Saturday, December 5, 2009


Those little Topps cards that used to come inserted between the inner and outer wraps of Topps gum in the late 40's through mid 50's have always been a subject I enjoy researching, as relatively little is known about them compared to their more grown-up siblings. This lack of scrutiny has left us with some confusion that is carried over this day into the various guide books and tales told between grizzled old hobby veterans. One such area of confusion applies to the 1948/49 Magic Photos and 1955/56 Hocus Focus issues as there are many similarities between the two sets.

The 1948/49 Magic Photos were one of the first Topps issues and they met with huge success and can be found pretty easily even now, some sixty plus years after they first appeared. The idea was to spit on or otherwise moisten the front of the card and then rub it against the wrapper which contained some (hopefully) benign "developing" chemicals. Sunlight probably aided the process as well.

Magic Photos appeared in 1948 and were issued in two 126 card series. There were subsets within each and these used letter suffixes for identification. Here is my Connie Mack, which is actually atypical as there is no visible lettering on the front:

Here is Rogers Hornsby in a scan I nailed from Ebay showing how the lettering generally looks as I think it's washed out in the white background of the Mack card:

The back is informative:

You can see Baseball Hall of Fame is a 19 card subset designated "K" by Topps. The different subsets are:

A Boxing Champions
B All American Basketball
C All American Football
D Wrestling Champions
E Track and Field Champions
F Stars of Stage And Screen
G American Dogs
H General Sports

(Series I not used, likely to avoid confusion).

J Movie Stars
K Baseball Hall Of Fame
L Aviation Pioneers
M Famous Landmarks
N American Inventors
O American Military Leaders
P American Explorers
Q Basketball Thrills
R Football Thrills
S Figures Of The Wild West
T General Sports

As you can see, there is some repitition between the first and second groups, which are conveniently bisected by the missing "I" into the two main 126 card series. Some subsets have as few as two or as many as 25 cards. At least one variation is known and the Wrestlers and a few others may have been issued as part of another promotion, not of Topps doing, with alternate backs and Topps may have just licensed the photos they used in the set. Here is an uncut sheet of 126:

The Album is hard to find:

Despite the scroll listing the subsets on front, it was the same for each of the two series, although the interiors were different. Here is a fuzzly look at the interior cover:

And here is an album page, partially filled:

I cannot say who owns that album and I found those shots on Ebay.

You could buy Magic Photos with Hocus Focus gum (another source of confusion) and it was available in penny or nickel packs. The penny pack has a 1948 copyright and a wax interior wrapper. The card was sandwiched between the outer and inner wrapper:

I believe that is Jeff Shepherd's pack. The nickel wrapper is very, very rare and there was a strip of 6 Magic Photos within. I am not sure if the strips were perforated or merely scored, I suspect the latter but I have never seen an intact one and can't say for certain. The only picture I have ever seen is from Volume 2 of Chris Benjamin's Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards 1930-1960 (Edgewater Book Company, 1993):

The "In Color" teaser applies to the gum, not the cards! Note the offer for the album on the wrapper.

Take a good look at that back of the Connie Mack as it's the easiest way to tell the Magic Photos apart from their descendants in 1955/56. "See Directions Inside Wrap" indicates it's a Magic Photo but in 1955 Hocus Focus came out and muddied the waters.

Here is a Hocus Focus, front and back:

As you can see, it clearly states "Hocus Focus" on the back and that is the big difference between the sets-Magic Photos will NEVER say this. Hocus Focus also have the black circle with overall number of the card in the set in the lower right corner of the reverse, in addition to any subset numbering.

That is a "small" Hocus Focus, which came in penny packs and are unbelievably rare. The "large" ones came in strip of four that were perforated (and obviously so). The small cards have no perforated edges, the large one have either one or two perforated sides:

I'll get into sizes soon on all of these but here is a comparison of small and large Hocus Focus cards:

The penny pack has a wrapper identiccal to the '48 penny wrapper but with a 1955 copyright:

(Courtesy of Todd Riley)

The inner wrap is foil at this point, not wax. The chemicals were on the interior of the exterior wrapper, unlike the nickel packs which had their own, separate developing paper. Here is the nickel wrapper:

No album exists for the Hocus Focus cards and they probably sold poorly as these were the last of this breed of card issued by Topps.

People usually refer to the smaller cards as 55's and the larger ones as 56's but they came out at the same time as this old Woody Gelman notebook page shows:

Small cards are often identified as being issued in 1955 and the larger ones in 1956 but you can see that they were co-mingled on the page. That page might belong to Bobby Burrell, I can't quite remember but this cache of uncut strips is his for sure:

The Hocus Focus checklists are a mess and intertwined in many publications. The larger cards have 96 subjects while the small ones theoretically have 121 although I think up to 131 is possible due to how the subsets are structured. Not all small cards are even known at this juncture and the larger ones are probably all identified but since the lists are out of whack, I am visually confirming each larger card (abou 20 to go). I've given up on the smaller ones, I only have about five confirmed visually right now.

The larger cards have the following subsets:

Westerners (11 cards)
World Wonders (10)
Sports Thrills (15)
Baseball Stars (18)
Airplanes (10)
Sports Cars (10)
Movie Stars (7)
World Leaders (15)

That is 96 cards folks!

Now, the small cards have a subset of 23 Baseball Stars and 15 Airplanes, so if each subset is five greater than found in the large cards, we would have 136 cards total but most guides say 121, although I have to think 126 is also possible due to the size of the two Magic Photos main series, the fact the Magic Photos and small Hocus Focus cards have the same measurements (see next paragraph) and the array on the Magic Photos uncut sheet.

Sizing is the same for the Magic Photos, no matter which way they were sold and they measure 7/8" x 1 7/16" while the small Hocus Focus cards are also 7/8" x 1 7/16" and the large cards are 1" x 1 5/8".

Send me a note if you have front and back scans of any small Hocus Focus cards. I also need front and back scans of these large Hocus Focus Cards: 2 8 9 11 16 26 32 34 40 41 43 48 56 57 60 67 76 79 95.

1 comment:

Chris Stufflestreet said...

he letters are certainly present in Mack's card...look at his legs and you'll see parts of the letters "C" and "A."