Monday, May 30, 2011

Hard To Pin Down

My thoughts were drifting to 1955 and 1956 this morning, specifically the '55 Double Headers set and its successor, the '56 Baseball Pins. I have written about both sets previously but for some reason it hit me today that these two sets were designed to pin Bowman flat on the mat.  Spend those pennies and nickels on Topps products and that was just a little less left for Bowman's, right? With 1955 seeing what is the first supplemental baseball set in the Double Headers, Topps went with pins the next year but stopped the set at 60 instead of the advertised 90.

Now Bowman had no counter to this move; they had no supplemental sets to offer, metamorphic, metal or otherwise.  Their only two real side issues were the1949 PCL set and the Black & White cards that rounded out 1953 when the Kodachrome stylings of that year got too expensive to justify.

So why did Topps withhold the last 30 pins?  I suspect it was because the battle was won and when they agreed to purchase Bowman in February of 1956 (a deal that would close on April 1 of that year) there was no longer any need to spend the money on a last series of 30 pins so they just stopped production.  Topps would occasionally do this for various reasons but in '56 I believe they were stretched on the cash flow front due to the purchase of their primary competitor and just decided to can the rest of the set.

As a bonus, when I was researching this post, I came across a scan of the box for the Pins (actually they were called Buttons) that I did not have for my previous post on the set.  Check out this bad boy:



That candy coated gum almost certainly represents the death throes of of Block Busters gum, a product that was fizzling out at the time and which resembled Chiclets.  Once again Topps was able to take a failure and repurpose it.  I would not put it past them to have taken returns of Block Busters and taken the gum nuggets from those packages and inserted them into these.

The bottom is quite informative.  We learn that the set was definitely was to have 90 subjects.



The Bazooka premium catalog offer is a nice bonus!  Personally, I consider the '56 Pins to be one of the best supplemental Topps sets ever; it's just too bad it never could get past 60.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Short Sheeted

Well campers, I was all set to compose a stultifying post on the intricacies of Topps legal entanglements with the American Chicle Company but that will have to wait for another day as something wondrous has happened.  Two 110 card half sheets of 1956 Topps Baseball have shown up in the current Clean Sweep Auction.  This is quite a development as mid 50's sheets are truly difficult pieces to obtain.

What has shown up are sheets from the 3rd and 4th series.  Here is the 3rd series one:


The sheets look odd because they are displaying horizontal cards but reading across, the columns (rows, really) are patterned A B C D E F G H B C D.  That's 30 subjects double printed and 50 single printed for a total series of 80.  The companion half sheet would have had a different array since there are no known short prints.  Instead, I think there is a good possibility the other half would have double printed the A E F G and H columns and then a random 3rd column.  Other arrays are also possible but I think the result would be 20 Short Prints no matter how you sliced it. There's so many 56's out there the short prints in this scenario (20 of them)  probably have not be noticed  Series 2, 3 and 4 in 1956 had 80 cards.  Series 1 had 100 cards to it so would have had 20 extra Prints.

Two checklists were issued in 1956, a Topps first now that Bowman had been vanquished and there were no gaping holes in the sets to worry about, nor stars, Stan Musial excepted, signed elsewhere.  With Bowman outpacing Topps by 1955, checklists could have had a negative effect by showing what was NOT going to be in the packs.  The checklists were "pushed" into the nickel and (presumably) dime cello packs) as they were not printed with the regular cards and show Topps had not yet developed the idea of lagging the series count against the sheet count, thereby allowing a preview of almost two dozen cards from the next series to be seen by the intrepid youths of the day.  That was a few years off still.  Here, see for yourself:


 

 



Here is the back of the 3rd series sheet:



The 4th series sheet exhibits the same pattern as the 3rd:


For the sake of completeness, here's the back of that one:


Topps also cut up some 1st series sheets to make very nice story displays promoting the 56's.. This scan is taken from the Spring 1982 issue of Baseball Cards magazine:


Thanks to all the Archivists out there who alerted me to this auction.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Piece By Piece

Just a tidbit today kids, a morsel if you will.  I've been curious of late about the fadeout Tops made from the non-Bazooka gum scene in the 1950's.  At some point in the early 1950's they stopped commercial production of their long-running line of "changemaker" penny gum tabs.  This makes sense as Topps was evolving at the time from a company that sold gum to adults and candy to kids to one that was much more kid-oriented.  While they still produced a peppermint gum tab for use in U.S. military field rations and would do so at least through 1958, the focus had shifted to bubblegum and trading cards once they baby boomer began spending their pennies and nickels.

Topps did try to market a Chiclets style mint gum in the early 1950's (as did a number of other manufacturers) but caught caught on the wrong end of two lawsuits and had to change their packaging.  This old matchbook shows how their packaging originally looked, around 1951:




Topps packaging definitely mimicked that of Chiclets:



Another attempt was made from what I can tell and a redesigned package resulted:


That particular style of Topps logo was not one that lasted any great amount of time, nor was their time as as a seller of gum "nuggets, as the small pieces are referred to in the trade anything special.  They did however, manage to hang on long enough to market this type of gum in Argentina in 1970 or thereabouts:



Topps would often sell products in South America that had run their course or been discontinued in the U.S.  Usually this involved trading cards but for at least one product, the gum is what was repurposed.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Underlay, Underlay!

