Friday, June 26, 2009

Standard Catalog Update #3 : 1955 Hocus Focus

The obscure multi-subject Topps Hocus Focus cards were issued nearly 55 years ago and we still don't have a complete checklist of the 23 players that make up the baseball subset. For many years the Standard Catalog checklist has reflected that cards #11, 17, 19, 22 and 23 are "Unknown."

Now, thanks to a report from Indiana collector Tom Akins, we're three subjects closer to finishing off the checklist. Some of you may remember Tom from his days as a show producer in the Indianapolis area. He's given up that endeavor, but is still actively collecting.

He has sent scans of three discovery cards for 1955 Topps Hocus Focus. Tom has corraled #11 Mayo Smith, #19 Wally Moon and #22 Spook Jacobs.

As might be inferred from the incomplete checklist, '55 HFs are very scarce cards, particularly in what collectors call "well-developed" condition. Hocus Focus cards were one of a genre of "spit-to-see" card novelties that Topps tinkered with in the 1940s and 1950s. Instructions called for wetting the front surface of the card and holding it to the light to develop the hidden picture. The quality of the resulting image resulted from the volume and evenness of application of the wetting agent, the exposure time and intensity of the light source, and probably other factors that neither Topps nor kids of that generation completely understood. I'm guessing that a quick dip in a tray of water probably was more effective at evoking a decent image than the spit-spray method employed by most kids on the sidewalk out front of the candy store.

There is a lot of confusion about how, and even when, the Hocus Focus cards were issued. There was a 252-card set issued in 1948 known as Magic Photos. They measure 7/8" x 1-1/2", but neither the name Magic Photos nor Topps appears on the cards. There are 19 baseball subjects in that issue.

The 1955 set may or may not be complete at 126 subjects, half the number of 1948 Magic Pictures cards, but no complete checklist exists. Besides the ballplayers, there are subsets of airplanes, world leaders, "Westerners," sports cars and other non-sport topics. These cards are 7/8" x 1-3/8," carry the name Hocus Focus on the back (but no mention of Topps) and, according to information seen on other forums, were probably issued in six-card strips in a nickel bubblegum pack. Besides the number at top on back, designating the card within the 23-subject baseball series, there is a number in the lower-right corner in a black circle indicating its position among the complete set.

The same format was repeated in (presumably) 1956 when a slightly larger -- 1" x 1-5/8" -- version was issued with 18 baseball players. It is interesting to note that card #3-18 of the 1955 HFs have the same players in the same order as cards #1-16 in the 1956s. Based on that, I'd bet money that if it ever shows up, card #17 in 1955 will be Hal Smith. Since Mel Parnell is #18 in 1956, I'd look for him to eventually turns up as #23 in 1955.
Here are the checklists for 1955 and 1956 Hocus Focus:
  1. Babe Ruth
  2. Lou Gehrig
  3. Dick Groat
  4. Ed Lopat
  5. Hank Sauer
  6. "Dusty" Rhodes
  7. Ted Williams
  8. Harvey Haddix
  9. Ray Boone
  10. Al Rosen
  11. Mayo Smith
  12. Warren Spahn
  13. Jim Rivera
  14. Ted Kluszewski
  15. Gus Zernial
  16. Jackie Robinson
  17. Unknown (possibly Hall Smith)
  18. Johnny Schmitz
  19. Wally Moon
  20. Karl Spooner
  21. Ed Mathews
  22. "Spook" Jacobs
  23. Unknown (possibly Mel Parnell)
  1. Dick Groat
  2. Ed Lopat
  3. Hank Sauer
  4. "Dusty" Rhodes
  5. Ted Williams
  6. Harvey Haddix
  7. Ray Boone
  8. Al Rosen
  9. Mayo Smith

  • Warren Spahn
  • Jim Rivera
  • Ted Kluszewski
  • Gus Zernial
  • Jackie Robinson
  • Hal Smith
  • Johnny Schmitz
  • "Spook" Jacobs
  • Mel Parnell

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