Monday, September 27, 2010

Los Muchachos Del Invierno

The Venezuelan Professional Baseball League was formed in January 1946 and after a four team tournament crowned the Sabios del Vargas squad champions, a split schedule format was introduced in October of that year and a regular season was played through Christmas with the top teams advancing to a tournament round (or two sometimes) in the new year. The tournament winner would then yield Venezuela's Caribbean World Series representative.

The timing of the season allowed North and Central American ballplayers to participate and the split season ensured high quality ball was played throughout the winter. Fan interest was high in Venezuela and around 1959 (more on imprecise dating to follow) Topps issued a 198 card set that followed the first two series issued in the US. Topps printed 110 cards in the first series and 88 cards in the second,so the Venezuelan version was issued in series as well.

Here is a Harry Anderson card from Venezuela with a US counterpart:



The 1959 Anderson image (as is the image below) is taken from the fabulous Topps Venezuela Yahoogroup moderated by Josh Alpert, a major collector of these babies. These are often found in quite grungy condition and are tough to find. It's hard to tell from the scans but the Topps cards have lots of gloss and richer colors; the Venezuelan cards not so much on either front. I'll not get into the vagaries of distribution and scarcity as there is a truckload of details on Josh's site (sign up required I believe) but it is worth noting a few things about the reverses.

Gray and cream backs exist, just like the Topps cards but are not as lustrous, much like the fronts are essentially gloss free; additionally while the first series Topps cards in the US were cream backed, the Venezuelan first series is a mix of both types. Here is a handy guide to the differences in the cream backs when the US and Venezuelan cards are compared:



The gray backs are compared to cream here, although they mimic the US grays:



Two different countries of origin are referenced and some cards can be found with a PRINTED IN USA line while other states IMPRESO EN VENEZUELA POR BENCO C.A. Here is a closeup of the latter:



The team cards show no country of origin for some reason. It gets worse too; the team cards issued in Venezuala had numerical checklists on their backs and would take the set count past 198, which must have been confusing to the local kids.

Again, go to Josh's site for many, many more details.

1960 saw another Topps set converted for Venezuelan use, again with two series issued. Here is one now on the left (or top, depending upon your browser), vs. a vibrant US card on the right, or bottom if your screen is small. Compare the yellows in the names:



These are all mine now; I pickled up almost a full run at the National. The backs are duller than the US reverses, same order as before left to right, or top to bottom:



First series Venezuelan's from '60 are all gray backed while the US versions are all white. Second series cards are harder to ID and I'll not steal Josh's thunder but again direct you to his site. There is no Venezuelan production note this year but the Topps USA production is noted on some cards. Second series cards cards can look very, very similar to their US cousins. It's crazy I tell you! 1960's are easier to find when compared to the prior year.

We will get into the next batch of Venezuelan cards in a few days as the years resemble a kangaroo straight: 62-64-66. However, as noted dealer John Rumierz (my source for these cards) told me, the split season may have taken advantage of say, a 1960 style card being issued in the fall of 1959 or winter of 1960 so the issue date of some cards as identified by the front style is not a 100% certainty.

Trust me, it gets more confusing as we proceed!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Gonna Catch The First Thing Smokin'

A Muddy Waters song and this blog do not often cross paths unless I have Itunes playing as I type. The title above is from "Rollin' Stone" a 1948 composition by Muddy and, as well documented pretty much anywhere you may care to look, is the song which gave the Rolling Stones their name. I must confess to being a bigger Muddy fan; I like the Brian Jones and Mick Taylor era Stones, especially the latter part of the 60's but the lengthy Ron Wood years leave me flat, although his work with The Faces was aces.

In '48 Muddy was really starting to take off in Chicago, although the non-African American community would not really hear of him for a good decade more. Having gone electric a couple of years earlier, Muddy was cresting toward a creative peak starting about late 1951 that he would ride through the decade and beyond. Don't believe me? Check out this spjne tingler with Junior Wells on Harmonica circa 1952.

No worries, I have not switched to a musical format!

In 1965, after having massive success with their Beatles trading cards, A&BC Gum, which was Topps' UK licensee but also created their own sets, issued a 40 card set of The Rolling Stones that seems like it should have been solid gold. However, the cards either were not marketed properly or simply did not sell and while not truly scarce are now reasonably difficult to track down. Nigel, over at his English Football site, believes the cards were a test issue and distributed to a select group of 20 stores in South London and South Wales to see how things would go.

