Saturday, May 23, 2015

What A Difference A Year Makes

Following up on my recent string of posts covering the 1973-76 Topps Annual Reports, I've found a few contemporary news articles from Sports Collectors News reacting to Topps' financials. SCN was a hobby newspaper put out by Mike Bondarenko from 1968-78 that, by 1974, was professionally typeset and printed bi-weekly with extensive coverage of the then-current hobby scene. It didn't have the advertising oomph of The Trader Speaks but it made up for it in articles and editorials. Here are a few tidbits about the mighty Topps Chewing Gum.

This first one is from the August 2, 1974 issue and the author (somewhat) bemoans the goings-on at Corporate HQ:


The fact that Topps was sold in 200,000 different stores is hugely impressive but if you do the math they netted only $220 per store in sales and a measly $10 in net profits! Still, things were looking mighty good thanks to Wacky Packages.

By the time 1975 had kicked into gear, things weren't looking so rosy as this May 23, 1975 article reveals:

International sales were definitely on the minds of the top Topps brass as the business landscape had changed dramatically for all but a handful of companies by 1975 thanks to the damage the Arab Oil Embargo did to the US and other select economies around the globe. The effect can be seen in the profits, which were down substantially while net sales had increased by almost $6 Million from the year prior.

Bondarenko started SCN when he was 16 (!) and I have to say by the time the mid 70's rolled around it was, the most professional looking hobby publication out there prior to the debut of Baseball Cards Magazine in 1981. Not bad for a twenty-something!

Saturday, May 16, 2015


Depending upon how often and in what decade you frequented grocery stores, the notion of Topps Wax Trays might strike a chord.  Originally introduced in 1952 to allow the selling of multiple packs as one unit  in the grocery stores and supermarkets of America, these would be used for decades by Topps. Technically, these were mere overwraps in the beginning as they featured wax packs overwrapped with clear cellophane but around 1957 (I think) the move to standard sizing seems to coincide with the flimsy cardboard tray being used underneath the packs.  Generally three or six wax packs would be in these and three would be dominant by the mid 1960's.

Here is an example from 1972:


I'm not really cataloging what was packaged this way but am trying to cipher what was shown on the underside of these.  Here is an example from 1974:

There are three elements obviously:  a numbered set of Sports Safety Tips, the Bazooka Joe and 1940's style girl pushing a premium and the curiously un-numbered Make-It-Yourself Games. It seems likely this came from a sports related wax tray but it's not a certainly as this 1979 Superman: The Movie tray hawks a Sports Card Locker:

Another intriguing tray back set of the era, but is it from Topps: 

I'm not sure what kind of tray these are from though; they don't seem cut down and the rounded corners look consistent.Those are being offered by Columbia City Collectibles by the way as Topps product, likely based upon the first five digits of the bar code.

1980 Baseball was the last product issued with a cardboard tray.  Topps switched to a floppy cello in mid 1980 and then by the time 1981 Baseball came out the wax packs had been replaced by clear cello's, usually with 12 cards (and gum).

There must be a lot more tray back cards out there; I plan to keep looking and if anyone out there has some scans, send 'em in!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

We Liked Ike, But When?!

Regular followers of this blog and those who have read my book know that Topps issued a set of 33 coins in 1948-49 depicting the Presidents of the United States (and one featuring the Capitol) and then repeated this in 1956-57, although the design changed and plastic was substituted for metal. I've always been bothered by there being no 1952-53 version of the set (Golden Coin), especially since Eisenhower was a newly minted Chief Executive at the time. I've just acquired the complete contents of a '56 pack that I think helps support the idea a set was issued following the 1952 election.

Here is the all encompassing 56 setup:

As always, the wrapper states it was distributed by O-Pee-Chee in Canada but manufactured by Topps Chewing Gum in Brooklyn.  This dichotomy will repeat, as we shall see.

The It Happened To A President inner wrapper is correct as it features the red and black version associated with the 1956 issue:

Our first anomaly shows up in the form of the inner tray and gum, the latter of which disintegrated completely about six seconds after I opened the mailing package:

Here is a closer look at the tray, which measures about 4" x 2 1/4", not counting the flip up edges; it's completely petrified at this point, you could kill somebody with it easily enough:

And therein lies the rub as the inner packaging from what I have read and researched is supposed to be a cardboard envelope that looks like this in 1956:

Compare that to the 1948-49 sleeve:

I have no doubt the plainer sleeve is the earliest of the bunch as the slogan and design clearly mark it as such. 1949 wrappers have the 1949 date prominently displayed on them so that's a no-brainer for dating purposes. Plus the '49 coins have the text back; in 1956 they used a shield with a large ordinal number within:

We also have this curiosity, from a couple of scans I picked up along the way:

Sooooooo....the question is when did Topps decide to push the 2 for 1 deal?  Was it after returns of the 1948-49 coins came in (and they did come in as Topps sold bulk overstock in Billboard Magazine in early 1950) or when a 1952 edition came out?  I have to think the yellow "eagle" pouch is from 1952 if the black, plain tray is from '56.  I'd love it if a scan or example of the "2 coins" made itself known.

