1933 Goudey (R319) Baseball Cards: A Closer Look at One of the Hobby's ''Big-Three''

Aug 17, 2006

Some of the most significant events in American and World History during the 20th century took place in 1933. Adolph Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany, FDR was inaugurated as the thirty-second President of the United States, Wiley Post made the first around-the-world solo flight, construction began on the Golden Gate Bridge, the US Senate passed the Blaine Act (putting an end to prohibition), and, to those of us who read this publication, a Canadian born man named Enos Gordon Goudey decided to use pictures as premiums to help raise the sales of his gum products.

Americans, to a large degree, were still in the depths of the great depression in 1933. With an average salary at $1,300, a vast majority of entertainment took place in the home. Board games were very popular as was the radio. The later produced some of the most recognizable names in Americana history; Will Rogers, Duke Ellington, the sounds of Big Bands, Bette Davis, the Marx Brothers and, of course, Babe Ruth.

The Goudey Gum Company of Boston, fresh off its successful launch of Indian Gum, made the decision to produce a 240 card baseball series. More than seventy years later, the set still stands as a benchmark to which all subsequent gum card issues are compared.

This article will focus specifically on the 1933 Goudey Baseball set, designated R319 by Jefferson Burdick in the American Card Catalog. A wonderful history of the Goudey Gum Company was written in 2003 by veteran collector Marshall Fogel for this very publication.

Set Production

The 1933 Goudey cards were produced with vivid colors and sensational artwork showing both portrait and action shots. They were printed on ten 24 card sheets that were released throughout 1933, with each card measuring roughly 2 3/8" by 2 7/8".

Sheet 1 (cards 1-5, 25-35 & 45-52), sheet 2 (cards 6-24 & 36-40), sheet 3 (cards 41-44, 58-67, 75-79 & 92-96), sheet 4 (cards 100-105, 115-120 & 130-141), sheet 5 (53-57, 68-74 & 80-91), sheet 6 (cards 143-165 with card 144 printed twice), and sheet 7 (cards 166-189), all have the red label at the bottom of the cards that reads "Big League Chewing Gum".

Sheet 8 (cards 190-213), sheet 9 (cards 97-99, 128-129, 142 & 214-231), and sheet 10 (cards 107-114, 121-127 & 232-240) have no label on the front of the card. The final production sheet contains an equal number of players from the 1933 World Series teams, the Washington Senators and New York Giants. While the exact release date of sheet 10 is not known, we can assume it was sometime after October 7, 1933 since the write-ups on the backs of these cards reference World Series events.

Variations & Errors

Card #6 of Jimmy Dykes is the only known variation in the set. The card was originally produced showing Jimmy's age as 26 and was subsequently corrected to read 36. Neither variation carries a premium. The set is fairly mistake free and contains only minimal spelling errors which were common in the era of this production.

Series Pricing

The 1933 Goudey set is broken into two sections for pricing. Sheets 1 and 2 are considered the "low number" cards. They were printed on inferior cardboard compared to the remainder of the sheets and, as a result, are much more difficult to locate in high grade today. The Sports Market Report (SMR) lists the value of PSA 8 low series commons at $1,000. That is roughly a 235% premium to the $425 SMR value of cards from the other series or sheets.

In fact, it's not even close to a true representation of market value. It's not uncommon for low population cards from the first two production sheets to sell at fifteen to twenty times their SMR value. With a large number of people competing to build the set in high grade, low population cards are gobbled up when they re-enter the market and you can "throw out" any price guides that are published.

The "Babe"

Ruth was a larger than life figure at the start of 1933 and his historic long ball in the All Star Game was appropriately the first homer in the first ever mid-summer classic.

Goudey honored Ruth by giving him four cards in its 1933 set (cards 53, 144, 149 & 181) which was the most of any player. Card numbers 53 and 149 are identical to each other with the exception of background color (53 is yellow and 149 is red). These cards are also tied to card 144 (commonly referred to as the "batting pose") because they are simply cropped images of Ruth from his waist up. Thus, card 181 is the only truly unique card of the Bambino in the set. It shows a seated Ruth from the waist up with a green background.

