Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Darth of Information

Well, Chris Stufflestreet has come through again. Our man of the hour last time out has been able to track down scans of the 1980 Empire Strikes Back Collecting Box. You will recall this was previously featured as part of a Topps Presentation Board for this set.

A classic Darth Vader image adorns the box front:

C3PO gets the reverse:

What, no love for R2D2?

Here is the box assembled:

Chris actually bought one of these at retail at the time of issue in 1980 and recalled they only held 50 cards or so. These may not be scarce but you don't see too many out in the world these days. 1980 was when Topps was trying different packaging combinations in earnest that included a "kicker" that included things like this box. The 1980 Baseball Scratch Off Game is another example of this.

The Star Wars Series was a huge smash for Topps in 1977 and TESB followed suit three years later. Stay tuned for a look at another stellar set featuring the 1980 movie soon.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Can You Tell Me How To Get To Stufflestreet?

Trick question as I already know the answer.

One of my old online buddies, Chris Stufflestreet, has started a new blog (his fourth!) called Vintage Sportscards. Chris has been writing about cards for a good while now and had an online newsletter that ran close to 60 issues before he shut it down. Unlike your blogmeister, Chris touches on way more then Topps cards. Click the link, you'll see!

Chris has also made some comments on recent posts here and rather than make you dig them out I'll just linky-dink them within his comments.

In Back In Black, I showed a Topps Presentation Board covering an Empire Strikes Back mockup with a collectors box. Well, Chris actually bought one of the darn things and had this to say about it:

"There was a collectors' file box included with some early releases of ESB Series 1 product. Though 30 years' worth of intervening time has made things a little hazy, my first purchase of those cards was something like a cello/rack pack and a little red box with Darth Vader's image (like the one on the Series 1 checklist card) was included with it. I think the box only held maybe 50 cards. I remember thinking it was useless to have a box that couldn't hold the complete series."

I have to confess I had never realized the box was an issued product, although as we get closer to the 1976-1980 my attention span tends to shrink.

Concerning my Berger Boss post Chris has shared this about the 1977 Lou Piniella card:

"From "The Bronx Zoo" by Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock (1979), page 133:

(dated June 19, 1978)

"Steinbrenner was really pissed after the game...George loves Lou and hates it when he doesn't play. Lou is also George's son's idol. Last year when Burger King put out a set of baseball cards with the pictures of the Yankee players on them, they forgot to include Piniella, and Geroge called them up, reamed their ass, and made them print a special Piniella card to add to the set." "

And finally, Chris proves that a good pair of eyes beats a bad pair any day, when he pointed out the 1948 Magic Photo card of Connie Mack discussed in Presto! did indeed display his name on the front.

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

Sure enough, Chris is right; I'm just too contrast-challenged to have seen it. So much like a politician on the wrong side of the polling, I'll go negative to show you what I mean:

It's even more noticeable on this close-up neg:

Well, two mysteries solved and an amplification of a loud Steinbrenner nugget; not a bad day Chris!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bigger, Longer, Uncut

I have received a couple requests to show some more uncut sheets here and with time scarce at the Archive (indeed, as it is every spring) I am more than happy to oblige. Today will bring a look at the "big boys", the 1952-56 baseball sets.

I previously showed a 1948 Magic Photos sheet here and have not ever seen uncut Blue Back or Red Back sheets from 1951, although the uber-scarce Major League All Stars exist in partially uncut form and there is evidence the Connie Mack All Stars and Team Cards were printed together and shown in older posts here so will start off with a 1952 quadrant (not mine, probably from an auction as the only uncut sheet I own is from 1982):

Note there is a double printed row (1 and 3 are the same). There are 80 cards in the first series in '52, where this sheet came from, so another DP row would be in there somewhere. But, as we know from last time it is far more likely two different sheets were composed. No full '52 sheets are known.

Here is a smaller '52 panel:

Strips of 1953's are famously known and some reconstructed sheets are presented here for your consideration:

You can see the two sheets are arrayed differently. There is a lot more on the printing of the 1952 and 1953 sheets here (just click on THE LIBRARY and you will see George Vrechek's Closer Look at these).

Full 100 card 1954 half sheets are known, although I do not have a color scan but sometimes black and white just seems right:

( from Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, 3rd ed.)

