Saturday, September 24, 2016

Wise Guys

One of the hobby backroads less traveled that's ripe for further investigation leads to buttons and pins, especially those produced in the 1960's and early 70's. This applies not only to Topps but the other producers of the day, although my interest certainly is with the former.

About a month ago I picked up what I thought was a 1965 Topps Wise Guy Button:

When it arrived I noticed it was much larger than a traditional Wise Guy, measuring 3 3/8" in diameter vs. the standard 2" for the issue.  I also noticed the back was pretty chunky:

It's a two piece button, although the safety pin replaces the original clasp, which I found a likely scan of over at Terapeak:

I can't find any information on the larger pin.  Like the 2 inch version it only has a small "JAPAN" printed on the rim. The late wrapper king John Neuner has a listing for the set from 1961 but I think that's wrong for the big button and he just whiffed on the 1965 set. Here's the 1965 issue from an old Legendary auction:

Friend o'the Archive Bill Christensen thinks the larger buttons came after the smaller ones due to the two piece back.  I think it's possible as the small ones have an edge on the underside of the rolled rim that is very sharp and which is eliminated on the two piece design:

So just when did the larger version come out and how did Topps market it? My master list of Topps issues does not have anything on it resembling the larger pin I have not had any luck over at Net54 or looking through NS guides.  

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Disgustingly Yours

Topps hit a creative peak after the move of their production, packaging and warehousing facilities to Duryea, PA in 1966.  I don't know if the move freed up resources as they consolidated a half dozen buildings scattered around Brooklyn or if the Creative Development team just went bonkers but in a roughly five or six year span ending in late '71 or early 1972, mainstream (Jack Davis, Basil Wolverton, Wally Wood) and underground artists (Art Spiegelman, Bill Griffith) were producing a stunning parade of illustrated sets for the company.

Topps had always used high grade artists since their earliest days of selling cards (Al Capp for instance) and even got a young Robert Crumb into the mix in 1965 (Monster Greeting Cards). Some of their 1950's output really shows off this work but things took off along with the Space Race as packaging, set design, "playability" and innovation all came to the forefront on the non-sports side. Even cards and packaging they were producing for the four major sports were noticeably edgier and dramatic in this period. There were intricate in-house proofs, test issues, premiums and more being produced at a dizzying rate. It all came to a crashing halt once Topps elected to go public and started cutting expenses in 1972 but for a short while it was pretty amazing.

Topps committed to a stretch of sets with die cutting and wearability in mind, often centered on Hallowe'en. The Get Smart Secret Agent Kit, Blockheads, Topps Pak 'o Fun to name but a few and today's subject: Disgusting Disguises.

Issued twice, first in 1967 and again in 1970, Disgusting Disguises featured 24 large, die cut cards to be punched out and worn like a mask or otherwise about the head and then adorned with various, generally creepy stickers, helpfully packaged with the cards and numbering 27 in total.  I never saw these as a kid but they would have been an awesome find if I had:

The cuts on these things are horrible from what I have seen but that looks like Basil Wolverton artwork to me.  The card backs had instructions for you:

But get this, each back illustrated the mask on the front-no generic instructions for the small fry here!

Three of the masks will look familiar if you collect Pee Wee's Playhouse cards from 1988, click the link and see:

The Stickers were also in large format:

I found an uncut sheet scan (likely a partial) of the stickers while I was researching this post, you can see the extra prints pretty easily:

I have scans of a couple of proof sheets of the cards but they are pretty rough:

The box is a classic:

C'mon, that kid is fierce!

It's a great little set and clearly meant to be retailed around Hallowe'en, a subject I'll be exploring here and there this fall.You can see 'em all at:

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Philadelphia Storied

I've recently been able to close a loop concerning the sale of Bowman Gum to Topps in early 1956. When I was researching the Modern Hobby Guide a few years ago, it was a surprise to me that Warren Bowman had left his namesake company in May 1951 to develop real estate in Florida. The Board of Directors ultimately changed the name of the company to Haelan Laboratories a year later and by the end of 1952 a local Philadelphia businessman named John Connelly was added to the board, likely because he provided capital to the company. Here is the face of the man who sold Bowman to Topps:

You can see the Haelan branding on the back of this 1952 Pee Wee Reese:

This was contracted and initialized to B.G.H.L.I. by 1953:

I've covered most of the story in my book and in a Wrapper article a while back but a lucky break put a thread about a 1948 Blony (Bowman's flagship bubble gum brand) shipping carton in front of me the other day over at Network 54's Vintage Non-Sports Forum and with a quick response from Mike White, who owns the carton in question, I was able to get a scan of the bottom:

My research had previously found Connelly had a stint as vice president and sales manager during World War 2 at Container Corporation of America (CCA) before starting Connelly Containers.  I had always wondered how he stumbled onto Bowman and the connection with CCA certainly seems to answer that question. Connelly ultimately used his haul from the Bowman sale to gain control of Crown Cork & Seal in 1957, which made cans and bottle caps and made him a very wealthy man. When he stepped down in 1989 the company was worth almost $2 Billion dollars. He passed away in 1990 but his charitable foundation lives on to this day.