There is yet another disconnect, namely this big Bazooka insert from the 1956 version:

That was clearly wrapped around the black tray from the look of things.  Bazooka Joe was a 1954 invention, so could not have come with an earlier Golden Coin set. But why is there a U.S. address for a Canadian product?!  I admit to being a bit baffled at it all.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Action Traction

It's been quite a while since I posted here on the 1973/74 Action Emblems, which were an attempt by Topps to circumvent negotiating with Major League Baseball for the right to use team logos on their cards.  Topps instead created their own logos in what can only be considered an act of corporate hubris.

As noted previously, there were three types of stickers issued: the main, original cloth, glossy and then a cardboard version that may have been a proof (but which may have found its way into packs). The cloth versions seem to suffer from an excess of adhesive and that may have caused Topps to switch to the glossy format. I finally landed a glossy sticker and can now show the characteristics:

The front shows a clear score mark between the top and bottom stickers:

The back is white sticker stock.  For some reason I expected tan but it's clearly not:

Compare that to the reverse of a cloth sticker:

The excess adhesive leeched through enough to make the sticker backing somewhat transparent and you can see how the front "floats".  The front shows the same effects as well:

I've wondered a few times why Topps issued such a set and then issued it again.  Perhaps they were competing with Fleer, which often had team logo sets out on the store shelves.  It's a strange issue.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Spirit Of 76 Trombones?

1976 was a big year for the United States as its 200th birthday was celebrated in a yearlong expression of patriotism, red white and blue themed events, and bad mid-70's design.  For some reason Topps, which traced its paternal lineage back to the American Leaf Tobacco Company and American Gas Stations, elected to ignore all of this in designing their 1976 Annual Report.  Instead, they went with a theme that reminds me of Meredith Wilson's The Music Man:

As in 1975, the back cover was a copy of the front cover. The 1976 report continued a trend toward less photography and content and more straight up financial analysis. Once again the big news was on the international front as plans were announced for a new 50,000 square foot facility in Ireland, to serve as a center of manufacturing for their UK and European operations:

A nice start but compare this with the 400,000 square foot Duryea, Pennsylvania plant:

Topps also added a 33,000 square foot plant in Scranton, PA for candy manufacturing, a real "back to the future" move for them.

Another bit of financial news is intriguing:

These royalties were steadily increasing but seem like a bargain compared to today.  The report also notes that Bazooka was still their most profitable item.

Sy Berger finally got a little love as top level executives were also added to the annual pictures of the Board of Directors, which was still a Shorin family juggernaut:

Net sales increased yet again, by 11.2% to $55.748 million. Price increases in all product lines were helping tremendously. The quarterly dividend was also increased from 5 to 7 cents, a sure sign of growth.

I'm going to stop here in terms of acquiring their annul reports I think.  There seems to be less and less detail as the years pass from the 1972 IPO.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

International Intrigue

Our look at the mid 1970's Annual Reports of Topps Chewing Gum continues, today it's the 1975 edition, issued as Topps was celebrating 25 years of issuing baseball cards.  The cover is oh-so 70's:

The back cover was identical; not sure if it was to save costs but it seems possible.  

1974 saw Topps pay tribute yet again to an iconic baseball player.  This time it was the new (and still rightful IMHO) all-time home run king Hank Aaron getting the full Sy Berger treatment and a nice presentation of his Topps cards:

The board of directors is still an austere bunch, featuring some progression of the Shorin family. Manuel Yellen, who was on the Board from its 1972 inception, was the retired CEO of Lorillard Tobacco.  He started there in 1933 and would have been a longtime business associate of the Shorin family from the American Leaf Tobacco Company days.  His is not the father of  current Federal Reserve head honcho Janet Yellen though.

The big trend in fiscal year 1975 was more international expansion and conquest for Topps. Manufacturing operations had begun in Halle Germany as August Storck began making Bazooka under license.  Topps was so impressed with them that they used a nice shot of their plant in the annual report

Of further note was the kickoff of Nigerian operations ad the killing off of A&BC Chewing Gum in England.  I plan to take an in depth look at the Topps/A&BC relationship at some point but it's interesting that once the A&BC takeover occurred, Topps moved manufacturing to the US on a temporary basis.

