Saturday, July 22, 2017

Stamping Around

1961 Topps Baseball Stamps are ubiquitous in the hobby.  Inserted in little two card panels in five wax and cello Baseball packs the 208 stamps were the first baseball inserts produced by Topps. I'll post a whole treatise on the stamps someday but today want to look at a bit of a tougher item, namely the album Topps sold separately to house the stamps.

Green and brown in color, the insert stamp panels have been seen countless times by collectors:

But back to the albums. They are rather cheap affairs, but a little hard to find in nice shape, often due to handwriting, tears, sloppily affixed stamps and general abuse. Unused ones are tougher still although they can be found with a little diligence. What is definitely a tough item though is the retail box the albums came in. Thanks to a recent Mile High auction, that particular items has made a recent appearance.

I'm not sure I've seen the box before-here is a nice top view:

I've never liked the generic player on the album cover. I get Joe Shlabotnick vibes whenever I see him!  I'm not certain but suspect it held 12 albums:

The idea of selling a secondary item to house an insert is intriguing and Topps did it again in 1962 but I'm not sure how many candy stores and retailers would have bothered with the albums.

Topps did a horrible job promoting the stamps on the wax box but managed to tie in Shlabotnick, so there's that:

The wax wrapper did a much better job advertising the Stamps and album:

As you can see, you could even order the album directly from Topps:

I guess Topps ate the postage!

The "separate pages" for each team are orderly and informative and i like the all-time leaders stats:

Good to see Lu Blue get some respect!

Friday, July 14, 2017


The early days of Bazooka and its comics were a mish-mash of suppliers, artists and licensed strips. However, I recently ran across an interesting premium issued by the Brock Company of Chattanooga that ties in a bit with the early Bazooka comics. Intrepid readers of this blog know that Bazooka originated as a candy created by Brock and that sometime between 1937 and 1947 Topps acquired the trademark, most likely after the end of the war, and applied it to their new bubble gum.

Close readers also know that Bazooka first used a comic strip called Bubbles when it launched in 1947 (Bazooka was manufactured by a Topps nom-de plume called Bubbles Inc.) . The strip was not especially well done nor was it all that funny:

Bubbles quickly gave way to some strips licensed from Fawcett Publications:

The 1947 copyright for Fawcett Publications puts it within the first year of Bazooka, which was a five cent product as Topps Gum filled the one cent niche at the time (Topps originally marketed separate products for each price point after the war, although this practice ended by 1949). I suspect Bubbles was only inserted in the initial wave of Bazooka issued in New York City that commenced April 23rd but I'm not 100% sure of that.  The Fawcett strips possibly came a couple months later when they started national distribution on July 21st; the above is what I believe is the third version of the Bazooka wrapper, which would feature small changes almost annually if not more frequently, but it may date from early 1948 while holding the 1947 Doc Sorebones.  Those comics were separate inserts and not printed on the backs of the wrappers by the way.

A year later though, at least one Fawcett character was featured on a premium issued by.....Brock Candy!

If you look at the 18 available subjects, they were not all Fawcett characters but rather from a variety of publishers dominated by Marvel/Timely. :

Some of the other booklets in the series have copyrights from 1949 and 1950 so the offer either occurred over a few years or began a couple years after 1948. In addition multiple firms utilized these mini comics to advertise but some others I've seen do not have the ordering details like Brock did or were entirely blank backed.

It's meaningless in the grand scheme of things but I like how a company connected to the history of Topps issued something also connected to Topps, albeit by the slimmest of threads.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Absolutely Fabulous

In their attempts to branch out from the five-and-dime and variety store shelves, Topps started creating some very innovative sets as the Sixties wore on.  Certainly one of the oddest of these was a set of 16 flexi discs called Fabulous Rock Records. The title of the set is very accurate in one sense but no so much in another.  Fabulous?  You bet!  It's one of the nicest sets ever issued by Topps but it's not even close to having any rock n' roll hits-it's 100% Motown artists!

I won't list the individual song titles but there are eight different artists represented:

Diana Ross & The Supremes (5 records)
Four Tops (2 records)
Martha & The Vandellas (2 records)
Stevie Wonder (2 records)
The Temptations (2 records)
The Marvelletes (1 record)
Marvin Gaye (1 record)
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1 record)

For artists with multiple records a different picture was used on each. Clearly the label was promoting Diana Ross & The Supremes-wow!  And clearly, Topps took advantage of a push toward the mainstream to get advantageous terms for licensing purposes.  A classic win/win!

