Saturday, October 25, 2014

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

The esoterica just keeps on coming kids!  This time it's an American Gas Stations (a Shorin company prior to founding Topps, which partially financed the founding of same) metal key ring credit card. Back before credit cards or even charge plates, there was this:



It is still common for certain items to have postage guaranteed for return but I'm not sure the post office will deliver such things anymore.  The phone number is for AGS HQ, which we know from the matchbooks I have shown here previously was at 1619 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, a mere block-and-a-half from the rightfield wall at Ebbets Field.  I have to scour some old ballpark photos to see if the HQ shows up at all.



It's actually a charge coin, which if you click the charge plate link above, basically dates to just after the end of the Civil War. The truck was called their "Trouble Shooter" by the way. If that is a running count of AGS charge customers, it's impressive!

I tried to decipher the writing on the truck's doors and side panels but I think it's just gibberish, although some neatly executed lettering is evident on one side:


The other side's lettering is similar I think but it's a little rougher than the other view:



I used a high power magnifying glass but cannot resolve anything lettering-wise here either.  Bummer.....



Saturday, October 18, 2014

Juicy Jamboree

Extra! Extra!  Gee, I've always wanted to say that....and now thanks to a recent arrival here at the main Topps Archives Research Complex I can.



Using my immense powers of deduction, it would appear Topps commenced a monthly newspaper for their jobbers in January of 1948.  Jamboree was the name and increasing sales was the game. The lone issue I have is a four pager printed in 11" x 17" tabloid size on very high quality paper.As you can see, Topps treated their top wholesalers very well.  Here is more to that story (I can't fit the entire thing on my scanner, sorry):


I gather Jamboree was also the name of their sales competition.

While there is not a lot of meat as concerns Topps production, this thing is a veritable cornucopia of marketing information. Topps was really slingin' that PR hash, yessir Mr. Walter Winchell even got into the act:



We also get some primordial Bazooka advertising, along with some typical content:


And since it was a man's world back then, what publication was complete without some cheesecake:


Topps sales manager Hugh Spencer got into the act in a big way:



I think this comic strip is my favorite part of the entire issue; it ties in the contest winner from the front cover quite nicely:



Meanwhile, the back cover has a massive list of jobber's salesmen who won Jamboree prizes in March:



This is a neat little cartoon as well:


The whole issue was folded three times and a few copies were likely thrown in with each jobbers orders.  I find the whole Topps sales incentive program fascinating and illustrative of how hard they pushed their reps and customers to move product..

I am pretty sure Topps also had an internal house organ for their employees but I have not yet seen a copy.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chattanooga Chew Chew

While I was researching my Modern Hobby Guide material two or three years ago, I found a funny thing.  There was a trademark registered by Bubbles Inc. (later assigned to Topps) for Bazooka that indicated the first appearance of this iconic bubble gum occurred on July 12, 1938.



That's an interesting date since it precedes the actual founding of Topps by about five months. I am also wondering if Bubbles Inc. preceded Topps as a company even though the July 1938 date likely refers to Brock's original trademarking of the name and/or logo (but not the soldier as the bazooka itself was not around until 1942) .The soldier and rocket launcher logo is interesting too as it not one seen anywhere else.  Further research led me to this entry:


This is additional information from the US Government database of Patents and Trademarks and it confirms the previous application was successful. First use on April 21, 1947 would have been locally in New York City; the July 23, 1947 date marks the first time it was used in Interstate commerce.

So far so good, we just have a mystery logo.  But a little more digging revealed this nugget:


Brock Candy (once briefly discussed here in connection with the trademark) was a fixture in the Chattanooga confectionery business at the time of this filing and that city figures prominently in the history of Topps as they bought another concern there called Bennett-Hubbard in 1943 and turned it into their southern plant before it was closed up in 1951. Chattanooga was also quite close to Fort Ogelthorpe, Georgia where Phil Shorin, a Topps founder, was stationed during World War 1 and would have been a prime recreational area when on leave from the base.

