Author’s note: The title of this post is intentional. While the data and objective information I’m providing is objectively accurate, nearly everything I do with it here is speculative. My personal take is that the alternate history I offer holds together well. However, I’m very aware that many (probably most) experienced collectors will prefer to trust the decades of rich hobby lore that have informed their current views. I’m very okay with that too.
In this article I will be sharing what I find to be a compelling—or at least intriguing—theory explaining many of the oddities associated with the iconic 1933 Goudey baseball set. Recognizing that any new take on Goudey can appear crackpot right off the bat, I’ll do my best to support this theory with a wide range of clues from the set itself as well as neighboring Goudey releases. There will be no slam dunk here, but hopefully there will be no air ball or rejection into the fourth row either.
Before plunging into the alternate history, I’ll briefly provide what I believe to be the commonly understood history of this famous set.
Standard history of the 1933 set
Size of release
In what would be their first ever baseball-only issue, Goudey endeavored to create a 240-card set (or possibly 239), individually packaged with chewing gum. Though the full checklist was not determined from the onset, the plan was to release the cards in ten releases, each release corresponding to a printing sheet of 24 cards. A picture of Sheet 5 is shown below.
Card numbering was irregular, perhaps purposely to create gaps that would keep kids coming back for more cards en route to a complete set. When the tenth and final sheet of cards was released, featuring players from the 1933 World Series, a gap remained at card 106. This omission, caused by the double-printing of a Ruth card, ensured pennies would continue to come in as kids would find themselves perpetually stuck at 239 cards out of 240. It would take letters to the company for card 106, Napoleon Lajoie, to finally make it to collectors.
A 2015 article written for PSA by Kevin Glew provides this summary of card numbers by sheet. We will come back to it often.
The set featured the biggest stars of the day, including multiple cards of many of the game’s biggest superstars, along with a heavy dose of common players, a few retired all-time greats, and even 15 minor leaguers. The two different cards of Rogers Hornsby in the set are shown below.
There were two main designs employed for the set, differing primarily according to whether or not a red “Big League Chewing Gum” banner adorned the bottom of the card front. The 167 different cards on the first seven sheets included the banner; the 72 cards on the final three sheets omitted the banner. Often, but not always, the art and coloring on the banner-less cards were more elaborate, as the Maranville and Morrissey cards below illustrate.
Quirks of the 1933 set
Had the set simply followed a single design, featured 240 different big leaguers, and issued cards in numerical order from 1-240, there would of course be zero here worth a theory. It would just feel like a normal set. The same might still be true if only a single quirk existed—e.g., the missing card 106. However, there are numerous oddities to the set. Here are the main ones—
- Why were the cards issued out of order and with significant numbering gaps?
- Why was there no card 106, or perhaps equivalently, why was Ruth’s card 144 double-printed?
- Why do some players have multiple cards, and in some cases duplicate poses?
- Why where there so many minor leaguers?
- Why were two different designs used?
I will add to this list of oddities some additional questions we can ask about neighboring Goudey releases.
- Why was the 1934 set (96 cards) so small in comparison?
- Why was there no Ruth card in 1934?
- Why was the 1933 Canadian Goudey set only 94 cards?
- Why did the 1934 Canadian Goudey set employ a mix of 1933 and 1934 designs?
- Why did the 1938 Goudey set begin with card 241?
- Why did the 1938 Goudey set promise 96 cards but deliver only 48 cards and 24 players?
It would really be something if I had the answer to every single one of these questions. I don’t. But what I do offer is a coherent way to answer nearly all of these questions with one simple explanation.
Alternate history of the 1933 Goudey set
My central thesis is that the Goudey released was initially planned to be a two-year release with potentially as few as 96 cards slated for 1933. I want to emphasize here that I’m not suggesting a 96-card set. We already know from the very first card backs that a 240-card set was in the works.
Rather, I’m suggesting the 240 cards were envisioned as spanning the 1933 and 1934 seasons. Though this theory differs from conventional wisdom on the set, it is no “pyramids built by aliens” theory. The concept of a multi-year release was not foreign at all in the world of baseball cards or even the world of Goudey. For a set of 240 cards (i.e., very large), absent any other information it might even seem a very sensible way of doing things.
Beyond my main thesis, or as an elaboration of it, I am further hypothesizing the following–
- H1 – As few as 96 cards (but probably 120 cards) were originally planned for the 1933 release
- H2 – And additional 72 cards were inserted or added “on the fly” to extend the release in a manner that wouldn’t cannibalize the planned 1934 offering
- H3 – Due to continuing demand, the cannibalization ultimately occurred, with 48 cards originally intended for 1934 pulled forward to 1933
There is a lot here that is new, if not anathema, to hobbyists, but I believe the analysis that follows will make these hypotheses at least plausible if not persuasive.
