Friday, August 27, 2010


Last fall I posted on the early 70's Topps Candy Lids. Nothing has changed since then except I found a few old scans stashed away in the dark recesses of my hard drive. So I figured, what they hey I'll be lazy and show 'em as we wind down the dog days...

Oxymoronically, here's a black & white of color separation proof of the 1970 Willie Davis lid, front and back:

Never willing to waste a concept, Topps released a comic-themed set called Rocks O' Gum in 1971:

My favorite part of the Rocks set is that there is a Woody Gelman reference on one of the lids:

Poor Woody!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tatoo Me

Well, it was inevitable. After Sunday's post on the two baseball tattoo (or tatoo) sets produced by Topps, I have been sucked in and am working on a much larger post concerning all of the Topps penny tattoo issues from 1948-67. That will take some time however and today, courtesy of Friend o'the Archive Doug Goodman, I will instead show a few illustrative scans from the baseball issues.

From 1960 here are a couple of the generic "plays":

Horizontally, the player autograph subset is also quite attractive:

While the team logos bring us back to the vertical:

In 1964 we also have some variety. Here are the three colors of wrapper, almost an All-American look:

The team logos seem a little less likable compared to four years prior:

But the real meat is in the player variations, all of which involve Hall of Famers. Harmon Killebrew resembles an old stoplight (no yellow):

While Sandy Koufax has the yellow but is geometrically differentiated:

We know The Mick wasn't yellow but he is here:

The Say Hey Kid also may not be a blockhead (autograph seekers may disagree) but Topps thought he was:

More to come on the Tattoo front, stay tuned!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tattoo You

Topps has a long history of issuing tattoos. One of their first issues was a tatoo set of general subjects that was issued in 1948-49 and reissued in 1953, simply called Tatoo Bubble Gum, aka Carnival on the display box. They followed this with numerous sets primarily based upon comic characters in the 50's and 60's before adding sports themed vegetable dyes to the mix. They continued into the 70's and 80's with these sets and for all I know still issue them today. I'll delve into the non-sports and non-baseball tattoos at a (much) later date as they have a convoluted history date-wise to say the least. Today I want to take a peek at the one cent baseball tattoos of the 1960's.

As their retail war with Fleer raged, Topps started issuing more and more sets as their coffers filled with the pennies and nickels of the baby boomers. 1960 really marks the beginning of a competitive period with Fleer and a few other confectioners such as Swell and Donruss that would last about a dozen years. The first stand-alone baseball set to be issued in four years by Topps was a series of 96 rather generic looking tattoos that sold for a penny.

There are fifty five players, sixteen team logos, ten autographs and fifteen plays depicted in muted colors, sold in a rather nice pack:

The tattoo itself was on the inner wrapper:

Here is a detailed, mirrored image to give you an idea of how it would look on your forearm, albeit blurry and washed out like we all remember:

O-Pee-Chee, Topps' Canadian marketing partner, also issued the Tattoos in '60. Here is a sealed pack that will give you and idea of how these looked at retail:

That's Jim Gilliam bleeding through by the way. The back was almost identical, with one small difference I will highlight in second:

You can clearly see the Made in Canada and Printed in Canada declarations but here is a closeup:

Compare that to the US version:

It is said the OPC set mirrors the US one but I have never seen an actual checklist for the Canadian issue. Some information is available here on a fabulous O-Pee-Chee baseball site (click around and to-and-fro, there is a lot there) but there is no separate listing shown either so I'll believe it when I see it, as they say.

Topps issued another set (Baseball Photo Tatoo) in 1964 that featured much more realistic looking players. 55 players (with four variations as well) and 20 team logos make up a shorter but better looking set:

I'll post about the variations down the road as I need to assemble scans but Killebrew, Koufax, Mantle and Mays can be found two ways each. The tatoo has a lot more detail than four years prior:

Mirrored, you get this:

Some were a little more colorful:

That color is where the variations come in by the way and is tied in to the print runs, which vary depending upon the color of the wrapper. There are red and yellow wrappers in addition to the blue and players are not available in all colors from what I have seen, although some can be found with two. There was no corresponding Canadian issue in 1964.

The 1960 OPC's are by far the hardest to find and exist at a small fraction compared to the US version, which is also not easy. The 64's are the easiest to find in comparison. More on tattoos someday folks but a thorough review of the color schemes is in order first! I'll also have a pice on the 1971 Baseball Tattoos down the road as well but those are a different beast than these penny pack sets.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Free Free Free!

Back to a subject I like a lot: 1951 Baseball Candy. In past posts I have written probably far too much about the five loosely connected sets that comprise this issue but Friend o' the Archive John Moran sent along some old ad poster scans that are worth showing and also help to shed some more light on the issue most commonly known for its Red and Blue Backs. Here's one that likely was a point of sale poster:

It's a little hard to read but you had to send either five penny wrappers or one nickel wrapper plus your picks to win the pennant in each league to Topps no later than September 14, 1951. I have to assume the thinking was the Series would be in New York in '51 (indeed it was, in the year of the Miracle at Coogan's Bluff; or, The Art of Sign Stealing), since it had been every year but one since '47 as that seems a pretty thin time frame to sort through and contact all the grand prize winners as the first game was scheduled for October 4th.