In fact, the report mentions that "Throughout fiscal 1975, Topps finished products continued to be sold to distributors in international markets not served by licensees. Most of the merchandise was manufactured at the Topps Duryea plant, and we also purchased some products for these markets from our licensees."

This was only their third annual report but things were already becoming drier and more businesslike within. Net sales were $50.111 million, a 13.3% increase over the prior year. Other fiscal highlights concerned their ability to borrow money at the prime rate -- no doubt due to to the Shorin family's almost 70 year affiliation with Manufacturers Hanover Bank-- and a big increase in debt (that might be a lowlight). Part of their listed liabilities was an estimate for the cost of premium redemptions from various wholesalers & retailers via their longstanding "prize" certificate offers. In the fiscal year ending 1974 this amount was $630,000 while in FY ending 1975 it was $581,000. I've always wondered about the cost of this program and it is roughly 1% of net sales in the mid-70's.

Next post we'll time trip back to the U.S. Bicentennial.

Saturday, April 11, 2015


Last time out I teased about the impact Wacky Packages had on the sales figures for Topps during the initial rollout in 1973. The answers are at hand in the 1974 Topps Annual Report.

This report is probably the most widely known in the hobby due to some picture that have circulated over the years, which show production facilities and PR shots.  I'll spare most of the repetition but here is a great shot, certainly staged, of some confectionery products available in 1974:

Here's a different look at some of the products can you spot a favorite or two?

I see some old line products, specifically Bozo gumballs and Block Busters bubble gum. Bozo was originally a bulk gumball product sold to wholesalers (jobbers).  I am not 100% certain but a reasonably sure it was phased out in the U.S. in the 1950's and moved to Canadian production and distribution, possibly over trademark concerns due to infringements of the Bozo the Clown "brand". It came back packaged in a clear cello sleeve and I certainly remember getting some in my prime trick or treating years in the early 70's. I also remember it being quite tasty!

Block Busters was a Chiclets style gum introduced in the early 1950's, probably since production of the flagship Topps Gum tab had been shifted to an "ammoniated" gum dubbed Clor-Aid, which was similar in form to Clorets (and Chiclets). The results of extensive litigation over Clor-Aid went against Topps and they likely phased out Block Busters as a result, although not before the last remnants of its production were used as the gum for the 1956 Baseball Buttons. It was reintroduced at the end of 1973 but apparently did not catch on.

I mentioned the impact of Wacky Packages on sales in 1973.  Here is a very handy table showing five years worth of financials and the biggest year-to-year change in net sales is from 1973 to 1974:

There might be some clues in there about why Topps went public.  Look at the net income for 1970 and 1971,  1970's net is quite low compared to net sales and even that was a huge increase from 1969. They reduced debt and increased working capital over this span as well, with the latter really jumping after the IPO in 1972.

Here are some other highlights from the report:
  • "In March of 1974 2 cent Bazooka was introduced into 40% of the United States and 1 cent Bazooka was withdrawn. It is anticipated that 2 cent Bazooka will be expanded into the remainder of the country during this year."
  • "During 1973 a major marketing innovation was tested on Baseball Cards. This involved marketing a single series consisting of all 660 players at the beginning of the season instead of the six traditional series of 132 subjects released sequentially over a four month period. The test was extremely successful..."
  • "..."the company successfully tested 15 cent Sports Cards in place of 10 cent cards during the latter part of 1973 and is currently marketing 15 cent baseball in approximately 10% of the United States.  If this effort continues to show positive results, the Company is prepared to move in this direction with its Football cards in the fall of 1974 on a national basis with television support."
  • "Promotional Card sales have been particularly successful this year with the introduction of Wacky Packages in March, 1973."
  • "Topps new product development area is not only innovative, but also highly skilled in market research and market testing conducted prior to introducing a new product into the line."
  • "Through its own sales force, Topps sells its products to approximately 5,000 jobbers, wholesale grocers and direct-buying chains."
  • "Topps estimates that its products are sold in over 200,000 small and large retail candy and food stores (7-11 type), variety stores (dime stores) and drug outlets."

It wasn't all boring financial talk though.  In October of 1973 (actually I believe it was Sept. 25th) Sy Berger presented Willie Mays with a special framed edition of all his regular issue Topps cards during Willie Mays night at Shea Stadium:

Let's not forget the Board of Directors, who should definitely get a hand:

Not everyone was happy though, as this article from the August 2, 1974 issue of Sports Collectors News shows:

Sorry Ron but you may have been a little naive when you bought the stock.....