Early in 1968 two things of great importance to my later life were just in the early stages of creation. In London Jimmy Page was using all of his upper and lower world powers to fashion what would trample underfoot the Rock n’ Roll world like a thundering herd of invading marauders – the mighty Led Zeppelin. Across the pond in Brooklyn Woody Gelman and his team were sending to the printer the similarly fabulous Topps Action All-Stars. While I could wax poetic of “years ago and days of old when magic filled the air” from those eight Zeppelin studio releases, instead I’d like to reveal some of the wizardry of how the Action All-Stars ended up in 10 cent packs. I mean look at that rascal! Roberto looking ready to make a point with his Louisville Slugger, four Hall of Fame members and Richie Allen in those plastic warm up sleeves – utter brilliance in my mind.
As a bit of background these were one of the early attempts by Topps to produce die cut stickers that became big sellers in the 1970’s with the wildly successful Wacky Packages and as a central part of the popularity of the original 1977 Star Wars series and those Charlie’s Angels stickers of Farrah, Jacklyn and Kate you put inside your school locker. Some links for additional info on this set and other die cut stickers are at the end of the article.
I have to say I’m jealous of those kids living up in the Northeast back in the day who received the benefits of being close to Topps’ corporate and production facilities by getting test issues like these in their local candy, drug and grocery stores. The only oddball baseball issues we saw in Louisville were the 1977 Cloth Stickers and the 1980 Superstar White Backed Photo cards.
Sixteen different groupings made up this set, a group was three 3.25” x 5.25” panels totaling 3.25” x 15.75” and perforated so as to be separated into those individual panels. The center panel had high profile players as all but Joe Horlen ended up being enshrined at Cooperstown. The top and bottom panels had three players in various baseball moves with some repeats of the larger players but in different action poses. For some reason the first four (Carl Yastremski, Harmon Killebrew, Frank Robinson and Ron Santo) are repeated as the last four in the center panels. I can’t answer as to why four 20 game winners, four .333 and above batting average hitters and Jim “The Toy Cannon” Winn with his 37 dingers and 109 RBI’s in 1967 didn’t receive the honor. This layout would have provided a print sheet of approximately 27” x 31.5”. Based on this uncut half sheet
I believe a full sheet would have appeared very close to this
Reviewing the Pre-Finishing samples I’ve seen and have in my collection standard Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black with a second hit for the heavy outline which would fall just inside the die cut. Some adjustments were made though as the Ron Swoboda shows in the name plate. Black was originally used for “Ron” and “New York” and the crossed bats logo but the purple background didn’t give enough contrast for the text and logo to be viewed leading to the corrected version with those aspects just knocked out of the Magenta and Cyan plates that created the purple background. Also note that the early version was a bit hot in the Magenta which pushed the purple towards a red shade and made Ron’s face a bit sunburned
as opposed to actual production. The printing was the most straight forward part of this project which may explain why it was not released to the national market. After printing the sheets were die cut and had the perforation applied and then trimmed, cut into individual lanes and folded to be inserted in their packs. The die cut was accomplished by the use of a steel rule die, check this link to see the modern day process with snazzy background music. Nowadays this is done with fancy laser engravers but back in the day this was quite a manual process as the die line would have been traced over the player images and then that outline would have been cut with a jigsaw for the steel rule pattern. The printed sheet would have been die cut in a clam shell press either in full sheet form or they could have been cut in half requiring two separate dies as each half sheet is unique in layout. The die would only cut through the first paper layer and not through the backing liner allowing each individual player to be removed and then placed on folders, lockers, etc. When the perforation was applied is a bit up the air to me as normally it would be done in press in my world but based on the placement of the print tone scales the perforation was added in Finishing, where the final step of individually cutting the half print sheets into single lanes was completed and the fold down happened so the three in one could be inserted into their individual packs. Please comment if you have additional or corrected information to add as my press experience doesn’t exactly fall into this realm of Finishing. These are quite rare in their original unseparated state so if they were folded in a Z pattern or each end over the center is a mystery to me as I’ve never been able to inspect one personally. I do wish Topps had given this design more opportunity in wider distribution but us 70’s kids did reap the benefits of die cut stickers which by 1977 were designed in a much more Press and Finishing friendly setupready for mass production.
Even the box
were top notch in design ensuring that Gelman’s Team produced a final product that was greater than all of its parts, just like Mr. Page’s work back in London!
6 thoughts on “Topps 1968 Die Cut Dandies!”
Thanks for reminding me of this set, Jim (a little heavy on the technical side for my tastes, but for those who delight in such things it’s certainly chock full o’ information). You’re right, you had to be lucky to come across tests sets like this, and I stumbled across it in a pharmacy in Southern Illinois that summer, only a year after I first began collecting cards. Loved the design, loved the colors, but the store at which I found them only had a few packs remaining and I never saw them again, anywhere. That really crushed me, as it was a set I would have loved to own, with plenty of duplicates left over to stick on things. Your re-creation of the uncut sheet is a real treat for the eyes.
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Van, thanks for the comments. This set just continues to amaze me as a visual feast. The 1974 Topps Monster Initials are another one, die cut and colorful!
Fascinating material. I never contemplated how die cuts are made before this post. Topps stuck with the 1966-69 color designations for each team on the stickers. The Mets purple in NL and the A’s in the AL, for example. Very well written piece.
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Tim, thanks for reading. Only having been involved in the early pre-production stage of designing for press for a small timeframe in my print career, it has amazed me as to how and why graphic designers come to their decisions. As you mentioned the similar color scheme of the Mets and A’s in those years my Reds were designated blue for those years except 1967 where a green was used.
The stickers were sold in southwest Indiana were I grew up. We had a plentiful supply of them at some of the corner grocery stores which were nearby. My brothers and I had hundreds of them which we dutifully stuck to our closet doors.
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Bernie, interesting to learn that for me. Wondering how Topps chose their test markets. Were you and your brothers Cardinals, Cubs or Reds fans?