1950s Topps title a popular seller with online auction users
'n See, a Topps Chewing Gum set produced in 1952, may be the most
visible cards of its vintage now being offered on eBay. Wings
and Scoop, two titles of comparable age, do not come as close to
Look 'n See's ubiquity. Similarly, neither Hopalong Cassidy
nor Rails and Sails (1955), generate substantial numbers of listing hits
on the site's search engine.
reasons may account for Look 'n See's prevalence. First is card
population. It is not known whether Topps published significantly
greater volumes of Look 'n See than its contemporary non-sport
few older hobbyists, however, clearly recall the cards as available for
purchase in candy stores as late as the winter of 1954. Look
'n See's 1952 release year had been established as fact in Jefferson
Burdick's American Card Catalog of 1960.
matter what length of time Look 'n See remained in general
nationwide release, the cards were certain to have been an impressive
seller. It had been a period when its manufacturer became
primed to overtake Bowman as the country's leading gum card
producer. The surviving numbers of Look 'n Sees today
offer powerful testimony as to its original popularity.
factor explaining the card set's eBay exposure centers on what many
long-time non-sport enthusiasts have groused about for decades. A
correlation exists between Look 'n See and how sports cards are
viewed by the general public.
cards are divided into common cards and several levels of high-demand
stars. Look 'n See is a personality-driven set rather than
a topic-based card collection. Certain cards carry a premium value
due to who is depicted. A Charles Lindbergh may realize a sales
price of at least five times greater than a Ponce de Leon.
What has irked collectors for years, is the value of the issue's
Babe Ruth card. It outstrips the relative common worth of any
other Look 'n See single. The Ruth example remains in very
high demand within the baseball card world and, as a result, set
builders must deal with three-figure prices for an average condition
from the Ruth card, Look 'n See's most desired pasteboard depicts
the 17th Century Dutch artist Rembrandt. When discussing the
entire set, most knowledgeable dealers and collectors agree the single
is legitimately scarce.
the years, evidence has been chiefly anecdotal and is usually put forth
by people who collected the cards as children. Further, many
latter-day want lists most often find card number 82 as unchecked.
Rembrandt, however, is not impossible to find through Internet
auctions. The card's degree of scarcity may not be known
conclusively until the discovery and public display of an actual Topps Look
'n See uncut press sheet.
'n See had been a clear sales winner for Topps. One feature of
the set that hooked kids into spending their pennies were the hidden
answers located on the backs. A question followed each card
subject's mini-biography. For example, "For what famous type
of painting is Rembrandt most famous?" A strip of red
cellophane included in each pack could be placed over the back to reveal
the response. The cellophane cancelled out the back's bright
orange color, along with obliterating the accompanying narrative.
To a youngster, the process was magic.
seemed an exciting connection between the product and the youthful
consumer. In the July 1989 issue of The Wrapper, veteran
collector Eddie Grove recalled, "The set caught my eye from day one
. . . it gave me a chance to make many a book report at my elementary
school. I remember going to the store and seeing those packs in
the box with all those question marks with the words 'magic and hidden
pictures' on the wrappers. Those things made all of us want to
scoop up all the cards we could get our hands on."
had not been the first time Topps published cards in which its clientele
needed to perform some operation to derive enhanced satisfaction of the
product. X-Ray Roundup and Magic Photos, both
marketed in 1949, are interesting curios. With Magic Photos,
a child had to physically develop the tiny blank cards by dipping them
in water and rubbing the card's face with the wrapper. (Today, if
encountering these scarce cards, poorly- developed cards are commonly
found.) X-Ray Roundup's backs are a precursor of Look 'n
See's format. By using a small red cellophane strip, kids
could view a second hidden illustration.
very rare Topps test issue, Hee Haw, believed to have been
published in 1970, drew on Look 'n See's red cellophane/back
concept. Instead of trivia questions, Hee Haw's reverse side
carried jokes, with the punch lines hidden from the naked eye.
Sport Americana Price Guides for Non-Sport Cards authored by
Chris Benjamin and first published in the early 1980s asserted that Look
'n See had been issued in two series. Card numbers 1 through 75
were followed by numbers 76 through 135.
the Look 'n See story that appeared in the July 1989 Wrapper
issue, columnist Bob Nolan speculated the set entered the marketplace as
a three-series product. The theory is problematic.
segmented the first 75 cards into subsets with seven distinct
titles. Card numbers 1 through 9 depicted Presidents; numbers 10
through 31 featured Famous Americans; numbers 32 through 42 were of
Military Leaders; and cards 43 through 46 pictured Famous Women.
Other headings included Explorers (6 cards), Men of the West (11), World
Figures (5) and Inventors (7).
remains possible the company only packed out the first 45 cards of Look
'n See's initial foray into stores. However, the figure belies
logical configuration. Given Topps' handling of the set's
remaining 60 cards, Nolan's three-series theorem cannot be rejected out
of hand. In fact, it appears to gain some credence when further
discussing subtitle lineups.