Clue 1 – Numbers game
Here we’ll look at how the numbering of the cards by sheet supports the idea of a two-year release.
While the numbering of the cards by sheet appears haphazard initially, this proves not to be the case, most notably toward the beginning of the release. We’ll start with Sheets 1-3, pictured below.
The table below highlights the 72 cards that comprised Sheets 1-3.
There are two (logically equivalent) things to notice in the table.
- None of the card numbers extend beyond 96.
- It is possible to fill in all gaps from 1-96 with exactly 24 more cards. (This will not happen often as we proceed.)
Specifically, were the next sheet to include numbers 53-57, 68-74, and 80-91, we would have exactly cards 1-96, something Goudey could end the year on and not drive collectors batty.
Of course, Sheet 4 has anything but those numbers. In fact it has none of them! Why would Goudey leave every single hole unfilled? The standard reasoning is that Goudey knew gaps would keep collectors coming back for more. True, but why not give collectors the satisfaction of filling at least some of the gaps?
Remember those 24 numbers (53-57, 68-74, 80-91) required to get us the full 1-96 run? Those are exactly the numbers of Sheet 5! The main reason Sheet 4 didn’t fill any holes was that Sheet 5 had filled all of them. It just hadn’t been released yet.
Were Goudey to have released what is now Sheet 5 immediately after Sheets 1-3, the release would have hit a very reasonable stopping point.
- Cards would have been numbered consecutively from 1-96.
- There would be a heavy dose of the game’s biggest stars, capped by Babe Ruth at the very end, but still plenty of star power left over for later.
- The set, known for its many duplicate players and poses, would have featured 96 different players.
Such a reduced Goudey release, consisting of cards 1-96, wouldn’t have had the four Ruth cards it’s now famous for, but it still would have had Ruth’s card 53 in its fourth and final release. Similarly, there would only be one Gehrig (Sheet 3) rather than two.
Of course the 96-card release was not in the cards. Kids had a lot more pennies to spend, and Goudey was happy to accommodate them.
I believe Sheet 4 reflected a decision to keep the 1933 release going whereas Goudey could have capped it at a clean 1-96. I am not going so far as to say that Plan A was 96 cards, and Plan B was to do more. It may well have been the opposite in that the 96-card release may have been Goudey’s Plan B in case the cards weren’t selling well. Either way, what I am suggesting is that a 96-card exit ramp was an intentional feature.
A clean 96-card issue was off the table once the Sheet 4 cards were released. Not only did Sheet 4 avoid all 24 previous numbering gaps but it created new gaps that only a 144-card issue could address. This meant the issue would jump from 96 to at least 144 without the option of ending (cleanly) at 120 cards.
A summary of Sheet 4’s impact is as follows–
- Filled none of the existing gaps from 1-96.
- Created two new sets of gaps between 97-120 and 121-144
- Added 24 new players (i.e., no duplicates in the set yet)
As already discussed, Sheet 5 plugged all 24 numbering gaps up to 96. As its advertising poster noted, it delivered much needed “New Pictures” to collectors, including the one and only (for now) Babe Ruth.
The state of the release following Sheet 5 looked like this–
- 120 different players (no duplicates yet)
- 24 numbering gaps that could all be filled by the next sheet
- And for the first time, minor leaguers–nine of them no less! (We will come back to this piece in a separate section.)
Following Sheet 5, Goudey now had two possible avenues for Sheet 6. One was to fill the 24 remaining numbering gaps and walk away.
The other option was to extend the release further, which is what Goudey chose, and in a way that marked two key turning points for the set.
- For the first time, the set included multiple cards of star players Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx. (The Gehrig/Foxx cards were clones of earlier releases. The Ruth cards featured two brand new poses.)
- A double-printing of Ruth’s card 144 created a gap that would only be filled the following season with the selective release of the Lajoie card.
And purely from a numbering perspective, Sheet 6 put the next exit ramp for the release at 168 cards. (Perhaps 167 is more accurate; on the other hand we know from 1934 that Goudey was able to print 25-card sheets when the situation called for it.)
With Sheet 7 Goudey once again had two options: fill all existing numbering gaps (with the possible exception of the Lajoie gap) or continue expanding. Again, Goudey chose the latter course while at the same time delving further into the player duplication approach that began with Sheet 6.
A summary of Sheet 7 is as follows–
- Added the fourth and final Ruth (green)
- Added a near-clone of a previous Rube Walberg card
- Added new poses for Heinie Manush, Joe Cronin, and Rogers Hornsby, the last of which also reflected his new role/team as manager of the St. Louis Browns
- Added 19 new players, 6 of them minor leaguers
As we will see the next two sheets neither continued with duplicates nor minor leaguers. However, they may have introduced the biggest change of all, at least visually.
