFL and NFL they may have offered more behind the scenes support such as supporting varoius charitable organizations favored by the leagues.

The award as issued is unembossed, although it being 1973 the "deets" had to be typed and inked in as needed.  This is how things were done in the pre-internet days kiddos!  With a number of leagues and levels, there should be a few dozen of these issued each year. The famous Topps rookie award trophy also makes an appearance in the graphics.

Speaking of which.....

That's a Goose Gossage autograph at the very bottom but another signature for "League President" was added.  Ol' Sy still gets his turn though.  You will note the similarities to the Award for Scout of the Month, no doubt. The additional hardware was for Goose winning the Topps Minor League Player of the Year Award; that sterling silver cup replaced the batting pose trophy in 1973 as what was shown on the Topps All Star Rookie cards by the way. Here, check it out:

And leave us not forget Topps immortalizing these awards in the 1972 semi-high's:

The All Star Rookie Awards are still given out by Topps every year; there's a bunch of great detail over at Baseball-Reference.com. If they issue the awards this year that will make 55 years in a row (54 for Player of the Year) for Topps-wow!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Hurt Lockers

Over the years, Topps offered a few versions of a sports card locker premium to the young 'uns, particularly in the hazy, crazy 1970's.  Friend o'the Archive Harry Hoyle has helpfully sent along a brace of pictures that show off different varieties of this early collector's organizing system.

The earliest ones were made out of cardboard:

A handy instruction sheet guided the builder through construction of the "file":

Thanks to a team name insert that came with it, we can date this one.  You could pick your sport with this variety, although I have seen some with "Football: across the top:

The sticker stock is exactly that-stock:

The top row has been excised and the full array is 26 x 4. In column three you will see Capital Bullets sticker. That particular appellation applied in only one year: 1973-74.  There is also a sticker for The Kansas City-Omaha Kings in the same column.  That moniker was used in 1972-73 through 1974-75; ABA teams are also included asTopps included them in their basketball sets of the era. In addition, take a look at the font used for the San Diego Padres compared to the examples above and below.  It's a rush job based upon the thickness of the font and inexpertly erased lines between the letters in "Padres" and I have to think the sheet was intended to have the name of the team after they would have moved to DC, except that never happened:

None of the other entries on the sheet look like that, so did that sticker originally say "Washington, Nat'l League"? I feel quite comfortable dating this to 1974 based upon the above and these side panels on 1974 wax packs:

This is a little easier to read:

Notice how the baseball version mentions room for 24 teams while the Football panel makes it 26.  I don't have an interior shot but there must be 26 cubbies within.Two bucks was pretty good scratch back then for a young collector.

By 1978 Topps has moved to a vinyl locker and dubbed it "super":

I get 30 slots.  You can see a sticker sheet was included as well with the Supers Sports Locker.  1978 Wax wrappers had side panel ads for these:

Topps really pushed the envelope with a $4.75 premium-yikes!

Now when I was a kid, I had a locker as well but it was a third party production:

That one actually had the team names permanently embossed inside if I recall correctly.  There was a green version as well.  Definitely not Topps as it was made by Lakeside Toys, but full of cards when I was a wee one. Lakeside made all sorts of cool things back in the day and while not quite the exciting, carefree and semi-dangerous products produced by Wham-o, they were awesome nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Junior Achievement

One of the weirder mysteries surrounding Topps involves the Rookie Banquet Award Programs that they issued annually from 1959-66.  Topps took their affiliation with major and minor league baseball very seriously and the rookie award winners were honored with special cards in the following year's sets (the banquet was held late in the calendar year, after baseball season had ended).

The banquet programs are prized collectibles and deservedly so as they are well designed, scarce and usually depict a large number of hall of famers. They must have been expensive to produce and their end may have been due to Topps making increased royalty payments to the Major League Baseball Players Association commencing in 1966.

So what happened?  I suspect the banquet as hosted by Topps may have disappeared but the awards did not. I am still tracking what happened from 1967 through 1980 or maybe a little earlier but Topps made programs for something called the Baseball Achievement Awards from 1981 until at least 2000.  Those dates should not be taken as gospel as I am still researching the matter but the trail really picks up in '81 and the latest one I have spied so far is from 2000.

The programs are four pagers; merely one large sheet folded in half.  Here are three examples from the various decades that are typical:

Note the Annual Rookie Award trophy is depicted on the back cover-they were still making them! Also of note is the numbering follows that of the old Rookie Banquet programs.  Next up, 1992:

That blue box in the middle is interesting-it covers the Scout of the Month Award, something I will delve into very soon.


It's amazing how many guys look like worldbeaters and might have a few good years but ultimately fade out.

The 2000 program is slicker but retains the basic format of the past two ecades:

If anyone has information or scans from the 1967-80 period, please contact me.