The year of issue per Chris Benjamin was 1968 but the packaging bears a 1967 commodity number. However, While researching this post I discovered something very interesting and believe it was probably issued twice.  I've had this Marvin Gaye example for a while now (Tamla was the original "Motown" label, although it became a subsidiary of the latter pretty quickly):

The back is full on groovy:

The record is 6 7/8" in diameter by the way, while the sleeve that held it measures the proper 7 inches each way (excluding the "cut out"):

That sleeve just screams psychedelic and acid rock! The back was very similar to the front:

Howvwer, I have found sleeves with the center hole cutout to reveal a portion of the artwork but all of the artist's name and the song title:

The commodity numbers are the same but clearly the packaging is different.  I assume either the non-cut out version was a test issue (they seem a lot harder to find), or the configuration was changed to (presumably) make it either more or less obvious which record was within. The sleeves look like they were taped shut so I have to guess more visibility and a reduction in mangled sleeves left in the retail box was the goal.

A box proof just surfaced on eBay and is similarly fabulous:


Even "knit-picking", it's stupendous!  Here's' a better look at the graphics:

I'm thinking the go-go girl was Nancy Sinatra inspired. She was seemingly finished by Norm Saunders but this set is not on his website's list of work he did for Topps, so maybe not.

There you have it, one of the great Topps sets ever!

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Crazy Cut

Today we take a look at an extremely obscure issue from 1979, which is pretty late in the vintage era but if there's one thing we know after almost nine (!) years of exploration and deep dives, it's that Topps excelled at obscure.

In the midst of what was a sugarless gum reformulation explosion following the FDA's banning of the common artificial sweetener Sodium Cyclamate in 1972 , Bazooka Sugar-Free was itself reformulated as the pack below illustrates:

Yes, I was not after the gum (which was still pink and smelled like, well, Bazooka after all these years) but rather the prize inside.  After gently prying apart an end, I slid the sticker out, only to find perhaps the worst "electric-eye" cut of all time!

The cut should be just under the black bar at top, bisecting the red, arrow-like graphic in the middle (which would be the left and right borders of the sticker is executed properly), but clearly my example want to opposite-land instead.  I guess you could call them Topps stickers, despite being inserted into Bazooka. The back is plain:

These measure 1 1/8" x 3 3/8" and I have to say they are tough to find. There are 48 to the set, with 2 smaller subjects and 1 larger one per sticker (if cut correctly).  I would have to check more examples but suspect Topps recycled artwork, especially for the small subjects, from other "goofy" stickers sets from their past, such as 1970's Stacks Of Stickers, which had 704 of the little suckers in all.

I would be impressed if anyone has a full set of these, for sure.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Smile For The Camera

Friend o'the Archive Scott Gaynor passed along a scan of an old publicity photo that he will have up for auction the other day that I had never seen before and it is, in a word, stupendous:

Brown (left) and Gelman, are clearly on the set of the Soupy Sales show as Topps was doing their thing to promote the 1965 upcoming card set. This was not the actual shot used, or at least I don't think it was as one clearly taken within seconds of this one has been uploaded over at for some time now and seems to be the money shot, although I only know this since I started researching the above picture:

Kind of a dour look from the Topps boys, no? That Mars Attacks logo pegs the second scan to Topps proper methinks. I also have to think this shot was the one used officially. I tend to be in the 1965 camp for the Soupy set, although most sources cite 1967.  Either is possible but there seems to be more evidence for the earlier date, at least to my mind, as Soupy-mania was in full swing in 1965.

Len Brown was a protege of Woody's and perhaps his most successful one. Brown succeeded Gelman as Creative Director of Topps, having been hired by Woody as a 17 year old.  Brown worked on such things as the 1960 Baseball set, Mars Attacks, Civil War News and obviously Soupy Sales before ascending to Woody's old position upon the latter's retirement (which I think was in 1972).

Saturday, June 17, 2017

And Then A Step To The Right

More REA goodness this week kids!

I love uncut sheets and there was a doozy in the April Robert Edward Auctions offering, namely a 1956 Topps Flags Of The World half sheet:

Uncut sheets often tell a story about production methods and this one is no exception. Topps used 110 card press half sheets in 1955-56, increasing from 100 card arrays in 1952-54 without changing their main card size, which at the time was referred to as Giant Size (2 5/8" x 3 3/4").  You would think then that a 100 or 110 card series or set would make a lot of sense but generally things didn't work that way.

If this was the annual Baseball issue, Topps would have another half sheet for each series, usually with a slightly different array. They most likely did these due to the sheer volume of Baseball sold each year vs other series like Flags and had a need to print things a certain way.  Some of the print arrays were influenced by packaging patterns as well.