A little while ago I managed to snag a black process proof of Jim Fregosi's 1970 Topps Baseball Stars Candy Lid on Ebay, despite a snipe war that cost me dearly.  The '70 lids are pretty difficult to find and may have suffered from lack of sales of the candy product.  I can't even find a good scan of the actual Fregosi lid but the black process proof is a little surprising.

Here is how the proof looks, it is composed of  two pieces of clear plastic:



A final, print ready proof would have consisted of six colors, so the process was somewhat painstaking. I was taken aback though when I separated the two pieces I received.  I would have though the banner with the name on it would be the topmost piece but it actually was the bottom one as the top layer was translucent to a certain degree:


See how the banner and circle are gone!  They are printed on whiteboard and lie underneath:


That x in the middle is odd, perhaps it was used to center the piece. The back of the board has seen some tougher times:





















Given the amount of effort and expense that went into each set, I am amazed sometimes that Topps made a profit.  It must have really been felt on the bottom line though, when something like these lids did not sell like they had hoped.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It Is Balloune

Well, Blogger's little hiccup left thing relatively unscathed here at the Archive, with just a re-date of the last post to make it's mark.  1971 saw Bazooka's last effort for many years in printing cards on the backs of their party boxes.  The baseball effort was documented previously and in addition to those final twelve panels, football and hockey efforts also issued forth.

The football set is exactly what you would expect from Young America's Favorite bubble Gum, a twelve panel, 36 card set in a classic Bazooka design:


The marching band figure is classic!  An uncut proof sheet, showing markups, is out there somewhere as well:

 
 Crazy!  But what's even crazier is a hockey set issued in Canada, also in a twelve panel/36 card configuration:



 (From the Vintage Hockey Collector Price Guide by Bobby Burrell)

The use of the same design as the 1971/72 regular issue hockey set was a great idea! That said, they are tough, tough cards to find and the tape on the ends makes finding a nice one ridiculously difficult.  A full set of boxes is a five figure item and even individual common cards are three figure items. You can see how the "Young Canada's Favorite" tag line was adapted form the U.S. Phrase.  The box fron also shows tape galore:



 (From the Vintage Hockey Collector Price Guide by Bobby Burrell)
  

And with that, Bazooka bowed out for a good many years from issuing cards on their boxes.  I think this was tied to the sale of Topps to outsiders, resulting in a true corporate environment for the first time, which also reflected higher licensing and marketing costs making ancillary sets difficult to issue at the time.  I guess Topps finally had their bubble burst (sorry.....)!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Gadzooka!

As hinted at last time, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding the 1969/70 and 1971 Bazooka Baseball sets.  The 1969 All Time Greats set makes sense as the professional baseball centennial was being celebrated but the idea of it being reissued in 1970 always struck me as being strange.  Stranger still is the numbered  Bazooka set, not because of a return to the traditional three player panel but because it has been depicted for forty years as having been issued in 1971 but after the regular release, which was unnumbered.  The 71's are also referred to as proofs.  To further mystify us four decades later, the Topps brain trust also issued four extra panels in the numbered format, yielding a run of 48 cards on 16 panels instead of the 36 cards appearing on 12 panels in the unnumbered format.

My own take on it is that the numbered set was probably intended for distribution in 1970 and then pulled back for some reason.  A possible causative action may have been related to the players and teams depicted on the cards.  If we look closely at the four extra panels in the numbered set, we can almost see a pattern develop.

The #1-3 panel with Tim McCarver, Frank Robinson and Bill Mazeroski is up first. McCarver broke a finger in early May of 1970 and was out for a long stretch.  Robinson seems like he was reasonably healthy and intact in  1969 and 1970 but Mazeroski was slowing down and only played 67 games in '69 and lost his starting job at second to Dave Cash.  Depending upon the timing, the McCarver injury could have caused Topps to yank this panel or combined with Maz's decline it may have been deemed too unappealing to market this trio in 1971.  Here is McCarver:



Cards #13-15, depicting Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline and Ken Harrelson would seem to be no-brainers to keep in the 1971 set.  Jenkins and Kaline had no issues that would preclude their being in a 1970 set but the Hawk broke a leg in spring training that year and missed all but the end of the season.  His 1970 season saw him play in only 13 games even though he would play one more year. Solution?  Pull the entire panel!  Here's what coulda been:


#34-36 displays Maury Wills, Tom Seaver and Tony Oliva.  Seaver was the hottest pitcher in the game from 1969-71 and Oliva had solid seasons all three years as well.  This leaves Wills as our likely culprit but no, he is properly shown as a Dodger:


and had productive seasons in the 69-71 tranche as well.  Why this panel was pulled is a mystery, perhaps Tom Teriffic had another endorsement deal that kept him from being in too many Topps sets but really it's just bizarre this panel was excised.