It is in Sheet 8 that an alternate design makes its debut. Most notably, the Big League Chewing Gum banner almost synonymous with the set has disappeared. I further believe the art itself has a different character to it, but that’s harder to define and certainly not as pronounced as the missing banner.
Aesthetics aside, let’s see what else Sheet 8 does for the set.
- Filled 3 holes while creating 21 others between 193 and 216.
- Introduced 24 brand new players to the set
The numbering of Sheet 8 once again provides Goudey with an early exit ramp, though at this point it’s fair to ask what the point of a two-year release is if at least 216 (or 215) of the 240 cards are going out Year 1.
Sheet 9 was similar to Sheet 8 and (in my opinion) included the set’s most stunning artwork. The landscape Hubbell may be the decade’s most beautiful card, and only a handful of cards here use the dull monochrome backgrounds so plentiful (though not universal) from Sheets 1-7.
From a numbering standpoint, there must have been cries of hallelujah when at long last collectors were able to nab cards 97-99, thereby closing out 1-100. Ripping card 142 must have felt satisfying as well.
And finally, with respect to player selection, all 24 players were once again brand new.
There is no need to manufacture any narrative for Sheet 10 since its composition and purpose are already well understood. This sheet, sometimes called the “World Series sheet,” allotted 12 spots each to players from the New York Giants and Washington Senators, the two teams that met in the 1933 World Series. Card backs prove the Series had already ended by the time these cards went to press, as illustrated by this Sheet 10 Cronin card.
“Led the Senators to the American League championship in his first season as manager of the club, although his club was beaten in the World Series with the Giants…”
At this point, there was no real mystery how the numbering would go, save which number would remain unfilled for Lajoie. And of course this would prove to be card 106, the lowest number among the remaining gaps.
That was a lot of information to digest, particularly if you came in with little knowledge of the set. (Perhaps for experts there was nothing new!) Let’s now look at how the information supported the various hypotheses.
- H1 – The numbering and composition of Sheets 1-3 and 5 are very much consistent with the idea of a 96-card release. Key elements include consecutive numbering (1-96), no duplication of players, and a consistent design. The numbering of Sheet 4, as is, would have led to a rather oddball 120-card release. However, a handful of early Goudey proofs suggest that renumbering of cards was a possibility.
- H2 – Sheets 4, 6, and 7 extend the set while avoiding the final 48 numbers (193-240). Notably, card design matches that of Sheets 1-3 and 5. We will look more closely at player selection later on, but Sheets 4, 6, and 7 appear to be intentionally low on star power aside from duplicating star players from the original 96.
- H3 – Sheets 8 and 9 add 48 brand new players to the set (i.e., no duplication), including immense star power that would have been available to but not selected for Sheets 4, 6, and 7. Most notably, a new card design takes over the set that extends to Sheet 10 (World Series) and even (largely) the 1934 set.
If there were no further clues from the set to support these hypotheses, I don’t imagine this case would be very strong. Fortunately there are many more clues to be had.
Clue 2 – Minor leaguers
Here we’ll look more closely at how the minor leaguers in the set support the idea of a two-year release plan.
As already mentioned, the Goudey set included 15 minor league cards. There are two likely reasons for their inclusion.
- Minor league baseball was more prominent in the 1930s than it is today.
- Adding the minor league players extended the geographic appeal of the set.
If these were the only reasons, we would probably expect the minor league cards to have been scattered across the all nine regular season releases. However, this was not at all the case.
All 15 minor leaguers appear on only two sheets. And what’s more, these are exactly the two Sheets hypothesized as stopping points for the 1933 release, save the World Series extension. If an explicit goal was to avoid cannibalization of the 1934 release, what better way to accomplish the goal than the stuff a bunch of minor leaguers at the very end? Beyond expanding the geographic reach of the set, these cards acted as the perfect filler.
Clue 3 – Star power
On the other end of the spectrum from minor leaguers are all-stars and Hall of Famers. The first MLB All-Star Game was played in 1933, and the 36 players who participated through a combination of fan voting and manager selection can serve as a pretty good proxy for who would have been considered baseball’s biggest stars at the time.
The graph below shows the distribution of 1933 All-Stars by sheet. Recalling that Sheets 6, 7, and 10 included duplicate players, the blue bars correspond to first appearances in the set while the red “toppers” correspond to second (or third or fourth!) appearances.
Again, the distribution does not appear to be random. Here are the key features and findings–
- The first three sheets were rich in star power, totaling 16 of the 36 players who would play in the Midsummer Classic.
- Sheet 5 had only a single all-star, but of course it was Babe Ruth.
- The “add on” sheets (4, 6, and 7) had only two all-stars combined (reserves Woody English and Sam West), consistent with an effort to avoid cannibalizing the 1934 release.