Here, if you count columns from left to right, you can see 5, 6 &7 repeat as 9, 10, 11 and this corresponds with the 30 known double prints in the 80 card set.  But why leave a one-column gap (at #8) between the trio of repeats?   Compare with a sheet from an 80 card 1956 Baseball series 3 sheet:

Here it's a repeat of the 2, 3 & 4 columns in 9, 10 & 11 so the extras off to the one side seem to be something of a Topps Giant Size hallmark. Even on the first series of 1956 Baseball, which had 100 subjects, the one repeated column is the rightmost one on the known half sheet:

If we could find the other half sheets for 1956, I'd bet all the repeats are in the rightmost columns. Now, the question is, what did this allow Topps to do? I mean, every kid must have wanted an extra card of Warren Giles, right?!

Saturday, June 10, 2017


The recently concluded Robert Edward Auctions spring spectacular had a huge array of vintage goodies as usual. There were, scattered among the pages of their phone book sized catalog , a number of Saleman's Samples from Topps and Bowman.  I've shown Bowman samples from 1950, 1952, 1954 and 1955 recently and don't like to repeat myself if I can help it, so will focus on the lot of 53's that was offered.

Considered, of course, by many collectors as the best looking set of all time, 1953 Bowman Baseball is indeed gorgeous.  You can see that on the two strips from REA:

Unlike Topps, who put specific copy on the backs of their samples, Bowman usually just sent out strips of cards from their production sheets accompanied by a letter with some hyperbolic copy. The backs are straight from the printing press:

Since I actually can't help it, the auction had great 1954 and 1955 panels as well and since the scans I nicked are so much better than the ones I posted here a while back, I figured what the hey.  1954 came 2x2:

Bowman stuck a sticker on the backs of some.  They also use "Salesmen's" whereas as I have always used "Salesman's". Not sure if the top one lost it's sticker (probably not) or if it was never affixed:

  Blond or chestnut, take your pick (although some hybrids with both on the same panel exist):

For their swan song, Bowman finally went to a legit sample with ad copy on the back.Gorgeous ad copy, I might add:

The 20 years of leadership refers to their first issued set, when the company was known as Gum Inc., although the first cards appeared in 1933 and they were all non-sports.  Gum Inc. competed directly against Goudey and those were the two major issuing companies in the years leading up to World War 2.

I've always liked these samples; they are great little offbeat collectibles.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

We Have A Winner

BFF o'the Archive Jeff Shepherd recently sent along what are the oldest Topps trade ads I have seen. What's below hails from March 1940, a mere 15 months or so after the company was founded.  We get a nice look at one of the bakelite Topps Gum counter displays in this piece of puffery:

That gum display is quite interesting to me as it shows the Ginger flavor and also helps date that particular tab.  Shep and I think it was replaced or overtaken by Pepsin soon after launch and you can find that flavor plus the Spearmint, Peppermint and Cinnamon varieties in tab form somewhat easily, same with their wrappers.

I've never seen the display rack variant on the left before; these are made of bakelite:

As an aside, I own a tab of the Ginger that Shep thinks may be the only one in existence:

The New York City wrapper variant probably dates to 1939 then but I can't be 100% sure as the indicia of the ones in the display obviously can't be seen.  Still, it's a good bet. We also get a peek at a vending box sleeve, where 55 tabs of refreshing Topps Gum resided until slipped into a display.

60 Broadway, which is the Gretsch Building, was the first Topps production floor. They didn't vacate the premises completely until 1965 despite moving their offices twice in Brooklyn before decamping to Duryea, Pennsylvania in 1966. They used it as warehouse space once they took more space just down Broadway a short time later.

The economics of the time are quaint but those little extras, like five extra pieces of gum per vender, were a big part of the Topps sales strategy.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Resident Wilke

While the kinks have previously been ironed out of the 1971 Topps Winners set, additional information keeps seeping in. We know the 19 cards in the set were actually issued in 1972, although I'm keeping it as 1971 here because I don't think:

a) anyone cares and
b) any references out there in printed guides, on the web or what have you all refer to 1971.

As mentioned previously, winners of this contest received 1000 cards of themselves, plus a "spiked" box of 1972 Baseball, where their card was inserted into each wax pack.  Thanks to Friend o'the Archive Jake Ingebrigtson we have a little more information on that part of the process and a better scan of one of the four subjects that popped up recently, finalizing our set count at 19, namely one Steven M. Wilke:

I was hoping the back scan would provide more information on the locale of Steven but I don't think there is enough there to be sure:

It's possible he was from an area in the Baltimore Orioles TV broadcast beam (and at least one other subject in the set was likely from the Baltimore area) but they were the hot AL team of the time so it's not a certainty.  The Reds could indicate an Ohio or West Virginia locale, which has been an area where another winner was located.  The seemingly main distribution area of Pittsburgh and California are two other hotspots for this set as well.  It's pretty clear the entire country did not get a chance to enter the contest given the clustering of subjects, although why remains a mystery. Although......Jake advises he found the Winners card in a collection of 2000 cards he bought from a collector who grew up in Minnesota.  To wit:

"He (the collector) grew up in a town in southern Minnesota named Red Wing. He has had the cards I purchased since he pulled them out of the packs as a kid in the early 70's. When I talk to him I'm going to ask him of any alternative way of getting cards (such as fun packs). He was old enough to remember buying all series at 1 time in 1973 (and being surprised by it) and having a hard time finding high # packs in 1972. Him and his brothers seemed to pay pretty close attention to what went on in terms distribution as their goal was always to complete a set."

