Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Easy As A&BC

Put on your bowlers lads, we're going to the UK today!

Topps made a corporate decision in the 1950's to expand their product lines internationally, first reaching into Canada then later Venezuela in this hemisphere. By the end of the decade they had set their sights on A&BC Chewing Gum of England and would further their quest into Holland, Israel, Australia & New Zealand by the early 60's.

The Topps/A&BC alliance eventually became Topps UK in the mid 70's but used the A&BC brand exclusively before that. After World War 2 A&BC would be to kids in the UK what Topps was to the young 'uns in the US. There is an excellent treatise on A&BC on Nigel's Webspace, which is also a megasite for "Footballer' cards issued in the UK. I didn't link to the article but it's at the links near the bottom of the page; it's more fun to explore his whole site anyway.

My primary interest in A&BC and some of the other international Topps affiliated brands from the mid century goes well beyond just the footballers but today I just wanted to share a couple of nice looking cards. There will be much more on A&BC as we press forward this fall.

The 1970 English Footballer set looks a little bit like the 1967 Topps Baseball Cards I think:

The A&BC sets are often referred to by their back colors. Mr. Carr would be an "orange back":

That is a coin rub feature in the lower right corner, which is a byproduct of Topps' US baseball sets. Many designs on the overseas cards over the years were based upon stateside graphics, sometimes exactly so and there will be a comprehensive feature on such similar looking pasteboards soon.

A&BC's first set of footballers was issued in 1958, around the time Topps affiliation with them commenced. The cards featured players from the English Football League First Division, the major league version of soccer on the Isle. They expanded to a second set featuring Scottish Football League players in 1962 (a very rare set) and the Scottish cards were issued separately on an annual basis (in most years) into 1980 I believe.

The Scottish cards were identical except for the back color. Here is a very dramatic looking card of the alliterative Dixie Deans:

The Scottish '70 Footballers are referred to as Green Backs:

Those full bleed backs must really do a number on the mint freaks out there! By the way, these UK cards measure the same as standard sized Topps cards of the same era, or about 64 mm x 89 mm. Not all cards are made equally however; there are some size variations with A&BC cards even on sets they replicated otherwise exactly from the US.

You can learn more about A&BC cards from a handy little booklet put out by the London Cigarette Card Company:

Like I said before, there will be more on A&BC (and other Topps concerns) around the world as the Archive goes global. There are test issues and short prints, mysteries and double prints just like in the US, so there's plenty to look at laddies!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Moveable Feast?

Well, it didn't take long for some better '64 Rookie Banquet scans to come winging my way across the mojo wire, courtesy of friend o'the archive Doug Goodman.

Here is a good look at the trophy card:

The hard working election committee sure looks officious:

Here is what the PR cards looked like:

And a better peek at the Minor League Awards header card is just below:

And what better way to conclude than with a salute to the Master of Ceremonies, the future host of Sale of The Century and the man who made Yogi Berra a household word, the one and only Joe Garagiola:

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Feast On This

Over the the first 50 or so years of Topps marketing cards there aren't many examples of legitimately released sets that were not issued in packs or sold in stores. The 1970 Bowie Kuhn card comes to mind, as does the Joe Garagiola business card and the 1990 George HW Bush card (with a "maybe" on Pres. 41-some were rumored to have been inserted in packs) but there's not a wide range of possibilities. But Topps did manage to issue a fairly broad set in 1964 featuring the subjects of the current and past festivities held annually at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in New York that is known today as the Rookie Banquet set.

A little background is in order. The first Rookie Banquet was held in 1959 to honor those ten lucky players chosen by a surprisingly well-rounded Election Committee for the Major League Baseball All Star Rookie Team. For the next seven years Topps issued a really nice program that was distributed to the formally attired attendees. After the 1966 gathering the program was scaled back although I believe the banquet is still held to this day.

Here is the cover of one from 1962-it's a little rough:

However, my mission today is not to discuss the programs (that will happen to be sure, just not now) but rather a permutation in 1964 that resulted in a scarce 36 card set full of esoteric and diverse subjects that actually was the program.

