Monday, December 20, 2010

Freshman Orientation

The early days of Topps continue to bring surprises. Their first really wide-release, multiple series cards were issued in late 1948 into 1949 and included the 252 card strong Magic Photos, a set oft-blogged about in these parts. These "wet and develop" cards were issued in two 126 card series and deemed worthy of two separate albums, so the set was obviously a stellar seller for Topps. One way we know this is that we can determine at least two, possibly even three print runs for the first series, which if you are up on your sub-setting skills, you would know has eight distinct sub-series, alphabetically identified from A-H.

It has been known for some time that the boxing subset of 24 and some of the wrestling subset of 25 have two different backs. The regularly accepted Magic Photos back has directions on developing the card. Here is a Primo Carnera reverse that shows this:



However, an alternate version exists as well:



As you can plainly see, the instruction to SEE DIRECTIONS INSIDE WRAP is gone and the card and series numbering has been moved to the bottom of the card from the left side.

The fronts look identical, so far as I can see-"Directions" version first, then the alternate wording without:



All of the above scans are courtesy of Rhett Yeakley by the way. Rhett sent along other scans as well which show the more sepia leaning photos are distributed among both backs, so no help there in terms of possible reasons for alternate printings. It does look like however, that the font on the back of the cards without instruction is slightly finer and clearer than the one used on the SEE DIRECTIONS backs.

Well, Stars of Stage and Screen also have the alternate back:



and same holds true for not only the boxers but apparently all of the first series of 126 cards. Look at these mixed series of back scans from Ebay, American Dogs (Series G first, then the full Series F Stars of Stage and Screen:





Both types are presented and may have resided in the same scrap book.

I am still searching for alternate backs in the second series, which runs from J-T subset-wise (no "I" series was printed). Also, there do not seem to be nearly as many second series cards and grouping are not sighted nearly as often. The second series album, which features the same cover as the one from series one, is also harder to find than the first. But wait, there's more!

One of the boxing cards, Jack Johnson, exists with two different obverses, a normal white border and an esoteric gray border. Here, look:



I am not aware of any other gray borders in the set, so it's a headscratcher; possibly this was the result of a liberal application of developer but there is allegedly a lone front variation with the boxers so this could very well be it. The back of the white bordered card has the standard FOR DIRECTIONS back but I do not know the back of the gray border, although it is described by the seller as part of the Magic Photos set, so it must have one of the two know backs as he was heavily trumpeting the gray bordered front and would, IMHO, certainly have mentioned a strange back.

But wait, there;s STILL more!

Second series cards can be found with perforations:



but I have yet to see perforations on a first series card. Look at the group scans above, no perforations anywhere. Now second series cards are known in panel form:



You can see score lines on this panel, which is second series in flavor and would have come in the uber-scarce 5 card pack (or wrapper), click and scroll to see one. The perforations would have been from panelized cards,although I have to confess I thought the panels were scored and not perforated.

First series cards often seem to have either chipped front borders or super straight edges on their long sides. I have hear rumors of cards with rounded (at the factory) edges; if they exist I suspect they are from the first series.

It look like each series would have gone through two printings at least, with a possible third one to explain the gray border Jack Johnson:

Series 1 SEE DIRECTIONS INSIDE WRAP
Series 1 No Instructions
Series 1 Gray bordered Jack Johnson?
Series 2 Unperforated
Series 2 Perforated

You could order 20 cards direct from Topps for a dime and one Bazooka wrapper and while I have shown this 1949 comic book ad before, it bears repeating here:



Cards from both 126 card series are listed in the ad.

Here is a look at a penny wrapper, this time from 1948 which seems to be the year of copyright (and is a much tougher wrapper than the otherwise identical 1949 version):



The fulfillment address was in the Flatiron District of Manhattan, just south of midtown and the fact it was not in Brooklyn supports, at least to my mind, the theory vending boxes were utilized. 1949 is seemingly the year of issue according to standard hobby wisdom but I am not so certain that is correct, look at the November 1948 date on this sell sheet to see what I mean:



Yikes! The cards look ready in November '48 and really the photo must have been shot earlier than that. Perhaps the 1948 and 1949 versions differ, explaining the variations above. Still, it would seem the backs without instructions were either pulled from vending boxes or sold where instructions were posted elsewhere, like on a gumball machine. It's even possible the "No Instruction" backs were sold with the pictures already developed.

The again, perhaps not! I am hoping there is more information out there on these cards; they get more mysterious as each year passes. Would I be shocked to see rule breakers? No sir, I would not!

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