Thursday, May 28, 2009

Be-deckled

Topps was in the middle of a nice run of inserts in 1969 and as the 3rd series of baseball cards hit store shelves in late spring 40 years ago (!), the youth of America tore apart their wax packs to find a small set of "crinkle cut" (to use the British cartophilic term) black-and-white player photos. Topps would also issue a set of 48 full color decals in '69 that mimicked the regular card design but I have found conflicting evidence as to whether those came with 2nd or 5th series cards but which make them fodder for another day. The Deckles likely were continued into the 4th series packs, for reasons that will become evident.

The photos are printed on white stock and have a gel gloss coat somewhere between that of a regular card and a real photograph. The deckling is similar on all cards and they measure 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" or standard insert size for the era. While the set is a bear to put together in nice shape (say NM or better), in lower grades it can be had for under three figures. As you will see though, centering and printing issues make high grade examples scarce. Here is Hall of Famer Hoyt Wilhelm, in all his off-centered, scratched-up glory (the stippling is a scanner artifact):



Now this card (#11) would join with that of Rusty Staub (#22) and be replaced mid run for reasons that are unclear to me. Jimmy Wynn would take over the 11 slot:



But why? Neither Wilhelm nor Wynn changed teams during what must have been late winter production of these and Hoyt already had a logoless cap and non-descript uniform in the photo. Perhaps Wynn actually replaced Staub in that he represented the Astros following the January 8th trade of Rusty to the Expos (the first in a series of events that would make him the beloved Le Grande Orange). Here is Rusty now (one of my favorite players by the way and a true humanitarian):



I can see why Rusty's uni top might warrant a change following the trade but to replace him with Joe Foy (the other #22)? Madness!



It's not like the back of the card mentioned the team either:



Plus there was the matter of the checklist, which Topps helpfully added to the reverse of the 3rd Series regular-issue version:



You can plainly see Wilhelm and Staub were part of the initial subjects. Their replacements are harder to find so their print run was lesser and likely later. It has been imparted to me that the Wynn and Foy cards only were issued on the west coast, which may indicate they were inserted in a second run of 3rd series packs or in 4th series packs, although the series' would have been blended by Topps, as was their wont back then. There is some type of connection between tougher cards from the late 60's and 7-11 stores I need to suss out someday that may explain why the west got the two tougher deckles.

The wax wrapper heralded the inserts:


(from Ebay)

I take exception to the license taken with the word "real" but no matter.

Deckles were proofed in late 1968 (sans application of pinking shears) and the autographs can be found in red, blue or black as you can see from these nicked scans (sorry, I can't find a scan of the black).






These are out there as panels or singles if you look hard enough; only the nine players on the sheets above are known. For the most part, the players and poses did not carry through to the regular set, Yaz being a major exception.

Topps' Canadian arm O-Pee-Chee pared down the deckle set in quantity (24) , size (2 1/8" x 3 1/8"), quality (no gloss to speak of) and even detail (blank backs and black autographs):



Deckles would re-appear in larger format five years later, as previously discussed, but in 1969 they were a neat little insert that had a few problems but ultimately went on to become a classic; much like a certain baseball team from that summer and fall.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mini-mized

Once Topps eliminated the insert cards and stopped producing all of those oddball supplemental sets, no doubt due to rising energy and production costs in the mid 70's, they next turned to reducing the size of their baseball cards. As you can see below, they double decimated the standard 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" card to 2 1/4" x 3 1/8" in size. This was almost the same size as the revered 1951-52 Bowman issues, so it wasn't as radical a move as it first appeared. Here, see how the two compare:




From what I can find, the Minis were first reported to collectors at large in the June 1975 issue of The Trader Speaks. Here is what their readers saw:



Those collectors in California would have seen the same wrappers everyone else in the country did but with the appropriate reduction in size.



(Thanks to all around good guy King Yao for the wrapper!)

Since we did not see smaller cards in 1976, we can only surmise the fantastic voyage of the '75 Minis failed. Minis once sold for about twice what a regular sized '75 goes for but that ratio evened out in the past fifteen years or so. Twenty years ago I wondered why the Mini's sold for a premium when it was common knowledge among us weekend warrior types that you could practically place an order for an unopened wax box (they also came in Cellos and Rak Paks) but it was not until the 2009 REA auction that the answer was given. Charlie Conlon, a well known Michigan collector and dealer had bought out a wholesaler in his home state once he noticed the smaller cards were being sold in the Mitten State.