Here are a couple of partials, shown previously: and which match the bottom five rows of the bigger sheet:

The 100 card sheet has a gap in the numbering of the cards printed upon it. #126-150 and #176-250 are displayed and I have to think #51-125 and the #151-175 are on the other half sheet as #1-50 were almost certainly the entirety of the first series that year. This means Topps either intentionally left a gap or printed (and sold) both runs together. I don't think there is any way around it but after the shenanigans they pulled a year prior, I would love to see the other sheet. Given the lackluster Bowman cards in '54, Topps looks to have altered what would likely have been a four or five series set to stimulate sales.

After 1954 we move from 100 card half sheets to 110 cards as Topps increased their printing capabilities. Full 1955 sheets are known but I do not have a good scan at the moment, although I thought I did. Here is a '55 partial:

Very colorful cards!

We conclude our golden age journey with a 1956 sheet:

It looks like two columns (rightmost) are double prints but they are really rows if you reorient the sheet.

I'll pick up with a look at the the "tween era" sheets next time out.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Cut Up

I talk a lot about uncut sheets here but never really show any. That will change today, with a short object lesson.

My fascination with uncut sheets began about 25 years ago when I reconstructed, using a grainy b&w photo from one of the numerous hobby papers at the time and my trusty Sport Americana Team Checklist, a 1967 Topps high number sheet, which had several anomalies when compared to the known list of short prints. A little while later it dawned on me that Topps had printed two sheets of high numbers, each different than the other.

What I did not realize at the time was that what I thought was a full uncut sheet of 132 (12 rows of 11 cards each) was actually a half sheet. A full Topps press sheet is actually 264 cards, divided into two halves.

Here is a fairly standard looking 132 card half sheet, from the first series in 1971:

It looks a little weird due to the black borders. Now here is a full 264 card press sheet from 1964 (sorry about the duct tape), another first series beauty:

For some reason, more uncut sheets seem to survive from the first series of Topps baseball cards. I don't know why that is. You can see how the two halves would be separated into 132 card sheets. Also note the left and right sides, while containing the same cards, have different arrays. Topps would use different orders for the rows on each side. When you have a 66, 88 or 132 card series, then the different structure of each sheet would not matter (allowing for the next series checklist card "preview" usually printed with the prior series and likely the reason for so many checklist variations over the years).

However, when you had a 110 card series, you would get into "overprints", which are usually from first series sheets. An overprint is really a triple print in such circumstances. Where you had 55 and 77 card series the fun would begin as the opposite effect would take place and yield short prints.

A lot of this had to do with how Topps packaged their cards and I still do not know why those 1967 high numbers have such crazy quilt short prints, although I do have a theory which will be expanded upon here real soon.

I am fairly certain the 264 card full press sheets began in 1957, along with standard sizing. Working our way back, in 1955 and '56 a 220 card full sheet most likely was printed. In 1953 & '54 either two 100 card half sheets or 200 card full sheets were printed, I can't quite tell. In those four oversized years, the effect was the same no matter what, with planned overprints and also some intentional gaps in numbering on the sheets. The 54's have crazy holes that lead me to believe they only came out in two series. There is more on that story here.

1952 probably just had similar 100 card half sheets that almost certainly were printed in 10 x 10 format but the largest known uncut 52's are in 25 card quadrants, arrayed 5 x 5. A full uncut 1952 sheet would be quite the find!

As is stands, full 264 card uncut sheets are very difficult to find in the wild. I also have a theory many uncut baseball sheets that exist in the hobby (through 1965, when the last of Topps baseball cards were printed in Brooklyn) were either top and bottom protectors for pallets of uncut sheets where the top or bottom few sheets would bear the brunt of the metal or twine bands holding the stacks in place as they were shifted around. The sheets used for such purposes may have been rejected from earlier printings for whatever reason. These protective sheets were then discarded into the legendary Topps dumpsters, where friendly sanitation and production department workers salvaged them.

That's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

That's Just Cricket!

Back across the pond today lads, as we look at a couple of Cricket issues issued by the eventual Topps subsidiary A&BC Gum.

