In 1960, Topps introduced a unique non-card baseball collectible by wrapping tattoos around bubble gum. Their Canadian partner, O-Pee-Chee, also released these tattoos. However, it wasn’t until around 2013 that the larger collecting community discovered that Topps also released a version of these tattoos in Venezuela. This article will give a brief history of Topps’ tattoos, provide information on the three 1960 baseball sets, and share how to differentiate between them.
But before we get started, I have no idea why Topps sometimes spelled the word tatoo rather than tattoo.
In 1948, Topps released their first novelty product, “Tatoo Bubble Gum.” They iterated on them a few times, as summarized in the picture below from Page 231 of The Modern Hobby Guide to Topps Chewing Gum: 1938 to 1956. “In 1948, Topps released their first novelty product, “Tatoo Bubble Gum.” They iterated on them a few times, as summarized in the picture below from Page 231 of The Modern Hobby Guide to Topps Chewing Gum: 1938 to 1956.
The Topps Archives wrote a great post sharing a few Topps Tatoo ads.
A few years later, in 1956, Topps released their first character-specific tattoo issue with their Davy Crockett offering. While the box bottom shows a copyright of 1955, it’s generally considered a 1956 set.
Topps continued with a Popeye Tattoo series’ starting in 1957 (notice the similarity in the wrapper design to the baseball series tattoos) and a Woody Woodpecker Tattoo in 1959 before issuing Popeye Mystery Color Tattoos, Magic Tatoos, and our focus for this article, the baseball series in 1960.
There isn’t as much written about the 1960 Topps Baseball Tattoos, Topps novelties are rarely as popular as the base sets, but we have some information. PSA reports, “The 1960 Topps Tattoos were distributed separately by Topps and O-Pee-Chee listed as Topps “Tattoo Bubble Gum”. The tattoos could be found on the inside of the wrappers with instructions on how to apply them. Each 1-9/16″ by 3-1/2″ wrapper instructed to moisten the skin and apply the back of the wrapper to the wet area, to which the “tattoo” would then adhere to the skin. (Many would appear blurry or with running colors.) There were 96 unnumbered tattoos broken into different groups which included players (55), teams (16), actions drawings (15) and autographed balls (10). After removing the gum from the package, tattoos were easily visible through the wrapper. Anchoring this set were Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and a Mickey Mantle Autographed Ball tattoo.”
What’s interesting is that my 2010 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards and PSA imply the O-Pee-Chee set was identical to the Topps one. But, we’ve never seen a complete O-Pee-Chee set for sale as we have with Topps (Mile High sold a complete set for $1849 in October 2011). The set is so rare that PSA has only graded 29 different (and 78 total) 1960 O-Pee-Chee Tattoos, while they have graded 338 1960 Topps Tattoos. So, I have just a tiny touch of skepticism in believing the Topps and O-Pee-Chee sets are the same (they probably are, but there’s some doubt). It’s interesting that even though they are scarcer, the O-Pee-Chee Tattoos don’t carry a price premium over Topps.
As a big fan of unopened material, I have to mention that PSA has graded four 1960 O-Pee-Chee Baseball Tattoo Packs and Nine 1960 Topps Baseball Tattoos Packs. And you can see all the unopened material for each set on the Unopened Archive (1960 Topps Tattoos, 1960 O-Pee-Chee Tattoos).
My skepticism about identical checklists between Topps and O-Pee-Chee Tattoos is supported by the recent finds of Venezuelan Tattoos that aren’t in the Topps set. I discussed the history behind the discovery of 1960 Venezuelan Tattoos in one of my newsletters, but I’ll summarize the timeline in more detail here.
First, back in 2013, a single Venezuela-made Tattoo showed up on eBay of Don Drysdale, selling for $360. That sale is the first example, or evidence of discussion, of there being unique Venezuelan Tattoos that I can find. However, I’m sure some dedicated Topps Venezuelan collectors knew about them before this; we can see they are a genuine product.
Things were quiet on the Venezuelan Tattoo front for quite a long time, when in November 2022, a Nellie Fox and Ed Mathews pair were sold together for $955 in a private Facebook Group.
Then, in December 2022, Juan Marichal’s and Rocky Colavito’s tattoos were sold together for $530. The Marichal was quickly flipped and sold on eBay for $525.
Around the same time, someone sold a Luis Arroyo Venezuela Tattoo on eBay for $281 (December 18th, 2022).
What’s really interesting is that a few players don’t appear in the Topps Tattoo set. The Topps Archives blog asked some great questions about Venezuelan Baseball Tattoos (namely, how many subjects are in the set?) and has a more recent post with a more comprehensive checklist of known Venezuelan Tattoos (as of February 4, 2022):
- Bob Allison
- Ruben Amaro (Venezuelan only)
- Luis Arroyo (Venezuelan only)
- Rocky Colavito
- Don Drysdale
- Nellie Fox
- Harmon Killebrew
- Juan Marichal (Venezuelan only)
- Ed Mathews
- Vic Power (Venezuelan Only)
- Early Wynn (Photo seen, not the tattoo)
The Topps Archives list doesn’t include the Stan Musial Venezuelan Tattoo that was shared on Twitter on January 28th, 2023.
SGC has graded (as of 10 February 2023) seven Venezuelan Tattoos. And in the pop report, they list a Dick Groat, Frank Lary, Juan Pizzaro, and Pedro Ramos that aren’t on the Topps Archives list either.
Now, how do you differentiate between the Topps, O-Pee-Chee, and Venezuelan Tattoos? It’s pretty easy. The Topps and O-Pee-Chee “backs” share the same basic design but have different imprints (Brooklyn, NY vs. Canada) on the outside of the wrapper, while the Venezuelan Tattoo has slightly different colors and Spanish text.
There is still a ton to learn about the O-Pee-Chee and Venezuelan Tattoos, and I agree with the Topps Archives that uncovering uncut sheets (or strips) of either release would go a long way in understanding their makeups. If you have any information about the 1960 Topps, O-Pee-Chee, or Venezuelan Tattoos, please get in touch with me, and happy collecting!