The New Jets-Rockets-Spacemen Series!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© 1997 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine from issue #148
Great news for science fiction card collectors: Coming soon to a galaxy near you- the "missing" forth series of Jets-Rockets-Spacemen! At long last, the JRS series will be completed.
As veteran collectors recall, the original series of 1950's cards were released in three groups of 36, totaling 108 cards in all. A forth and fifth series were commissioned, but never released by Bowman. Almost thirty years passed until the artwork to the final series was purchased by collector James Trever. In 1980, he and Paul Koch printed two thousand numbered sets of the fifth series (cards 145-180). They also published the narratives to the forth series (cards 109-144), but the accompanying artwork was lost or possibly never painted in the first place.
The new forth series will feature artwork based on the original (copyrighted) narratives. Mr. Trever is already in the painting stage, and his style matches the original style nicely (see sample). He will also expand the existing narratives to fill the card backs. Even the unfinished "sketches" from the fifth series will be completed. It will be quite a project and one that could take some time to complete. (But space travelers are accustomed to long waits, especially if they use the 6X53.)
I called James Trever on Memorial day to interview him about the history of the fifth series. His news about the upcoming forth series was an unexpected "scoop". We're delighted he chose The Wrapper to make his announcement and give more details about how the fifth series came about.
KK: Why don't we start at the beginning, which was a phone call you got in 1978.
JT: Yeah, it was a phone call form Tom Reid, a baseball card dealer from Jersey. He had come across the actual artwork (of the fifth series), which I assume he had gotten from George Moll. People were going to see George Moll and buying things from him. After a while, he caught on that these card sets that he was selling real cheap to these guys were going back out the door at astronomical prices. By the time I met him he was very skeptical and weary of other card dealers, and people involved in the card business. He didn't trust anyone at that point. That's an interesting story there, but anyway...
Tom described them to me and I purchased all the original artwork that was available.
KK: Less one...
JT: Yeah, less one.
KK: And who had gotten that already?
JT: I don't recall the name.
KK: But you ran into him again and were able to photograph it?
JT: Yeah, I was told who it was and it was a guy who was set up as a dealer at one of the big baseball card shows in Philly.
KK: Did he just let you take the picture or was that a big problem?
JT: No, he was nice about it and aloud me to photograph it.
KK: Did you use a special camera?
JT: I used a decent camera (a Rolex).
KK: Could you use the photograph or did an artist have to touch it up?
JT: It was taken right off the slide... All the rest were done off the artwork. You can kind of tell.
KK: Which one was it?
JT: The one where they're looking over the rainbow. (#158)
KK: Yeah, the color is a little different. I'm kinda surprised he picked that one because there's no action in that picture.
JT: My guess is because it shows principle characters that are readily identifiable...
KK: And you ended up buying the entire set (less one) and at that point you had no designs of doing it as an extension set... or did you?
JT: I think Paul Koch actually approached me, he knew I bought the artwork. I think he actually approached me first with the idea of publishing it. But I'm not a 100% sure...
Once I got a hold of this, I went to great lengths to trace its origin and get to the George Moll Advertising Agency and contact George himself and deal with George himself to see if I could get a hold of the text, because it wasn't going to be worth much to me without the text. I was hoping that would be available because I always wanted to know the rest of the story.
KK: Was he pretty agreeable to that?
JT: No, he was very suspicious. My father was the first American to be involved with the Dead Sea Scrolls, and George DRASTICALLY disliked Topps and what they were doing to cards. He was very big into original artwork cards and maintaining the quality of the old way of doing things. I won George over by telling him about my father and his work with the Dead Sea Scrolls and his preservation efforts on them... I discussed that with George and that impressed him and he decided to trust me so he mailed all that stuff (the JRS narratives) to me...
KK: You mentioned (in the Non-Sport Update June '92 article) that there were at least four cards that didn't have text for them. The sketches, apparently (#164-167).
JT: There were three cards. I would have to research that and get back to you on that... what was missing.
KK: And you sat down and tried to fill in the gaps based on what you saw in the picture and the (Gordon Palmer writing) style that you were acquainted with at that time.
JT: I spent a great deal of time comparing the roughs and it was difficult because there were several sets of them and the numbers didn't match and I did the best I could to line them all up and there were a couple of gaps and you could kind of tell where they would be at least. I came up with the best possible guess of that...