Clearly, this shows Topps intended for the cards to sell through the end of the season, a mistake they would repeat in 1952 as they were still learning how to read the market. I have a sneaking suspicion Topps may have tried to sell a last run of cards almost exclusively in New York City those two years.

Another interesting thing is that it shows the nickel and penny packs advertised together, something I have not seen before.

John sent another neat piece, a subway or bus ad, echoing the nickel packaging that exhorted kids to "Collect A Whole Deck", something I am close to doing almost sixty years later in both flavors. Those pesky blue backs still have me searching though:

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Zabel of Contents

Over the years I have been researching the history of Topps and their card production, there have been tantalizing hints of printing done by a firm called Zabel Brothers Lithographers of 1620 N. 5th St., Philadelphia. Well, last weekend at the National I was able to get the back story and for all of their Brooklyn heritage, most of the cardboard memories created by Topps over the years came not from the Borough of Churches but rather from The City of Brotherly Love!

Founded around 1895, Zabel Brothers was a large and well known printer of sheet music in the 20th century. According to Irv Lerner ("The Ring Man"), who has been actively chasing, collecting and selling Topps cards since 1959, Zabel Brothers printed cards for Topps from the mid 1950's through at least the early 1980's. Their involvement came to light in an article about 1962 Topps Green Tints that appeared in SCD awhile back.

The '62 Green Tint story is well told in SCD and I will not get into it here right now, except to note I believe, but have not yet confirmed, the firm in upstate New York that actually printed the greenies was the Strecher-Traung Lithographic Company, who were eventually bought out a few short years later by Schmidt Lithographic, the same company that made the 1909-11 Obak cards.

While I do not have much interest in the 1980's portion of the story, I am curious as to when Zabel Brothers started printing cards for Topps. Mr. Lerner does not believe they produced the 1951 Baseball Candy issues and we already know that in 1954 the baseball cards were printed by the Lord Baltimore Printing Company of Maryland. I would hazard a guess that the 52's and 53's were printed by that same firm or another firm that was not Zabel Brothers.

In 1955 however, Topps went from 200 card press sheets to 220 card sheets, which were also used in 1956. It is possible due to the change in sheet size that 1955 is the first year Zabel Brothers started doing the work. It is also possible 1957 could mark the beginning due to the change in card size to what is now called "standard". One other possibility is 1959, when it seems to me production exploded and the card stock became noticeably slicker.

Not only did Zabel Brothers print the baseball issues, they printed everything else too, with the exception (possibly) of some test issues and odd-sized cards. Uncut sheets would be delivered to the Topps plant (Brooklyn prior to late 1965, Duryea thereafter) for cutting and inserting into the packaging. I have thought for a while that a lot of the uncut sheets in the hobby today were unused, unsuitable or otherwise damaged sheets from a prior series or set used as top and bottom cushions on the pallets during shipping . These sheets were used to protect the cards actually being cut for packaging from the banding that held the stacks together. These protective sheets were then discarded by Topps but picked up by various parties who literally saved them from the city dump.

I am not certain at all if Zabel Brothers also produced the wrappers and boxes, nor if they created the Topps advertising in this period but will try to find out. Basically, just about every card made for Topps over a thirty-plus year period was produced in Philadelphia. I have to suspect they also printed cards for Fleer and Philadelphia Gum. I am not so sure about Bowman as their connection with the George Moll Agency may have led them to a different printer.

I googled the street address of Zabel Brothers but it looks like the building is gone and the neighborhood is being reclaimed by the weeds, alas. So much hobby history was created here and now nothing remains:

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Third Dimension

I hate to keep cannibalizing the Legendary Auctions site but their live auction at the National last weekend had some really killer stuff in it. Amidst all this wonderfulness was a 1968 Topps 3D Baseball box:

I believe an actual card was stuck on the top and not merely a two dimensional representation. Here's a few more views:

I walked the entire floor three or four times in two days and saw only three or four of the 3D cards for sale. These just are not out there in any quantity right now (quantity being a relative term). In fact, the tougher test issues were in very short supply in dealer's cases at the National and even some of the easier inserts and regional issues from the 60's and 70's are getting harder and harder to find.

I have a lot more in the way of posts emanating from the National in the hopper. I had a nice discussion with hobby veteran Irv Lerner about Zabel Brothers Lithographers that I will recap next time out.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Standing Tall

About a year and a half ago I posted on the 1967 Topps Giant Stand-ups. Well, a few things have happened since then that make this set worthy of revisiting.