1959 saw the release in England of A&BC's 48 card Cricket, or Cricketers issue. The cards are beautiful, measuring 67 x 96 mm (about 2.64 x 3.78 inches):

The colors are stunning and remind me of nothing less than the N162 Goodwin Champions set from 1888. The backs are more workmanlike:

A stone is 14 pounds (or about 6.35 kilograms) in case you are weighing along at home. I am searching for a wrapper image but can't find one at the moment and suspect they are scarce.

After skipping a year,A&BC returned with another 48 card set in 1961. I had to nick these and the rest of the scans below from Ebay but so it goes:

Colorful alright but not nearly as charming as the 59's. A Test Series is essentially the long form of Cricket, which takes days to play. The backs are off kilter for some reason, which seems intentional:

The 61's come in two sizes: 64 x 90 mm (about 2.52 x 3.54 inches, very close to American standard size) and 68 x 94 mm (about 2.68 by 3.7 inches).

After 1961 A&BC produced no further Cricket series. For that reason I assume they did not sell well which may also explain the lack of a wrapper scan again.

The first A&BC Cricket cards though were issued in 1954 as part of a set called All Sport,which was exactly that; a set of 120 multi-sport, blank backed black and white cards that were designed to be pasted into an album:

I wanted to show a Cricketer but that scan is rough. Here is another scan from the set of a Cycle Speedway Star:

The cards measure 47 x 76 mm (about 1.85 by 2.99 inches) and come with either glossy or matte fronts. Surprisingly, I was able to find a wrapper scan for these:

The coupon was how you got the album:

The album is proving elusive at the moment.

A&BC had only produced two sets previously, both in 1953 so this is one of their earlier efforts. For more on this great company you can go to Nigel's Webspace and bone up.

For the record, Blogger will not let me put an & in the Labels-sorry, I had to compromise!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sunday Hot Links

A hot link or two for a sunny Sunday morning-Enjoy!

Hopefully everybody knows about 1971 Topps Greatest Moments, a sort of homage to the golden days of sports reporting, bordered in black and quite tough to find, especially in nice shape with full bleed borders front AND back:

I'll get into the vagaries of this oversized, 55 card set someday bit for now just wanted to link to Fleerfan's blog post on this set, which is a highly worthwhile way to spend five minutes or so.

Next up is a Facebook page belonging to Mark Newgarden. Mark took a shot of the entrance to Topps' Bush Terminal offices in 1987 that is linked here. Not sure if you need to be on Facebook to see it or nor but I don't want to poach it. Topps had various offices and plants at Bush Terminal over the years and after moving most production to Duryea, PA in 1965 still maintained a corporate office in Brooklyn until a move in the 90's to Manhattan. Great shot!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Production Error

Well campers, sometimes things are not as they seem. A few clicks ago guesses were made as to the identity of Woody Gelman on a 1970 Topps vanity issue. Well, it was all so horribly wrong!

First of all, it turns out Woody Gelman, while he may have been the Art Director at one time, was head of the Product Development Dept. and not the Art Dept. when these cards were made and was for the Non-Sports side of things. The Art Department was a separate group that worked under Ben Solomon and toiled on the baseball sets (and presumably other sports as well). Mr. Solomon was responsible for final proofing and packaging of cards.

Second, that means Woody is not depicted on the Art Dept. card. Well, rats!

Third, we do have some detail on two denizens of the Art Dept. Here is a numbered scan:

The prior guess was that #9 was Woody Gelman. Not so, obviously and he remains a mystery. Ben Solomon is #12 according to his daughter and # 3 might be a fellow named Ted Moskowitz, who like Mr. Solomon looks to have been an animator before he came to Topps. If anyone has other ideas or some guesses as to who's who, let me know.

As it turns out, the Product Development and Art Departments remained behind in Brooklyn after the move of production facilities to Duryea in 1965. There were clear reasons for Topps to do so, both from a talent persepctive (starving artists did not live in Duryea, PA in the numbers needed by Topps) and business one (connections to Major League Baseball and presumably other sports leagues, Wall St., media and ad outlets).