Finally, we have #43-45 with Jim Wynn, Richie Allen and Tony Conigliaro.  Tony C of course was fighting his way back from a horrific beaning but it's Allen that caused the problem here.  He is shown as a Cardinal, even though I can't find a scan to show it right now,which was all well and good in 1970  but for 1971 he was a member of the Dodgers. The trade to LA happened in October of 1969 and as we already know, Topps was fond of starting Bazooka production in the year prior to issue, so '69 teams for a 1970 release makes sense. 

Other than the Wills/Seaver/Oliva anomaly it all makes sense but since this is Topps, there is always something that skews things!  Was the numbered set to be a 1970 issue?  Based upon the Rickie Allen Cardinals cards, I would have to say yes.  What caused the entire set to be shelved is something I cannot explain.  If they are truly proofs in numbered form, then they probably came to market through the Card Collector's Company.
 
More 1971 Bazooka action next time out kids!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Little Boxes

Well a trip to 1970-71 was planned today pilgrims, but as usual an investigation of one era has led to a different path.  That's OK, the fun part is in the journey!

One of the odd things about Topps is that their Bazooka issues from 1959-71 are given short shrift in the guides.  Prices for these cards suffer as they had to be cut from the boxes holding the pink stuff.  It's too bad because the photography on many of the cards is equal to or better than that on the regular issue Topps cards. From 1960 through 1967, Topps used a standardized back panel featuring three cards per box.  The set lengths would vary but always fall between 36 and 48 cards per year.  Many designs were similar and the better players had cards from year to year that require the use of a guide to determine specific vintage but it was a remarkably consistent run.  Then in 1968 the entire formula for issuing these sets changed.

I won't go all the way back to 1960 as I plan to look at the eight year run in detail someday, but want to examine the design of the boxes and sets through 1969 and will start with 1966, for reasons that will become clear in a moment.  I love the panels and boxes and this '66 is a prime example of how great these looked:


 I had to steal that from the 707 Sportscards site but take a look under Kranepool.  You will note the absence of any indicia under the card.  Now take a look at this 1967 panel:

 

Under Bob Gibson there is a production or project code.  This is to be expected as Topps started using these in 1966 but that '67 box has a code from 1966:


That means the production commenced in 1966, even though the product was sold in 1967.  I would imagine the bigger and more expensive products were shipped earlier than the standard nickel packs as they would be warehoused somewhere for a bit before being shipped off to supermarkets and groceries, which were the main retail outlets for the Bazooka party boxes, as they are referred to in the trade.

That 1967 box was then end of the three card baseball panels until they were revived in 1971.  As we saw last time out, the '68 Box was different and had a Tipps From The Topps panel that took over the back of the box, with two very narrow baseball cards on each side panel.  Topps must have been reaacting to perceived competition in order to give the purchaser more bang for the buck:






The flap show a 1967 production code (the last digit in the sequence signifies year):



1969 (and possibly 1970) brought us some vintage ballplayers but in the same basic configuration as 1968:



Those old timers look like the 1963 All Time Greats Bazooka inserts but I have not yet compared pictures to see if they were identical.  Baseball celebrated its (alleged) 100th birthday in 1969 so I guess everyone was waxing nostalgic.  That production code by the way indicates 1968. The set is always referred to as a 1969-70 issue and I am not sure if it was reissued in 1970 or if something else took its place.  That is something I want to look at in conjunction with the two 1971 baseball sets and will be the focus next time.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Tipp Topp

Every once in a while I am surprised by a new entry to what I call the Master Topps List.  I keep a record of each set issued by the company from 1948-80 and since about 1999 maybe every couple of years a new entry is made to the list (I have been keeping track since 1989 or thereabouts, in case you were wondering just how far back this obsession goes).  Faithful reader and sometime-troubadour Matt Glidden sent along a question the other day that led to a fresh entry in the database.


Tipps From The Topps is a well known Bazooka box back panel, or package design set but I had never seen one without a ballplayer's picture in the leftmost panel.  Here is how the Playing Shortstop panel looked on the back of a 1968 Bazooka box, as originally issued:


There are fifteen panels in the original set but the later set is described as having only twelve subjects.  I'm not sure of the set count for the non-photo issue nor which topics may have been pulled for the re-release so it's an open question as to its actual length and composition.  A booklet of the Tipps was also issued at some point:


A promotional page in the back of the booklet infers the booklet may have been distributed by MacGregor Sporting Goods but that is unconfirmed.  MacGregor had a history of offering tips booklets of different sorts through ads in Boys Life magazine so I think this is a fairly solid lead as to the booklet's origin.  The interior pages of the booklet, which feature all 15 Tipps, are in black and white:

 
As for our photo-less Tipps panels, the year of issue would seem to be in the early 1970's; I would say 1970 or '71.  I'll get into it more next time but there is some reason to believe Topps scratched their scheduled Bazooka back panel set in 1970 (it would have been a return to the three card panels of yore) and there is also a photo-less football issue in 1971 called A Children's Guide To TV Football, probably issued as a result of Monday Night Football being a hit in the ratings:



The vagaries of the 1970 and '71 Bazooka baseball box backs will be looked at shortly, so stay tuned kids!