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...

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Sporting Life

A trio of lots in the recently concluded Love of the Game Fall Premier Auction opened a window into the past and yielded some unexpected surprises (is there any other kind?) related to Topps Sports Club. The Club and its newsletter has been covered here before but LOTG has unearthed "kits" for each of the three major sports seasons (baseball, football and a combined hockey/basketball) that show how much value Topps put into this marketing effort.

The baseball themed TSC entry in 1975 led off what was, I believe, a five issue run.  Check out what came in the envelope (not shown but included with this and the other lots I am examining here:

This is actually the least interesting of the three offered kits for reasons that will soon be apparent.  The certificate is pretty standard fare although it looks like the included flyer has upped the premium ante beyond what was found on your typical Bazooka Joe comic.  The newsletter is fabulous although I've looked at it more comprehensively in the past and dig that (paper) Steve Garvey photo! But the team checklist sheet is a stunner.  It was available through other offers I believe but it does make sense Topps would include it herein as the ad for the Club on their wax wrappers does state "sample cards" would be provided.

The football edition though, ups the sample ante considerably:

Topps Sports Club newsletter? Check!

Awesome Bob Griese photo? Check!  It's the first in the Sports Club "friends" style as well, the Garvey was not stylized at all.

Awesome team checklist sheet? Check!

Premium offers galore? Check!

Sample 1975 Football cards printed on thinner stock?  Check!  Wait, what......Yes, the auction description describes these as being on "slightly thin" stock!  I have to confess, that is something I have not seen described before. That should open a big can of worms!

Hockey and basketball had to settle for a combo mailing:

Those basketball checklist cards are tough-harder than the baseball and football ones from what I have seen although all but baseball are difficult. No hockey checklists though, and I wonder why as it looks like Topps was getting some help defraying costs from The Hockey News. It's also a bit odd to see the baseball samples (again on thin stock) here so late in the year, maybe they were with the baseball kit and got mixed in here?  I like the cover letter and while I didn't bid on this lot, would like to see what it says someday. Bobby Clarke looks like he's contemplating a penalty, no?

Three issues comprised Volume 1, Volume 2 would see baseball and football editions with photos of Joe Morgan and Lynn Swann respectively.  The whole thing then went belly up near as I can tell.  Were there thin stock samples provided in '76?  I do not know but would love to find out.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Party City

Friend o'the Archive Lonnie Cummins has been on fire recently, unearthing all sorts of old and interesting pictures of things as he continues his quest of sorting out and documenting the 126 "T" codes Topps used instead of the more familiar commodity codes most of us are used to seeing.  The T codes basically ran from 1973-80 but there is no discernible reason why Topps changed formats for their test issues.  Anyhoo, the other day Lonnie found a doozy of a scan, entirely unrelated to the 70's test issues.

Topps used small round canisters to sell their penny tab products from the get go and the practice lasted until 1949.  I've documented many of these over the years and the only two products that can be associated with these displays are the primordial Topps Gum and Tatoo. So by the end of the 1940's these things were already obsolete.

Lonnie found a variant I've never seen before, namely a "Party Pak" of Topps Gum.

I can't get good resolution on the name of the photography studio that took this show but it's typical of the look Topps went for in the 40's.  I'm not positive but at a guess I'd say it was designed to hold 40 tabs of gum and sell for 39 cents at most.  Lonnie figured out there must be a clear top, so this was meant to be sold in a grocery or variety store and was not a counter top display ripe for the picking. As to what kind of party it was meant for, your guess is as good as mine as the product was always aimed at adults.

This oddity looks to be the origin of the "k" ending used by Topps instead of "ck" and more well known in the 60's when they started selling "Rak Paks".  As for the year, it's probably 1948, possibly early 1949 as this next shot shows it being sold alongside canisters of Tatoo, which held the 1948 version of that particular novelty (the first one ever offered by Topps):

That, my friends, is a vintage Sears candy counter-I was lucky enough to have one of these nearby growing up and can smell the hot cashews now.

These seem semi-related to the 10 piece Tatoo "Tourist Pouches" Topps went with in 1948, as this shot from Chris Benjamin's old Sport-Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards shows:

Once Bazooka penny tabs started taking off after being introduced in 1949, Topps Gum was doomed but it was still gung-ho until then!

Saturday, December 15, 2018

All The Proof You Need

A treat today folks, a guest column from Keith Olbermann on the three infamous 1960 Baseball "variation proofs":

