First Known 1951 Topps Blue Back Display Box Surfaces - Woody Gelman Provenance!!!

Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized

Below is a preview April auction catalog description for a particularly interesting item that we think collectors will enjoy seeing and reading about!

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Presented is an incredibly rare and desirable original one-cent 1951 Topps Blue Backs display box. This is, in our opinion, the most significant and simply extraordinary Topps display box known to exist. It is also very likely the rarest. This is the very first 1951 Topps Blue Backs display box that we have ever seen let alone had the privilege of offering! In addition, the box is accompanied by an extremely rare original 1951 Topps wrapper.

When we received an e-mail from an extremely advanced old-time collector alerting us to expect this display box as part of his consignment to this auction, we were extremely curious and anxious for his package to arrive. We had never before seen the box that he described, but we knew from his description that it would be special. We were not disappointed! Upon unwrapping the display box, we were immediately aware of its great rarity. We had never before even seen a 1951 Topps Blue Back counter display box. And we had never even heard of a surviving example. In addition to being awestruck by its rarity and design, we were also most fascinated with an ink stamp in the upper left corner that read “File Copy Please Return To Woody Gelman.” Woody Gelman, of course, was one of the most legendary pioneers of collecting and was also the head of the art department at Topps. This box was his personal copy! The remarkable provenance, in fact, explains how this incredible box even happened to survive. Woody Gelman thought to put aside a box in 1951!

Out of curiosity, we asked our consignor if he happened to recall how he came to acquire this box. Not only did he remember, but the answer made a great deal of sense. He purchased this display box in 1985 directly from Bob Foster, a very prominent dealer from Connecticut who specialized in the rarest wrappers and boxes. In the mid 1980s, Bob acquired an extremely impressive selection of box and wrapper rarities (that no doubt included this very box) directly from the family of Woody Gelman!

The box, which measures 8.5 x 4.75 x 2.25 inches, has survived in tremendous condition, a fact that is directly related to its time as Woody Gelman’s personal file copy. The bottom of the box displays adhesive residue and small areas of excess paper from removal from Gelman’s album (where it was stored flat). The box was been reassembled and glued shut at the top opening. The colors are bright and crisp, with a green, red, and yellow color scheme around the side and top panels surrounding various baseball scenes and advertising for “Baseball Trading Card Candy.” A small sticker on the top panel advertises the “New! Blue Back Series,” a reference to the Blue Back series cards produced by Topps in 1951 that this display box once housed.

The accompanying wrapper has been flattened to dimensions of 7 x 4.75 inches and presents as Excellent, with only a few breaks in the delicate wax surface visible under close inspection. It features the same design as the top panel of the Blue Back display box and encourages youngsters to collect the full deck of 52 baseball cards. This wrapper was not designed for the Blue Back box, but was used for packaging the Topps Major League All-Stars, Connie Mack All-Stars, and Teams cards issued in the same year, which were accompanied in packs by two-card panels of red backs (blue backs were issued later and may have also been packaged in panel form inside these wrappers, but we cannot be sure). While this wrapper may or may not have housed blue backs at one time, it is an exceptionally rare and important companion piece as a Topps relic from the same year (1951).

This is a tremendously rare and significant pairing of an original display box and wax wrapper from this monumental year in Topps and card-collecting history. The box (as well as the wrapper) would be extremely significant additions to any world-class collection of display boxes, advertising, or Topps-related collectibles. Total: 2 items (one display box and one wrapper). Reserve $1,000. Estimate (open).

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A few illustrations from additional 1951 Topps related lots in the auction that came with the box and wrapper (but are offered separately) appear below:

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