I also was able to find an article from this past January in a magazine called Mid Atlantic Thoroughbred about the Connelly family horse farm in New Jersey (still there) that dug into his background a little more as I was googling CCA, so all in all it was a pretty fortunate turn of events

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Blankest Year

One of the lines I straddle as a type collector of Topps cards and certain ephemera is the one dividing third party premiums from first party Topps product. It's easy in some respects-I don't go after Bazooka premiums such as the infamous Exploding Battleship:

But what to do about something like this poster:

The premium poster actually integrates with the regular issue cards and vice versa! If you were a kid in 1974 you opened up a pack of football cards and mostly got this:

Then every couple of packs or so a team checklist card (almost) like the one above popped up:

We'll come back to the premium offer momentarily.

The back of the team checklists had all the rules for the game on the card backs:

Topps also worked 50 cards into a Milton Bradley game called Pro Draft that year, so they were very focused on breaking out of their normal marketing routines. Now about that premium offer for even more team checklists:

Now you can clearly see two different Football Action Posters were available. The first matches our Oilers team checklist above while the second was like so:

This is a little strange-Topps could have advertised the premium posters on the team checklists inserted into the packs but instead used the wrapper flaps:

I'll point out they seem to be mixing up their posters on the ad flap!  No matter, it's still pretty neat how everything was working together.

Now, about those team checklist sheets.  Did you notice the dotted lines around most of the Chargers card?  That's because you had to cut them apart!  And not only that but we get a pretty scarce variant in that the mail in cards were blank backed:

Pretty convoluted, I'd say.  I would love to show some pictures of the two posters and accessories but don't have any scans.  Anyone out there with them?

More to come on mail-in premiums, stay tuned....

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Good Night John Boy

1973 saw a double test by Topps of a set featuring The Waltons, a burgeoning show on CBS that featured the namesake family dealing with life's trials and tribulations during the Depression and World War 2.  Fifty cards, mostly in horizontal format, were issued and the backs feature puzzles or "collecting and farming tips" similar to those found on the reverses of the Adam-12/Emergency, The Rookies, or Six Million Dollar Man test issues of the same era.

A pink theme was thought to be in order by Topps, presumably as the show's younger viewing demographic skewed female:

The vertically oriented cards look a little weird, to me the logo looks squished:

I mentioned a double test.  The first, or "A" test, featured a pack style frequently seen with test issues of the 60's and 70's:

The alternate test was sans bubble gum:

That's just the sticker portion by the way.  The pack would have looked the same as the gum version did but, in what is a first for me, I spotted a scan of just the sticker which also, crucially, showed the back.  I've never seen an intact test pack sticker before

Neat, huh? Tops must have sourced their test pack labels from a different company than the one that provided some very scarce sticker stock for Wacky Packages, i.e. Ludlow. 

The Waltons cards are scarce but slightly more abundant than examples from the aforementioned Adam-12/Emergency or The Rookies sets and maybe a little tougher than Six Million Dollar Man.

The Waltons Museum has a portion of an uncut sheet that displays the full set plus the five extra prints (right side running top to (almost) bottom:

Here's the reverse, which shows all the puzzles:

I have to confess I was never a fan of the show (I thought it was dumb) but did watch the other test issue shows from 1973-74.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Top Ten List

So we are, amazingly, coming up on eight years of this blog and as I was rolling around in the "posts" section, which I do occasionally and where I can see stats, etc., I noticed a couple of eye-popping page counts for a few posts over the years.  So I thought I would take a look today at the top ten posts in terms of page views, which led to a few surprises.

As of the date I am composing this (July 30, 2016) the blog has 56 subscribers and an average post gets roughly 135 page views; 658 posts have been made as of this date. It takes a couple of weeks after a post for that page view count to be reached. Some posts have very few views, especially those from the early days (Sept.-Dec. '08), although a post I made on the 1961 Dice Game set on January 2, 2009 seems to have brought attention here hence, likely because I mentioned it over at Net54.

Speaking of the Dice Game and before I get rolling here, I just noticed something today as I was editing the scans to insert here.  Take a look:

Look closely at the baserunning results boxes (the three little boxes to the right of each batting result).  They are hand drawn! I guess there were size limits on those great Topps fonts after all and the variety is vast on these:

Speaking of variety, there is quite a bit of it among the top ten topics and a couple have an exponentially higher number of views than those that came before. Counting down, we start with:

#10 (973 views) - Test Pattern-The Mid 60's Black and White TV Cards From Topps (Part 4) which was the conclusion of a popular four part series on black and white test cards of TV shows issued by Topps in the 60's. Land Of The Giants, Captain Nice and Bonanza were highlighted. Part 1 is even more popular, as we'll see below.

