Saturday, April 7, 2018

Solid Gold

One of the fun parts of writing this blog is that I'm often rewarded when I keep my eyes peeled for new or unusual items related to the history of Topps.  This can be a previously known card set, some kind of mockup or in-house test or even just a fact or two I never knew about.  Recently, I acquired an item that really made me look at the early Topps sets in a different light.

If you ever pulled a prize out of a cereal box or mailed away for a premium or two, then you have brushed up against greatness. Those little items you treasured as a kid (and some of you to this day) have their origins with a company called American Advertising & Research Corporation and a man called Sam Gold.

Gold founded his firm in Chicago in the early 1920's after a stint at Whitman publishing, where he developed children's books and hit upon a novel idea, namely that the biggest influencers among adult consumers were children. Sam's company was a "vertical and horizontal" marketing juggernaut.  Cereal box inserts and premium offers were his bread and butter and one of his projects that would be well know to readers of this blog would be the buttons included inside boxes of Kellogg's Pep cereal in the mid to late 40's.

It appears that from this world of cereal promotions, Topps first card issue, properly known as Hocus Focus but referred to in the hobby as Magic Photo to avoid mixing it up with a very similar set issued in 1955, sprung.

Faithful readers of this blog know that Topps issued their first novelty set, Tatoo, in 1948 but it was merely vegetable dye printed on a wrapper interior. Hot on its heels was Magic Photo, which was out by the summer of 1948 and saw success well into 1949.  Where Tatoo was simple, Magic Photo was complex.

The concept for Magic Photo featured, of all things, a card with a blank front. This was because a quiz on the back of the card had instructions directing the young un's to refer to the wrapper, which in turn directed them to dip the card in water and rub the front of the card against the underside of the very same wrapper, which had a developing agent baked in, to make the "magic photo" appear.

Well, given its importance as the ur Topps card set, when I saw a very interesting lot in a recent catalog auction, I pounced. There are several components to it but this draft of a promotional banner really caught my eye:


Looks familiar right?  That Lou Gehrig image is different that the one used in the issued set but it's a real link between the concept in the poster and final product.

Remember back in the day, almost everything was done by hand.  Backs first:


Note the different categories, just like Magic Photo but a bit more erudite! Shakespeare anyone?! See the "F" numbering pencilled in?   The "cards" in the lot were six in number, although I suspect that a 7th existed and was possibly the Gehrig, long ago removed and sold. The poster displays an "F8" so what indeed was no. 7?  I certainly don't have it!  Fronts now:


Like I said, erudite.  Interestingly, Natural Bridge made an appearance in both the 1949 and 1950 Topps License Plates sets.

See that glue residue atop each mockup?  It came from these:


One more shy but oh well!  The "cards" and "flappers" measure 1 7/8" x 2 1/2" which is quite a bit larger than the issued set at  7/8" x 1 7/16".  You can compare and contrast:




I'm not sure how Topps and Sam Gold got together but my guess is at one of the huge marketing conventions that were often held in Chicago in the 40's.  A particularly raucous one occurred in 1947 and maybe the Shorins saw the very banner from this lot and converted a cereal premium to an insert.

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