15 Highly Collectible Facts About Topps

slgckc via Flickr // CC BY 2.0
slgckc via Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Founded as a gum manufacturer in 1938 by the Shorin family of Brooklyn to remedy their ailing tobacco interests, the Topps Company—named for their desire to be “tops” in sales—has become synonymous with sports collecting. From pioneering the modern baseball card to inciting controversy with the Garbage Pail Kids, the company has rarely seen a dull moment. Here’s everything you need to know about some of the most expensive cardboard around.

1. Early Topps cards wanted you to add water. 

Topps

After spending most of their first decade devoted to chewing gum—including their legendary Bazooka bubblegum—Topps decided to offer more incentive for customers to pass up competition like Dubble Bubble. In 1949, they began to package gum with trading cards dubbed Hocus Focus that appeared blank. When kids lightly moistened the surface with water and pressed it against the “blue magic paper," images of baseball greats like Jackie Robinson and actors like Clark Gable would appear. A single card and gum piece was priced at one penny; six pieces of gum and six cards cost a nickel.

2. The Topps gum was hard for a reason. 

While the highly elastic, block-shaped Bazooka bubblegum proved to be a delicious hit with consumers, the rigid sticks of gum inserted into early trading card packs proved largely unappealing to developing jaws. The reason? Owing to the manufacturing process, the sticks had to be hard enough to be mechanically injected into the card packs without breaking. In 1992, the company finally discontinued the insert after collectors complained it left a residue on their cards.

3. Topps made a board game. 

Before growing to dominate the baseball card scene, Topps was eager to try out different marketing efforts that could expand the brand beyond gum. In 1948, Topps commissioned a private mint to manufacture a series of metal coins featuring all the presidents up to Truman. The coins were not popular sellers, so Topps used their remaining stock to populate a board game titled Meet the Presidents. Released in 1953, the game consisted of trivia questions that players could use to accumulate the coins.

4. Topps invented the modern baseball card. 

Until Topps employee Sy Berger got his hands on them, baseball cards were little more than simple monochrome portraits that had been largely unchanged since their debut in the 19th century. Berger, a card designer, tweaked the template to include a color border, a faux autograph, team logos, and biographical and statistical information on the card back beginning in 1951 and 1952. In 2004, Topps honored Berger with his own card.

5. Unfortunately, the first Topps baseball card was a disaster.

Before Berger perfected the baseball card, the company’s first attempt was not a hit with fans. With smaller photos framed by different baseball plays, collectors could use them as playing cards to simulate a game. While innovative, kids weren’t interested; the taffy that replaced the gum—to avoid legal issues with a rival, Bowman, who claimed to have exclusivity in gum sets—absorbed the card varnish, leaving a disgusting aftertaste. After ironing out the wrinkles, Berger’s 1952 set was a hit. The company bought Bowman in 1956, and enjoyed decades of card domination.

6. Topps dumped priceless cards into the ocean. 

While Topps’s foray into baseball was a success, the company still had leftover stock from its 1952 series that immediately became outdated once the season was over. After printing a second run, Berger decided to scuttle more than two million cards by hiring garbage trucks to load the cards onto a barge and dump them into the Atlantic Ocean off New York Bay. Among the castoffs: Mickey Mantle’s 1952 "rookie" card (his actual rookie card was a Bowman from the year before). Owing to their scarcity, a Mantle in pristine condition can go for well over $1 million.

7. Mars Attacks! got Topps in big trouble.

Topps had long supplemented its sport card efforts with entertainment offerings, but a 1962 series about an alien invasion proved to be too ambitious for its time. Mars Attacks! was a hand-painted collection by artist Norman Saunders depicting Martians skewering human forces in a hostile Earth takeover. Owing to the violent content, a Connecticut district attorney phoned Topps cautioning them against distributing the material in his state. Fearing wider negative publicity, they stopped producing the cards. (A 50th anniversary set was issued in 2012.)

