Saturday, October 30, 2010

By The Power of Gray Stock

Following up on the hint of more Doeskin lore in my last post, lets take a peek at some scarce 1952 Topps baseball cards. No, I am not referring to the famous high numbers but rather 60 cards from the third series more commonly referred to as "Canadian" 52's.

Topps printed most of their 52's on gray cardboard stock but for some reason the third series, stretching from #131-190, was issued with white backs, which are much sharper than the gray backs to my eye. Here is a standard 1952 Bob Rush card:





I suspect the scan (from Ebay) pumped up the white. These really tend more towards cream (note to self: check on white/cream controversy someday) but you get the idea. Most third series cards look like ol' Bob but a small run of gray backs exists and prevailing hobby wisdom attributes them to Canada. A splinter group of radicals, however, considers that they came with Doeskin tissues.

Here is a Bob rush in gray. Note how the front is also grayish and washed out, a common trait:





It almost looks like a standard gray back, just a bit muted. Here is a high number gray for comparison:



Noted collector Ted Zanidakis advises that the gray backs are never found with gum stains, which indicates alternate distribution and there is a thread over on Net54 that has some hints of a Doeskin connection. Some of the comments there are mine and I have already posted the gist of the rest of this post there (so it goes).

I highly doubt the third series gray backs came in Doeskin tissue packs; it's possible I guess but there is a lot of evidence against it, namely:

1) Doeskin was rebranding or relaunching around 1955 (the doe logo on the packs was trademarked Feb. '55) even though the Wings cards are from the 52/53 era. Wings and Rails & Sails are extant in unopened tissue packs with the doe logo trademarked in 1955, so the dating is solidly early 1955 or after. No known packs with 1952 baseball cards are known.

2) The Doeskin Wings and Rails & Sails cards were elongated to make a perfect fit inside a purse sized tissue pack. The 52 grays are regular sized cards.

3) Doeskin cards are just that. They have "Doeskin" on the reverse where "T.C.G." appeared on the originals. The '52 grays have the "T.C.G." indicia.

First series 52's went through at least three printings and flew off the shelves and second series cards must have sold like hotcakes as well. So why are the "normal" third series cards printed on a different stock? It could indicate the grays went through a short print run and due to quality control issues were discontinued, or that demand was so great that Topps attempted to find an alternate printer for overflow.

Are they Canadian? I really don't know but tend to think not. They could have been sold off like the 52 highs in Canadian packs issued in 1953 were but the theory only the third series was issued in Canada makes little sense. It remains a mystery.

And does anyone else think the Doeskin doe is a dead ringer for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer? Or perhaps, more appropriately, Clarisse?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Not Topps Tissue? Ah-choo!

We travel today to a moment in 1955. The Brooklyn Dodgers are on their way to their only World Series Title, television rules the world and a tissue maker issues two sets that cause a lot of confusion to this day.

Doeskin Tissues were a new item in 1955, or at least were undergoing a rebranding. While the new logo was cute, there were sinister plans being effected that would ultimately ruin the company a few years later thanks to the manipulations of one Lowell Burrell. In between, they managed to co-opt parts of two Topps Non-Sports sets to help sell their small tissue packs.

Somehow, the marketing folks at Doeskin came up with the idea of issuing a card in each purse-sized pack of tissues. They ultimately settled upon using the 1952-53 Wings issue and 1955 Rails & Sails issue, both Topps products consisting of 200 cards per set. The cards came one to a pack like so:





Those scans are from PJD Enterprises, a totally rad site mostly devoted to 40's and 50's air and spacecraft cards.

Here is a (possibly) slightly different style pack, nicked from Ebay; the brown band may have been on the Wings pack as well but cutoff in that scan:



The Doeskin cards were larger than their Topps counterparts though and also had another difference I will get to momentarily.