The cards are oversized at 3" x 5 1/4" and were designed so that each was like a page from a paper program, numbered at the lower right:

The backs are duller than dull:

But there are allegedly back variants with printing from the 1964-65 Push-Pull set, which had the following reverse:

Weird, eh? I had to pull that one from the 'bay. Now in theory the winners would have the infamous gold rookie trophy displayed on their cards the following year but Brumley's was inadvertently left off. Here is what the trophy looked like, in case you forgot:

The set was housed in an attractive slipcase:

The box is printed on semi-reflective foil and it looks pretty cool in the light. Some very simple mid-60's design work was used, quite effectively I think.

Each player so honored like our Mr. Brumley was accompanied by another card with a writeup from the team's public relations director, as such (everything below this consists of scans of items I do not own):

Sorry, some of the scans I nicked can't be blown up. The most notable non-player depicted, at least to me, is Topps' own Sy Berger:

Yup, that would be his rookie card!

Past honorees also got their due:

There are also various header cards, like this one:

Here's a selection of cards for your viewing pleasure:

That Luis Tiant card is actually numbered 34A, which means the set stops at #35 (a picture of the trophy which I cannot find a scan of, alas) and not #36. Luis was the Topps Minor League Player of the Year so his card looks a little different than the other 1964 winners.

A checklist is certainly in order (Hall-of-Famers, prominent veteran players, the '64 rookies and significant committee members are identified, the Standard Catalog has a full player/committee list if you need it):

1. Header Card (6th Annual Topps Rookie All Star Team Awards)
2. The Baseball World Votes (4 players, incl. Billy Williams)
3. The Baseball World Votes (Clubhouse scenes)
4. Topps Rookie All Star Team Honorary Election Committee (Media members and Hank Greenberg and Frankie Frisch)
5. Topps Rookie All Star Team Honorary Election Committee (Media members, Joel Shorin of Topps and Jackie Robinson)
6. Executive Director of the Committee and his Associates (Sy Berger of Topps plus others)
7. Topps Salutes Joe Garagiola
8. The 1959 Topps Rookie All Star Team (10 players including Willie McCovey)
9. The 1960 Topps Rookie All Star Team (10 players)
10. The 1961 Topps Rookie All Star Team (10 players including Billy Williams and soon-to-be HOF'er Joe Torre)
11. The 1962 Topps Rookie All Star Team (10 players)
12. The 1963 Topps Rookie All Star Team (10 players including Pete Rose, mea culpa)
13. Header Card (1964 Rookie All Star Team)
14. Cleveland Indians PR
15. Bob Chance
16. San Francisco Giants PR
17. Hal Lanier
18. Philadelphia Phillies PR
19. Richie Allen
20. Kansas City Athletics PR
21. Bert Campaneris
22. Milwaukee Braves PR
23. Rico Carty
24. Boston Red Sox PR
25. Tony Conigliaro
26. Minnesota Twins PR
27. Tony Oliva
28. Washington Senators PR
29. Mike Brumley
30. Cincinnati Reds PR
31. Bill McCool
32. Baltimore Orioles PR
33. Wally Bunker
34. Header Card (5th Annual Topps Minor League Player of the Year)
34a. Luis Tiant (Minor League Player of the Year)
35. Rookie All Star Trophy

These cards are quite valuable and generally appear as singles nowadays as it seems many extant sets were broken up over the past two decades. I would estimate a 200-250 set print run on these guys but I get the impression there are no more than a three or four dozen sets or remnants thereof out there. Sets still do pop up from time-to-time though as old sportwriters move or pass away and their archives are cleaned out and auctioned.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Penny Arcade-1950 Freedom's War

War cards were a big Topps staple in the early 1950's. World War 2 had ended a scant half a decade earlier and unbelievably yet another conflict, the Korean War, was raging. The boys in Brooklyn took advantage and issued a large set of cards called Freedom's War over a two year period from mid-1950 to mid-1952. I won't get into all the permutations here but there are card stock differences, single cards, two-card panels, three price points for packs, a series of die cut tanks that lost the cut and then were pulled completely, at least three separate printings and a bunch of other stuff I'll get into in a really long post someday.

