Saturday, December 3, 2016

Ugly Times

OK the season has passed but since I'm on a roll with my research on the free-lance artists hired by Topps back in the vintage days, Hallowe'en 1966 is going to get a looksee today with a peek at Ugly Buttons, as et of 24 metal pinback buttons with superb artwork by Wally Wood. Actually I think the set was designed to last past the traditional end of October as it doesn't have spooky theme but one of humorous monsters instead.

What piqued my thoughts about today's post was a just ended Hake's auction that moved a piece originally from a 2005 REA auction. namely a full proof sheet of all 24 button artworks. REA also had a half sheet I'll show two halves of it first as there's something else I want to tell you about as well.

The proof sheet is a full one but clearly segregates the buttons into 12 unit groups:


This is the top half of the sheet- don't you just love the artwork? Some of the color backgrounds look a little raggedy but they would be excised in the final production.

The bottom half is just as sweet:


Some of the backgrounds look cut off at the extreme edges but again, production would deal with that.

Now, here is something I haven't seen before (probably because I wan't paying attention!), namely information on how big a proof run was produced.  Check this baby out:


26 proofs, which I cautiously assume are full color finals but also consider that count could include partial color progressions and the like.  The population of most Topps proofs in the hobby is essentially hidden. So I guess the question would be: were roughly 25 full proof sheets printed for the press runs of every Topps product or series?  While you can never figure what survived, it would be nice to know what kind of numbers are in the potential universe for each run.

Here's what the finished product looked like:



It's an unfortunate fact that people like Wood, one of the great comic book and advertising artists of all time, were paid mere pittances for their artwork and often lived hand to mouth.  Even the great Norm Saunders, a Topps mainstay and " art fixer" for many years, received single digit sums sometimes for each piece he worked on.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Poppin' Flesh

Topps was really rolling out the impressive artwork on some of its more esoteric sets by the time 1971 rolled around.  This was the last calendar and fiscal year before the Shorin's took the company public and it was definitely the tail end of both a mainstream artist and  underground comix artistic wave that had kicked off with R. Crumb and Monster Greeting Cards in 1965, or maybe even Jack Davis with Funny Valentines in 1959. I'm starting to really examine the underground artist-Woody Gelman-Topps connection (which looks to have been greatly facilitated by Harvey Kurtzman) and found a serendipitous set of scans on eBay recently highlighting one of the true gems of the era, namely Pop Guns.

Pop Guns hit the market, I am sure quite briefly, in 1971, after being manufactured in Japan and were considered a toy by Topps (no gum in the packs).  This was also getting near the end of a stretch where Topps was issuing other toy-like products such as Flying Things, although the idea survived a few more years past the IPO in 1972.  I had never seen more than maybe a single color scan of the packaging or even the guns before (Chris Benjamin had some black-and-white illustrations in one of his Sport-America guides several decades ago) so here we go...

The set consisted of twelve "guns" that looked like this:




The artwork is very involved for a ten cent novelty toy I would say.  The "pop" was provided by a wedge of paper glued and folded in between both sides of the cardboard handle of course.  I remember making versions of these as a kid, which was surely Woody's inspiration as well:


As you can imagine, most of these were destroyed by their intended use; I can't see a long life for them once they came out of the packs.  Speaking of which, the Made in Japan indicia is discreetly placed on the front of the pack:


The "Captain Kidd" would turn out to be the fist subject in the set:


It's a little hard to see but the product code/commodity number ends in a "1" for 1971.  Here is a closer look just at the checklist:



While the checklist looks pretty obvious, I'd like to take a stab at a descriptive one:

1) Capt. Kidd
2) Tire Pressure
3) Bop
4) Firing Squad
5) Spring Top
6) Ah-choo
7) Cannon
8) Champagne Cork
9) Mad Bomber
10) Yanking A Tooth
11) Girl Kissing
12) Loaded Cigar

I can't make out the pithy comment being made by the guy being executed though, I'm sure it was quite droll.  The artwork in general is quite similar to that of Flying Things, the hand of Wally Wood is pretty obvious, he likely did the initial artwork which was then supplemented along the way in typical Topps fashion.  Iterations of six or twelve subjects are common with these type sets from the era.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Mid Century Mindfreak

It's been a wild month for auctions, with a half dozen major ones concluding recently.  A surfeit of goodies for sure and I wonder if so many auctions happening at once depresses prices but I digress. Big auctions usually mean new stuff coming out of the floorboards and such, especially old boxes and uncut sheets.  This season's offerings do not disappoint.