Here are Topps and Doeskin Versions of the Wings and "Rails" cards. I cannot find any scans of Doeskins "Sails" cards right now, they seem far less common than the Rails for some reason. Topps is on top, Doeskin beneath:





Those are not to scale but you can see the wide borders on the Doeksin card. The Topps card measures 2 5/8" x 3 3/4" while the Doeskin is 2 5/8" x a freakish 4 3/8" so it would fit snugly in the package instead of the usual cardboard stiffener.

The backs have the same border issue:





Again, the Doeskin Wings scans are from PJD Enterprises.

Interestingly the Topps "T.G.C." copyright has been replaced by a "Doeskin" notation. These are really third party cards printed by Topps. Allegedly only 100 of the Wings cards (from the first series) were used by Doeskin but as we will see with Rails & Sails momentarily, that may not be right.

Here are looks at the Sails (Topps only for now, dig the full bleed borders most likely due to the originals being paintings) and Rails (both types) , front and back, not to scale, same size differentials as the Wings cards and Topps first:













You can see the "T.C.G." notation (look above the small train in the center) becomes "Doeskin" on the tissue cards for Rails and presumably Sails. The guides all state only the second series cards from #101-200 were issued with Doeskin but the PSA Set Registry seems to contradict this. I believe the Topps set was issued in skip series fashion, much like 1954 Topps Baseball and cards from #81-130 and #151-200 look to have been issued together in one series. Elongating the cards makes me wonder how they were printed but that is an unsolvable mystery at the moment.

I suspect not all cards were issued with Doeskin but anything is possible and the PSA Registry is sparsely populated for the Doeskins set so I do not want to draw any concrete conclusions.

There is a potential but rather tenuous connection between some 1952 Topps Baseball Cards and Doeskin, which we'll get to next time out. Now, just take a gander at this:

Monday, October 25, 2010

A Wise Tie, eh?

I have no idea why this esoteric little issue popped into my head tonight. Preparing for a totally different post, I instead present to you a short look at the delirious 1968 Topps Wise Ties.

Originally planned as a set of 24, 12 Wise Ties were issued. These were produced in Hong Kong and are described at felt-like but it appears they were printed on thin plastic. The ties measure about 9 1/2" inches by 3 3/4" inches at their tallest/widest point, featured pithy sayings with "disgusting" looking artwork. An elastic band served to secure the tie around one's neck and to my mind could have led to the product being puled from the marketplace due to a potential strangulation risk. One would assume Topps had learned their lesson the year before with their Blockheads issue but I guess not.

The ties were sold one per pack for a dime in a bright red wrapper envelope:



These were very hard to find before a 2001 find made them a little easier. The find consisted of nine boxes (from a carton of 24) and was auctioned by Legendary:



The find of 108 packs was assimilated and now these are tough to find again; the full case held 24 packs of 12 ties apiece so presumably one set per box was possible but I doubt that was the case.

I could not find a scan anywhere on the WWW so had to borrow from Chris Benjamin's Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards (Vol. 4 Edgewater Book Company, Cleveland, 1992). Sorry for the b&w:



These may have been a Halloween issue like the '67 Blockheads set. I am unaware of any Topps product from the following year, 1969, that was designed to maim or injure little children but will keep looking!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Coin Stars

Back to one of my favorite Topps era's today kids: the late 1940's.

Way back in 2008 I posted about a few of the original penny pack Topps issues including a neat little offering called Play Coins of the World and identified as PX4 in the American Card Catalog. Recently a few came up on Ebay and showed that while the coins are well documented in theory, what they actually look like is another matter entirely.

You have to imagine how small these are; only 7/8" in diameter or just slightly larger than a nickel. Usually described as copper, silver or gold covered plastic which in turn represent denominations of 25, 50 and 100 respectively. 24 countries with three coins each should result in a full set according to most guides. It appears most guides are only partially correct.