The first thing that happened was that I managed to get ahold of an example for my slowly expanding Topps type collection. The next thing to happen was that an empty display box was found and auctioned last week at the National by Legendary Auctions and is purported to be the only one in existence:

Yes, that is the Mick! Here is a side view:

The other side is the same (like the bottom of the side) but the top if the side is different:

The back has the full ingredient list, Topps and copyright information and a product code, which brings us to the third newly learned thing:

The auction description indicates the code has an "8" suffix so these were a 1968 issue (or were intended to be one) and not a '67! Something clearly went wrong as these are very, very hard cards to come by. I would rate them as harder than the 1968 3-D cards (of which more anon) but about as tough as the 1967 Discs, albeit in a photo finish. The 1968 Discs would be rarer by a fairly large margin though.

The box went for over ten grand-wow!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

1952 Topps High Numbers-All Wrapped Up

In my last post I showed a rare bird that is described as a 1952 high number blue and red wrapper. I'll show it again:

The above scan is from, a pretty cool site. They describe it as coming out late in the print run, likely just for the high numbers. Compare it to the normal wrapper, which is all Christmasy:

The site also notes the 5 inch felt emblem ad shown on the high number wrapper also appeared on the first series (#1-80) nickel wrapper as well, in the top white rectangle (which would fold over to become the back of the pack when sold). Just click the link above and you will see an example of this, along with some other '52 eye candy. You can find the green and red versions pretty easily; not so with the blue bird.

Inside the nickel pack, Topps used an inner gum wrapper:

I don't know if that was in all the '52 packs or if they ever tried such a thing in 1953 and beyond.

Topps held back a number of major stars until the bitter end in '52 but they definitely had a New York tilt to the ads when advertising the high numbers:

Topps had a major bus and subway advertising program to kick of the 1952 baseball cards but until Friend o'the Archive John Moran sent that along, I never realized they had overtly advertised the high numbers. That is a killer piece, I love the Jackie Robinson ad! No way to tell what the top color on the pack was to have been but it sure looks darker than green, even with the muted tones of the ad.

1952 Topps is one of those iconic sets I find endlessly fascinating, like T206. I hope to get more details on the high number wrapper this weekend at the National and will post any new findings when I get back.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pennant Feverish-Part 2

If I may put the cart before the horse, it is time to look at the antecedents of the 1959 Baseball Pennant premiums. Believe it or not, the first year Topps offered a pennant premium was in 1949 and it was college football teams, not professional baseball squads:

Those inserts would come with the early Bazooka penny pieces before comics really caught on. I do not have any scans of these yet but suspect some will show up someday. By the way, all of the Bazooka comic scans today are from Jeff Shepherd's bag of tricks, as are the date identifications ff same. I suspect some form of the football pennant inserts existed for years afterward.

In 1952 Topps made a baseball pennant premium part of the wrapper design for both the first 310 cards:

And the High Numbers:

Betcha did't know they had their own wrapper, eh? Well, I didn't either until I stumbled upon that scan. As a side note to a side note, it is believed by yours truly that the '52 high numbers were only issued in nickel packs. I'll get to the top premium offer in a minute but the bottom one shows the baseball pennants offer:

The pennants seem to follow the design of the earlier College Football version, with just lettering and no logos. That Chicago and New York teaming would live on for many more years, as we shall see.

We are ranging a bit far afield here but the logos however, were also available via the premium offer at the top of the wrapper for five inch felt emblems and predate by four years the accepted 1956 issue date covered here. Not sure if they match the 1956's identically but check it out:

1953 came and there were no pennant premiums (or emblems) offered on the baseball wrappers, so it was back to the bubble gum set:

Buzzy was about the last character to appear on the comics before Bazooka Joe & His Gang became ubiquitous. The pennants are still nondescript, from the looks of things but Chicago and New York continue to be displayed (the Giants and not the Yankees this time out).

However, in 1954 the stars aligned and we not only get a nascent Bazooka Joe but also a merger between the emblems and pennants of yore:

I have not tracked the emblems as closely as the pennants and am not sure if they were still offered as premiums or if they were not reintroduced until 1956. Anyway.....

1957 brought a redesigned comic (matching somewhat the scroll work on the retailer certificates of the time) but the same old Chicago/NY axis:

1959 was a three-fer as Bazooka had the pennants on the comics:

And Topps had 'em on the baseball wrappers:

And in the packs:

Tying back to Part 1, in 1968 they were also advertised as a premium on the comics:

Yes, same old New York and Chicago tandem! It was still going strong in 1971:

But by 1979 things were moribund in New York:

Pennant premium offers on the comics extend to at least 1983 and may still be offered today for all I know. Along with the felt emblems and a few other items, it is safe to say there is a gap in the information on these premiums. This is partly due to their confusing and longstanding issuance and partly due to Bazooka being considered as lesser when compared to the Topps brand, even though they are all one and the same!