- Sheets 7 and 8 had a combined 15 all-stars (plus Mel Ott, Hack Wilson, and Dizzy Dean), very similar to the combined number from the first three sheets.
In short, the distribution of all-stars in the add-on sheets (4, 6, 7) is just what you’d expect if the goal was to extend the 1933 release without draining its successor of star power. Similarly, the distribution of all-stars on Sheets 8 and 9 is just what you’d expect if they represented a pulling forward or borrowing the core of the 1934 release.
Quick note: If you’re adding the numbers and not getting 36, it’s because Chick Hafey (NL) and Oral Hildebrand (AL) were not included in the 1933 set.
Another graph that tells a similar story is the one below, showing the first appearances of Hall of Famers by sheet. This time I’ve included the four 1934 Goudey sheets as well.
Once again we see a front-loaded set that runs out of gas at Sheet 7 but then springs back strong as ever with Sheets 8 and 9. However, just past the riches of Sheets 8 and 9 we find that there is pretty much nothing left for the following year.
The overall story doesn’t change even if we factor in the second, third, or fourth appearances some of the HOFers make in the sets. (In the next section, we will see why the first bar from 1934 should be taken with a grain of salt.)
Regarding the HOF graphs, it’s important to realize that Hall of Famers provide an imperfect proxy for which players would have been considered the biggest stars of the day. For example, I have no doubt that non-HOFers Wild Bill Hallahan and Alvin “General” Crowder enjoyed much greater esteem in the early 1930s than HOFers Leo Durocher and Luke Appling. Still, the correspondence between Hall of Famers and stars of the day is far greater than chance.
Clue 4 – Card design and artwork
The design of the Goudey cards changed abruptly following the first seven sheets. Most notably the red “Big League Chewing Gum” banner had disappeared from the bottom. I also believe the art got “nicer” in ways that are hard for me to define. To add yet another “hard to define,” the artwork seems to match the 1934 Goudey set more than the rest of the 1933 Goudey set.
Regarding this last point, it would be fun to imagine cards from Sheets 8-10 having 1934’s classic “Lou Gehrig says” banner and background player silhouettes, in which case we could see for ourselves how the late-sheet artwork matched up with the 1934 cards. Fortunately, we don’t even have to imagine.
While it’s possible Goudey simply forgot to keep the “Big League Chewing Gum” banner or decided 70% of the way through the set that they liked cards better without it, I prefer to imagine that the cards on Sheets 8 and 9 were “on their way” to 1934 and essentially borrowed from the easels–not literally, but you get the idea. (And from there, the World Series sheet simply followed the new design.)
Let’s imagine that this was indeed the case. What would be the consequences of such an approach? What other clues might point this direction?
For one thing, there would be at least a temporary shortfall of original artwork, not to mention players, for the 1934 release. With an entire off-season to create new art, this would hardly have been a crisis. Still, let’s take a look at the first 24 cards issued by Goudey in 1934.
First, here are cards 1-6.
If they look familiar, you’re not imagining things.
And here are the next six cards, 7-12, in the 1934 set…
…along with their 1933 doppelgangers.
And finally we round things out with cards 13-24.
I bet by now you’re not at all surprised.
The first 24 cards in the 1934 set feature (nearly) identical artwork to cards in the 1933 set. The number of times this will happen with the remaining 72 cards in the 1934 set is…
Clue 5 – Player selection
Repeated players from 1933 to 1934, apart from these first 24, are a rarity. When comparing the 1978 and 1979 Topps, we would (correctly) expect mostly the same players from one year to the next, short of retirements and rookies. However, outside of the first 24 cards, the 1933/1934 Goudey sets seemed to function more like Part 1 and Part 2 of the same set.
Here are the only repeated players among the final 72 cards.
- Lou Gehrig, the spokesman for the set, with two cards in each of the 1933 and 1934 sets
- Tommy Bridges, who remains a mystery for now
- Mark Koenig, who moved from the Reds to the Cubs
- Marty McManus, who moved from the Braves to the Red Sox
- Bill Hallahan, starter for the National League in the 1933 All-Star Game but still mysterious for now
- Adam Comorosky, who moved from the Reds to the Pirates
- Kiki Cuyler, a popular all-star player but mysterious for now
On the flip side, significant players NOT repeated in 1934 included Mel Ott and of course Babe Ruth.
Going back to my original hypotheses for the 1933 release, we can begin to see what might have been the original two year plan.
- 1933 – Cards 1-96 (Sheets 1-3 and 5) plus Sheet 4 (perhaps re-numbered as 97-120)
- 1934 – 1933 Sheets 8 and 9 plus 72 additional players
There was significant enough disruption prior to 1934 that it would be wrong to read cards 25-96 of the 1934 set as THE 72 additional players originally slated for that season. Still, if we take these 72 cards as is, we would arrive at a set of 240 cards featuring 232 different players, with even the 8 instances of duplication having been highly avoidable in 1934.
