Saturday, March 27, 2010

How the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments Set Foiled Fleer's Plans from The Troy Files

How did the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments test set cause problems for Fleer back in late 1971 / early 1972?

Thanks to The Troy Files, we've got the scoop from an interview done with Bob (R.G.) Laughlin that appeared in Baseball Card Collector in December 1971 (click on the article to see a larger view) :

According to a letter from Bob Laughlin dated September 8, 1971 to the author of the article, he was working with Fleer on a "set of great baseball feats over the years....unless some other hitch occurs", but in a follow up phone conversation, the author says "Topps has run a test set of 'baseball Greats' using actual photographs this fall. This may mean no Fleer's set for '72 as mentioned in his letter."

The test set being referred to is the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set which featured 55 cards of current players which featured a small color head shot and a larger B&W action photo on the front (with the same black borders as the regular 1971 set)

and a headline on the back from the team's local newspaper describing the player's achievement:

Here is a look at the entire sheet in uncut proof sheet form:

This is a very attractive set, and one that is a challenge to collect as 1) its a test issue and 2)the cards on the sheet on the right are much harder to find than the cards on the left. The cards on the left sheet are double prints, and are the cards more commonly found.

Going back to the interview, there are some great insights provided by Bob about the situation at Fleer at the time.

- For the Fleer 1970 World Series set, Bob had to make changes to artwork from his original B&W set to remove any active players since Topps had them all under contract. That explains why this card

became this card

- For ex-players depicted in Bob's B&W set, Bob couldn't use them either unless he got their agreement, but Fleer would not pay them anything, so as Bob says, "It was rough" trying to get anyone's approval to appear in the set.

- He indicates only 300 B&W World Series sets were produced, as we had seen him mention in his ads a few years later

- Bob says that he had submitted "about a dozen ideas to Fleer, but they only do what they want to."

- One of the ideas Bob suggested was a Hall of Fame set, but since half of the players in the set were still alive, "the thought of paying these guys anything was too much for Fleer."

- According to Bob, "Its like pulling teeth working with Fleer." He also describes Fleer as being "too timid" and that they "operate at a 1908 pace". Bob certainly wasn't pulling any punches which is interesting because he was still under contract with them at the time as the article concludes with the comment that Bob's contract was going to run out with Fleer at the end of 1971 and he wasn't sure if he was going to renew it.

While I don't have any documentation showing whether or not Bob let his contract run out with Fleer at the end of 1971, Fleer did not issue any sets with Bob's work in 1972.

In the meantime, for 1972, Fleer once again issued Quiz Cards with their cloth patch stickers:

The set that Bob had been working on for Fleer did come out in 1972, but Fleer did not release it. Instead, it looks like Bob printed it on his own according to this ad:

In the ad, Bob mentions the issue with Fleer deciding not to proceed with the set because of the Topps Greatest Moments set.

The cards can be found in two different variations:

1) With a red border and the player depicted in black and white:

2) With a blue border and flesh tones:

So thanks to the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set, Fleer passed on Bob's set which forced Bob to print it himself, and left Fleer recycling the quiz card concept for a fourth straight year (albeit in a different design).

Even though Fleer decided against using Bob's set in 1972, in 1973 Fleer teamed up with Bob on the Famous Feats set that was included with their annual cloth patches set. Note that the same artwork was used for the Hack Wilson card, so I'm assuming that some other of these 1973 cards probably use the same artwork as well:

I'm guessing Fleer probably decided by 1973 that Bob's set really wasn't competing against the Topps set since 1) the Topps set had used current players and Bob was using retired players, and 2) the Topps set had not been distributed nationally, so Fleer decided to go with a very similar set to Bob's 1972 set in 1973.

In the next installment of The Troy Files, we'll get an update from Bob Laughlin to see how the situation between Fleer and Topps was faring a few years later. Thanks as always to Troy for this wonderful material.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

World Series Card Set Ads from R. G. Laughlin courtesy of the Troy Files

Following up my previous post on the 1978 Fleer World Series "Update" cards from Bob (R. G.) Laughlin, Troy sent me some more ads from his files - this time for Bob's first World Series set which was a black and white card set he self published back in 1967:

This ad appeared in the June 1967 issue of Ballcard Collector, and features a rough sketch of what would end up being the 1909 World Series card as seen in the sample of the cards below:

Even though the ad mentions that the set was planned to be 63 cards, it actually ended up being 64 cards as it included the 1967 World Series, presumably because by the time Bob finished with his schedule of doing 9 cards per month the 1967 Series would have been played.

Three years after creating his B&W set, R.G. Laughlin teamed up with Fleer in 1970 to produce a similar set of World Series cards, but this time in color

and featuring team insignias. Bob's ad in the June 1970 issue of The Trader Speaks explains:

Bob did change the artwork on a number of the cards from the previous B&W set as he points out, but a number of cards did retain the same drawings.