8. Topps once issued an x-rated Star Wars card. 

In the late 1970s, there was no hotter film license than Star Wars, and Topps was fortunate enough to secure the licensing for a trading card series before the film became a blockbuster. In an attempt to flesh out multiple releases, Topps employees combed through every available still image in the Lucasfilm archives. When they found a photo of C-3PO, no one appeared to notice that the droid appeared to sport robot genitalia--a likely result of a costume malfunction. An untold number of the cards made it into circulation. Once the mistake was discovered, Topps airbrushed the offending portion out.

9. Topps marketed some disgusting candy. 

Long before Topps’s Garbage Pail Kids sent parents into hysterics, the company had struck a nerve in the 1970s with Garbage Can-Dy, a plastic trash pail filled with Pez-type treats shaped like rotting fish and dirty socks. They also marketed Barfo, a repulsive dispenser with a human head and an accordion-shaped body that vomited out gelatinous goop.

10. Topps offered Helen Keller's autograph. 

Collectors have long been enticed into buying packs of cards with the promise of happening upon a “chase,” or limited-edition, card with an athlete’s autograph or game-used uniform swatch. In 2009, Topps expanded that notion to include historical figures, including the blind and deaf disabilities advocate Helen Keller, Thomas Edison, and Kurt Vonnegut.

11. Topps printed the world's largest baseball card. 

Topps

In a 2013 promotional stunt, Topps unveiled a 60-foot-by-90-foot card of Detroit Tigers first baseman Prince Fielder near the team’s spring training center in Lakeland, Florida.

12. Buzz Aldrin once sued Topps.

Topps thought it was honoring astronaut Buzz Aldrin when it included a photograph of his moon walk—Aldrin, however, was annoyed rather than flattered. A fierce protector of his likeness, he sued Topps in 2010 for using his image without permission. According to the Los Angeles Times, Topps countered that the First Amendment protected them from retaliation when including Aldrin in a series called "American Heritage: Heroes Edition." The court agreed in 2011, ruling that trading cards are “expressive works.” Aldrin dropped his appeal in exchange for not being sent a bill for the company’s legal fees.  

13. Topps also got into comics. 

Topps

The comic book explosion of the 1990s was not lost on Topps, who felt that the impressive distribution system they already had in place from their card business would give them an advantage over the competition. In 1992, they announced the debut of Topps Comics, a line featuring licensed adaptations (The X-Files, Friday the 13th) and concepts introduced by legendary artist Jack Kirby. The line folded in 1998.  

14. Topps sold cards that buyers didn't want to actually touch.

Eager to capitalize on the speculative market, in 2001 Topps offered consumers the option of purchasing cards via their website as “Initial Player Offerings,” or IPOs. Modeled after stocks, a buyer could choose to let Topps keep the card in storage so they could be traded or sold with other collectors at a later date. Barry Bonds “opened” at $9.50 and shot up to $28.90. While novel, the company ended the strategy in 2012.

15. Topps will print you a custom card. 

Part of the fun of becoming a professional athlete is getting your likeness emblazoned on a trading card. Unfortunately, that kind of talent is hard to come by. If you’re a weekend warrior, Topps is willing to fabricate a card with your photo, name, and statistics and print it on acid-free, laminated card stock. They’ll even accommodate mass quantities. If you order too many, remember: There’s always the Atlantic Ocean.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About The Blue Lagoon On Its 40th Anniversary

Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields star in The Blue Lagoon (1980).
Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields star in The Blue Lagoon (1980).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Brooke Shields was just 14 years old when she filmed The Blue Lagoon, the infamously sexy and slightly salacious island-set romance that capitalized on burgeoning hormones in a big way. The film was shocking when it debuted on July 5, 1980—but even 40 years later, it can still make jaws drop. Here’s a look at some of its more compelling tidbits, complete with undiscovered iguanas and a nifty trick to cover up nudity.

1. The Blue Lagoon is based on a trilogy of books by Henry De Vere Stacpoole.

Although the film closely follows the events of the first book in Henry De Vere Stacpoole’s series, also called The Blue Lagoon, the film’s sequel (1991’s Return to the Blue Lagoon) breaks with the storyline presented in the 1920s-era trilogy to essentially re-tell the original story (read: more tanned teens falling in love on a tropical island). Stacpoole’s books were far more concerned with the culture of the South Seas population, particularly as it was being further influenced by the arrival of European cultures.