First up, an uncut sheet with a full set of Flags Of All Nations/Soldiers of the World, a 1949 Topps penny tab insert offered by Heritage:



Such a colorful piece!  I'm fairly certain it was done by Solomon & Gelman. That's a whole dollar's worth of product there! The flags side has a nice look as well:



More uncut goodness from this auction, a 1949 X-Ray Roundup set on two 100 card halves.  I think this sheet was cut as I've seen one with all 200 cards.


Dig the patterns on the reverse, they are downright mesmerizing:


Here's a closeup of two of the quadrants:



Neat, huh? You can see the blue images of the "X-Ray"pictures underneath.

It's not all uncut sheet though, they even had this baby, devoid of lollipops but wondrous nonetheless (and mine!):


Dig that two tone Topps logo! The reverse confirms only the larger, "metal" denominations came with this configuration:

Hakes had a penny tab box of World Coins in their latest:


There's even another iteration of packaging for this set, which probably had a two year shelf life from 1949-51 and is one of the more confusing issues ever put out by Topps. Click through here if you want to see it.

So many treasures......

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Go Go Gadget Go

Topps was a big proponent of 3-D lenticular technology in the 1960's. They experimented with the format over a number of sets, perhaps most famously the 1968 3-D Baseball issue, which as many of you know have "Xograph" printed on their faces. Xograph was the trade name for "parallax panoramagram", a particular brand of lenticular technology (other forms were developed by Vari-Vue and Kodak Eastman, if I am interpreting the research correctly).

The cards would have been printed by Visual Panographics, which held the Xograph trademark (which is why it was seen on the cards), and was responsible for all Xograph printing. Visual Panographics in turn was a subsidiary of Cowles Communications, which published Look magazine. If you are unfamiliar with it, Look was a major competitor to Life magazine, back when magazines were still a major form of information and entertainment. Cowles Communications was the first company to successfully mass produce a 3-D photo, which appeared in the February 25, 1964 issue of Look and featured a bust of Thomas Edison. Eight million copies allegedly were sold:



Here's the skinny, right from the magazine:


You can see from the blurb that Look (Cowles Communications) owned the sole printing press able to manufacture lenticular pictures. This development would have caught the attention of Woody Gelman, I am sure. Topps first started to experiment with the technology around 1967 and diligently started work on the 3-D Baseball cards during this time. As we have seen previously, many of the proof cards from this set have Xograph/Visual Panographics stamps on the back:


The set famously had production issues and after playing around with the technology for a couple of years, Topps basically gave up on it. Kellogg's stepped into the breech of licensed 3-D sports cards of course but the technology as a whole was pretty much done with as a viable commercial venture by the end of the 70's, although Kellogg's and later Sportflics would soldier on with it into the 80's.

However, what is intriguing to me is that, while 3-D Baseball had no Topps markings at all on the (blank backed) cards, a 1969 3-D set called Go-Go Buttons did have Topps indicia:




I can only assume Topps used a competing technology to produce the set and would think it could have been from Vari-Vue, which was really known for fusing lenticular technology with buttons. Despite the "Japan" designation, Topps was not in the habit of using knockoffs so I have to believe the 3-D effect was properly licensed and Vari-Vue indeed issued licenses in that country. There was also a Japanese company called Toppan that manufactured and printed lenticular work in Japan (and elsewhere) and may actually have sold the technology to one of the US "3-D" firms following the expiration of a licensing deal. I'm not positive but it seems to me the photographic process, which used a single lens and required a very specialized and expensive camera, differed enough from the"stereoscopic" method, which used two lenses and interlaced the resulting images, that the latter was a lot cheaper to use in production.

Go-Go Buttons are quite groovy and their packaging was outtasight man:


The reverse had a handy checklist:


Topps was a distributor when they imported items from Japan; it saved on customs duty if I'm not mistaken.