I would think the Stones fans overall were slightly older than those of the Beatles and that may explain the lack of success as they had passed the "event horizon" for this set. Whatever the reason, David Halpen (another Anglophile collector) believes the cards were sold in South Wales on a limited basis. Here is David's image of a wrapper that held three cards, sort of the British version of a penny pack:



Only a handful of these wrappers exist in the wild apparently. You will see the cards sold for two Pence ("d" for denarius is how that is shown) and I think that was around a penny and a half US at the time, using 2.8 dollars per Pound, with 240 Pence to the Pound). This was all prior to decimal day in 1971!

The cards are really sharp with excellent photography, although why Bill Wyman posed with a cactus is beyond me on this scan of David's:



Backs are sparse, as was common at the time with the entertainment sets of both Topps and A&BC and give no clue as to subject matter beyond the basics (not the same card by the way):



Too bad they are so hard to find; they are very collectible.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Tattoo Beat

Didn't think I would be able to post anything on tattoos again any time soon but a bunch of Ebay auctions featuring some very distressed 1960 OPC Football Tattoos has changed things. In addition to the 1960 Baseball Tattoos Topps/OPC issued a companion set featuring NFL players and logos of pro and college teams, together with the usual generic tattoos.

There are only ten known NFL players in the Topps set: Walt Anderson, Jimmy Brown, Rick Casares, Howard Cassady, Frank Gifford, Paul Hornung, Bobby Layne, Y.A. Tittle, Johnny Unitas and Bill Wade.

Logos and generic plays dominate but to what degree it is hard to say as a complete checklist of this set is elusive. At least 76 tattoos are known but only ten logos from the NFL have been identified, when 13 teams plied the gridiron that season so the checklists that are out there may be incomplete.

Forgive the rough scans but these show some OPC tattoos; Topps had their own set that would have been identical save for the small line of type identifying the manufacturer and country of origin:



Fortunately a better scan exists of an unopened pack:



It looks like Elroy Jetson, no? Wonder if the cartoon stole the look? Here is a player tattoo:



And wonder of wonders, a strip of four:



These are far harder to find that the Baseball version and any additions to the set count in the Beckett Football Guide are welcomed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Here's To You, Mrs. Rockfeld

Much to my surprise, a gaggle of the 1970 Topps Teamates cards (aka Grow Power) showed up as BIN's on Ebay recently. While the condition was low and the prices high, four additional cards can now be revealed. Leading off with card # 1 we have the bean counters from Accounting & Budget:




Card No. 2 is a solo act; call it a rookie card even. Anne Rockfeld, here's to you!




Coming in at #5, Credit:




Very important to Topps, Marketing Management comes along at #12:




We now have one-third of the fronts checklisted and five of the backs. Your intrepid blogmaster will keep scouring the dustbins of the internet for more of these.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Album Oriented (W)rap

A football and hockey connection by way of Canada has now been found to the previously-posted-about Topps Hobby Card Album. "Found" is perhaps the wrong word; basically I just noticed this!

The 1960 Topps NFL Wrapper provides the first clue in this scan I nicked from Ebay:



If you look at the detail, you can see that you needed 35 cents and five Bazooka or Blony wrappers to a Brooklyn address to obtain an album:



So this was a premium from a Topps retail product that required wrappers from another product for fulfillment. This also explains the Blony connection to the album. The other panel from the wrapper has both US manufacturing and Canadian distribution (via O-Pee-Chee) information, so Topps was distributing the 1960 NFL cards in Canada as well.

It gets interesting from here on out though as Topps also issued a CFL set in Canada in 1960 with a similar wrapper as compared to the US version :





(Images taken from Collecting Canadian Football by Andy Malycky, well worth ordering -and quickly at that- if you are at all interested in CFL cards)

In Canada only Bazooka wrappers would work. as I believe Bozo brand bubblegum and not Blony was the second brand in Canada. Note the London, Ontario address for premium purposes.

Once football season ended, hockey fans could also get in on the fun:



(Image taken from Bobby Burrell's Vintage Hockey Collector Guide, still for my money the best visual trading card guide ever published).

If you click the hockey wrapper you will see the cards were imported into Canada from the US (as was the custom at the time) and and the Ontario address is still indicated as the place where your Bazooka wrappers could be sent.

We have a 1960-61 time frame potentially for production of the album but Topps was sending them from a St. Paul, Minnesota address later on so the supply clearly exceeded demand for many years.