By Keith Olbermann

          The posting here earlier this year of Woody Gelman’s “The Card Collector” from June 20, 1960, provided an original source document for one of the organized hobby’s greatest and oldest confusions: What the hell are the three incredibly scarce 1960 Topps variation cards of Gino Cimoli, Kent Hadley, and Faye Throneberry? Proofs? Unbelievably rare issued cards? Something else?
          Gelman wrote “Twenty-one cards of the 1960 Topps Baseball set will perhaps be the greatest rarities of modern day baseball gum cards. Three players’ cards (seven of each were issued before the error was caught) bear a different team insignia than the one appearing on the normal card.” Gelman then gives brief details on the Cimoli, Hadley, and Throneberry cards. And apparently with one dubious verb – “issued” – he set the wheels in motion for what will shortly become six full decades of confusion and debate.
          A couple of baseball facts are required. 1st Baseman Kent Hadley was dealt by the A’s to the Yankees on December 11th, 1959 (the trade also included some guy named Maris). The regular version of card 102 shows him in an A’s cap, but the team designation reads “New York Yankees” and a Yankee logo appears. The variation to which Gelman refers is otherwise identical – except that it instead has a vestigial A’s logo. Outfielder Gino Cimoli was traded by the Cardinals to the Pirates on December 21st, 1959. The regular version of card 58 shows him in a Cards’ uniform, but the team designation reads “Pittsburgh Pirates” and a Pirate logo appears. The variation to which Gelman refers is otherwise identical – except that it has both a vestigial Cards’ logo and team designation.
          To my knowledge an image of the third card, #9 Throneberry, was never publicly illustrated until the late Bob Lemke put it in his blog in 2010. Lemke’s image came from venerable collector John Rumierz who in turn explained he had gotten his copies of all three of these 1960 cards years before from the famed collector and former Topps Sports Editor Bill Haber. Lemke noted that the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards listed a 1960 Topps variation not of #9 Faye Throneberry but of his brother, #436 Marv Throneberry. That only made sense: Faye never played for the Yankees nor was he ever in their farm system or even in their organization during an off-season. Marv, like Hadley, had been part of the Maris trade. A Marv Throneberry Yankees/A’s variation made some sense. A Faye Throneberry Yankees variation made none. Yet there it was on Lemke’s blog: Faye Throneberry, Washington Senators, Outfield – with a Yankee logo.
          These twin mountains of perplexity – are they issued variations or unissued proofs, and what could possibly explain the Faye Throneberry card – have been Everests of sorts for so long that I published my first guess about them in The Trader Speaks when I was 16 years old. I helped perpetuate the Faye/Marv confusion in The Sports Collectors Bible. Without knowing of Gelman’s “issued” claim I declared they were certainly not issued cards in an opus on the history of Topps Proofs I did for Sports Collectors Digest in 2008. There are still publications that list a Marv but not a Faye. There are still some that conclude these are the rarest issued Topps cards of all time. There are others that insist they’re proofs.
          To cut to the chase, in part because of Gelman’s 1960 article, the answer is clear: Cimoli/Cardinals, Hadley/Athletics, and Faye Throneberry/Yankees are proof cards. I don’t have another document like Gelman’s nor anything from the wildly scattered files in the Topps offices on Whitehall Street to be able to state this with 100 percent certainty – but I am 100 percent certain and I’ll explain why shortly. It invokes the Sherlock Holmes plot twist about how the character had solved the mystery based on “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” His astonished foil pleads “The dog did nothing in the nighttime.” Holmes replies “That was the curious incident.”
          The crux: are these proof cards (exotic, expensive, different, amazing – but absolutely irrelevant to the question “do you have a complete set of 1960 Topps Baseball?”) or are they as Gelman forecast, “the greatest rarities of modern day baseball gum cards…seven of each were issued” (meaning if you don’t have them, your set is ultimately incomplete)? Clearly Gelman started this – maybe deliberately in hopes of getting readers to write in to ask if he had any of these 21 cards and then selling them, off the books. The confusion was then amplified by a production change which we now take for granted: since at least 1962 (and maybe as early as the later series of the 1960 cards, and with some exceptions in the late ‘80s) all of the proof cards and sheets that have fallen off the back of the proverbial Topps truck and into the hands of dealers and collectors, have had blank backs.
          The 1960 Cimoli, Hadley and Throneberry cards have fully printed backs.
          I have seen two Cimolis and two Hadleys as individual cards. They appear professionally cut and match the issued cards of the 1960 First Series in gloss and thickness and every other material measure. Topps Proofs began to become a very specialized collecting genre probably between the time Wholesale Cards started selling a stack of 100 1967 Roger Maris cards showing him with the Yankees instead of the Cardinals, and a decade later when the more secretive places of the hobby were flooded by all the 1977 unicorns like the Jerry Grote card and the Reggie Jackson/Orioles masterpiece. In 1985 an unbelievable hoard of 1962 Topps sheets –all sports, all blank-backed – literally fell out of a ceiling being remodeled in Connecticut (I was called in; I was between jobs and was given one baseball sheet for $200 as a thank you). And always the dividing line was clear: not all blank-backed cards were proofs, but all proofs were blank backed.
          But then evidence began to mount that sometime before 1962 everything Topps did to proof or check its cards before distribution was done in some complete fashion. Nearly all of the cards in the final series of 1957 Baseball turned up printed on bright white paper stock – fronts and backs. A 1959 high-numbered sheet appeared complete with the logo of the printer, Lord Baltimore Press. All the backs were printed. Some were without the late trade notations found on the issued cards; some had the notations but in different fonts; the backs were also didn’t have the white backs of the issued cards but the gray stock used on the earlier series.
           Finally about a decade ago I was offered what proved to be the final evidence in the 1960 Topps Cimoli/Hadley/Throneberry conundrum: a proof sheet of half of the 1st Series, featuring 55 cards printed front and back. There’s no doubt that it’s a proof sheet: it has printer’s stars and bullseyes and the other hieroglyphics of the printers’ trade. And there, on the far right, in rows two and three, are the Throneberry and Hadley cards. The Throneberry confusion immediately vanished. Kent Hadley was traded from the Athletics to the Yankees. Somebody went to change, from Athletics to Yankees, the team name (success) and logo (fail; very big fail). The Yankee logo intended to supplant the A’s job on Hadley, Column Five, Row Three, instead was placed on Throneberry, Column Five, Row Two. This stumble created not one but two cards that will each set you back five figures.