The heavy player duplication in what was ultimately the 1933 release and the significant player overlap between 1933 and 1934 hide the fact (or at least possibility) that a single set of 240 different players was very much in reach.
Clue 6 – Team changes
I don’t believe a precise or authoritative release schedule exists for the ten sheets that made up the 1933 set, though we will visit some intriguing artifacts in Clue 11. Rather, what we have are a couple hints–
- Because the Sheet 10 cards reference results from the 1933 World Series, we know the earliest this sheet could have been finalized was October 7, the last day of the World Series. (From there we would also add an unknown amount of time for printing, cutting, packaging, distributing, etc.)
- A fantastic article in the November 1970 issue of “The Ballcard Collector” provides first-hand recollections on the set, including its approximate release schedule.
Another source of information comes from the player transactions that took place in 1933. Some are reflected on the Goudey cards, and some are not. A renewed study of the two Rogers Hornsby cards in the set provide an example.
Besides showing the St. Louis player-manager in a brand new pose, he has changed teams as well. His card 119 (Sheet 4) has the Rajah on the Cardinals while his card 188 (Sheet 7) has him on the Browns. Knowing that his actual team change occurred on July 26, 1933, we can draw two conclusions.
- Sheet 7 was definitely finalized after July 26.
- Sheet 4 was probably finalized before July 26.
There is some asymmetry in these conclusions because it is impossible for a card to predict the future, but it is possible for a card to miss details from the past.
In all, 27 players featured in the set changed teams in 1933. In fifteen cases, the Goudey set features them on their new teams. Many of these transactions occurred in the preseason, hence do not provide significant clues to the Goudey release schedule. The four transactions that offer the most information are these.
- April 21 – George Uhle (Sheet 4-100) from Tigers to Giants (not reflected on card)
- May 7 – Leo Durocher (Sheet 6-147) from Reds to Cardinals (reflected on card)
- July 25-27 – Joe Judge (Sheet 6-155) from Dodgers to Red Sox (not reflected on card)
- July 31 – Bob Smith (Sheet 7-185) from Reds to Braves (reflected on card)
The Tigers card of Uhle suggests that Sheet 4 was probably finalized before April 21. From this, we might also conclude that Sheets 1-3 were finalized before April 21 as well. Meanwhile, the Cardinals card of Durocher and the Dodgers card of Judge suggest Sheet 6 was finalized between May 7 and July 27. Finally, the Braves card of Smith assures that Sheet 7 was finalized after July 31.
These conclusions still offer an imprecise and incomplete picture of the set’s full release schedule. However, they are consistent with and perhaps suggestive of the following–
- The first 4-5 sheets being prepared early, probably before the season and possibly at the same time
- Sheet 6 being added (or at least updated) separately, likely a month or two into the season
- Sheet 7 being added in August or later
- Sheets 8 and 9 following Sheet 7
- Sheet 10 coming after the World Series
We’ll take a closer look at dates and timing in Clue 11. The main takeaway for now is that at most five of the sheets (120 cards) could have been finalized by the start of the season (or even early May). Cards were definitely created (or at least updated) as the season progressed.
This alone doesn’t point strongly to a two-year plan. As large as the set was, even as a planned single year release, it would make sense to avoid creating all 240 cards up front. At the same time, were the original plan a two-year release, creating/finalizing 120 cards up front certainly makes sense there as well.
Clue 7 – The Canadian releases
The 1933 Canadian set (also known as 1933 World Wide Gum or V353) featured 94 cards, all using the standard 1933 Goudey design.
- The first 52 cards on the checklist aligned perfectly with the US release, including numbering, grabbing all 48 cards from US Sheets 1-2 and 4 cards from US Sheet 3.
- Cards 53-72 in the Canadian release grabbed the remaining 20 cards from US Sheet 3 but renumbered them accordingly.
- The final 22 cards in the set, 73-94, including two Ruth cards, all came from US Sheet 6. (In case you’re wondering which two Sheet 6 cards were not used, first recall that one of the Ruth cards was a double print so US Sheet 6 only had 23 different cards. As for the one missing card, it was the second Lou Gehrig, which was identical, other than numbering, to the Sheet 3 version already in the set.)
While the set’s checklist after card 52 has a random feel to it for collectors not familiar with the 1933 U.S. sheets, the entire checklist is easy explained by just four pictures, those of U.S. sheets 1, 2, 3, and 6.
I’ve crossed out Gehrig and one of the Ruth cards on Sheet 6 to bring the set down to its proper 94 cards. More practically, however, it’s easy to imagine the Ruth and Gehrig being double-printed. (UPDATE: Thanks to Matthew Glidden for making me aware of the uncut sheets for this set. Indeed the Ruth and Gehrig were DPs!)
