Author’s note: This post largely repeats the approaches taken in my two-part scarcity analysis of the 1933 Goudey set, which can be found here and here. Also note that all population counts are of January 29, 2019, and exclude qualifiers and “plus” grades.
Readers already familiar with my 1933 analysis might be tempted to skip all the narrative and just head to the graph(s) at the end. If the primary interest is in the final numbers, that’s not such a bad idea. However, there is a surprise plot twist in the middle that may be of independent interest for anyone wishing to read the whole post.
Finally, specific to 1934, it is important to know that the 96 cards in the set were printed on four sheets of 24 cards, which were–unlike their 1933 predecessors–numbered sequentially (i.e., 1-24, 25-48, 49-72, 73-96). That these four sheets were not necessarily printed in equal quantities is what makes the work that follows a worthwhile endeavor.
Some collectors will refer to cards 73-96 (or even 49-96) as the “high number” series and attach a relative scarcity to these cards beyond that of the lower numbered cards. Were one to consider the total PSA population counts for each of the four series of 24 cards in the set, the data would not only reinforce the hobby lore for the final 24 cards but perhaps even suggest a relative scarcity of cards from the second sheet (25-48), at least in comparison to cards 1-24.
However, as discussed in the 1933 analysis, total population counts are highly misleading as a proxy for scarcity. Among the various reasons are collector tendencies to submit (and even re-submit) high value cards such as Hall of Famers at a much greater rate than other cards.
An unusual set profile
For most sets it would be a reasonable assumption that the distribution of star players across the set would be at least moderately uniform. This was not at all the case with the 1933 Goudey set, and it was even less true for the 1934 offering.
This graph shows the first appearances (blue bars) of Hall of Famers by sheet as well as repeat appearances (orange bars). Focusing on the final four bars (i.e., the 1934 Goudey set), you can see more than half of the total Hall of Famers in the set appear among the first 24 cards.
As was the case with the 1933 set, we cannot hope to get a true indication of relative scarcity (or actual production runs) unless we can first factor out the disproportionate impact of the top players in the set.
A more granular view of the 1934 data, showing all 96 cards ordered first by sheet and next by population (not card number), makes it evident that the overall population totals are a combination of both “baseline” scarcity player premium. Even without labels you will have no trouble recognizing where each sheet begins and ends, the disproportionate star power of Sheet 1, and the two Lou Gehrig cards in the set.
Apples to apples
As with the 1933 analysis, the approach we will take to reduce the impact of star power is to focus initially on the lowest-population cards from each sheet. With 1933, I chose the bottom eight. For 1934, variances are slightly are slightly lower when using the bottom eleven instead. In the case of the first sheet, you can clearly see the break between the first eleven bars of the graph and the next thirteen. It corresponds–not at all by coincidence–with the eleven non-HOFers and 13 HOFers in the set’s first 24 cards.
Restricting the focus to only the “bottom eleven” cards from each sheet, here is the new graph. Interestingly the first series now appears more scarce than the second and third!
Set collector adjustment
This next adjustment is explained at greater length in my 1933 article. As such I will simply note here that (as of January 29, 2019), the PSA population reports include submissions by 54 set registry collectors with 95% or more of the set complete. This revised graph shows what should be a better estimate of relative scarcity by factoring out the submissions of these collectors.
As the adjustment itself simply lowered each bar by 54 units, there was no impact to the ordering of the sheets by scarcity. However, the differences between each pair of bars is now magnified, at least proportionally. For example the second bar had been about 1.5 times the height of the fourth bar earlier. Now it appears to be about twice the height.
While there has obviously been some guesswork and arbitrariness to some of the analysis above, I believe this new graph presents a reasonably accurate picture of the relative scarcity of the 1934 Goudey cards.
As the cards were numbered sequentially by sheet this time around, you don’t need me to help unscramble which cards came from which sheet. I’ll simply note three results.
- Of the two Lou Gehrig cards in the set, card #37 (yellow background) was probably produced about 11 percent more than card #61 (green background). This compares nearly identically with the 12 percent difference shown in the (raw) PSA population report.
- There were probably only about 61% as many printings of Sheet 4 as there were for the (average of the) other three sheets. Notably, this makes the “Chuck Klein says” cards in the set (80-91) considerably more scarce than the “Lou Gehrig says” cards. Because there are also seven times as many “Lou Gehrig says” cards on the checklist, the overall picture is that “Chuck Klein says” cards would have reflected only about 9% of the total cards produced in 1934.
- While Sheet 3 cards (49-72) are sometimes thought of as relatively scarce high numbers, the data do not support such a claim. For example, Hank Greenberg’s card 62, one of the two main highlights of Sheet 3, was probably the fifth most common Hall of Famer in the set, behind only the four HOFers (Appling, Hafey, Lombardi, Gehrig 37) from Sheet 2.
Quick aside – Napoleon Lajoie
Before moving from relative scarcity to estimates of actual quantities, I should at least acknowledge the famous Napoleon Lajoie card that was printed in 1934 to complete the 1933 sets of the most persistent collectors.
This uncut five-by-five sheet including the final 24 cards in the 1934 set and the famous Lajoie card has led some collectors to surmise that all 25 of these cards were produced in equal quantities.
I am not at all an adherent of this theory. Instead my belief, which I think matches up with that of most collectors, is that the vast majority of cards 73-96 were printed on a standard four-by-six sheet and that the five-by-five was a special printing at a much smaller scale.
That said, what we do have from this five-by-five sheet are two interesting facts–
- As it accompanied Sheet 4, the Lajoie card was printed in late 1934. The picture then should not be that the hordes of collectors who complained in late 1933 were rewarded quickly. The wait may well have been 10 months!
- Not that the technical wizardry here should be considered Earth-shattering, but the five-by-five sheet shows that Goudey indeed had the capacity to print 25 cards at once rather than just the standard 24. What this means is that Goudey could have plugged the hole in their 1933 set, caused by the double-printed Ruth 144, on Sheet 6 itself by going five-by-five or on any of the four subsequent sheets that followed in 1933. Therefore the hole in the set was either unnoticed or left there intentionally. Had there been a desire to fix it in 1933, the means were there.
As with the 1933 cards I hope to be back soon with estimates on the actual production numbers. As a quick teaser I’ll say the work has thus far proved a bit more complicated than I expected, but feel free to check back in a bit.