Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Deckle The Halls

Well, it has been quite the week here at Topps Archives World HQ. There has been some significant information flow on a number of fronts, which will be addressed in the coming weeks.

Today though, I turn to thoughts of deckle edges, vintage 1974.

As many of you know, Topps first inserted small black and white cards with deckled edges in their 1969 baseball packs. These measure about 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" deckle-to-deckle, a standard size for inserts at the time. It is quite a nice set, has a couple of variations but is utterly common. Here is one for comparative purposes:



The backs resemble those of the 1969 Super Baseball:



The smooth, still white back is indicative of quality photo stock being used to print these and the deckles have held up well over the years.

In 1974, Topps issued a set of 72 postcard sized (about 2 7/8" x 5" deckle edged cards in test packs. The cards had more black-and-white definition than the 69's, which tend to grayer tones, and the fronts are nicely glossed:



The trick with these is on the back; there are gray and white back varieties of each card:





More mystery lurks on the front of the white backs though:



While the pitting and chipping on this Matlack card is unfortunate, it helps detail what I can only describe as a "tacky" gloss on the white back obverses. It is far stickier than I am sure Topps wanted and my theory is they had to reprint the set using the gray backs. Perhaps there was an interaction between the gloss and the cardboard stock used (which does not quite appear to be photo stock quality on the whites, let alone the grays).

Another theory is that the tacky gloss could have interfered with the gum within as the cards were sold with and without gum, three cards to a pack for a dime:



(courtesy www.baseballwrappers.com)

You can see the flap on the back of the test pack (plain white wax with a stickered label) listing the gum ingredients, a common way to seal these packs. Those without gum however, had no back sticker that I can determine, at least on the wrapper I have in my collection:



It may have fallen off but the back flaps look untouched by anything else. Perhaps one of our readers knows for sure.

The 74's, while not the easiest of sets to complete, follow the 70's vs. 60's rule-of-thumb concerning test issues as they can be found with a little bit of searching (60's test issues are generally much harder to find than those from the 70's). It is thought the 74's were sold in the Massachusetts area, perhaps indicating they were printed in the Bay State. I would not be surprised if they were sold in a couple of other areas as well but Massachusetts seems to be the local focal point.

The 69's and their scarce straight-edge proofs will be posted about on another day, with details about their OPC brethren in both baseball and hockey flavors.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Game Theory

1971 was the last year Topps put true inserts (i.e. not team checklist cards) into their baseball and football packs for almost a decade. 1971 football cards and their well-and-jointly-designed inserts are the focus here today.

Much like the '71 baseball series, that year's football cards had full bleed borders, only in red or blue (or in some cases, both) instead of black. I always thought the 71's were nicely designed, with their red-for-AFC, blue-for-NFC colors:


(from www.beckett.com)

And in what muct have been the inspiration for 1975 Topps baseball cards, All Pro players in '71 got both, a nice touch:


(from www.beckett.com)

As you can see from the wrapper, you got a game card and a poster inside the wax packs:


(from www.psacard.com)

The Game Cards look to have been patterned after a crazy mix of the '68 Baseball Game Inserts and a deck of playing cards:



Topps designers must have had fun with the backs:



If only they had owned a team, those helmets are great! There are 52 players in the set and the cards measure at the ubiquitous Topps rounded-corners-insert-size of 2 1/4" x 3 1/4".

Also in the packs were a set of posters, 32 in number:



Pink looks odd on a football poster and the border colors trended toward bright in this set with, shall we say, "unmanly" blues, yellows, greens and purples augmented here and there with more traditional color schemes. These measure at 4 7/8" x 6 7/8".

The fun part is on the backs:



To help you out, Topps also included a handy marker insert card:



The back was helpful too:



If you do the math on the Game Card inserts, there should be 66 cards on an uncut sheet. Six players are double printed, which leaves 8 slots on the sheet for the markers to occupy. I remember getting a lot of markers buying these packs back in 1971 and playing a few games of football as well. Both sets are quite reasonable in price these days, so if you wanted to play a game, you could do so with ease.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Sorta Super

Hot on the heels of last week's episode, I dove ankle deep into the archives and pulled out some Super Football shots. Topps managed to insert a psychedelic "glossy super" card into the 1970 football packs and also found time to issue a stand alone set of thick supers akin to the 1970-71 baseball issues in '70 as well.