Its interesting that Bob was selling complete sets, as I would think that would be in direct competition with Fleer as they were trying to sell packs of cards. I'm guessing part of the deal with Fleer allowed Bob to have a certain number of sets for his own that he could sell directly.

Also interesting to note is that he indicates that only 300 of the 1967 B&W set were printed. He is correct that they are collectors items today, but I question the claim that there were only 300 sets, and that they would never be reprinted. A quick check of ebay found 2 complete sets for sale, and a number of individual B&W cards listed. If there were only 300 copies of these cards printed over 40 years ago, I wouldn't expect to see quite so many available today.

Bob did another World Series set for Fleer in 1971 with all new artwork. The picture below shows the difference between the 1970 design (with the year of the Series on a baseball)

and the 1971 design which featured the year above the MLB logo. It was the 1971 set that was then updated in 1978 with additional cards for the 1971 -1977 World Series:

To finish up this look at Bob Laughlin's World Series card ads, here is an ad that he ran advertising original art from all 3 World Series sets:

and here is what one of the pieces looks like (courtesy of Troy's collection):

Thanks once again to Troy for another set of great items from his files as these ads provide great insight into these sets.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Fleer World Series Update Cards - Mystery Solved thanks to the Troy Files

One question that has puzzled collectors who are working on the 1971 Fleer World Series set is when and where the 7 "update" cards depicting the 1971 through 1977 World Series (that have the same design and continue the numbering from the 1971 set [#69 - #75]) came from.

Since the 1971 Fleer World Series set only included cards up through the previous season's World Series (1970), where did this card come from?

Thanks to the Troy Files, we have the answer, directly from the artist Bob Laughlin himself!

This ad appeared in the March 15, 1979 issue of Sports Collectors Digest, and explains that the 1971-1977 cards were done for a promotion with Good Humor. The original set of 68 cards was reprinted and the additional 7 cards were created to bring the set up to date for the summer of 1978 when these would have been available from the Good Humor Man. Unfortunately I don't know how they were packaged as I've never seen a wrapper.

It appears that Bob Laughlin acquired the remaining stock of cards after the promotion, and was selling the sets in early 1979. Bob's ad is correct - these were definitely a good investment as the update cards from 1971-1977 are very difficult (and expensive) to find today.

Fleer would reuse the artwork from the 1971 - 1977 update cards (along with the artwork from the 1940-1970 cards, and new artwork for 1978 & 1979) for the backs of their 1980 Baseball Sticker set with one exception:

Presumably because Fleer didn't want to pay the Clemente estate for using his likeness, they created a generic Pirate for the 1971 card when they issued their last version of the World Series cards on the backs of their 1980 baseball stickers.

Its been 30 years now since Fleer issued their final set of World Series cards. Its too bad they are no longer around to do another update as it would be great to see all of the World Series since 1979 depicted in a similar fashion to R. G. Lauglin's classic cards.

I'd like to say thanks to Troy for sharing another great item from his files!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Before There Were Blogs - Hobby News on Fleer releases from 1969 from the Troy Files

Over the past few weeks, I have been receiving some amazing hobby articles from the late 1960's through the mid 1970's from Troy that I will be sharing in this and in future posts.

Troy wrote for Baseball Hobby News from the late 1980's through the early 1990's, and wrote a book published in 1990 entitled "Collectors Guide to Baseball Cards". Over the years, Troy has built quite a collection of hobby articles. As he had been reading through my posts on the Fleer Quiz cards, he wrote to let me know that he had some articles that he would be glad to share.

The first one he sent was fantastic (click on the picture for a larger view):

This is an issue of a card collecting newsletter entitled The Ball Card Collector from July, 1969. Since the issue indicates this is Vol 4, Issue 7 (July), presumably this newsletter would have started back in 1966! Not only does this newsletter contain articles that were typed on a typewriter (remember those!) and photocopied, it actually includes pictures of some of the stickers and cards as well.

1969 Fleer Cloth Patches & Stadium Cards

This issue reviews the 1969 Fleer Cloth Patches and contains some very important information that helps clarify which cards were included with the stickers. Since neither the wrappers nor the boxes indicate the type of cards that came in the packs along with Fleer's various sticker releases, there has always been uncertainty as to which card set went with which sticker set.

Thanks to Troy, we now have some answers!

According to the article, the 1969 Fleer Baseball Patches

came packaged with Fleer's Stadium Cards:

and as best I can tell, came in this box

with this wrapper:

The other interesting bit of information that makes sense given the Expos are missing from Fleer's other 1969 releases is that there was no Expos cloth patch in the 1969 set. This article says that the Expos were missing because "Montreal's emblems were not designed in time".

According to this UPI news item, it doesn't appear that the Expos logo had been finalized until January, 1969 as this article was published on January 15, 1969:

so it may well be that the reason the Expos were not included was that they simply didn't have a logo ready when Fleer was developing these sets. Of course, the Expos weren't the only expansion team trying to finalize their insignia. The 1969 Fleer Cloth Patches have a very interesting Seattle Pilots patch featuring orange which was never one of their colors:

and a Royals patch which has "KC" in gold which was never used:

The writer of the article asks a question that I have also wondered about the Stadium cards - why were some stadiums like Baltimore, St. Louis, and Cincinnati not included, especially when some stadiums were used twice.

