Saturday, February 28, 2009

Text in the City

In the pre-Bazooka days, penny gum tabs were the gateway confectionery item for Topps. Regular readers of this blog may recall they looked like this:



One of the things I try to figure out when idle is what the first Topps cards (or inner wrapper) were. Not to horn in on Todd Riley, who will have a killer Non Sports website up soon, but he has the only two scans I know concerning the subjects of this post. At some point the inside of the outer wrap became a fortune cookie of sorts:



Not really all that imaginative but interesting all the same and a worthy candidate for #1.

Very basic as well but a possible candidate for first Topps insert card was also text based:



Yes Sir That's My Baby was a movie released in early August of 1949 and I would think this little card was part of a series issued in the summer of that year. The bigger question is when did this type of release start? So far as I know, these Mini Movie Lobby cards are not catalogued.

Of course, the first insert may not have been a card:



Yes, I am repeating myself a little but at some point feel like this will be figured out. My opinion at present is that the text based releases and using third party plastic coins would have been an easy (and cheap) way for Topps to issue inserts while they worked on other sets such as X Ray Vision and Magic Photos. However, Magic Photos could certainly pre-date the Mini Movie Lobby Cards if the latter only appeared for the first time in 1949. Based on this sell sheet, there was at least a six month head start for Magic Photos.



If anyone has other lobby cards, I ask you to send me scans as they can be dated quite easily.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Bucks Stop Here

The early 1960's were an incredibly creative time at Topps. They were putting out great sets in every line and creating killer inserts to boot. They even established a meme of sorts in 1962!

The expansion of the American and National Leagues in 1961-62 opened up or expanded four major league markets and with Fleer pushing hard to compete Topps was coming up with little extras to differentiate their offerings. They inserted stamps into the baseball packs and marketed their first real supplemental set since 1956. Baseball Bucks were a 96 "note" set of faux currency sold in penny packs:



Given the difficulty I had finding a pack scan (the above is from a recently concluded Ebay auction) it can be assumed the bucks did not set the world on fire. I also wonder if penny packs were really popular at this point as well since Topps phased them out entirely across all lines in 1965.

Topps Vault sold a proof box a couple of years ago:



The bucks, which measure roughly 4 1/8" x 1 9/16" (sizes, cuts and horizontal orientation vary a little) had to be folded to fit in the pack. Folds are generally found about a little to the right of the player photo. They also came into contact with the gum, which can cause some issues.





The design on these is fantastic! You could open up a pack and find one of three denominations (1, 5 or 10) and either and AL or NL logo on the reverse. The paper even feels a little bit like legal tender. Team logos were also a real cool touch, as was showing the team's home field on the front. You can find these fairly easily but good luck on the centering!

Here is a partial uncut sheet of 48 notes, probably from an REA auction a few years ago:



Not to let a good idea go to waste, despite likely lackluster sales, Topps created a 48 note set of NFL players (Fleer had the AFL license at the time) that were inserted in their 1962 football packs:


(from http://footballcardgallery.com)

The design elements of the Football Bucks echo the baseball issue almost exactly, right down to the fold, miscuts, size and denominations:




These are harder to find than the Baseball Bucks but not all that tough to track down.

Topps did not issue a basketball set in 1962 but I'll bet they would have had Bucks inserts had they sold them. They did manage to halve the count again and create 24 Hockey Bucks inserts for the 1962-63 NHL season. Topps hockey cards were sold in Canada, usually coming out in midseason hot on the heels of the annual Parkhurst issue.


(from Bobby Burrell's Vintage Hockey Collector book)

If you want to go broke real quick, buy some 50's and 60's hockey wrappers or packs. If you are tempted to open one, you will find slightly redesigned bucks:




The Hockey Bucks are difficult to find (the above two scans are a rare sighting from Ebay) especially in nice shape, which is true of all three issues. The only denomination on these is "1" for some reason. Size is similar to the baseball and football issues and well centered, untilted examples are probably more myth than reality. I am told the Hockey Bucks quite resemble the Canadian currency of the time, which makes cents.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

How Puzzling

Topps had a bit of a last gasp with their baseball test issues in 1973-74 and one of the best ones is a set of twelve baseball player puzzles issued in 1974. Since I am having some scanner issues (again) I thought today would be a good day to show some scans I stole off of Ebay over the years featuring this set.

While they are described as coming in both 25 cent and 29 cent packs (really an envelope), the latter is the only one I can recall seeing. If anyone has a scan of the 25 cent variety, send it along and I'll post it.



These have a glued flap on the back, so when you find an envelope that has been opened, it will be torn to some degree.