Here is a closeup look at some obverses. Sadly, most are obscured in the recent auctions which is a pity:



We have a gold 100 piece alright but also a green 5 and blue 10. There is a red color strain as well but I am not sure what denomination it is from the scans I have. This very interesting play money site lists a yellow 1 denomination but I have only seen those three colors so far. You can see the Play Coins Of The World depiction on each obverse. Pages 31 and 32 have these coins if you are digging deeper there.

Here are some more showing what I believe to be a copper and immediately below a silver coin.



Both metallized coins are French francs by the way.

The seller had a couple pieces of the box as well:



These coins were also sold in compartmentalized seven pocket strips with Play Money Pops as well, which were said to contain denominations of 25, 50 and 100. The lollipops were also a Topps product. Based upon the illustrations in The Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non Sports Cards 1930-1960, it appears the metallized coins came with the pops. Penny packs of gum would have almost certainly just come with plastic coins as the wrappers would have torn with the heavier, metallic versions lurking within.

So what is the final set count? If there are indeed 24 different countries there could be as few as 72 (24 x 3 colors) or as many as 144 (24 x 6) colored, plastic coins (1,5,10,25,50,100) but Topps advertising indicates 120 (24 x 5) coins were to be issued, which could be a reference to the plastic versions. Does this figure of 120 include the 72 metallized coins? I have no good grip on how many plastic coin denominations were issued and the ad may, even more confusingly, refer to the Play Money Pops. More scans are needed.

Also, I believe the first coins came out in 1948 and then were issued into 1949 in penny packs. Play Money Pops would have been issued around this time as well. An interesting Net54 thread is brewing on these and more scans can be found there.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Little By Little

Well, a far flung dispatch from Wales has worked its way to the main research center here at the Topps Archives. Friend o'the Archive and frequent Wrapper contributor Bill Christensen has passed along a recollection from Mark Edmunds, who lived in South Wales as a plenty n gwrryw (hope I got that right), although a bit after the A&BC Rolling Stones cards discussed here last month were released, recalls:

"South Wales was used as a test area for lots of cards in the 1960's ...they weren't produced in Wales but some shops where I lived had boxes of A&BC stuff ...the big problem was that because of the tight money situation in Wales the shop might of had a box of say, CWN (Civil War News) , that would sell out but instead of another box of CWN they would replace it with say The Stones..."



Apparently, even if you re-ordered a certain product, a different one might show up at the "test" shops. This is a slightly different method than used in the US, where a couple of local shops in Brooklyn and later Duryea were used to test cards dropped off by Topps employees.

More on test issues in the US, UK and elsewhere is coming as fall gives way to winter.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

El Fin de Invierno

The end in Venezuela for Topps began with a first, before a stuttering denouement played out almost a decade later. For the first (and last time) a third consecutive year of issue was accomplished in 1968.

The '68 Venezuelans picked up where the 1966's left off. A 370 card set, printed on cheap cardboard and with a companion album sold alongside was issued. Cards from the first press run of 109 in the US, with their more "pebbly" burlap mottling were mirrored in Venezuela (US card is on the right):



and you can see the usual lack of gloss and muted colors of the Venezuelan example quite easily, even if the scan (which I nicked from Ebay) is a little out of focus.

The more refined burlap of the next three US print runs would also follow in Venezuela, US card on the right:




The backs are almost clones, although the gray cardboard on the Venezuelan card is a dead giveaway it's not a US issue:



It's hard to pick up on the Venezuelan card but the copyright line reads "HECHO EN VENEZUELA – C.A. LITOVEN"

The 68's seem to be in shorter supply than the 67's but may just reflect what would have been a normal print run absent the exuberance of the prior year.

There were no Venezuelan cards issued in 1969 while 1970 saw a non-Topps effort from Ovenca that is not a bad issue, just not something I will get into here and will leave it instead to the Venezuelan Topps Yahoogroups afficianados instead.

Another year of nothingness in 1971 followed before a strange set of small stamps (or stickers, even though there was no gum on the backs) was issued in 1972.