There is an excellent doctoral thesis on the various lenticular processes here, which really helped me see how the different technologies came about.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Quite The Pane

Proofy goodness today campers!  We're talking 1969 Baseball Stamps, the first Topps sports stamp offering to be retailed in its own packs (1962 Famous Americans-a.k.a. Stamp Gum- beat it to market) and the first of any sort to be sold with its own album along for the ride inside the pack.

Friend o'the Archive Shane Hardie has turned up a super nice 30 stamp partial proof sheet from this set:


That is really the worst obscuring of a team logo I have ever seen adorning John Roseboro's cap! I mean, match the color at least. Sharp looking partial, wouldn't you say?

Here is something I have never seen before, proof sheets of some of the stamp albums:


 Dig this "Bob" Clemente closeup:


Do you think he was peeved at Topps calling him Bob?  I'll be he was.

The pack was pretty nice for this set:


That's just an ordinary wrapper, not a proof. I never noticed it before but the production code/commodity number actually ends in 8, usually (but not always!) a sign of the year a set was issued  as it sometimes indicates the year a project was conceived. There seems to be some inconsistency in this practice, which began in 1966 and it's resulted in dating for a few sets being off by a year in the 1966-71 timespan.  After that there were enough hobby publications to document the various issues without needing to resort to the code.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Morgan Holler

Well it's been a while since I discussed the Topps Sports Club but I've sucked in a 1976 Joe Morgan premium and there's really is no time like the present so here we are.

Topps started a collectors club in 1975, as noted here and based on the paucity of newsletter and premium examples, it doesn't seem to have gone over too well. I had inferred the existence of Joe but this is the first one I have seen:


It's 8" x 10", printed on thin paper and blank backed.  Mine clearly was hung up at some point and there is a good deal of foxing or staining present but I still like it.  That's a great shot of Morgan in his prime as well.

The issue accompanying the premium has seen better days:



Here is the Collectors Corner column from the issue featuring Morgan.  Card Collectors Company features prominently as does Larry Fritsch, who was probably the hobby's biggest purchaser of cards directly from Topps.




There was also full page of Pen Pals, who were able to put very short ads in looking for specific cards or trying to sell small lots. Although there are about forty different ads in this issue. I don't want to post the page as it has full street addresses for each "pal".

I found a scan of a flyer out there as well.  It didn't come with this particular issue but it's pretty neat:


We've seen that poster here recently here kids, just on a different medium.  There was definitely some integration between the Sports Club and the premium team checklist sheets Topps offered in the 1970's.

I still need to find a scan of the Dave DeBusschere premium that I believe exists.  I still don't know how many issues and corresponding premiums were published but if ol' Double D is out there, five may be it.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Mays and Means

Exciting times here at the Main Topps Archives Research Complex kids! I was recently contacted by Ken Liss, whose father, Norman, handled PR for Topps for more than 30 years. I'll hopefully fill in his details a little more down the road (a brief overview is here) but it looks to me that Norman Liss commenced his work for Topps right around the time the Rookie All Star project (1959 start) got underway, maybe a just a smidgen later.

Ken has kindly sent along three shots featuring Willie Mays during a 1974 visit to the Topps plant in Duryea, Pennsylvania that also feature his dad:


Clockwise from left:  Norman Liss, the Say Hey Kid and a man believed to be Ken Byrnes, Topps VP of Manufacturing. If I didn't tell you the year, you could probably guess at it pretty closely given the haberdashery and grooming of the times.

Here's a bit more of a closeup:


Wide ties were definitely the "in thing" in '74!

Here the boys are touring the manufacturing floor, with none other than Sy Berger (a Mays confidant and friend) in tow:



Look at those bags of what must be sugar off to the right-and can't you just smell the Bazooka?! Ken Byrnes recollected this visit a couple of years ago, it's a fascinating read.

There was a groundswell of publicity surrounding Topps and the Duryea plant in the mid 1970's, from Sy Berger's starring role in the Great American Baseball Card Flipping ,Trading and Bubblegum Book to inserts in various baseball annuals and mainstream magazines through things like Willie's visit to Duryea. Norman Liss would have been the instigator of all this PR.