They came in a plain white box, not uncommon for test issues of this era and I presume each held a half-dozen:



Topps may have been testing price points as well as the puzzles. This will be a Tom Terrific themed post, as the "wrapper" is different than his actual puzzle and therefore worth showing (OK, he was my favorite player as a kid):



These are pretty hefty at 4 3/4" x 7 1/2" and they have some thickness too. In case you are wondering (and I know you are) each puzzle has 40 pieces and each puzzle has the same die cuts. These are among the easier Topps test issues to locate (although that is a relative statement) and one seems to show up as much as another. It is also fairly common to find the wrapper with the puzzle.

You can see all twelve puzzles in proof form on this killer pair (hard to see but it's six puzzles per side:



I bid on but lost the above proofs. I think they would make a fabulous display piece!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Double Your Pleasure

Intrepid reader Roger Nisly was kind enough to send along scans (neatly edited, I might add) he has compiled over the years from various auction catalogs that show the 1955 Topps Doubleheaders panoramic ballpark views I mentioned in my last post. You can clearly see how the backgrounds were linked. Roger, you are hereby awarded the Gold Oak Leaf Cluster with Aluminum figlagee!

Give a click on each to see more detail. Enjoy all!











Sunday, February 15, 2009

Double Your Fun

In 1955 Topps released a metamorphic set of cards in penny packs. Doubleheaders were designed to be folded thereby giving the purchaser, at least in theory, two different cards for the price of one.

As you can see, by folding the top of the back down a second, smaller picture was formed.



Unfortunately, the cards are prone to miscuts and the illusion is disupted unless a perfect cut was made at the factory. The bottom of the Spooner/Hughes back shows a sliver of another card and it is not a seamless fit.

The pictures, which are somewhat crude by Topps' standards, are taken from the small inset photos on the regular issue 1955 baseball cards (or was it the other way around?). There are 132 players (66 total cards) depicted and a quick spot check of the Standard Catalog shows they used designs from most of the the first 148 cards in the regular issue. Here are a couple examples:




I have no idea what Rube is looking at. Come to think of it, Lou Limmer is going to break his nose fielding balls this way:



Even the folded image conformed to a smaller inset picture:



That's not the only other surprise this set conceals. The fronts of the cards have backgrounds that form a series of ballpark panoramas, as this uncut strip shows (probably from the same auction as the box and packs above):



It looks like an idealized Yankee Stadium, doesn't it? Ebbets Field and Polo Grounds backdrops were used as well. The October 1984 issue of Baseball Cards Magazine had a full color spread showing all 66 fronts and some scenes span eleven cards! A couple also seem to go from day to night. If I can stitch together a scan, I'll post some more panoramic examples down the road.

Some unopened packs are still floating around. I cannot recall which auction this scan came from but I'm impressed a box has survived through the years.



Doubleheaders harkened back to a set called Mecca Double Folders, issued in 1911, that used the same principle. This link will give you a good overview of that set. Doubleheaders were really the first supplemental issue of Topps baseball cards to hit the market as they experimented with different ways to expand their business. After the 1956 pins they would not mess around with such extra sets until they issued Baseball Tattoos in 1960.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Valentine's Day!

Go spend some time with your sweetheart...



How you spend it is up to you...

Monday, February 9, 2009

Mind Your Own Business

There is a small but distinct list of baseball issues from Topps that consist of a single card. The most famous of these is Joe Garagiola's 1976 NBC Business Card that is a dead ringer for a '73 Topps baseball card on the obverse:



The front might fool you for a minute but the back gives away the true purpose of the card (and is lifted from the regular 1976 back design):




Joe allegedly had another Topps created business card made up a few years later (early 90's I believe) but I haven't been able to find a scan or even a solid reference. The ersatz '73 above can be found with relative ease. I vividly remember seeing it on an episode of This Week in Baseball in the mid 70's and wanting to buy one. Back then, not an easy task. Now, with the Internet and card shows, totally do-able. I found my copy last year at a local show; the dealer had a few extras so I picked the best of the bunch for $20.

Now the Joe G. card is an actual business card; other Topps singleton "sets" exist for a different reason.

Before he became a Hall of Famer, this scarce 1969/70 card of newly minted baseball commissioned Bowie Kuhn could be had at a reasonable price, despite its scarcity (100-200 cards printed by most accounts). I would have to say it was printed up for a testimonial dinner.



I nailed the scan but the card eluded me a few years back on Ebay. I am kicking myself now for not bidding higher. Here is the informative back:



And while scope of of this blog really only extends to 1980, there is another card from a decade later that is quite famous. This blog will remain apolitical but the card is decidedly from inside the Beltway:



The story is that Bush 41 asked Topps to print these up and they complied, giving the President 100 cards for his own use. Now, Topps was still using 132 card sheets back then so that leaves us with an errant 32 cards, possibly explaining how some of them were pulled from 1990 baseball wax packs back in the day. These are quite valuable and interest goes far beyond our little hobby. The Orlando Sentinel ran a nice piece (and a great scan for me to steal) last year on this interesting pasteboard.