Oh yeah, they looked really good too:

Come on, how great is that shot? The backs are typical Topps fare at the time:

These are sized at 2 1/16" 2 5/8" which was a common size in use at the time.

Today though, I want to look at the penny wrapper, which is outstanding:

Topps was likely trying to up the patriotism quotient in their battle with Bowman, a company known for its staunch pro-government stance.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Four Square

There is no shortage of oddities in what your webmeister considers the golden (1949-57) or silver (1966-72) ages of Topps, especially the latter. One such item is this 2x2 proof panel I have of 1967 Topps baseball cards printed on thin and extremely high quality paper:

The "cards" are standard sized but the bottom has a little extra to it. The reverse is pristine white (that blotch is some dirt it must have picked up along the way). It really is there, so keep scrolling:

Looks like the proverbial polar bear eating mashed potatoes in a snowstorm, doesn't it? That panel was once Woody Gelman's by the way.

I would think these were part of the proofing process. In later years (mid 70's) I know there are proof cards printed on ultra white cardboard but the process may not have been 100% refined in 1967 so Topps used high quality paper. I have seen a couple other 4 card panels like this over the years, so they are not exactly common.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Penny Arcade-1956 Roundup

Topps issued a really nice set of 80 historically based cards in 1956 featuring tales of the American West paired with some stunning artwork and commonly referred to in the hobby as Roundup. The set is also historically significant in the Topps pantheon as they are the last of the large sized Golden age cards produced in the 1950's (2 5/8" x 3 3/4" in size).

The penny wrapper is especially nice:

I suspect I nailed that scan from Ebay....The wrapper indicates the set is called Western Roundup but since most (but not all) Non Sports cards are identified by the name appearing on the card the lesser name has prevailed.

There were eight subsets of 10 cards each; here is the one from the Daniel Boone series:

The backs tell a story:

Quite the history lesson on the back of these.

The first card in each ten card series is referred to as a "face" card as there is a nice portrait of the subject to kick things off. Here's another I just nicked from the 'bay:

That dead settler with an arrow through his heart is priceless!

The other seven subjects in the series are:

Wild Bill Hickock
Calamity Jane
Buffalo Bill
Wyatt Earp
Jesse James
Kit Carson

That is a pretty diverse group in that it includes an outlaw, a showman and assorted ne'er-do-wells instead of the usual parade of commonly accepted heroes.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Penny Arcade-Fun Packs

Today we have a three for one deal, which is appropriate as the discussion centers on a favorite business strategy of Topps in the golden days-the product dump.

Starting in the early days of card production and running at least into the mid 80's, Topps would offer, on a seasonal basis, repackaged and bargain priced cards and assorted confections starting with Hallowe'en, then changing the mix at Christmas before coming out with something around Valentine's Day, the latter using a slightly different strategy which will be explored someday in further depth. A "Gum & Fun Assortment" was one description used but these are commonly known in the hobby as "Fun Packs" or Fun Paks".

Take a bunch of overstock, bag and/or box it with various types of gum and then push them as Hallowe'en treats or Christmastime Stocking Stuffers and you have all the makings of a Fun Pack. Many times (but not always) the cards sold within would be re-wrapped in a special wrapper that would generally hold between 1 and 4 cards. I believe in the earlier incarnations that ran through the 1960's that most of these held a single card and since they were sometimes marketed at 100 single card packs for $1, I consider them to be penny packs, at least for purposes of this discussion.

We have already seen this one of these special wrappers here intrepid readers, it held a cello-wrapped four pack of Flash Gordon cards, with gum (an oddity, to be sure):

The red "Trading Card" wrapper is confirmed to be from 1965 but there is a credible story the Flash Gordon cards were sold or at least rewrapped in the red overwraps in 1968, so Topps may also have recycled some Fun Pack wrappers from year to year while utilizing a new design either each season or each year (another mystery to be divined as more information becomes available).