2. The Blue Lagoon was adapted into a film twice before.

In 1923, director W. Bowden crafted a silent version of the story. More than a quarter-century later, British filmmaker Frank Launder made a very well-received version for the big screen in 1949, starring Jean Simmons and Donald Houston. The film was immensely popular, becoming the seventh-highest grossing domestic film at the U.K. box office that year.

3. The Blue Lagoon's costume team came up with a clever trick to keep Brooke Shields covered up.

Brooke Shields was just 14 years old when she filmed The Blue Lagoon, which led to some challenges for the production team, especially as Shields’s Emmeline is frequently topless. So the costume designers hatched an ingenious (and, really, just kind of obvious) way to keep her covered up at all times: they glued her long-haired wig to her body.

4. Brooke Shields’s age was an issue for a long time.

Even after The Blue Lagoon was long wrapped, completed, and released into theaters, issues related to Shields’s age at the time of filming still lingered. Years later, Shields testified before a U.S. Congressional inquiry that body doubles—of legal age—were used throughout filming.

5. The Blue Lagoon was nominated for an Oscar.

Cinematographer Néstor Almendros was nominated for his work on The Blue Lagoon. And while he lost out to Geoffrey Unsworth and Ghislain Cloquet for Tess, he already had one Oscar at home for his contributions to Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven (1978). The skilled DP, who passed away in 1992, was also nominated for Kramer vs. Kramer (1979) and Sophie’s Choice (1982).

6. A new species of iguana was discovered when it appeared in The Blue Lagoon.

Parts of the film were lensed on a private island that is part of Fiji, one of the habitats of the now-critically endangered Fiji crested iguana. The iguana appeared throughout the film, and when herpetologist John Gibbons caught an early screening of the feature, he realized that the animal that kept popping up on the big screen wasn't a familiar one. So he traveled to Fiji (specifically, to the island of Nanuya Levu), where he discovered the Fiji crested iguana, an entirely new Fijian native.

7. The Blue Lagoon won a Razzie.

Despite its stellar source material and Oscar-nominated camerawork, The Blue Lagoon wasn’t beloved by everyone: The Razzies foisted a Worst Actress award on Shields. The actress won (lost? hard to tell?) over an extremely mixed bag of other nominees that somehow also included Shelley Duvall for The Shining. Come on, Razzies.

8. The Blue Lagoon director Randal Kleiser hatched a plan to get his stars to like each other.

Because the chemistry between the two leads was vital to the success of The Blue Lagoon, director Randal Kleiser (who also directed Grease) came up with the idea to get star Christopher Atkins feeling a little lovestruck with Shields by putting a picture of the young starlet over Atkins’s bed. Staring at Shields every night apparently did rouse some feelings in Atkins; the duo had a brief romance while filming. "Brooke and I had a little bit of a romantic, innocent sort of romance in the very beginning of the film," Atkins told HuffPost. “It was very nice—we were very, very close friends."

9. Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins's affection didn’t last for long.

Despite their early attachment, Shields and Atkins soon began bickering nonstop. “Brooke got tired of me,” Atkins told People in 1980. “She thought I took acting too seriously. I was always trying to get into a mood while she would be skipping off to joke with the crew.” Still, Kleiser even capitalized on that, using the tension to fuel the more frustrated scenes, lensing the tough stuff while his leads were tussling.

10. The Blue Lagoon's film shoot basically took place on a desert island.

Kleiser was desperate to capture authenticity for the film, going so far as to live like his characters while making it. "To shoot this kind of story, I wanted to get as close to nature as possible and have our crew live almost like the characters," Kleiser said. "We found an island in Fiji that had no roads, water, or electricity, but beautiful beaches. We built a village of tents for the crew to live in and had a small ship anchored in the lagoon for our camera equipment and supplies. This filming approach was quite unusual, but it just seemed right for this project."

This story has been updated for 2020.