Saturday, January 19, 2019

A Dicey Situation

I was starting my research for this post, which covers the "1961" Topps Dice Game set, when I discovered-very much to my surprise-that I had not posted anything in depth on this subject.  Given the near mythic status these have attained and the stratospheric prices even low grade examples have been bringing, the time is indeed here to dive in.

The cards don't have any indication they were made by Topps but the photography and especially the typography undoubtedly peg them as one of theirs. Long attributed to 1961, apparently for their alleged resemblance to the regular issue cards from that august year and possibly due to (an irrelevant) set count, the 18 black and white cards that make up this unissued set were designed to allow a game of baseball to be played by two youthful enthusiasts.  No doubt influenced by two dice based baseball games, namely ABPA, founded in 1951) and (probably more-to-the-point) Strat-O-Matic, which debuted in 1961, Topps developed and possibly tested Dice Game in the early 60's. If there was a test, my guess it was in a research lab setting and not at retail. Len Brown however, seems to indicate in an old interview that the set was retail tested but given how the surviving examples present and the general lack of cards, I just don't think that's accurate.

That's essentially the organized hobby knowledge of the set!  There is a little bit more that can be added though. In a Sports Market Report for PSA, Kevin Glew interviewed (via email) a couple of us hobby types (including moi) trying to pin down, among other things, exactly when the set was produced. My own thoughts were the cards resembled those being designed for internal use by Topps starting around 1965 while noted collector (and Friend o'the Archive) Bob Fisk opined that the set was probably intended for issue in 1962 or '63 due to a player selection that included 16 1962 All Stars and two other players (Tony Kubek and Bill White) who put together campaigns that should have landed them in the Midsummer Classic.

I have previously posted here my thoughts that the Dice Game could have been intended for sale in set form with a pair of dice and and possibly a scoresheet but that has never been confirmed.  Two later examples make the possibility of complete set marketing a 50/50 proposition I think.  The 1966 Baseball Punchouts, which are even rarer than the Dice Game cards, seem like they were intended to be sold piecemeal while the 1968 Batter Up box set took the baseball game inserts from the 1968 Baseball packs and packaged them all up at once, with box-back instructions on how to play a nine inning contest. The Punchouts were also an 18 card set, although designed as panels that each featured an AL and NL player and could be split apart and seem to me to be the next logical step in the Topps quest to issue a standalone game product.  In fact, it's possible the Dice Game cards were a kind of prototype for the Punchouts but there are a couple of key differences as the latter were printed in color (except for the small player photos on each) and there is a wrapper proof or two known.

Right now there are 15 documentable subjects of 1961 Dice Game out there, while the checklist definitively stands at 18; no packaging has ever been seen to my knowledge.  I'm sure these missing three cards exist as the checklist is derived from an 18 card uncut sheet owned by Fritsch Cards and which was in their possession as of April 2018 (and likely still is). Examples not on this sheet can be found with staple holes (from internal Topps memoranda no doubt) or not, and some are hand cut.  I'm pretty sure an example or two once resided in a Woody Gelman "Idea Book" but have now been liberated from whatever page they resided upon. I doubt there's more than four of any one card in existence and some subjects are known as multiples.

The checklist is a doozy (an asterisk indicates examples without a scan or picture known):

Earl Battey - Minnesota Twins
Del Crandall - Milwaukee Braves
Jim Davenport  - San Francisco Giants
Don Drysdale - Los Angeles Dodgers
Dick Groat * - Pittsburgh Pirates
Al Kaline -Detroit Tigers
Tony Kubek - New York Yankees
Mickey Mantle - New York Yankees
Willie Mays - San Francisco Giants
Bill Mazeroski - Pittsburgh Pirates
Stan Musial - St. Louis Cardinals
Camilo Pascual - Minnesota Twins
Bobby Richardson - New York Yankees
Brooks Robinson - Baltimore Orioles
Frank Robinson - Cincinnati Reds
Norm Siebern * - Kansas City Athletics
Leon Wagner - Los Angeles Angels
Bill White * - St. Louis Cardinals

Groat, Siebern and White all have their teams inferred.  Groat was a Pirate in 1962 and a Cardinal in 1963, Norm Siebern was a member of the Athletics through 1963 and Bill White was a Cardinal through 1965 so I'm pretty comfortable with those assignments. There are nine players from each league in case you were wondering but only a dozen teams of the 18 in existence as of 1961 are represented. Missing: The Cubs and Phillies from the National League and the Indians, Red Sox, Senators and White Sox from the junior circuit. Scans of the "known" 15 are below.

The Mazeroski and Davenport examples just surfaced and are quite interesting as both look like a kid updated a result on the back of each. Compare to the Mays reverse:

Hopefully the missing three scans turn up soon.  If they do, I'll post 'em here to complete the visual checklist.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Nye On Impossible

Further to last year's lengthy post on the 1970 Cloth Baseball proofs, Friend o' the Archive Keith Olbermann sent along a shot of the elusive Rich Nye example, one of three subjects to appear in a different pose in issued form than on the proof sheet used to create these rare birds.  Topps got the correct team on the card following his trade from the Cubs to the Cardinals but he's still shown in his Cubs togs on the proof.  He would get a capless head shot in the regular issue:

See the difference:

Nye is one interesting cat.  He finished his civil engineering degree after being drafted by the Cubs in 1966 and then after pitching his last (for the Expos) in 1970, traded commodities on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and later became a veterinarian using his profits from that endeavor, specializing in exotic birds.  Frankly, he sounds like a polymath.   

Another tidbit: there are at least three different examples of the Lemaster known, including one without a backing where the color proof bars at the bottom of the sheet are folded up against the reverse. 

The known universe of cloth stickers is small but these are not one-of-ones. The multiple examples should not be surprising, Topps would run very small batches for their in-house tests at the time.

There are 11 "lost" stickers (they exist on checklists but I don't have scans) :

NL Playoff #1 (Seaver)

The Padres Rookies is the lostest of the lost as it has not even made it onto a checklist I can find (and obviously not on the Trader Speaks checklist I detailed last time out), and while Tom Hall is also MIA from TTS he does appear on extant checklists.

I will gladly accept scans of the above MIA stickers if any of you out there have them in your own archives!

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Fit To Be Tied

Well gang, the parade of Topps product keeps rolling in to the ol' research complex, populating my type checklist at a fairly steady pace, although I'm at the point I am hauling in mostly tougher or oddball items that don't appear all that often.  Today's entry is 1968's Wise Ties.

I've discussed them here previously, and shown the pack version of the checklist here but this is the first time I've had one in hand that's not in a pack still. It's quite colorful in person:

I was wrong years ago when I wrote they might be made of thin plastic.  They are made of a kind of crepe-like felt or, more likely pressed cloth, and measure 9 1/2" from top to tip.  The band is elastic and still quite pliable on my example.  I suspect, now that I have seen it, that the elastic band is what caused them to be pulled from the market, 12 shy of the planned 24 ties. The retail box holds 12 ties and much of the unopened material in the hobby of the set must come from overstock and returns.

The material used is very thin and light, call it semi-transparent:

Here's a closeup of the reverse of the "knot", I know you can get nice suits made cheaply in Hong Kong but crepe-like ties?

Topps had zillions of similar style sets in the 60's and early 70's, likely the result of so many Mad Magazine and underground comix artists working there. I would love to see what the twelve  unissued ties look like.  In fact, I am trying to come up with the most efficient way to get images of all the really weird and odd sized Topps NS sets of the classic era documented as so many are practically unknown and/or hard to scan.  Stay tuned...