Friday, January 21, 2011

1955 Topps Hocus Focus Baseball #5, Ted Williams

After more than 100 years of collecting, how many mysteries remain? Cards-as-investment frenzy peaked in the 1990s, coaxing forgotten treasures from attics and estates as folks hoped to score a big-money find. Tons of little-known ephemera entered the market, leaving experts to puzzle out authenticity and market values. Alan Alda and Matthew Broderick even personalized the hunt for cardboard gold in a 2008 movie.

Hobby knowledge grew by leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, leaving remaining unknowns in a realm of the completely obscure and dismissible. Imagine a kitschy photo paper that started blank, but revealed pictures if you rubbed water (or spit) on it and let it dry in the sun. Would you keep them around? That's the rare (and still mysterious) Topps Hocus Focus.

 Card panel front

Bob Lemke, editor of our hobby's annual Standard Catalog, recently wrote about two final Hocus Focus discoveries, #42 Hal Smith and #8 Mel Parnell, that turned up in a group lot with HOFer Jackie Robinson. Baseball players make up only a portion of this 120+ subject set and it took 55 years to verify that one 18-player checklist, so you can imagine how scarce these cards are. (The last one on Ted's strip reminds me of my favorite palindrome: "A man, a plan, a canal: Panama.")

Card panel back

Hocus Focus collectors continue to publish their research into this ugly duckling set on forums like, including this essential thread of scans and publishing schedules. It appears Topps developed (no pun intended) the "water and light" photo effect over several years, with 1955 as its apex--or at least their final set based on it.

Not sure if buyers would take to this photo technique in the 21st century, but Allen and Ginter's always full of surprises. Would you be interested in Topps bringing back their spit-developing cards as a gimmick?

Value: Complete, well-developed Hocus Focus strips cost several hundred dollars and up, with individual star players running somewhat less. (Due to scarcity, you're more likely to find baseball singles at auction than on eBay.)

Fakes / reprints: This set's valuable enough to fake, but relatively low-demand. Check out the Net54 thread for info on each set, so you know how to distinguish them.


Orioles Magic said...

What a strange, cool set.

cynicalbuddha said...

You know I was thinking about that very subject after reading Bob's post about it. I even posted some thoughts on it as well, well not the spit technology. But Topps being back the old to make it new. I was thinking in terms of their coins and such but after reading yours and Bob's post I think topps could bring something like this back, maybe sans spitting. I really liked the Topps 2020 from Series 2. Maybe something like that in Hocus Pocus or some other neat gimmick. It's ben 60 years since they developed this spit technolgy I would think that we can take it to the next level.