Presidents subset opens with card number 1 (Franklin Roosevelt) and ends
with number 9 (Washington). The backs list a secondary numbering
system for each subset. For example, the FDR card is denoted as
"No. 2 of 9 Presidents." Adding confusion is card number
4 (Lincoln) with the designation "No. 1 of 9
Presidents." The haphazard numbering practice is repeated
with the remaining subheadings found through card 75.
reported second series is scattershot with respect to the six subsets
contained within it. Headings include World Figures Series 2 (19
cards); Famous Americans Series 2 (16); Famous Writers (10); Explorers
Series 2 (6); Famous Women Series 2 (7); and Famous Canadians (a mere
the first 75-card segment where one subset followed another, no such
pattern exists for the remaining 60. Card 76 depicts Louis
Pasteur, denoted number 9 of 19 World Figures of Series 2. This is
followed by number 77, William Penn, the 5th of 16 2nd Series Famous
Americans. One logical guess is that Topps, in realizing Look
'n See's popularity, went ahead with a subsequent card run without
refined plans as to its configuration.
'n See's portraitures provided Topps with opportunities to recycle
the art work in later card sets. The painting used for card 126,
Explorer Leif Ericcson, eventually became an illustration worked into Scoop,
a set that captured historical events in the context of newspaper
stories. Scoop number 149, Leif Ericcson Finds Finland,
uses the Look 'n See portrait as the ersatz news photo on the
Look 'n See art found their way into Who Am I, a 1967
release that used a scratch-off coating to reveal the full portrait
images. The Who Am I illustrations were slightly altered
and retouched, but on balance had been the basic art that appeared in Look
'n See 15 years earlier. To the chagrin of non-sport
collectors, Babe Ruth's Look 'n See depiction is recycled, along with new
images of more contemporary baseball players. Other Look
'n See subjects re-debuting in Who Am I include the
Roman emperor Nero, King Henry VIII, Paul Revere, Napoleon Bonaparte and
'n See's positive attributes -- the well-executed art work,
its heritage as a vintage set and the plentiful quantities of cards --
all provide reasons for notable traffic and interest through cyberspace
auctions. The Hobbyist surveyed eBay for roughly a
four-week period starting in late October and gauged sales activity.
few listings contained lots of 40, 50 or 100 different cards.
Overall condition of these pasteboards, not surprisingly, ranged in the
fair-to-good category. One complete set, claimed by the seller as
an excellent condition collection, realized a final $800 price.
auctions, about 95 percent of all observed and tracked, dealt with
single cards. One high-volume seller initiated auctions of some 25
PSA-graded Look 'n Sees. The great majority were nm-mt 8s
and 7s. Card number 91, Enrico Caruso graded a PSA-8, carried an
opening $180 bid. The lowest opener had been $20 for a PSA-6
example of number 35, Gen. Matthew Ridgeway. A PSA-8 of Babe Ruth,
the supposed centerpiece of the auction grouping, reached for a $1,300
initial bid. Significantly, none of the seller's graded cards
attracted even one solitary bid.
encapsulated Look 'n Sees fared better. One seller offered 16 graded
pieces, none judged under PSA-7. The most expensive of this assemblage
had been of a PSA-8 graded card number 122, Captain William Kidd. Seven
bids lofted the final price to $122. Another Nm-Mt-8, number 104 Queen
Elizabeth II, concluded at $115.
merchant found success with a graded Ruth card, a less immaculate PSA-5
that attracted 21 bids. The final price checked in at $81. Three non-slabbed
Ruth cards generated measurable interest. One near-mint example wound up
with 25 bids and a $128.50 closing price. Two other very good
condition Ruths finished at $113.50 and $67 respectively.
the survey period, three Rembrandt cards were tracked. Both had been
judged as off-centered and were, at best, considered as very good in
condition. One finished at $67, another at $60 and the third closed at
$41.50. Two more Rembrandts appeared on eBay in early December. One vg-
card sold for $80; the other, a fair condition card did not meet the
seller's reserve price.
non-sport collectors take a dim view of card grading firms and the
encapsulation process. Sealing a card in a plastic sarcophagus suggests
a disquieting sterility, a barrier of sorts that prevents full
enjoyment. Further, card grading is expensive for both dealer, who
initially pays for the submission process, and hobbyist, who ultimately
shoulders the premium price.
it appears enough Look 'n See cards may still be easily located in
non-graded form. However, eBay is a volatile environment. Many factors
account for the pricing disparities of a particular card. Consider Look
'n See's card number 45, aviatrix Amelia Earhart. One eBay listing
displayed a vg Earhart with a final $31 price after six bids. A second
vg Earhart finished at a very different $11.25 closing.
the survey, common Look 'n See cards of at minimum very good
condition were sold between 99 cents and slightly more than five
dollars. In some cases, activity per item managed one bid
response. Five bids or more for very good or less commons would be
considered remarkable. However, near-mint cards found more
interest. A mid-November auction featured a non-slabbed near-mint
#112 Rockefeller that garnered 12 bids and a final $82 sale.