I will be on the prowl for more Hobby Card Album ads and post my findings here as appropriate. I also want to get a timeline going for Brooklyn, St. Paul and Westbury NY (70's) premium distribution addresses.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Sailing the Sea of Holes

Ah, what could have been! Friend o' the Archive David Davis, knowing I go weak in the knees for anything having to do with Yellow Submarine, sent along a licensee list for the movie which you can see at the top of this link. While some of the products on the list were produced and some were not, the five licenses granted to Topps immediately caught my eye.

Since Topps made a grand total of zero Yellow Submarine products, it seems they gave us a sea of holes.



The list is comprehensive and would have made for a great marketing campaign. The five licenses were for:

1) Trading Cards
2) Pressure Sensitive Stickers
3) Tattoos
4) Flying Things
5) Posters.

Perhaps Topps did the research and determined there was not a huge market in their target demographic for tie-ins to the movie or the fees ended up being prohibitive but none of these products ever were even proofed from what I know of it.

Anglo Confectionery released a great set of 66 cards in the UK at the time the movie was in its first run so not even A&BC, the British partner of Topps as the time, made it out the door with a set of cards. The stickers and tattoos would have been colorful affairs and the mind reels at a Yellow Submarine themed set of Flying Things but I would really have liked to have seen some psychedelic posters made by Woody Gelman's crew!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Scratch Game

I don't think Topps was a major "green" company back in the 70's but they sure were ahead of their time when it came to recycling.

Borrowing a design from the interior of the 1970 and 71 Baseball Scratch Offs and foreshadowing the 1980 version, Topps produced a pair of inserts as the seasons turned 1974 into that were kissing cousins and then followed with a slightly more distant relative.

Inside the 1974 Topps Hockey Packs were these blue scratch off cards:



The back very handily gave instructions on how to play the game with a friend:



In parallel with this insert, Topps also created one for the basketball packs that was dead red:



Very close to a 1971 baseball interior, no? Well the instruction back was very close to the hockey version too:



They then came up with garish, dayglo green insert for the 1975 football cards that was close, but not quite, the same as the arena games versions:



The field goal tries are a great addition! Given the time lag between production of the basketball and hockey sets compared to the football issue, Topps must have felt the inserts were helping move product off the shelves. The back differed a bit from the hockey and basketball reverses as well:



Too bad there was no corresponding baseball version in 75. These three sets really show how Topps would design something and then re-use and reconfigure the design for other issues.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Album Art

Generally speaking, if I own something discussed here I will use my own pictures or scans. Many times various Friends o'the Archive send along fabulous scans of cards and related pieces, many quite rare that I will use. Ebay is very useful for pictures of things I do not yet own or am not bidding on for various reasons. However, I just won an item that is too big for my scanner so I will have to use some pictures from the 'Bay, except from a different auction!

What is this gargantuan construct that has vexed me so? Why a Topps Hobby Card Album!

The album is designed to hold 208 cards standard sized cards. The cover will remind you of some earlier wrappings and trapping for the Trading Card Guild, so these must have been bouncing around the premium fulfillment warehouse for a good long time (more on this in a minute). The Topps shield logo is practically aboriginal. Here is the cover:



Measuring a whopping 8 7/8" x 12" this album featured heavy duty pre-slit black construction paper pages to provide state of the art storage:



There was a handy do-it-yourself checklist on the inside back cover:



And some history and instructions on using the album and checklist on the inside front:




The back cover limns more Trading Card Guild action:



Blony is listed along with Bazooka and the inside cover also mentions the "2 1/2" x 3 1/2" cards that are currently so popular" giving us a date no earlier than 1957 for the album's first appearance. The Ebay auctions refer to this as a 1967 issue; I am not sure when the supply was finally exhausted but Blony was discontinued in the early 1960's. It is plausible Topps sent out the albums after Blony died out until no more were left.

I have a comprehensive list of the baseball wrapper side panel ads for this period and the album does not appear on nay of them. I have to believe it was offered on Bazooka comics and maybe on some non-baseball wrappers since clearly it was a by-request item. The album was certainly a mail in offer and four of them were apparently housed in this envelope from a Bazooka premium fulfillment warehouse:



Topps certainly did a lot to promote the growth of the hobby itself back in the day. I am also aware of some generic knockoff albums from around 1965 so there was some competition in the field.