Well that is quite a paragraph, no?  If some Winners cards made it out to a retail setting, then they have to be among the scarcest Baseball insert sets Topps ever issued. What could the total print run have been, 20,000?  Winners keeps coming back and surprising us!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Men Among Giants

Friend o'the Archive Scott Gaynor has reached out to me with a query on what is proving to be quite an obscure basketball issue from our friends at Topps.  Now the pre 80's hoops sets put out by Topps have very little air of mystery about them and are about as plain vanilla a line of sports cards as they ever put out. And the 90's and Zips brought a plethora of basketball cards from all sorts of manufacturers, almost all of which is documented up the wazoo and then some. But Scott has found one that slipped through the hardwood cracks.

Described as being about 6" x 8", at least six are known:

Here is a closeup of the Elton Brand card. More on him in a second:

 The backs are pure white, with a small couple of tag lines centered near the bottom:

OK, 2001 but is it 2000-01, or 2001-02.  Well thanks to Mr. Brand, who played his last game with the Bulls in the spring of 2001, we know it's the former.

So what else do we know?  Scott describes that he found the cards behind a trash can at a Washington Wizards game, which makes it seem like they were considered for a promotion but discarded for some reason.  I'm not sure how many he had but no matter, this is a rare one as none of my go to guys for basketball know what they are and I can't find them in any of my guides.

Any thoughts out there kids?! I'm dubbing these 2000-01 Topps Giant Basketball for now.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Whistlin' Dixie

A little bit of fun today folks as we travel in the WABAC machine to the early 70's.

Topps was in the midst of a run of Dixie-lid style sets from 1970-74, where they would issue a small tub of candy or gum with a circular, tabbed lid that had a picture or drawing on the underside.  The most well-known examples of the form are the 1970 and '73 Baseball Candy lids, the latter of which was a full blown retail issue as opposed to a test or small regional issue three years prior. The 1970 flavor had team logos present on the uniforms and caps and these are prized  by advanced collectors and the like, while the 1973 version had airbrushed away all logos as Topps attempted to skirt some licensing fees with MLB.

A non-sports run of these lids, featuring humorous drawings, had no licensing issues of course and first appeared in 1971 as Rocks O'Gum. That 55 lid issue, discussed here, is near to my heart as there is a Woody Gelman card present.  Rocks O'Gum appears to have had a load of returns or sold poorly because you could find the full set for a song not too long ago with some sellers on eBay hawking "9X" sets, where they sold 55 nine pocket sheets full of 'em, nine of each lid per sheet. Undeterred, Topps came out the next year with something called Gum Berries, featuring the same artwork. This seems to have been a grape flavored product and it sold well enough to allow a 1974 raspberry flavored product of the same name.  I've shown some grape varietals here but this is the first chance I've had to examine the raspberry vintage.

If you clicked that last link, you will see the raspberry gum was featured in a 1974 confectionery product catalog.  A winning bid on a recent eBay auction allowed me to bring an example of this fruity concoction home and what follows is a wee bit interesting.

The set itself is on a tabbed lid, of course, with what looks like Wally Wood artwork:

These are clearly raspberries:

Here is the full tub, which is 1 3/4" inches tall (the lids are 1 7/8" in diameter):

 I was quite amused to see that the tub itself came from the American Can Co., makers of Dixie Cups!!

American Can was based in Easton, Pennsylvania, an hour and a half south of the Topps plant in Duryea, as this Wikipedia shot shows:

It's not clear to me if the lids were printed by Dixie or if Topps had them done somewhere else.  I assume the empty tubs were shipped to Duryea sans lids so it's likely the latter. The tub is waxed like a regular Dixie cup but the lid is thicker, unwaxed cardboard.

The Topps commodity code is 5-556-30-01-2, indicating a 1972 issue, or at least creation.

In case you were wondering, the grape version's code is 1-557-37-01-2.  Both were developed in 1972 so they were created around the same time.  What is not clear to me is if grape was ever retailed as the examples I have seen look to be proofs.

Here is the grape lid for comparison:

That was a smart move, just changing the picture so no additional artwork had to be amended.  I'm sure there is more to this story, we'll just have to see what pops up in the future.