The article continues on to a second page where we find out some important information about the Fleer Baseball Pennant & Stamps set as well as the Fleer 3D Trophy Plaques set:

1969 Fleer Baseball Pennants & Stamps and Quiz Cards

From this article, we now know that the 1969 Fleer Baseball Pennants & Stamps set

came with quiz cards

The great thing about the newsletter including a picture of the Braves quiz card is that it confirms what I had suspected was the order in which the quiz cards were released.

From studying the quiz card variations, I had concluded that the quiz card with 3 questions and the smaller logo was from 1969 (left), the quiz card with 2 questions was from 1970 (middle), and the quiz card with 3 questions and the larger logo was from 1971 (right).

This picture proves that the card on the left above was in fact from 1969!

Here is the wrapper for the Pennants & Stamps:

as well as the box:

Once again, the Expos are not included on the quiz cards or the pennants and stamps, which verifies what I had suspected about the Expos when I previously reviewed their quiz cards.

1969 Fleer 3D Trophy Plaques

The article on the Fleer 3D Trophy Plaques confirms that the Expos were not included in this set either. Here is a look at one of the 3D Trophy Plaques:

along with the box

and the wrapper

Coming Full Circle

I never realized there were hobby newsletters from as far back as the mid to late 1960's. Its fascinating to me to see articles like this where collectors are sharing information on new releases. In some ways, its really not that much different than what many collectors now do through their blogs today.

I'd like to say thanks to Troy for his generosity in sharing the articles that he has been sending to me. This is exactly the type of thing I had hoped for when I started The Fleer Sticker Project - information from other collectors to better document these often overlooked sets. This one article alone has proved extremely helpful in confirming a number of items which up to this point had been based on speculation.

Stay tuned as I've got some more interesting articles to share as we continue to take a look at The Troy Files.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

1979 Fleer Crazy Labels

After the run of 3 series of Crazy Magazine Covers in 1973 - 1974, Fleer returned in 1979 with a set of package parody stickers called Crazy Labels:

The artwork is much improved over the quality found in the Crazy Covers sets. Though not as well done as most Wacky Package artwork, these are still a significant upgrade over Fleer's earlier effort.

While there are 64 titles in the set, a full master set actually comprises 72 stickers due to some titles being replaced during a second print run, presumably due to cease and desist orders.

The cards feature a sticker on the front, and a picture of one of the other titles on the back, which makes for a very odd numbering system, as the numbers are not the same on both sides.

For example, sticker # 1 in the set

has a picture of # 32 on the back:

The sticker side has an outline of grey dots around the sticker, while the backs do not have the outline which is how you can quickly tell which side you are looking at. Why Fleer didn't just print the same title on both sides to keep the numbering consistent is a mystery. If they would have done that, you could have peeled the sticker and still had the same image on the back of the card to save for your collection.

At least they kept the same titles paired up, meaning that if sticker # 1 has # 32 on the back, sticker #32 has # 1 on its back.

Here is a look at the set, including the variations:

There are 2 different #6 stickers as Spitghetti was replaced by Mad-Itch.

There are 2 different # 27 stickers as Bananacin was replaced by Beaver Frozen Fur Dinner (and it just so happens that Bananacin had Spitghetti on the back, so the back was also changed to Mad-Itch for the revised Beaver sticker).

The reason #37 appears twice with the same sticker is due to the fact there are 2 different backs. The backs for the Maimed sticker feature sticker # 57 which changed .

Sticker # 44 has 2 different backs (due to 2 different # 53 stickers) and # 46 has 2 different backs due to 2 different #50 stickers (of which I'm still trying to find one of the back variations)

Sticker # 50 was originally U-8, but was changed to Pestea, while # 53 U.S. Fail was changed to Arash Spring.

The final variation involves sticker # 57 which changed from Dare Eat Those to Kooky Glue.

When the series was first released, there were 2 wrapper variations:

Since one of the deleted titles (Bananacin) was on one of the wrappers however, when the 2nd printing was done, that wrapper had to be changed (with Windys taking its place):

so there are actually 3 different wrappers.

The original box also featured 2 of the deleted titles:

which had to be replaced

so there are 2 different boxes as well.

The timing of this release is interesting as it was released the same year that Topps started a series of reissues of the original Wacky Packages. In 1979 Topps issued the first of what would turn out to be 4 series of reprints of titles from the original 16 series:

I'm not sure if one company knew what the other was up to, or whether one company followed the other after they released their set, but I find it interesting that both companies issued product parody stickers the same year after neither company had done so for a few years.

Was this a case of Fleer once again trying to capitalize on the popularity of Wacky Packages after Topps brought them back, or is the fact that Fleer's stickers were at least new original titles and Topps' offering was a set of reprints an indication that Topps was actually responding to Fleer this time around?