The inserts are a crazy cool kind of set. This Floyd Little card sums the entire 33 card offering up perfectly:



The colors on these cards are far out man, simply groovy! As you can imagine, this little set is a popular one with collectors. They measure 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" which is a standard size for inserts of this ilk in the late 60's and early. These are not necessarily called "super" by Topps but their reverse belies the lack of nomenclature in its similarity to the '69 Super Baseball cards:



The backs tone a bit sometimes from their possibly virgin beginnings but that's OK since all the action is on the front.

The pop-artish small supers leave their larger brethren in the dust. Topps managed to avoid the obvious misfortune of not having an NFL license for a surprisingly long period of time in the middle to later downs of the last century but it's a pretty obvious play on the big Boy Super Football cards as we are presented with a set of 35 cards of football players without one measly hemet or logo making an appearance. Topps would not reacquire the license until 1982 so their Football sets for a dozen or so years were airbrush and head shot extravaganzas. The 1970 Football Supers measure in at 3 1/8" x 5 1/4", the same as their baseball brethren.



The backs are a bit sickly:



Cribbed from the regular 1970 football reverses, the supers left way too much white space around the borders. White was on Topps' mind in 1970 as the semi-snazzy wrapper for this set features lots of it as well:



Had to snag that from Ebay as I am just barely getting up to speed adding wrappers to the archive. I like the whale though.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Simply Super

What makes something super? Is it the powers bestowed upon a small child has after his home planet of Krypton blows up? Or is it an event so large half the planet stops to watch a football game? Well, when it comes to Topps, the answer is: rounded corners!

In 1969 Topps began a three year run of secondary sets they called Super Baseball. The first of these shares dimensions with the previous year's game card inserts at 2 1/4" x 3 1/4".



The back uses the sparest of elements to give a little more information, a staple of what Topps considered to be their photo quality sets in the 1960's:



Quite simply, they are one of the nicest sets Topps ever produced and are avidly collected. The back story on these is that a large hoard were destroyed in a fire at the Card Collector's Company (owned by Topps art director Woody Gelman) in the 1970's and it consumed enough inventory to forever skew the supply of these to the hobby. That may indicate they sold fairly poorly at the time of release or it may not. I find the 69's to be reasonably available but hotly pursued; you could but together a set in a few months if you had enough money.

The good news is that cards from this set are found more often than not in nice shape. They came in packs of three cards that looked like wax but are described by pack guru Mark Murphy as being cello's. If there was a traditional stickered white test wrapper, it's been hiding for a long time now as I have never seen even a reference to one.



Sorry for the poor resolution on that. Excepting all the cards shown here, which are mine, the rest of the scans are from a potpourri of auctions over the years. At least one proof sheet has survived the past four decades:



All 66 cards are shown on this great sheet. The crazy carnival colors at the top are a mystery to me. There was also an insert set of Football Supers in 1969 of similar ilk, which I will discuss in another installment.

1970 saw the release of a larger set in size but not number. 42 cards, as thick as tongue depressers were produced in 1970. Measuring in at 3 1/8" x 5 1/4" these suckers were sturdy! The Boog Powell card (#38) is widely believed to be short printed, although I consider it more likely to have been in a position to suffer damage during production. These big supers were produced on 63 card half- sheets, which allows for three full sets over a full 126 slot array. As seven or eight other cards are believed to have been short printed as well (nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, 36, 37, 39 & 40 in addition to the Powell, although opinion varies on No.3 Aparicio), I like my theory of damage control in explaining the short prints as the other four would appear on bottom row of the other proof sheet, for reasons explained below.

These cards feature some nice shots:



The backs are cribbed from the regular '70 backs, just renumbered. I always loved the cartoon on Reggie's card:



Proof cards are quite common from this set. Here is a front and back of Tommy Harper (#9), showing proofs were likely recovered printer's scrap. These proofs are found on much thinner cardboard as well.





Here is a partial proof sheet showing half the set:



Of the 7 cards in the top row, four are considered to be short prints: Seaver (slot 3), then (skipping Killebrew) Aparicio, Bando and Osteen (slots 5, 6 & 7). Their top row status reinforces my damage theory I think. If you go right to left, from the top row to the bottom, the 21 cards shown here are in consecutive order. Following this logic, the bottom row of the other proof sheet would contain all of the SP's in the last batch of 21 cards (36-42).

1970 Supers were first tested in a white wax wrapper, an example of which I have never seen and must be quite rare. The 1970 regular issue pack leaves no doubt which decade it is from and held three cards:



This pack was reused in 1971, when a 63 card set was unleashed. The 71's are harder to find than the 70's by about a 4-1 ratio in my experience, which makes the accepted pricing of these odd since the guides tend to show the reverse. There are no reported short prints in '71 so the production issues must have been ironed out. I find the 71's to have some of the best photography of just about any Topps baseball set ever issued. Check out Boog:



You get the classic old Yankee Stadium backdrop and a great shot of the Orioles smiling bird cap logo at the time. How great is that?! The backs are rehashed regular issue backs.