Bazooka as can be plainly seen, was used locally starting on January 4, 1937.  I can't find the one linking document (not all old records are digitized) but I suspect Topps. bought the brand name at some point from Brock through Bubbles Inc. sometime in early 1947.  Brock was paying back a payroll loan at the time and I am thinking the brand was not in use after the war. I can't prove it but it makes a lot of sense and there is no way the Chattanooga connection is a coincidence, as there are no coincidences when it comes to the Shorin family and their businesses.

Since I was rooting around in the databases I searched out the record for Bazooka Joe and found this:


This dates Joe and the gang to August 1954, although BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd feels it was a few months earlier.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Rubbing Three Nickels Together

One of the things I can't get a firm grip on is when Ben Solomon, longtime Topps Art Director, and Woody Gelman, their longtime Creative Director, joined the company. Both men had worked together since the late 1930's, when Ben was an animator at Fleischer Studios and Woody an aspiring assistant.  After their stint at Fleischer's, where Ben made his mark directing Popeye shorts, the immediate postwar years found them in an art agency named, prosaically enough, Solomon & Gelman.


(courtesy Jerry Beck)


Here they did high quality work in the decade before photography took over the advertising world and their work on a campaign for Popsicles got the attention of Topps President Joseph Shorin around 1950-51.  After doing some work for Topps, Shorin allegedly told the two that unless they came to work for him, he would give all his work to another agency.

I think Woody came into the fold first; he worked with Sy Berger (at Sy's apartment) in late 1951 on the iconic 1952 Topps set, which was critical to the firm's future and I have seen references he was working in their offices by 1953.  Ben however, is harder to trace and may not have been full time at Topps until the early 1960's.  It's also possible Solomon & Gelman was brought in house and allowed to retain some autonomy so long as their work did not interfere with their jobs at Topps.

The firm may have been active as late as 1965 but on thing is certain, the produced a series of fifteen cent soft covers for "young adults" called Triple Nickel Books in 1955, a line that was active for three or four years. It would appear their timing was excellent as the first two Triple Nickels featured Davy Crockett.  Here is the cover of the second one:


That approved reading logo is a bit frightening and likely was due to the imposition of the Comics Code Authority in 1954-55; many publishers would have to adapt due to the changes occurring in what could be sold to America's youth following a series of Congressional hearings.  The CCC gave us Mad Magazine but in reality was just a bunch of hooey that disrupted many livelihoods.

Here is what it looked like inside, typical 50's sub-teen fare really:




The inside front cover is where we get the publishing details, which I will blow up for easy reading:


We also get a bonus as the the artist's name is shown below the Davy Crockett illo: Mort Leav. I am thinking, looking at that b&w Davy Crockett illustration and comparing it to the cover painting, which it looks like he did as well, that Leav or someone else at S&G, did some work for Topps in the 1950's.  Look at this Round-Up card compared to the next Triple Nickel Book cover of Wild Bill Hickok:




Nat Wilson may have been a pen name for Ben & Woody; I'm not 100% sure of that but another author in the series, Arthur Benwood, has a name that is clearly derived from an amalgram of Ben and Woody's first names.

Here are some other exciting books in the series, frm an ad on the inside back cover:



And what 50's moralizing would be complete without a panel of experts giving approval:




Topps would issue two fan magazines in 1965 that took some inspiration from Triple Nickel Books but I think the series ended in 1957.  Ben & Woody however, had greater days ahead at Topps.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Boxing Day

I'm feeling a bit lazy today and thought I would just take a look at some interesting box graphics from the early days of Topps.

Very much a design that shows how quickly Topps issued this set in the wake of the Korean War, the Freedom's War box has some fairly basic graphics that don' really represent the great artwork in this set:


The "Save 'Em Trade 'Em" slogan was used across the Topps line of cards starting in 1950, appearing on retail and advertising pieces as a unifying meme to get the kids to buy more product.  It also was coincidental, excepting the reissues of Flags of the World and License Plates in their larger size, with their issuance of two card panels in nickel glassine and ten cent cello packs and ran until the end of 1951.  Fighting Marines was the first panelized set that didn't feature this wording since the beginning of 1950 so the campaign ran for almost two years.