With that, onto 1934!
Hey, who put that 1933 cards in there? This was supposed to be about the 1934 set!
In fact, the Rabbit really is from 1934. The 1934 Canadian Goudey (V354) release is an odd one in that half the cards (1-48) employ the 1933 U.S. design while the other half (49-96) employ the 1934 U.S. design.
The first 48 cards are a perfect match, yellow Ruth and all, for 1933 U.S. Sheets 4 and 5, essentially filling in the gaps from the prior year, which used U.S. sheets 1-3 and 6. For Canadian collectors sorting their cards by design, they would have enjoyed by this point 142 cards featuring almost zero duplication of subjects. (And they probably wouldn’t complain that their only duplicates were Jimmy Foxx and Babe Ruth!)
As for the final 48 cards in the 1934 Canadian Goudey set, they match up perfectly, aside from numbering, with the first 48 cards in the 1934 U.S. release. Combining these cards with the first 48, what might feel like a random checklist and oddball mix of cards at first is simply a recycling of four U.S. sheets: Sheets 4 and 5 from 1933 and Sheets 1 and 2 from 1934.
The question of interest here, however, is whether all this is just an interesting detour north or whether it pertains to the original hypothesis regarding the 1933 U.S. release. I would offer that the information is relevant to the hypothesis in two ways–
- Spreading the 1933 design cards across two years in Canada suggests that the cards were not intended as being attached to a single year.
- Mixing 1933 and 1934 design cards in 1934 suggests the two groupings were more two chapters of the same book than two totally different books.
While we traveled from the U.S. to Canada for Clue 7, we will travel forward in time half a decade for Clue 8.
Clue 8 – A “heads up” from the future
In 1938 Goudey would release a set (R323) known as “Heads Up” that would connect to the 1933 set in two ways. For one, the backs of the cards mimicked the 1933 design, even as prose descriptions gave way to a mix of prose and stat lines. For another, the numbering of this set did not begin with card 1 but with card 241–exactly where the 1933 cards left off.
The set itself consisted of 24 different players, each portrayed two different ways. Their first card in the set had a plain background while their second card background had small cartoons and captions. There was one other difference between each player’s two appearances as well. The card back of the first appearance refers to a “series of 288 Baseball Stars” while the card back of the second appearance puts the number at 312.
Possible interpretations of the numbering and set sizes include the following–
- The set beginning with card 241 suggested a continuation of the 1933 set, lending credence to the idea that the 1933 set was originally envisioned as multi-year.
- The set ending at card 288 while the later card backs indicated 312 hinted at a possible plan to continue the cards into 1939, even though this of course did not happen.
There are other explanations possible to be sure, but I believe the small clues here add weight to the previous clues to help build a case.
Clue 9 – The Indian Gum release
Most vintage baseball card collectors know that R319 was not Goudey’s only U.S. release to include baseball players. In addition to cards of Red Grange and Jim Thorpe, the Goudey “Sport Kings” release also included cards of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Carl Hubbell.
Non-sport collectors may also know about Goudey’s efforts in the realms of Boy Scouts, Sea Raiders, and World War. However, all of these other 1933 releases pale in comparison (sorry, bad pun) to the 216-card Indian Gum (R73) release.
While this set is catalogued as a 1933 release, it is believed to have been issued over a period of several years, possibly as late as 1941. Decisions to expand the set are hinted at by the card backs. For example, three variations of card 24 suggest a set of 24, 48, or 96 cards respectively. Later cards in the set go beyond these three set sizes and suggest 192, 216, 264, 288, and 312 cards!
This set and its numbering variations provide contemporaneous support for the idea that Goudey was happy to extend a set across multiple years and even add unplanned cards along the way. I believe the first of these approaches was planned but not carried out with the baseball set, whereas I believe the second was potentially not planned but ultimately carried out.
Clue 10 – Proof at last
Sorry, not that kind of proof. I’m referring instead to some very rare versions of the cards that have different numbers on the back as well as minor differences on the front. An example is shown of Jack Russell, whose correct number in the Goudey set was 167. (I will soon offer a theory on why this particular card is unique among all the proof cards.)
The most famous of these is Leo Durocher since his “proof” is numbered 106. I have “proof” in quotes here because I have heard different stories on the origins of these cards. While one story puts the origin of the Durocher card in 1938 (!), I’ll at least begin from the supposition that these cards date from 1933 and were created prior to their “real” counterparts in the set.
Here is a listing of the only examples I’ve encountered in my research, though it seems likely that others would have existed as well.