A box proof came up for auction a while back, check out the graphics:



I remember buying cards from both of the big sets when I was a kid and that they were quite popular. I don't think that is the case today as storing and grading of such thick slabs is considered problematic by many collectors. Since I tend not get get cards graded and use 4 pocket PC sheets to store these, I happily disagree with the prevailing sentiment.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Jackie

Sometimes a picture is worth more than 1000 words. Sixty two years ago today, Jack Roosevelt Robinson made his major league debut and ushered in the true modern era of baseball.



I realize I have shown this card before but it's the only regular Topps issued Jackie that I own. I am on a single card theme of late but tonight it's rather appropriate.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Stating the Obvious

I just couldn't resist this one, besides it's one of the nicest '52 Topps cards there is:


(from www.beckett.com)

If Topps had ever put out a vintage Billy Sunday card it would be posted today as well! We'll just have to settle for the only major leaguer ever to have the first name of Luscious.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Back o'the Plak

Further to my recent post on the 1968 Topps Plaks, I received my Tom Davis statue in the mail today. Having never seen one of these up close I took the opportunity to check ol' Tommy out and found something interesting.

Firstly, here is my freshly scanned Davis:



Not counting that little connecting blob on the left, he measures 1 1/4" at his widest and 2 3/16" at his tallest. His head is about the size of a quarter. There is a tiny connecting blob that attaches the two insertion tabs to the base so it is actually one piece. It is held together quite sturdily, believe it or not. The Plak measures about 3/32" of an inch thick as near as I can tell. You can't see it in the scan but Davis' neck and ear are semi-translucent while the rest of the statue is not. The rest of it is more solid but mottled a bit, which you can see better on the back scan below.

Of particular interest is the fact the back has a number molded into it:



#17 corresponds to his number on the checklist. The back is very smooth by the way.

I have sent out some inquiries to see if other Plaks are numbered as well and will report any findings here. I am extremely interested in seeing if both Mantle variations have the same number or if any numbers for the five unproduced Plaks will turn up. In case you were wondering, the numbers for the five missing busts are 10 (Peters), 11 (Frank Robinson), 13 (Aaron), 18 (Drysdale) and 19 (Mays). Mantle, the only bust that has two different looks, is number 9.

The Plak looks much nicer in person than it does from any other photos or scans I have seen. When held at arm's length, it resembles Davis a bit more than can be shown here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Stick This!

Since baseball season is upon us, I thought it appropriate tonight to examine some... football stickers; specifically, with one exception, those Topps included in their retail packs in the 1960's.

Much like their baseball counterparts from this era, Topps marketed a wide variety of inserts with their football cards, due in no small part to competition from Fleer and Philadelphia Gum. I'll get to the non-stickered inserts another time, I'm fixating on the sticky ones only right now.

Perhaps the snazziest of all the sticker inserts is the first one, referred to as Metallic Emblems and issued in 1960.



The cut on this sticker is unfortunately common and it seems more often than not these are found miscut. These are truly shiny and the 33 sticker set can be found with either gold, silver or blue backgrounds. I presume there are 11 of each color but that is merely an educated guess. These are smaller than a standard sized card at around 3" x 2 1/4". There are 13 NFL and 20 colleges represented. 1960 was a very interesting year for the NFL and the 13 teams are no typo.

A year later Topps issued what are referred to as Flocked Stickers, fuzz-like in nature and of a decided split personality.



The smaller sticker component to the left carries on an old Topps tradition that dates to the late 40's, where Bazooka gum premiums consisted of letters and numbers so a kid could make his own jersey up. All 14 NFL and all 8 AFL teams were represented, together with a logo for each league augmented by 24 college teams. Some variations in the smaller stickers (which are solely letters, no numbers were used in 1961) exist and a full master set would be 60 stickers total. These appear a little bigger than the Metallic Emblems but measure out at about 3 1/4" x 2".

Next up, after a nice series of Football Bucks in '62 (partially discussed here) and a measly red cello viewer in '63 (for an interactive feature on the card backs), 1964 saw a scarce issue of 24 Pennant Stickers. These were too large at 2 1/8" x 4 1/2" to fit inside a pack so they were folded. I don't have one of these yet, so had to nick this scan from Ebay:



The big Beckett football guide describes these as "glassine" so they must be fragile. Ironically, they would have fit in the "tall boy" packs issued in 1965! They feature only AFL and college teams. Topps only issued AFL cards from 1964-67 as Phildelphia Gum had secured the NFL license they once held dear.