REA managed to grab ahold of 26 wax cases and two cello cases! One can only surmise Charlie had hundreds of cases in 1975 when he made his discovery. Coyly hiding the size of his find (and somehow managing to sat married) he parlayed his mini cardboard gold cache into a sizable collection (scroll down to the bottom of the linked page to see the Minis and marvel at the rest of the eye candy while you are at it).

There were probably a couple of other pockets of distribution but ol' Charlie had quite the hoard, didn't he? I suspect they will go down even further when compared to the standard size cards as this massive collection gets distributed among the far flung collectors of this issue.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Groovy Man!

As we near the 40th anniversary of Woodstock strange vibes are in the air. While the crescendo surrounding events at Yasgur's Farm will build until mid-summer, we can get an early start on things right here with a quick look at a test sticker set called Mod Generation.

55 gorgeous die-cut stickers were issued in this test set, each showing a very colorful person with a nameplate below:


(from http://www.normansaunders.com/ModGen,01.html)

The stickers were designed by Trina Robbins and then redrawn by Norman Saunders. They are indeed far out in concept and design. You can see a lot more of these here.

Original artwork from the set has surfaced, here is a fine example:



Researching this post led to the discovery that the scrawl in the lower right corner was Woody Gelman's approval of the artwork. Speaking of artwork, check out the test wrapper:



These tallboy stickers are fairly hard to come by and it is presumed the set was not picked up for general release, so if you see one snatch it up before the man does first.....I don't have any of these but am always on the lookout. Not sure where the above scans originated for the most part but if you can claim one, let me know and I'll post a link or credit.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Colors, Man, The Colors...

I came across these in the latest REA auction and thought they were pretty cool. These would have been created in February 1952 to help the printer determine if the final colors were right before the first press run of black backs was started.



The '52 Pafko, in addition to being a bear of a card to find in nice shape, is also one of my favorite poses in the set and you get to see a close-up of the Ebbets Field home dugout to boot.

Here is the finished card:



Here is one I need to add to my collection. Larry is holding up 7 fingers to represent his 7 kids, by the way:



I had to nick this pic, which gives me good chance to share the URL for 1952toppsbaseball.com:



That is a fabulous shot of the Polo Grounds in the background, isn't it?

What was once printer's scrap after the cards were printed is now classic memorabilia!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Go Scratch

In 1970, with Topps in the midst of a multi year run of top notch inserts in their baseball (and other) packs, a colorful set of interactive cardboard panels appeared. Scratch Offs were a brightly colored set printed on thick cardbooard.

Here is what the front and back look like, no matter which vintage (they were reissued and reinserted in 1971):





Folded, these measure 2 1/2" x 3 3/8". When opened they revealed a large panel with 44 black blocks that gave off a distinct optical illusion.



Notice the white interior color. In 1971 it turned crimson:



Each block had a baseball play printed under it such as "Single" or "Out" and you could keep score on the back. Oddly enough for me, my hybrid set is intact and I can't show a scratched card. Each team in MLB at the time had their own team captain and the set is loaded with hall-of-famers. We played this game for hours back in the day. The red is probably in shorter supply (I have 5 red and 19 white interiors in my randomly assembled set) but these are pretty easy to find and there is no real pricing difference.

There is a reference in an old wax pack article that mentions a rewrapped pack for the Scratch Offs, renamed “Pocket Sized Baseball Game”. Rewrapping insert cards was a Topps hallmark, helping to siphon off excess inventory from their warehouse and selling it to the public, but I have never been able to locate a copy or even a scan. It would have to be one of the rarer Topps wrappers out there if it exists and I have to think it would be in a test wrapper format. (NOTE 7/12/11: It is not a re-wrap but an entirely separate issue.  Click here for details)

The uncut sheet shows off the three colors used for the fronts; this is likely from an Ebay auction last year:



I would have thought the color distribution would even out at 8/8/8 but no it's 6/7/11.