Nowadays, anyone can have Topps print up a card of them for about $15 so the romance is gone. I think these are some of the neatest things Topps ever did-back when it was OK to be whimsical in the business world.

The best part about having one of these cards made up for you? The fact you were #1 in the set!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Weaving a Tangled Webb

Over the years, Topps would obtain licenses to produce various card sets featuring photos from third party sources. In the 60's and 70's, these were primarily related to TV shows. Since TV viewers are a fickle audience, some of these sets would only make it to the proof or test stage. In addition, they would sometimes not follow the Topps "rule of 11" whereby standard sized cards would be issued in sets or series whose total number was divisible by 11 (the number of cards in each row on a production sheet). For TV or movie-themed sets this was likely due to only a certain number of images being provided by the production company involved.

In 1973 Topps produced a very rare set that contained cards from two popular TV shows: Emergency! (one of my favorite shows as a pre-teen) and Adam-12. Single card images are hard to come by and I have only been able to swipe a handful of scans. Here is an Adam-12 front and an Emergency! reverse (the latter from the Topps Vault, a slick without a printed front).





As you can see, there was a puzzle (six actually) back but not all cards had this type of reverse.

There are 50 cards in the set but instead of 25 from each show, there are 27 from Emergency! and 23 from Adam-12. This break from the "rule of 11" is not the only anomaly though. First off, it is highly unusual for Topps to feature two shows in one set. I can only think of 1962's Casey & Kildare as doing so and those two shows do not seem to have shared the same production company or principals, whereas as Jack Webb was involved with the Adam-12 and Emergency! shows, explaining their hybrid presentation.

Fortunately for us, Topps Vault auctioned an uncut sheet featuring all 50 cards a while back.





All things considered, this is one of the nicest proof or production sheets I have ever seen. If you blow the scans up you will see there are five double printed cards in the top row. In fact, the reverse shows the entire top row to be different than cards with puzzle backs in the four rows below it. It's hard to read but those reverses from the top row have simple graphics explaining the puzzles while also offering some text about the show in question.

The puzzle back are also intriguing; if you match up the front and back of the sheet, some Adam-12 cards have a character from Emergency! on the back. More anomalies! This leads me to believe this sheet (and maybe the entire set) was printed for a final pitch to the production company and was ultimately rejected. John Neuner's Wrapper Checklist book does not show a wrapper for this set and given how hard it is to find the cards, I suspect they never made it to the test stage. The ratio of cards with one printed side on slick stock vs full cards also supports the proof only theory but I would not be surprised to see a proof wrapper or box pop up someday.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Unmatched

Topps would use a variety of media to advertise their products over the years. In the World War 2 era, matchbooks were a simple and inexpensive way to gain exposure. Back when smoking was not taboo, I would think you could pick up a Topps matchbook at any candy counter or drugstore where Topps gum tabs were sold.

This one advertises their popular "changemaker" tab:



There are few different varieties of these but the above example is encountered often. Topps likely had a matchbook for each specific mint flavor in its main line. Here are two I found just searching on Ebay; Pepsin and Cinnamon would also have starred on their own covers. I am not sure if the Fruit tab would have been advertised as I suspect it was marketed more with children in mind than adults but it would not surprise me either if there was a corresponding matchbook.



When it came time to market some "ammoniated" gum, the design department got all panoramic:



Probably the most famous ad Topps ever put on a matchbook was created by Otto Soglow. It didn't take much more than a clever copywriter to morph "Loose lips sink ships" into this:



The catchphrase "Don't Talk Chum, Chew Topps Gum" was well-known back in the day. This example is hand dated July 18, 1944 on back, noted by a matchbook collector of yore I'm sure. There are some variations on all of these matchbooks I think; I have seen a variant of the Soglow cartoon, I just don't have a copy of it. Life magazine (and certainly other periodicals) ran a parallel series, here is one of the ads from February 1944 (a hybrid public service message/advert). You can find out more on these ads here.




The focus shifted a bit after the war ended and our returning fighting men had other, ah, concerns. The first one is a detail from a larger poster or possibly was designed for a print ad; Soglow is stretching out:



The second one shows an entire ad. Oh, you kid!



Those two are from an auction house called Period Paper, they have some really awesome stuff!

While digital imaging makes things like this blog possible, I am starting to feel nostalgic for how life used to be. Someday there will be no such thing as words printed on paper. What will an earnest archivist do then?