- 106 Leo Durocher – actual card was 147 (Sheet 6)
- 107 Eddie Farrell – actual card was 148 (Sheet 6)
- 121 Jack Russell – actual card was 167 (Sheet 7)
- 123 Luke Sewell – actual card was 163 (Sheet 6)
- 124 Al Spohrer – actual card was 161 (Sheet 6)
- 128 Rube Walberg – actual card was 145 (Sheet 6)
Just as we can trace out which card number and sheet each of these players ultimately occupied, we can also investigate where each of the original (proof) numbers eventually ended up.
- 106 of course became the famous Lajoie card, ultimately issued in 1934.
- 107, 121, 123, and 124 were all numbers used on Sheet 10 (World Series).
- 128 was used on Sheet 9.
We can also take a quick look at what the Goudey set in progress looked like just before the release of Sheet 6. The yellow cells are the cards from Sheets 1-5. The blue cells are gaps in the numbering, something of a habit for this set.
As there are 24 gaps (blue cells), it’s worth recognizing that Goudey had the option with Sheet 6 to fill the gaps perfectly and potentially close the door early on the 1933 release. To this point the release had included 120 players, all different, and even finished in style by issuing Ruth (finally!) as part of Sheet 5. So yes, whether it was considered or not, the option was there to fill the 24 gaps, create a perfect run of 144 sequentially numbered cards, call it a year, and potentially handle the remaining 96 the following year.
Of course, none of that is what Goudey did.
Let’s return now to the numbering of the proof cards: 106, 107, 121, 123, 124, and 128. Every one of these is a “blue cell” number. Here’s what that suggests to me.
- The idea of filling the 24 gaps with Sheet 6 was not only was on option for Goudey but was considered strongly enough to result in a proof sheet that did exactly that!
- Prior to final production of the Sheet 6 cards, a decision was made that Sheet 6 would not be the one to end the year with.
- As such, most of the Sheet 6 cards were re-numbered explicitly to NOT fill gaps. At most, the only cards to retain their original numbering were cards 143 (Glenn Wright) and 144 (do you have to ask?)
And then something funny happened. With a decision to double-print Ruth’s card 144, one of the players was bumped from the sheet. That player was evidently Jack Russell–good boy!–the one player among the bunch (known so far) who moved to Sheet 7.
There are two questions that may arise, which I’ll answer here.
First, isn’t it possible Ruth was already double-printed on the original (proof) Sheet 6? I don’t think so. If the Ruth DP was already accounted for, then I would have expected the entire sheet to remain intact other than renumbering. However, this seems to conflict with Jack Russell’s jump to Sheet 7.
Second, why assume this renumbering was a last-minute decision? Couldn’t these proof cards be relics of some very early checklist long before the first Goudey cards even hit the streets? In this case, the answer is a definite no. Durocher is already a Cardinal on his proof card. Given that his trade from the Reds to the Cardinals didn’t occur until May 7, the earliest the Durocher proof could have been made is May 1933. And if we assume all of the proof cards have a similar origin, then ditto for them as well.
My takeaway from the proof cards is that Goudey was deciding as they went along–at least for some time–how many cards would make up the 1933 portion of the release. The specific way these cards were originally numbered suggests a plan to cap the 1933 release at 144 cards whereas the new numbering opened the door to at least 168 (counting the eventual Lajoie) cards.
Clue 11 – Copyright office materials
Beyond the cards themselves, other artifacts of the 1933 Goudey set include patent forms like the one below for the set’s final Babe Ruth card, 181.
Each of these cards includes three dates, the first being the “Date of publication.” Veteran collectors will insist that the date of publication does not coincide with when the cards themselves hit the shelves. Nonetheless, it feels worthwhile to at least compile these dates across the 28 patent cards I was able to locate in my research. The last one feels way off, but the others at least seem plausible on the surface.
Here are the results–
- Sheet 1 – April 15 (two cards)
- Sheet 2 – April 15 (one card)
- Sheet 3 – May 19 (three cards)
- Sheet 4 – May 24 (one card)
- Sheet 5 – July 14 (three cards)
- Sheet 6 – August 19 (six cards)
- Sheet 7 – September 1 (eight cards)
- Sheet 8 – September 5 (two cards)
- Sheet 9 – September 24 (one card)
- Sheet 10 – December 23 (one card)
Another related relic is a collection of 1933 Goudey cards–some appearing to be handcut–that include copyright office stamps on the reverse such as this Lou Gehrig card.
Again, cards from the same sheet carry the same date stamp on the back, at least until Sheet 10.
- Sheets 1 and 2 – no data
- Sheet 3 – June 1
- Sheet 4 – June 1
- Sheet 5 – August 1
- Sheet 6 – September 6
- Sheet 7 – September 13
- Sheet 8 – September 20
- Sheet 9 – October 2
- Sheet 10 – January 21 and February 9
In all cases the date stamp trails the publication date on the patent application and matches up with the “Copies received” date from that same form. The lag between the two dates is generally about 2 weeks, though there are exceptions.