The 1965 tall boys included a rub off insert, more on which somewhere down the road. 1966 was nutty due to the whole Funny Ring inserts, wholly unrelated to football at all but featuring a checklist in the regular set itself!

We now find ourselves in 1967 and the schizophrenic, yet standard-sized Comic Pennant Stickers:



The odd thing about this set is a second version was allegedly issued without the die cuts and in its own packs. I am fishing around for more details on that oddity and will hopefully get some help down the road as the stand alone set is not well documented at all. There were the usual 8 AFL teams represented plus some colleges and a couple of school-themed stickers, such as "Confused State". It is possible this set was pulled due to complaints over some of the sayings. Only 31 stickers exist, which is an odd number in the Topps universe.

1968 saw some nice Stand Up inserts and another standalone sticker set called Team Patches, which were the lead product and featured a team card insert, which will also be discussed another day as it is a popular issue and holds a surprise or two. These patches are tough to find in nice shape and this was pulled from Ebay:



The stickers are standard sized but the team card inserts were tall boys. A very, very bizarre pairing if you ask me. Both NFL and AFL teams were featured in the set (26 in total, plus 18 stickers with two letters or numbers apiece).

We will close out our sticker extravaganza with those of the gummed variety from 1969. You had to lick these babies to get 'em to stick. Are they stamps or stickers? You decide.



The 4 sticker insert is standard sized and there are 66 four sticker "cards", one of which repeats so 260 players can be found. There are a number of players featured in this set that are not in the regular football card set in 1969. These stickers were pasted into team albums that also came as inserts with the football cards:



Each album has a team logo on the back.



Check out the centerfold (a slightly different style was used for the interior pages). Each held ten, so the magic number of 260 could be reached.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Plak Attack

One of the biggest hobby finds in recent memory was that of some shoeboxes full of little plastic busts of baseball players that Topps produced in 1968. For some odd reason these busts are called Plaks, although in prior years Topps reserved use of that term for thick, oversized cards.

The busts came three to a sprue in a really cool looking wrapper for a dime, which leads me to believe the test was not just of the product but also the price point, as ten cents was a hefty price to pay in '68. The Plaks might have made it into regular production as there are fully printed wrappers and the not the generic white test wrappers with stickers, although this is possibly because of the large size of the pack:


(from the collection of Bob Fisk)

and I have seen a couple of unopened packs to boot:




The production box is also nice:






Mile High Card Company (the name pertains to their location, not their flying habits) was able to purchase this collection and the story is a fascinating one in that it reveals Topps employees could take home failed products and the like, no doubt explaining both the great rarity and latter day availability of many test issues. The Plaks were found in Scranton, PA and were produced therefore at Topps nearby plant in Duryea (some oddball Topps issues were farmed out to other firms during the go-go Sixties).

One of the revelations from the Mile High find was that five players thought to exist were not produced. These are identified after the visual checklists below.

Some Plaks came on more than one sprue and there is a variant of the Mantle bust. Here are some examples, taken from Mile High's site. The full set of 19 plus Mantle variant is shown here:



The Mantle "big nose" variation, on a sprue, rightmost:



The regular Mantle, also sprue-bound at left:



Here is a single Plak (happily mine now), which shows how they had to be assembled by the purchaser:



My favorite part of this set though, is the two checklists. These are about 4 inches tall and printed on cardboard. There is one for each league. I picked up this AL checklist at the 2004 National:





You can see there is a slight curl to the checklist card as they were produced in strips that were inexpertly cut prior to pack insertion.

The NL checklists below are from two different Ebay auctions awhile back. I still need one of these but they are hard to find (none were in the Mile High cache I gather) and expensive:





The five players you will not find are:

Hank Aaron
Don Drysdale
Willie Mays
Gary Peters
Frank Robinson

These five have also been missing from previous sales and cannot be found in even the most advanced collections.

Additionally, Rose appears to be short "printed", appearing on a single sprue and Davis, Hunter, Killebrew, Lonborg and Wynn appear on three different sprues. All the other known players appear on two sprues. Mile High mentions on their website they think the five triply produced plaks replaced the five missing ones which is plausible. Now that these have left the marketplace and been added to waiting collections it may be some time before any substantial number of them reappear for sale or in future auctions.