Much more colorful was the Bring 'Em Back Alive box, which appeared before Freedom's War:


And before that, we had Hopalong Cassidy, which actually featured a photo and was the first entertainment property licensed by Topps:


Yo-yoing into 1951 Animals of the World had some decent graphics:



The motto isn't on the box but it is on the wrapper:


Baseball Candy even got into the act, as you can see on this scan of an ad provided by Friend o'the Archive John Moran:



Ringside?  Check:



Those ad back cards replicate the box graphics, one of Topps' best efforts I think. And ewhile we are in the sporting arena, let's not forget Magic Football:



Just like Animals of the World, you have to look at the wrapper to find the motto:




Now there is an anomaly out there as well and it belongs to Ed-U-Cards.  This 1952 photo from one of their ad campaigns is very intriguing, especially since Topps produced the Lone Ranger set for them in 1950 and there is a somewhat close connection with Baseball Candy:



Those early Ed-U-Cards graphics are not as cartony as their later issues and given the wording on the retail box, I am starting to wonder just how much of a connection there was between Topps and Ed-U-Cards.  Or maybe Solomon & Gelman's art agency is the connection.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mis-Adventure

I always have a chuckle when I see a 1956 Harry Agganis Adventure card attributed to Topps. While the set includes 100 colorful, reasonably well executed paintings of various subjects, including Agganis, it is definitely not a Topps product.

Here is the Golden Greek, already dead when the set was issued (as noted on his card):



You can clearly see the Gum Products Inc. copyright, belying a Topps connection. There is however, a connection to an old baseball card set, namely  1941 Double Play, also produced by the same company:


The Boston connection in that scan is intentional on my part as Gum Products Inc. was based there (in Cambridge). GPI also produced a 175 cards set of airplane cards in 1940-41 called Zoom:


GPI also made gumballs sold under the name Jaw Teasers and a few other confectionery products as well in addition to a short series of flip movies issued around the time of Adventure.  Boston was a hotbed of candy and gum manufacturers and card issuers in the years leading up to World War 2 and Gum Products looks like they would have been an earnest player had the conflict not come along.

So Adventure, while being a well-executed set, was not a Topps product, despite dozens of eBay listings to the contrary!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Wisdom Of Solomon

There were some super sweet Topps related items up for bid in the just concluded Legendary Auction for September 2014.  Over a dozen lots featuring Match Print photos taken by William Jacobellis have turned up and while only a scant few feature Topps images, they come with an added bonus, namely the scrawled approval of Ben Solomon, who was Woody Gelman's ad agency partner and at some point became the Topps Art Director.

The Match Prints are from the 1954 and 1956 sets.  Here is Larry Doby's, featuring both the main photo (with classic Yankee Stadium centerfield background) and the inset:







You can clearly see the "Ben Sol" OK on the reverse of each.  Pretty neat!

Here is the finished product:


Topps clearly was concerned with quality control and appears to be avoiding the use of wire photos to create their cards. Someone did a real nice job colorizing the main photo as well; art was a true art form in the 50's!

On a related note, I have not yet been able to figure out when Ben Solomon went to work for Topps as an employee.  While his Solomon & Gelman partner Woody worked on the 1952 Topps baseball set and is said to have joined the firm around that time (late 1951), I am not so sure.  Solomon & Gelman lived on until at least 1957 --and possibly even as late as 1962-- from what I have been able to find and they may have been taken in house by Topps before finally hiring on at some point.

I do note Jacobellis had an address fairly close to Solomon & Gelman's (230 W 41 St at one time before they moved three or four blocks north). There were probably dozens of commercial photographers in Manhattan at that time.  I wonder if this guy was one of them?

Here is a Net54 thread on Jacobellis and some other vintage era photographers that is well worth a look.