Playing Around with Chuck Miller
Sticker Shock: The Demented World of Wacky Packages

The original front and back of an unopened 1967 pack of
The original front and back of an unopened 1967 pack of "Wacky Packages." If you look carefully at the back of the package, you can see the Wacky Packages sticker for "Breadcrust Corned Beef Hash," made from 1% hash and 99% breadcrust. Yum.



Flashback to the summer of 1973. I was at my grandmother's house in West Roxbury, Massachusetts for the summer, and several of the neighborhood kids got together to trade baseball cards, and I was more than willing to swap any Carl Yastrzemski cards I had for whatever Tony Oliva or Vida Blue cards they had.

One sunny day, I saw some of the kids with a different kind of trading card - a series of stickers with artwork of consumer products like household cleaners, cigarettes and candy. But upon a closer examination, I saw that the sticker artwork were actually PARODIES of household cleaners, cigarettes and candy - what was supposed to be "Bazooka" bubble gum was listed as "Gadzooka;" what was "Apple Jacks" was really "Apple Jerks;" and how would you like a cup of "Chock Full o' Nuts and Bolts" coffee?

The next day, my grandmother took me to an open-air shopping mall in West Roxbury called Westbrook Village, and in one of the convenience stores, on the counter near the cash register, was a box of Wacky Packages trading cards. For five cents, a kid could get two stickers, a checklist-puzzle card, and a sugary stick of gum, all in one wax wrapper. Instantly I was hooked. Baseball cards be damned, I had suddenly developed a Wacky Packages jones. I swapped with every kid in the neighborhood, trying to assemble the 30-card collection (I seemed to always find stickers of "Weakies" breakfast cereal and "Crust" toothpaste, for some reason). The stickers were placed on my books, my bicycle, and on my bedroom wall (much to the chargin of my grandmother, who was not too thrilled at seeing a "Band Ache" sticker on her nicely wallpapered room).

An example of a Wacky Packages
An example of a Wacky Packages "Ludlow Back" card. This sticker was manufactured with Ludlow adhesive paper; Topps wasn't too thrilled about advertising another company on their own product, but they were able to get the adhesive paper at a decent price. Today, a Ludlow back card of a rare or deleted sticker can sell for hundreds of dollars.



By 1973, Wacky Packages came back as a collection of stickers, as 30 images were re-used from the 1967 print run. Wacky Packages became an instant hit, and that one series in 1973 soon spurred a sequel - and another sequel - and another, until sixteen different Wacky Packages series reached the candy counters. By 1975, Wacky Packages were the top-selling trading card in America, briefly outpacing Topps' baseball card line.

The popularity of Wacky Packages created an adverse side effect - unwanted attention from the companies whose products were parodied. Several companies and organizations sent Topps "cease and desist" orders, and every print run would have at least one or two cards taken out of circulation. This made cards like "Moron Salt" (Morton Salt), "Jolly Mean Giant" (Jolly Green Giant Peas), "Run Tony" (Ronzoni) and "Band Ache" (Band-Aid) cards extremely rare today. Some of the offended companies were so determined to get the parody cards out of circulation, that in 2003 some eBay auctions featuring the Moron Salt trading card were actually cancelled by the Morton Salt company! (Morton Salt has since rescinded the ban on the card, and "Moron Salt" can now be sold legally on eBay).

After the Ronzoni pasta company saw that Topps added a
After the Ronzoni pasta company saw that Topps added a "Run Tony Pasta Shells" card to its second series of Wacky Packages, Ronzoni sent a cease and desist letter to Topps, claiming the card defamed Italian-Americans. Topps quickly pulled the card from the print run, making this sticker highly collectible.

There were even comparisons between Wacky Packages and the spoof parodies appearing in Mad magazine - yet while Mad would take a package of Camel cigarettes and call them "Cancel Cigarettes" - as in smoking this product would "cancel" your life; Wacky Packages would create "Camals" with an overturned dromedary (originally the artwork was supposed to read "Gamals" cigarettes, in homage to Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, but the name was changed to "Camals" under the assumption that kids wouldn't "get" the reference). Wacky Packages would also amp up the "ewww gross" factor on their cards, which would explain such products as "Skimpy Peanut Butter," manufactured from old peanut shells; "Rabid Shave," a shaving cream for dogs who foam at the mouth; and "Hurtz" bird seed, which appears to be made from old soda pull-tabs.

The production run of Wacky Packages provided several print variations, most notably in the backing paper used for the stickers. Many collectors study the backs of the stickers, looking for white card backs or tan card backs - or, if they're very fortunate, "Ludlow" card backs. Because Topps produced Wacky Packages as an inexpensive trading card, they had to get their sticker cardstock from whoever could provide it cheaply - and that included Ludlow Paper, whose stickerbacks featured the company name and a black or red camel trademark. Today, "Ludlow Backs" are highly prized for their rarity, and a Ludlow back of a cancelled or short-printed sticker can command hundreds of dollars on the collector market.

Look closely at the top and right side of this sticker for Spit 'n Spill cleanser - the artist
Look closely at the top and right side of this sticker for "Spit 'n Spill" cleanser - the artist accidentally left the real name of the parodied product, "Spic 'n Span" on the package!

When the first series of Wacky Packages came out, we were able to look at the package itself and see the outline of the top trading card through the wax wrapper. Since Wacky Packages cards featured a black outline around the sticker, it was easy to see that same outline through the wrapper - and once we figured out that secret, we were able to cherry-pick through the box to find the trading cards to complete our sets. When the second series came out, I tried using that same technique, only to discover that Topps packaged the cards so that the stickers faced inward, and only the white backs could be seen through the packaging. In my young impressionable mind, I thought that one of the store clerks probably told Topps that I had figured out how to get the trading cards I needed without buying the entire box - and Topps took action to prevent it from happening again!

By 1974, Topps had used up all their original Wacky Packages 1967 artwork for the series, and the third series contained all-new artwork. By the fourth series, the company started parodying its very own product, inserting the sticker "Wormy Packages" into the run. The series lasted until 1976, with the extremely hard-to-find 15th and 16th series.

This sticker parody of Martha Stewart Living
This sticker parody of Martha Stewart Living is part of Wacky Packages' "All New Series," which began in 2004 and has become an instant hit.

The goofy stickers were resurrected in 1979, when Topps issued Wacky Packages in a five-series reprint collection; in 1985, a new 44-card Wacky Packages series, featuring such creations as "Mr. Stubble" bubble bath and "Dr. Pooper" soda, was released.

In the late 1990s, as Wacky Packages fan websites appeared all over the Internet, and auctions for original Wacky Packages cards and stickers reached hundreds of dollars for rare titles, Topps decided to bring back the parody stickers for another run. In 2004, Topps launched "Wacky Packages - All New Series," to a tremendous fan response. Once again, no consumer product was left unscathed, and the series has continued to this day, with a fifth run of Wacky Packages hitting stores this year.

There are several websites and reference guides for Wacky Packages collectors. Topps maintains the official Wacky Packages homepage, wackypackages.com, featuring news on upcoming Wacky Packages releases. One of the most detailed fansites, wackypackages.org, is maintained by Wacky Packages collector Greg Grant, and contains everything from rare artwork to interviews with those who worked on the series, including artist Jay Lynch. There's even a page on the site that allows you to "select" a Wacky Pack and see which random cards, checklist and gum you would get! And sure enough, I got "Weakies" breakfast cereal again. Dang it!

COPYRIGHT: "Wacky Packages" and all artwork related thereto are (c) Topps Chewing Gum Company. Photos courtesy of Greg Grant, wackypackages.org.

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