Using the photos but not the design of the 1972 Topps cards, 242 thin "cards" were issued and designed to be pasted into an album. Check out Blue Moon Odom's Topps card, then the photo on the stamp (not to scale):



The back is snow white (c'mon, you can see this, right?):



Whether or not Topps licensed their photos in 1972, there does not seem to have been any undue noise from them over their use so maybe it is a legitimate use of an official license.

Four more non-Topps issues would follow before some of 1977 US cards were shrunk down as part of a bizarre issue that featured 402 cards, 50 of which were taken from the US set and the balance produced locally with subjects from the VPBL. The latter highlighted local teams and uniforms using a design that bears a slight passing resemblance to the US issue (much like the VPBL cards of a decade earlier, although this set is not nearly as nice) and printed on white backed paper designed for pasting into albums.

Here is a front and back of the US subset:



while the US card is here:



Here is the VPBL style "card":



Again, much like 1967, these were 1/8" shorter in each dimension than a standard sized card. The 1977 US reissues are quite collectible here in the States, moreso it seems than many other efforts from Topps in Venezuela.

Any Topps involvement seems to have ceased following this issue. Why the Venezualan issues are so haphazard is something beyond me; I suspect it had a lot to do with the local economy and difficulties finding good printing facilities in Venezuela but who knows? My four posts (to date) are meant only as an overview and much, much more is available at Josh's Yahoogroup, linked here and peppered throughout these four posts.

In case you were wondering, the English translations of the titles for my four posts on the Topps Venezuelan cards are:

-The Boys of Winter (1959, 1960)
-A Winter's Tale (1962, 1964, 1966)
-Borderline Crazy (1967)
-Winter's End (1968, 1972, 1977)

Thanks for playing!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Limite Loco

Back to Venezuela today folks as we take a look at the multi-faceted and intertwined sorta-Topps, sorta-not 1967 issue (or issues to be a tad more precise).

For the first time since 1960, two consecutive years of cards were issued, although the '67 Venezuelan issue would not get to the Topps designed MLB cards until the end of the series. We'll get to it in the next installment but another set would be issued in '68 and the three year run would prove to be the last time consecutive Topps inspired cards were issued.

In what must have been a very well thought out plan, the first 138 cards in 1967 were of players from Venezuelan Professional Baseball League (VPBL) teams.

The design of the VPBL cards mimics that of the 1967 Topps issue, although the cards, like all the Venezuelan cards from this year, are 1/8" shorter in each dimension than their US counterparts. This led to razor thin borders on the cards, which looks a little strange:



The photos used are quite nice, as you can see. The league consisted of teams from six cities: Caracas, Oriente, La Guaira, Valencia, Lara and Aragua, having expanded two seasons prior from an original count of four. Caracas was the defending Champion and would repeat in the 1967 tournament. While some MLB players are depicted in the VPBL series with their Venezuelan teams (Luis Aparicio being the most prominent) it primarily consists of local players who never reached the majors in the states and the flavor is decidedly local. I would think many of the stadiums in the backgrounds are not well represented with extant photos so the set provides a neat historical reference as well.

The backs are where the fun begins. and the VPBL series runs from #1-138. The vast majority of the first series backs look like this:



Spanish language backs have returned! I can only describe the color as somewhere between red and pink and it likely is imbued with just a tad more orange than Topps would use in the states. The cards must have been printed locally and while the fronts a re Topps inspired, those backs are unique.

As always though, there is a twist with these cards. Only 132 of the 138 cards can be found with the reddish backs. Six cards in the series (46, 60, 62, 95, 107, 123) are found with blue backs, which as we will see shortly were used for the US themed cards and the presumption is they had to be printed on another sheet. In addition, three numbers (46, 60 and 115) can be found with two players (unsure if these were cards that depicted players who replaced those who had departed the league or changed teams or were merely a mistake) so there are 141 different players in this run, plus a pose variation of card #133. Why two of the doubled numbers are blue backed and the third is not just adds to the intrigue.