        But it’s the rest of the sheet – not the epic Hadley/Throneberry error – that confirms these are proof cards. Four other fronts have minor variations (#2 Mejias, #9 Daley, #64 Fornieles all have the players’ names printed inside light blue boxes whereas they are only known on issued cards with names inside dark blue ones). And 18 of the 55 backs have further variations on the back. 1960 was the year Topps scrapped many player biographies on the backs of many of the cards, and instead went with bullet pointed game details and a big bold “Season Highlights” above them. On the back of the proof sheet, whether what’s below are the game notes or the traditional biography, all of the cards have the “Season Highlights” header. The sharp-eyed or design-oriented collectors were always troubled why the corresponding issued cards that have bios and not highlights had a big empty space on the back. The sheet explains why: the “Season Highlights” headers were simply removed.

          And that’s the proof that they’re all proofs.
          For Gelman’s claim to be true – that seven copies each of Cimoli, Hadley, and Throneberry made it into card packs and were issued – we have to assume that one of two explanations is also true:
          A) the other variations on the sheet, on 22 different cards, for a total of 154 copies (plus whatever variations might have existed on the separate sheet containing the Cimoli), either never made it into the packs or, while a couple of Cimolis and Hadleys have changed hands in the last 20 years, none of these 154 cards has ever appeared in an auction or an article or on eBay or even in a rumor somewhere or nobody ever noticed them and they’ve been sitting in piles of commons for 58 years. Either that’s true, or:
          B) those other 22 far more subtle errors and only those 22 errors were found on the proof sheet and corrected before the issued cards were printed. But somebody at Topps decided to let Cimoli, Hadley, and Throneberry proceed with big glaring errors intact to the publication stage and only then after exactly seven sheets rolled off the presses and through the cutting machine and into the packs did somebody yell ‘stop the presses’ and fix them. More over if the cards were “issued” why would John Rumierz have had to have gotten them from Bill Haber when Haber worked at Topps in the ‘70s or ‘80s? Why would there still have been any more copies at Topps?
          In theory, “B” could have happened. But I’d say the odds against are far higher than another wild explanation: that when Woody Gelman wrote “seven of each were issued” he meant “seven of each were issued by me.”

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Album Of The Year

Well kids, the fall BST Auctions, run by Friends o'the Archive John Spano and Andy Becker has concluded,and what a memorable one it was, but before I kick things into gear, make sure to check out the end of this post for some information on an exciting new website (not mine) that a lot of you will enjoy.  Now's the main but non-exclusive name of the game and one of the items in the mix this time around really caught my eye, namely the internal file book of the 1964 Topps Football set.

These books have been seen before. Compiled by Woody Gelman and his staff, they were the official corporate record of the various card sets and packaging issued each year and it pains me to see when they get broken up for auction.  Happily though, this fate has not yet befallen this book!

Imaging what the file room must have looked like at Bush Terminal, with sagging shelves full of albums similar to this one:

While these generally did not memorialize every variation they did contain a full set of cards, although a couple ended up disappearing from this one which is fairly common.  They all pretty much look like this:

This binder contained a sell sheet example as a nice bonus:

Now that is a nice piece but the real prizes here are the box and wrapper of the one cent wax variety. The catalog description states the one cent box has not been seen but at least two packs have been graded by PSA so it may just be it's super rare.  REA had this offering last year:

Another went in Mile High a couple of weeks ago to boot. I think the one cent packs are indeed quite rare but they do seem to have been issued.  Either way, it's a tough pack and among the last of the Topps "pennies".

Here's what Topps had in the binder:

Looks like the art was ready to go just as summer arrived! I believe that is Woody Gelman's red crayon or grease pencil in action on those pages.

This little exercise also got me thinking about the last "normal" Topps set to be issued in penny packs.  I know 1965 Baseball was sold in one cent packs and when I checked John Neuner's Non-Sports wrapper guide against my own master list, I couldn't find any penny packs on the non-sports side in '65.  So unless someone out there can turn up evidence to the contrary, the 1965 Baseball penny packs are the last of this breed.


On a semi-unrelated note, but speaking of things that enclosed other Topps things, collector Mike White has launched what I believe to be a hobby first, namely a website devoted to Topps shipping cases.  Mike has posted about these on a couple of hobby forums in the past and count me among the folks who are amazed many of  these behemoths have survived over the years.  Give a click here to see. I wish Mike well in his efforts.