#9 (999 views) - Catching Up on Coins and Cards almost made it to four digits, we'll be there soon I bet.  This covered a few areas: 1952 Baseball high numbers, Batman, Krazy Little Comics, 1980 Baseball Coins, presentation boards and prototypes. I don't do as many wide ranging catch up threads as I used to as I tend to just devote a full post to one updated topic these days

#8 (1,007 views) - Easy As A&BC  is one of the surprises to me.  The post covered the 1970 English & Scottish Footballer sets issued by what was essentially a company Topps controlled via indebtedness.  When I posted this one, Blogger didn't allow ampersands; I went back later and converted every "and " to "&". Don't ever say I'm not willing to go the extra kilometer for all of you!

#7 (1,119 views) - Naughty Not Nice, a look at those fake Rak Paks polluting the hobby for decades now. Caveat Emptor!

#6 (1,127 views) - Bigger, Longer, Uncut, which featured 1952-56 Baseball uncut sheets and panels. Uncut Topps sheets have always been one of my favorite subjects, yours too apparently.  Too bad many are being cut up after market in the quest for high grade slabbed cards. I'm a firm believer in vintage collectibles staying in the form in which they have survived down the years and decades.

#5 (1,378 views) - Test Pattern-The Mid 60's Black and White TV Cards From Topps (Part 1) kicked off the series capped by our #10 starter.  This one had a few regular issue color cards (Beverly Hillbillies, Outer Limits) mixed in with Daniel Boone, Bewitched, King Kong, Superman and Flash Gordon.

#4 (1,476 views) - Fleer Factory showcased the other major competitor Topps had in Philadelphia in addition to Bowman. Fleer got involved with issuing cards for real in 1959 and was a major threat to Topps' baseball card supremacy in the early and mid 1960's. They sold their player contracts to Topps in 1966 but a decade later their lawsuit paved the way for the modern era of baseball cards that started in 1981. This is one of my favorite posts.

#3 (1,903 views) - Who Ya Callin' Short?!, another favorite of mine, harkened back to my first piece of hobby research, namely the 1967 high numbers. 1967 is an immensely popular set and the high numbers have been the subject of scrutiny for decades. I first realized Topps often printed two different sheets for each series during their golden era as a result of this research.  For the record, the eleven true short prints in the high numbers are: 552 Savage, 553 Yankees Rookies, 558 Orioles Rookies (Belanger), 563 Adcock, 568 Sullivan, 581 Mets Rookies (Seaver), 586 Jiminez, 591 Cline, 597 Abernathy, 603 A's Rookies, 607 Stanley.  An open question is whether or not the 67 high number short prints are harder than those from the year prior.

#2 (2,423 views) - Field Guide To Dating Topps Wrappers explored various ways to date Topps products based upon the clues on the wrappers.  A lot of my research depends upon the indicia found on retail wrappers or the bottoms of retail boxes. I thought this would be the top viewed post but it wasn't, not by a long shot.

#1 (5,976 views) - New New Developments (Blue Sky Version) took an in depth look at the 1967 Baseball Punchout set.  I was shocked to see how many page views it had. Oddly other posts on this set did nowhere near this number and were mostly in the low hundreds. I almost have to question this view count then but Google says what it says.

So baseball, UK soccer and non-sports seem to be among the most popular subjects around here.  I'll be looking more and more at the non-sports issues from Topps going forward as that's where my main interest lies these days but we'll still have the usual mish-mash of topics here as we get close to and enter our ninth year.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other One

Dating anomalies fascinate me.  No, not like Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts when they were courting, but when dates of issue on a set are seemingly off by a year or so despite evidence to the contrary.

One that caught my eye recently was the 1953 Topps License Plates issue of 1952. You probably just went "Huh?" huh?  Well it's pretty simple.

We've seen the set before but here's a peek at one of the cards, a non-state as it were, at least at the time:

Dig those 1950 census figures!

That Alaska License Plate is a reminder of how Topps stretched 48 states plus DC into a 75 card set. Those 49 plus the one above made 50, which would have been a nice round number but Topps was also interested in selling the set elsewhere, so 9 Canadian Provinces (missing was Newfoundland & Labrador, only established in 1949) 4 Australian States (2 missing for no good reason at all), 3 Swiss Cantons (what?) and 9 additional countries filled things out.

The penny wrapper reiterates the plates 1953 dating:

One cent Topps packs generally did not carry copyright dates but some of their nickel packs did back then.  This Canadian five cent wrapper clearly has a 1952 copyright date and no "1953" reference in the graphics:

A lot of extant Topps non sports five cent packs and wrappers from 1948-53 or so hail from Canada, as do many cards, including baseball and hockey.  I assume a jobber or five held returns and that they were eventually discovered but what's interesting is that these finds have occurred across the country and are not isolated to one geographic area. Others probably languished in the US, never being shipped out to begin with but if you see an "elongated" five cent wrapper or pack from this time, chances are it came from North of the Border.

In the end, the date is actually not that big of a mystery.  Sets that were intended to be issued early in a calendar year would sometimes be copyrighted very late the year prior. Furthermore, new car models would come out well before their designated calendar year. I just liked this one as the 1952/53 juxtaposition is pretty obvious.