Sunday, January 2, 2011

Final 1955 Hocus Focus found

Just in under the deadline for the 2012 edition of the Standard Catalog of Baseball is a confirmed report of the existence of the last two unchecklisted baseball subjects from the 1955 Topps Hocus Focus set.

Collector Jason Eggert recently bought a lot of nine '55T HF to aquire the Jackie Robinson card. Among the others that were "thrown in" on the purchase were the two cards that had been "missing" from the checklist all these years.

In researching his purchase, Jason found my blog posting from June 26, 2009, about Tom Akins' discovery of three other then-unknown '55T HFs: Mayo Smith, Wally Moon and Spook Jacobs. In that presentation, I speculated that since the checklist for the 1956 version of Hocus Focus, was the same as #3-18 and #22-23 of the 1955 set, that when 1955 cards #17 and #23 were finally confirmed, they would be Hal Smith and Mel Parnell, who are #15 and #18 in 1956.
That proved to be correct.

In case you're unfamiliar with the Hocus Focus sets, I'll provide a recap from that earlier posting.

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.

Jason is naturally interested in what the value might be of these discovery examples of Smith and Parnell. Unfortunately, Hocus Focus is not one of those ancillary Topps sets that has a competitive following among the PSA and SGC set registry crowds. There is only one 1955 set registered (and one card in the set) in the PSA universe, and none for SGC. This would mitigate against any bidding war for the discovery specimens of Smith and Parnell.

Postscript, Jan. 14: Well, I guess I was wrong about that! When they were put up for auction on eBay, closing Jan. 8, the Parnell and Smith cards sold for a total of just over $2,250!

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