One of the realities of being a baseball card dealers is that orders for new product must be placed several months before the product is ever released. Apart from some of the financial planning that this necessitates, the main feature of ordering so early is the anticipation that certain product offerings create. High-end brands can really stir the “can’t wait” in some collectors.
But, sometimes, the more mainstream issues also leak a feature or two that whets the collector’s appetite. For me, the announcement that 2017 Topps Archives Baseball will include inserts based on the 1959 Bazooka set design (and autographed “case hits” from the subset) has already got me itching to rip open some boxes!
Nostalgia is the engine that drives Archives, of course. Unlike the also-great Topps Heritage, which focuses on basically one previously used design, Archives pulls in several elements from an assortment of years. Indeed, the base set for 2017 Topps Archives Baseball will rely on three different designs: 1960 Topps, 1982 Topps and 1992 Topps. Each design has 100 cards, bringing the base set to a total of 300 cards in a mixture of current players, rookies and retired stars.
But it is the inserts based on the 1959 Bazooka Baseball box-bottom cards that has my interest piqued. Why? Well, one huge reason is the fact that the original cards are so seldom seen. In fact, in the last half-dozen years or so, I can recall seeing only two or three in person outside of the National Card Collectors Convention floor.
The 1959 Bazooka Baseball cards were the first cards that Topps released under the bubble-gum brand. Literally. That summer ending the decade of the 50’s found the oversized cards printed on the display box bottoms of one-cent slabs of Bazooka. Those boxes held twenty-five pieces, and so, unless you were a “rich” kid with a quarter, you had to hope to be buying the last couple of pieces from a kind store clerk. It gives me a headache to wonder how many of those boxes were simply discarded (no pun intended).
Later Bazooka issues would have cards that came in three-card panels (and even on boxes intended for direct retail sale), but just one card was on each box in 1959. This distribution accounts for some of the rarity of the cards. And the location of the cards helped to make card condition a contributing factor to rarity as well. Being on the bottom of the box meant a lot of scuffs, scrapes, and perhaps even spills were endured.
There are 23 different cards in the set. Doing the math it can be determined that IF there was a different card on the bottom of each box, a kid would have to go through 575 pieces of Bazooka to put together a set. (Roughly the equivalent of what it is assumed Terry Francona chews during every three-game home stand.)
It is not news that the 1959 Bazooka set is one of the most elusive and coveted baseball card issues from the 1950’s. Measuring 2-13/16″ by 4-15/16″, the cards are slightly larger that the “standard” size of the modern era. Indeed, the 2017 Archives set will be resized a bit to fit into the modern packs. However, the largess combined with the ultra colorful fronts of the cards are part of what make them so appealing to those to try to track down and collect the difficult set.
As stated earlier, the unnumbered, blank-backed cards feature 22 well-known players of 1959. The card fronts boast the player’s name, position, team name and team logo.
If you have been reading this closely, you might have noticed that the set is said to have 23 cards while only 22 players are featured. This is because there is one “variation” card in the set. Hank Aaron’s card was released with his name printed in both white and yellow. This may be due to the fact that the set evidently underwent a rather large change in plans in the summer of ’59.
Originally this was a nine-card set that included one featured player for each position:
C Del Crandall
1st Orlando Cepeda
2nd Bill Mazeroski
3rd Jim Davenport
SS Roy McMillian
OF Hank Aaron
OF Mickey Mantle
OF Willie Mays
P Bob Turley
Perhaps owing to the popularity of the promotion, Bazooka (Topps) later added 14 more players who ended up as short-prints simply due to timing. These short-printed cards featured Richie Ashburn, Ernie Banks, Ken Boyer, Bob Cerv, Rocky Colavito, Don Drysdale, Nellie Fox, Jackie Jensen, Harvey Kuenn, Billy Pierce, Roy Sievers, Duke Snider, Gus Triandos and Vic Wertz.
That is a pretty good checklist. Ten of the twenty-two players featured are in the Baseball Hall of Fame!
Of course, as in most issues from that wonderful era of baseball, the Mickey Mantle card is often the most sought. Set builders have to compete with Mantle collectors whenever one of the cards become available, and that is not all that often. The scarcity of the cards as a whole (as discussed earlier) and the demand for Mantle keeps the card at a premium. In November 2016, a copy sold on eBay for $1,925. Although the card was slabbed by Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA), it was only labeled as “Authentic.”
It seems that it is always difficult to find high quality cards that had to be cut out or cut off of something. This is true regarding the Bazooka cards, Post Cereal cards from the 1960s, Jell-O cards, etc. Most of the young collectors in those days were not all that careful in cutting out the cards to add to their collections. Additionally, the instructions usually recommended cutting on the dotted line, and that does not square with modern-day grading services.
PSA does not assign a number grade to the cards unless virtually all of the dashed border is visible. Cards devoid of that border (provided that they meet PSA’s minimum size requirements and other criteria) are labeled only as “Authentic”. Such miscuts are the most common condition issue with these cards. Of the 453 Bazooka singles from 1959 submitted to PSA as of February 2017, a full 379 have been deemed “Authentic.” That is 83%.
Beyond the border concerns, the cards that do exist fight some quality issues due to the scuffing, spillage issues mentioned. Plus, the cardboard was not heavily coated or thick as it was meant to house penny pieces of over-sugared bubble gum. The results? Of the 71 Mantles evaluated, there has been just one PSA NM 7 copy (with nothing grading higher). Sixty-six of the submissions have been deemed “Authentic.”
Out of all the other players, there are only 6 cards with a grade of PSA 8 (with nothing grading higher). Additionally, with just one submission, the Bob Turley card is the lowest population card in this set when graded by PSA. Also, the cards of Richie Ashburn, Ken Boyer, Don Drysdale, Billy Pierce, and Gus Triandos all have fewer than ten cards submitted.
It is with good reason that the 1959 Bazooka set has always been revered as one of the rarest and most difficult to collect of all Topps-related sets. 1959 Bazooka is one of the few national issues of the late 1950s that can be called scarce. With the 2017 Topps Archives Baseball product offering just one autographed card based on this design per hobby case, they are giving more than just a tip of the cap to this iconic set.