And by the way, since I actually got into doing paintings myself, I came to learn after talking to a few experts that- somebody looked at them and said they were acrylic and I accepted it at face value. That's not true. The actual paintings are a combination of colored pencil, water color and guashe. That's the real medium that was actually used... I'm not going to use that (for the forth series), I'm using acrylic...
KK: Now let's talk about the forth series. You felt that according to George, it was lost.
JT: That was the best he could recollect and we do have to realize that he was starting into what could be medically termed as senile at the time... and he's since died and I talked to his son Richard who's the one who gave us permission to do this in the first place... But anyway, Richard didn't remember, he didn't work closely enough on any of that stuff at that particular time to have any direct recollection... All George could say is that they were either lost (and that was his best recollection) or... that they never actually painted them and that would just be a matter of speculation.
KK: But why would they go on and paint the fifth series if they hadn't painted the forth?
JT: Correct. And that's the logic that would say that it was done and it really was lost. That's the way George remembered it to the best of his ability. On the other hand, how come there wasn't any text? Just a rough idea of what the text was (one sentence descriptions for each card), what did that suggest?... If we have all this text material for the fifth series, why not the forth?
KK: Do you think the missing forth series ever has a snow ball's chance in hell of turning up?
JT: Well, I would have thought it would have by now if it was going to, but who knows? If it in fact, was really completed, then there's always a chance that it will show up somewhere somehow. It's very strange that in all these years that it wouldn't turn up...
KK: You said Gordon Palmer wrote it for George Moll Adverting Agency for Bowman Gum.
JT: Well, he wrote for George Moll who was hired by Bowman Gum to produce the series.
KK: As kind of an outside contractor?
JT: Yes. George Moll is an advertising agency in Philadelphia... that still exists, it's a thriving organization.
KK: How many other sets did George Moll do for Bowman?
JT: He did a lot of Baseball sets, '51, '52, '49, '48, I don't know how far back, I didn't interview him for that. I don't know the full extent... The Wild Man and Wild West. Those two I know for sure.
KK: So some of Bowman's best stuff was outside contractors. Do you think Bowman went to him with the basic premise or did George approach Bowman?
JT: That's a good question. I don't have an answer for that. My guess is that Bowman approached George.
KK: Can you imagine Topps waiting for their advertising agency to come up with all their ideas? That would be a little bit nerve-racking.
JT: (laughs) Yeah, Bowman probably had the idea and got George Moll's agency to do the artwork.
KK: Do you think Bowman ever produced any of his card sets from scratch without George Moll or other contractors?
JT: No idea. George showed me some of the stuff he had in his collection as mementos and that's how I know he did Wild West (and Wild Man).
KK: Any other Non-Sport trivia that George Moll divulged to you that surprised you?
JT: He had a very old school attitude. It was what I would agree with. He thought all cards should be done the way he did them. With the care.
KK: And not shortcuts.
JT: Yeah. Nobody can afford the artwork now days to do that... He felt that Topps, quote, was bastardizing the industry with cheap productions using photographs of everything and that was the ruination of the hobby, so to speak.
KK: They established a new low standard in the industry. It happens in every industry when some one comes along with an acceptable way to cut corners.
JT: (laughs) Yeah. I have no personal problem with Topps. I'm a big fan of Topps but...
KK: Well, certainly Mars Attacks was an example of what Topps could do, would that they did all their sets like that.
JT: Yeah, right...
KK: Well, you certainly have a big challenge ahead of you but a fun one.
JT: Yeah. Just publishing the fifth series was my contribution to the card world. Completing the story of J-R-S after 28 years. (laughs). I had certainly wanted to know the rest of the story and it was thrilling to have the opportunity to see those materials and get as much as we did, even though I had to make up three cards for the fifth series...
KK: You're referring to the sketches #164, 165, and 166?
JT: Right. I didn't have any matching text for that. But I had extras that didn't fit anywhere.
KK: Well I can't tell you how much fun it's been to get all this info from you and be able to announce your plans for the forth series.
JT: Okay, well great. I hope I clarified a few things anyway. (laughs.) I have not missed an issue (of The Wrapper) since the very beginning... I wrote articles for #4 and the last article I wrote was for #80.
KK: Many thanks!
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