Here is a true 1968 Fun Pack, with a Bob Gibson baseball card peeking through:

(From The World's Best Unopened Pack, Wrapper & Display Box Guide, copyright 2002 by Mark Murphy)

The following two both appear to be from 1969 and Topps mixed up the colors a bit for variety:

I believe those were from an Ebay auction back a-ways now.

Early Fun Pack Wrappers are not that easy to find and sealed packs are scarce. All I know is, I never once, in all my prime trick-or-treating years (which were from about 1966-72) received one of these among the wax bottles, Baby Ruth's or Smarties that were typical Hallowe'en fare at that time.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Repeating Designs

In addition to the mini theme of penny wrappers that will be weaving in and out of this blog, the other thing that has captured my attention lately is the way Topps would use certain design elements from one set in another set. Sometimes the sets involved are not all that common and it seems like Topps would save some effort by recycling a design.

Now there will be a large post, or even a series of posts on this phenomenon, sometime before then end of the year but one clear example are the 1973-74 Basketball insert stickers. As you can see from this shot of a grouping snagged from Ebay, the Basketball Stickers resemble the 1973/74 Baseball Action Emblems:

As you can see the design is essentially the same, the exception being Topps used real team logos and names. As you will recall, the baseball stickers were an attempt to circumvent licensing issues with Major League Baseball, a foray that did not succeed:

The basketball stickers feature all ten ABA teams and seventeen NBA franchises. As there are 33 different stickers, some different combinations were created in the NBA run, with six variants possible (Hawks, Celtics, Braves, Warriors, Lakers, Knicks going by the main logo). The ABA run was static.

My online buddy Jon has documented the basketball stickers and packaging at his Fleer Sticker site and I urge you to click on over there to take a gander.

There is another iteration of this design however:

(From Bobby Burrell's Vintage Hockey Collector Price Guide)

That is a 1974 Topps Hockey sticker insert (which came two per pack with yet another, different insert to boot). There are 18 NHL teams represented, plus a league logo, with five repeaters (Flames, Bruins, Canadiens, Rangers, Maple Leafs by the main logo). Those are real names and logos, just like the NBA stickers.

It would appear the Baseball Action Emblems (cloth version) came first in 1973 , then the NBA stickers came after later in '73, then a reissue of the Baseball Action Emblems (slick style) occurred in 1974 followed by the Hockey stickers later that year. That is a creative use of a design!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Penny Arcade-1964 Outer Limits

I've decided to start a recurring feature here at the Archive I'm naming Penny Arcade, which will riff on Topps penny packs and wrappers. This is partly because I am pressed for time of late but also because I am obsessing over Topps One Cent Wrappers these days (none of which I own, by the way).

Penny packs amaze me as there was somehow enough profit built in that they were worth issuing as late as 1965. Primarily marketed in rural areas back when the gum was considered the star attraction within, penny packs generally used a repeating design taken from the nickel wax packs of any given issue. Think about the profit chain:

  • Suppliers to Topps make profit on raw materials for cards and gum, etc.
  • Topps manufactures cards gum, wrappers, boxes and cartons
  • Topps sells cards through their Sales Dept (and their employees earn commission) to Wholesalers
  • Wholesalers sell cards to local markets and stores.
  • Stores sell cards to kids.
All for a penny! Yes, I know the whole structure was based on bulk sales and marketing but it's amazing there was enough for all. Think about it- a 120 count box of penny packs retailed for $1.20!! Well enough Economics, on with the show.

The Outer Limits was a sort of monster-themed version of The Twilight Zone by way of outer space that ran from 1963-65 and then lived on in reruns. Much like TZ, Outer Limits was resurrected years later in much less satisfying form.

Today let's take a peek back in space-time at the penny wrapper from this 50 card set, which was issued by the Topps nom de plume Bubbles Inc. Pretty gruesome, eh?

This one's a little dirty-the primary color is a garish green. The cards are tough to find in nice shape with full bleed fronts and backs making life difficult for the PSA crowd. A really nice Outer Limits cards site can be found here and since I am focusing on the wrappers for this series, you can view the cards quite easily offsite.