Now, in a world where 132 card uncut sheets (or, technically speaking, half-sheets) were a Topps certainty for many a year, you would think that the 6 blue backed VPBL cards indicate that was the size of the uncut sheets but it may not be as simple as that since the next two series of cards are tied to runs of fifty.

In addition the next run of cards, called the "Retirado" series, was a radical departure from previous Venezuelan sets not only in terms of sub-series size (fifty) but also design. Here, check it out:



That vibrant blue color setting off the black and white photo was used on all fifty cards in the series. John Rumierz had a full set of these at the 2010 National and when seen together the blue is mesmerizing. You can see the cards are a little smaller than the US whens by the way Joe D. is swimming in his PSA holder, which uses a "card condom" to keep things in place.

The vast majority of Retirado subjects are hall of famers and the sub set is quite pricey; you could buy a new car with the Bolivars it would require to piece all fifty of these together. I plan to take a much closer look at the Retirado set someday as the list of players who would eventually make the hall but would never have been thought of as immortals in 1967 is quite impressive.

The backs of the Retirado series continue the style and numbering commencing at #139 but the back color is now a dark green:



The above Joe D's sadly are not mine, they were lifted from Ebay, likely from John Rumierz's store. The DiMaggio card is an anomaly in that it is in nice shape. I have a Cy Young that is more typical of the average condition Retirado card, with a bit of a dirty front:



and reflecting the fact you could get an album for all three series in '67, resulting in massive back damage when removed (forgive the glare):



The Retirado's are the most difficult of the three subsets in 1967 while the VPBL cards are the easiest to obtain. Somewhere in the middle lies the traditional US reissue (with a US Foy alongside for comparison but not to scale):



You can easily see the Venezuelan card has muted colors and smaller borders and the lack of gloss common to the Venezuelan cards is highlighted as well. For the first time since the run began in 1959, the reissued Venezuelan fronts did not mirror US print sheets but feature cards taken from a variety of series. I haven't checked but don't see any obvious '67 US high numbers in the Venezuelan cards but do see some higher series cards such as Tony Perez who is #476 in the US and therefore part of either the fifth or sixth press sheet in the US.

As you might imagine, this allowed a better selection of players to be used in the 150 card series and many hall of famers lurk within. The backs continue the numbering and style but are in blue:



The backs can be oriented one way, like shown above, or the opposite when flipped over and the best guess is 100 of them are one way and fifty the other. I do not yet know if the 6 VPBL cards with blue backs have one orientation or the other.

Additionally the color on the fifty "flipped" cards is slightly different being a darker shade of blue. Whether these were printed on 132 card sheets is unknown; I suspect not and think 110 or 121 card sheets are possible as the 132/50 discontinuity is bothering me somewhat, even with the thinner borders making any speculation about specific print arrays dubious.

Prevailing wisdom over on the Topps Venezuelan site is these "flipped fifty" were part of the last run of cards printed. Here is a comparison of what happens when the card is flipped the same way over to the back for each type: a "left/light" of Gaylord Perry From the 'bay) on the left and a "right/dark" of Sam Ellis (from Josh's Yahoogroup) on the right.



The fifty darker blue backed cards seem to be available in far lesser supply on Ebay right now, as in I can't even find one among a large group of auctions over there! Whether or not it's because the group being offered is from one collection bought intact from a specific area in Venezuela I can't say but it seems odd and suggests the dark blue backs are either harder to find or were sold separately from the light blue ones.

All three susbets in '67 were sold at once but in identifiable packaging for each so the different coloration of the backs and consecutive numbering scheme was meant to unify them all. In my opinion this is the best of the Venezuelan issues by far and one of the landmark issues in the hobby, albeit one that is not widely collected.

I plan to look at the entire 1967 Venezuelan set in much more detail fairly soon but will be back with the final Topps related cards from the Bolivarian Republic next time out.