In 1973/74 Topps issued another scratch off with the Action Emblem cards. These were tallboys (even tho' the Action Emblems were standard sized) and while they were the usual 2 1/2" wide, they were a whopping 4 11/16" tall. The scratch off material was different this time out and there were no team captains but the play was the same.





In 1980, Topps issued another scratch off card, similar to 1974 but resemebling the 1970 version as well.





These were also 2 1/2" wide but a fraction shorter than in '74 at 4 1/2" high. Their distribution is a little murky but Bob Lemke of SCD thought they might have come in Jumbo Packs in 1980 (the back has a 1980 production code and the offer on the locker expires on 12/31/80) and Topps was selling cello packs with a couple of dozen cards or so packaged above a pack of stick chewing gum at the time, all overwrapped in an elongated wrapper. A look at the production codes shows a match with Major League Baseball Gum's 931 product code and the back of the scratch off card, so it's a good bet Mr. Lemke is correct:



While it is technically a year past my arbitrary 1980 bright line, Topps resurrected a 108 card set with a twist in 1981 as it was issued over 36 three card panels, as shown in a recent Ebay auction:





Before being ripped into its three component panels, this big boy measured in at 3 1/4" x 5 1/4". The set was marketed on its own and is one of the better 80's efforts from Topps.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Stamping Grounds

Topps spent a significant part of the 1960's selling or inserting stamps into their baseball packs (and others, not addressed herein). 1961, 1962, 1964 (in guise as a Bazooka issue) and 1969 all saw stamp sets. After a little break, Topps tested another stamp series in 1974 and it was, in my opinion, the best of the bunch.

The wrapper reveals the test issue status of this set:



I believe that pack belongs to John Moran, who has a mind blowing collection of Topps goodies, but I could be mistaken (your blogmeister was less diligent about the origin of scans prior to last year).

As you can plainly see, the pack held, in addition to a delicious stick of gum, twelve stamps and one of 24 team albums. The stamps were panelized:



The clipped sides of this panel are common but they can also be found unclipped, which is a tougher deal. There must have been a major find of the clipped versions as you can buy full 24 sheet sets of them on Ebay almost at will. Full sized stamps should measure about 1" x 1 1/2".The albums however, at just under standard size at 2 7/16" x 3 7/16" are not common and quite difficult to locate:



The above album is fairly well centered, also an uncommon trait and miscuts abound, as we shall see below.

The back features an autographed ball of the dozen players within:



You're not seeing things, the scan is from the back of the Cubs team album, not the Braves.

The interior had a table of contents and the front part is impinged, a result of its assembly at the printing plant:



The inside followed a similar approach:



You can see typical cuts and colors below:






This colorful set is loaded with Hall-of-Famers and was part of the last gasp spasm of test issues from Topps in 1974. It would never be the same again.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sisterhood

One of the fun things about this blog is you hear from all sorts of people and many of them have extremely useful information or interesting stories. Such was the case when I heard from not one but two of the subjects in the 1971 Topps Winners set, discussed previously (and with more to come), a surprise I alluded to a few days ago.

Last time out the checklist for this set was fleshed out to fourteen subjects, among them a certain Lisa C. Bole. While Lisa was not illustrated in the previous post, she was kind enough to send me a scan of her card:



As it turns out, Lisa is from California and that is the state she resided in when her mother entered the contest. Lisa wrote:

"I was one of the Topps 1971 winners, and so was my sister, April Bole (her card might have said April D. Bole, I don’t remember). Mom was really great about entering sweepstakes and had good luck winning! I was only 8 years old in 1971, and my sister was 6 years old. I remember our cards came in the wax packages, mixed in with real cards and a stick of gum. All the wax packages were in a box. Mom put the two boxes in a closet and was going to try to save them, but my little brother got into the boxes and took everything apart so he could eat all the gum. So I no longer have any sealed packages, but I still have some of my cards."

Yes, she has a sister and yes her sister has a card too and yes her sister also contacted me. April D. Bole is the fifteenth subject in this set now:



Lisa writes:

"I was also a Topps 1971 winner and was surprised and amused to find that there were people out there actually interested in this. I was six years old in 1971 so I'm not sure how accurate my memories are but am happy to share what I can remember about it.