I am starting to find a connection between the worlds of animation, golden age comics, MAD magazine, underground comics and Topps that all comes to a nexus at the behest of one man: Woody Gelman. More to come on this as the picture develops.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Proof Positive

Last fall I did a short post on some 1967 Paper Baseball proofs that had come from the Woody Gelman collection. These were printed on high quality white paper and featured four low numbered 67's. There has since been an informative thread on that shows a few more of these style proofs and since I'm always happy to use the scans of others, it makes perfect fodder for Opening Day (sorry, I do not like opening night-as far as I am concerned the season opener should always be in Cincinnati).

The earliest proof shown across the way is from 1957. Other than a 1956 Topps Pin Proof of Gus Zernial, it is the earliest proof I am aware of from Topps, so it's a neat little item:

If you can link to the Net54 site above, you will see these came from a Richard Gelman ad in a 1979 issue of the Trader Speaks. This would have been just after his Dad Woody passed away so clearly a treasure trove existed. You will see as we go on that the Groth card also has a printed reverse, unseen among the paper proofs I have seen so far.

The Groth is from the collection of Mark Rios, who kindly granted permission for me to post the images here. All of the offered paper proofs in the TTS ad were from the 1957 high numbers. Of course, you could have purchased 1970 Cloth Sticker proofs from the same ad!

Next we get to annoy some Mantle completists with a '66 Mick (#50), from the collection of Steve B (thanks Steve!):

We may have some more cool proofs from Steve a little bit down the road. That Mantle is #50 and blank backed here.

Super Topps collector Al Richter has a '67 paper proof sheet that is a sibling of mine:

Once again, these, like mine, are from the first series sheet and blank backed.

I find the '67 set endlessly fascinating. The cards look great, the photography is outstanding and the graphics just kill me. Plus, there's the crazy high numbers that year. Without a doubt, 1967 is one of the top five classic Topps baseball sets in my mind.

Proofs are one of the final Topps frontiers-many are in ungraded form and salted away in older collections. There must be a ton more of them out there; if they show up we'll post 'em here in some update threads.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Production Era

This is no April Fool's joke, kids-today we take a solid look at Duryea, PA home of Topps Chewing Gum for about 30 years commencing in 1965, after the move of most production of cards and confections from their Brooklyn base at Bush Terminal, although some corporate presence would remain behind.

From the May 17, 2009 edition of the Pittston Dispatch:

"The Topps Gum Plant in Duryea was to be dedicated on May 18 of 1965. Some 500 people indicated they planned to attend the ceremony including then Governor William Scranton and Attorney William Shea, the man responsible for the construction of Shea Stadium for the New York Mets. Rumors swirled about Topps bringing in workers from their Brooklyn plant, but a major part of the labor force was to be recruited from this region."

The Shea connection is intriguing as he was one of the prime movers in bringing National league baseball back to New York in 1962. This also gives us a timeline for pruduction in Duryea and it sure looks like the first major sports set produced there would have been the '65 "tall boy" Football. Pittston, by the way, is essentially the next town west of Duryea.

In addition to the football set, I show the following sets produced in '65:


To that list you can probably add Bewitched and Flash Gordon, both essentially proof sets. The Bonanza and Daniel Boone cards above are very hard to find and as I have stated before, I believe Bonanza to be the toughest of any Topps set, issued or not. I am working on a unifying theory for most of these style of B&W cards (there are others as well) but need to do more work in the lab.

That is a big increase from the 1964 issues, which understandably enough centered around Beatlemania and was indicative of Topps' production big push going into 1966. But I digress.

Topps built their facility at 401 York Avenue in Duryea:

View Larger Map

You can click away the balloon and see the bird's eye view in all its glory. I beleive Topps leased some space in the plant even from the beginning. Now, we have lucked out here today as Jeff Shepherd, a Friend o'the Archive if there ever was one, was able to snap some pictures there in 1999:

Here's a similar sign elsewhere on the property:

Jeff also shot the Topps entrance but cautions it looked completely different than it had on his first visit in the 80's:

I'll delve into this subject more deeply but Topps' diminished presence was likely the result of their selling the plant in the mid-90's and then leasing back less space than they had previously used. This had to do with a lot of things but they moved their HQ back to New York City around this time ,leasing floors at One Whitehall Street in Manhattan, where they reside to this day.

Much more to come on the inner workings of Topps, stay tuned!