Returning to the publication dates from the patent applications it is instructive to plot them against a calendar of the 1933 baseball season. The green box marks Opening Day, the blue boxes marks publication dates, the red box marks the end of the regular season, and the yellow box marks the World Series. Note also that the first blue box reflects both Sheets 1 and 2 and the tenth blue box, corresponding to the World Series sheet, is just a stand-in for “late October or after.”
If we assume that the publication dates even vaguely correspond to when the cards were released, the distribution of dates does not appear to be by design. If a 1933 release of 240 cards had been the plan from the beginning, why leave the last 40% of the set until September, when the season is nearly over?
On the other hand, imagine that Goudey’s original plan had been a 240-card set over two years. It would make sense to enter the 1933 season with 96-120 cards, no more, already in hand. An early launch of the first 48 cards would make sense also, though 24 would have worked as well. It would have also made sense, in response to surprisingly high sales, to release the next 48 cards relatively quickly. Finally, it would have made sense to hang on to the final 24 cards as long as possible, particularly if those were all the cards you had.
By the time the final 24 cards were released, if not earlier, it would have been evident that 120 cards would not be enough. There would have been a mad push to create more. The first addition might have been a bit of a rush job: clone the Lou Gehrig you already have, double up on the same Babe Ruth card (144), take the yellow Ruth (53) from Sheet 5 and make it red (149). And even with these shortcuts, there would still be a long lull between the previous sheet and this one.
And so on.
Clue 12 – Pop reports
Elsewhere I offer some detailed analysis on what I believe is the relative scarcity of the various Goudey cards by sheet. Rather than repeat it all here, I will just offer the key graph from the post, which I believe comes close to the relative sizes of each print run.
From here I will reconcile the publication dates from the previous section with the estimated (relative) production runs shown in the graph.
The publication dates, to the extent we believe them, suggests the first two sheets were released together. If so, it would make sense that the production runs for the two sheets would be equal, which the graph indeed reflects. Though other options were available, the simplest approach would have been for Goudey to regard them as a single release of 48 cards.
If the Sheet 1/2 precedent was 48 cards, I would normally expect the next release to be 48 cards as well. However, the publication dates for Sheets 3 and 4 are different, though close. (I suspect Sheet 4 was held back a bit to allow for either swapping with what became Sheet 5 or to renumber and set the table for the larger set.) At any rate, if Sheet 4 were delayed a bit, it would make sense to double up on Sheet 3 cards until Sheet 4 cards could be added to the mix. If so, the fact that Sheet 3 appears to have had a larger production run than Sheet 4 makes good sense.
Based on the unique advertising sheet and rather isolated publication date, I believe Sheet 5 was released on its own. As such its production run would not be coupled with that of any other sheet. Similarly, I believe Sheet 7 was an independent release as well.
It may solely be due to the alternate design (no Big League Chewing Gum strip), but I tend to link the Sheets 8 and 9 card together. As with Sheets 3 and 4, I can easily imagine a plan to issue them together as a 48-card late-season release. However, if one were ready a week ahead of the other, Goudey might once again repeat the Sheet 3/4 plan and first push out Sheet 8 before pushing out a second run combining the two sheets. This would certainly explain the apparent larger production run for Sheet 9 than Sheet 8.
Finally, Sheet 10 (World Series) would have been the most independent release of them all, so its production run would be largely independent from any of the others.
I began my deep dive into this set in an attempt to understand why some of the cards in the set omitted the Big League Chewing Gum strip. At least in my head, that strip had always been the defining feature of the set’s design, and it wasn’t until I bought my Hack Wilson card almost 30 years ago that I realized any other design even existed.
Before I understood the odd numbering of the set and the production of the set in sheets, the pattern of alternate design cards looked to haphazard to suggest any coherent narrative. It was only when I learned that the 72 alternate design cards came from the final three sheets in the set did I suspect there might really be a story.
Over the course of my research, as reflected in this post, I pursued a dozen different angles that helped me learn more about the set. A total of zero of them fully proved my theory of a planned two-year release. However, at least in my book, a full twelve of twelve are consistent with such a hypothesis. Obviously, “consistent with” is a very low standard of proof. If you pass a person on the street, their appearance might be consistent with being born on September 20, but there’s still less than a 1 in 300 chance of that being their birthday.
Ultimately, collectors can and should decide for themselves whether to put credence into the two-year theory. Collectors who dismiss it will simply understand R319 as an issue with some oddities whose explanations might well be “no reason” or “that’s just what they did.” Were this a very modern set, I’d find such explanations wholly unsatisfying. That said, the 1933 Goudey set came out at a very different time. About the only motive we can confidently ascribe to Goudey was the desire to sell a lot of gum, and that they did!