I believe it was a nationwide contest which makes it all the more surprising that both my sister and I were winners. Like my sister said - my mom was really into entering contests back then and she was extremely lucky. I'm guessing from your picture of the box proof that there were 25 winners in total. We were in California.

No baseball or software experience (or even interest) was required. All that was needed to enter was a parent willing to fill out an entry blank and mail it in along with a photo of their kid (in my case it was my kindergarden class photo). Although I did become a huge baseball fan a few years later... my mom made those up (Angels/Dodgers/Jim Fregosi/Don Sutton)...

As winners we each received one sealed box of Topps baseball cards. Within each box were several sealed wax packages (I'm not sure the number but think it was probably the normal amount that came in a box of baseball cards). Each wax package contained 10 big league baseball cards, one of your personal baseball cards and a stick of that wonderful sugary cardboard gum. In addition to the box with our cards sealed into it we also received an additional stack of our baseball cards. The number floating in my head is that it was 1000 extra cards - but when I picture the stack in my head I think it was maybe half of that. As far as I know, our cards were never released into general circulation. We had our stack to hand out to our friends or to do what we wished with - but that was it....For a long time I had the box and a few of the wax packages taped together (my brother opened them all to get the gum) but am not sure where they are now."


Well well! As it turns out both April and sister Lisa are going to kindly send some additional scans to me and I am told one of the original boxes still exists. I can only assume the boxes were 500 count vending boxes but we'll see.

I now believe our pal from my initial post, Vernon Grover, could have been from Maryland and with the Bole sisters confirming the Golden State was their home in 1971, this looks like it was a national and not regional contest. I now have hopes the other 10 Winners will be identified someday. More on this a little bit down the road, i.e. when I have some more scans to share.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

72 Skidoo

Well, I was all set to provide a peek at one of the surprises I hinted at last time out but there is still data arriving on that front, so I have instead scoured the archives here to provide a look at some packaging for 1972 Topps baseball with a short side trip to E&V land.

Now, there is not much more to write about on this set as it is well documented and not difficult to suss out its secrets. It is the last baseball set truly issued in series (1973 is a hybrid, series-wise), contains a handful of variations pertaining to some Cubs cards and checklists and sports zero short prints, as Topps ironed the final wrinkles out of their production cycles.

For simple reference, here is a sample '72 card:




Yes, it's pink and no, that is not the first time Topps used that color on a baseball card. Those psychedelic colors on the front are where five Cubs variations lie, in case you were wondering.

Cubbies numbered 18, 29, 45 and 117 can be found as shown above, or with green slivers under the C and S in "Cubs" while and 534 shows the team name also as above or all in yellow, with no green highlights in the name. Here is a peek at the James variation, which you can compare and contrast with the one above (sorry, I can't blow it up anymore):


(from http://stores.ebay.com.my/Cardgoods-For-You)

Those are pretty hard to find, by the way. You can imagine what the full yellow team name variation looks like.

The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th series checklists also have some slight text variations, as many Topps checklists did before them. Those five are the only double printed cards in '72 though, also a common feature of checklists past. (Variation information from Dick Gilkeson's Baseball Card Variation Book, Vol 2).

The wax pack was quite compelling in '72, juxtaposing the old and the new:


(http://stores.ebay.com/ImportExportCo)

The wax box echoed the design of the packs, shown here in a grab from E-bay:



However, there was still a twist lurking within the '72 Jumbo Packs. You will recall the Jumbos outside packaging from a previous post and while I own one from this very year, I am too lazy to scan it on what is a dreary day here at HQ. So I'll use another source to illustrate its staid look:





(both from http://hubpages.com/hub/Unopend-Pack-Information-from-the-1970s)

These of course contained a clear plastic overwrapped pack as Topps would refer to it (we would call it "Cello") and this box housed a nice little brick of cards. The box however is odd as it shows cards that do not resemble the 72's at all, with yellow borders:



This was something Topps was good at, the feint-with-one-style-while-issuing-another look and it's really not all that big of a deal, but for a rainy Sunday with not much else going on, it seems perfect.