Multiple Player Issues

In addition to the four Ruth cards, Goudey also produced three cards for both Joe Cronin (cards 63, 109 & 189) and Heinie Manush (cards 47, 107 & 187). Twenty-three players in all have multiple cards in the set. More than one quarter of the set's subjects reside in the baseball Hall of Fame. "The Iron Horse" Lou Gehrig (cards 92 & 160) is without question one of the greatest ballplayers to ever live. Gehrig may have been even more famous if he hadn't played for the Yankees and in the shadow of Babe Ruth. Gehrig was a shy man and the polar opposite of Ruth whose flamboyance, which always drew the attention of the media, is the stuff of legend.

His lifetime average of .340 and his streak of 2,130 consecutive games played earned him the nickname "The Iron Horse". Toward the end of Gehrig's career, team doctors X-rayed his hands after he complained of constant pain. The doctors found seventeen fractures that had healed themselves and realized Lou had broken every finger in each of his hands at least once. He never missed a game and never requested medical attention.

Gehrig's card 160 is significantly more difficult to acquire in high grade than card 92. At the time of this writing, card 160 only had eighteen non-qualified copies in PSA 8 or higher while card 92 shows a population of forty-eight copies at the same level.

The Catcher Is a Spy

Moe Berg (card 158) was a spy for the Allied forces in the years leading up to and through World War II. Educated at Princeton and Columbia, Berg was certainly an intellectual giant amongst his peers. Unfortunately, his on-field performance couldn't match his prowess in the classroom, which prompted Casey Stengel to say, "Berg can speak a dozen languages but can't hit in any of them".

Berg traveled to Japan in 1934 as a member of a barnstorming all-star team even though he only hit .251 that season as a back-up catcher. During his travels, he took photographs and home movies of the Tokyo landscape which were later used by General Jimmy Doolittle's (who is pictured on a 1933 Goudey Sport Kings card) 1942 bombing raids on the capital.

In 1944, Berg attended a lecture in Zurich by Werner Heisenberg, the head of Germany's atom bomb project, where he posed as a Swiss Physics student. Berg was under the employ of the Office of Strategic Services (predecessor to the CIA) at the time and was armed with a pistol and arsenic tablets to be used to assassinate Heisenberg if he felt the Nazi's were close to deploying a nuclear bomb. They weren't, in his assessment, and the attempt of Heisenberg's life never took place. His card is one of the most hotly pursued within the set.

A Cast of Characters

The 1933 Goudey set contains cards for some of the most intriguing characters in the history of the game. The stories and exploits of the players featured in this set literally go on and on leaving endless additional research that can be performed by today's collectors. Here are a few:

The Waner brothers, Paul (card 25) and Lloyd (card 164) combined to knock out 5,611 hits and compile a .326 combined lifetime batting average. These records still stand to this day for a brotherly duo in the big leagues. Paul, the elder brother by three years, was nicknamed "Big Poison" and Lloyd "Little Poison". The nicknames came from the heavy Brooklyn accent of a Dodgers fan, on the word "person", during a game between Pittsburgh and New York at Ebbets Field.

Apparently, a sportswriter overheard the disgruntled Dodger fan say, "Every time you look up, those Waner boys are on base. It's always the little poison on third and the big poison on first." He published the nicknames the next day in the paper and they stuck.

Paul was a heavy boozer who claimed he hit better when he drank because the ball looked blurry and bigger after a hard night out on the town, making it easier to hit. In 1938, Paul's Pirate manager, Pie Traynor (card 22), feeling his team was poised for a pennant run, demanded Paul quit drinking for the season. He agreed to do so. For the first time in thirteen major league seasons Waner failed to hit .300.

During game three of the 1932 World Series in Chicago the Cubs battery of pitcher Charlie Root (card 226) and catcher Gabby Hartnett (card 202) prepared to face Babe Ruth in a game tied at five to five. The ensuing at-bat is now commonly known as "the called shot" with Ruth blasting a homerun to center field on a two strike count after apparently waiving his bat toward the outfield fence. It's unclear whether or not Ruth actually called his homerun and the story is still argued by baseball historians to this day. According to Root, "Ruth did not point at the fence before he swung. If he had made a gesture like that he would have wound up on his ass".

Pepper Martin (card 62) insisted that chewing tobacco made him a better ball player. Pepper said, "When your jaws work you can't talk, and when you can't talk, you must think."

Ben Chapman (card 191) was the fastest man in baseball in the early 1930's and was the lead-off hitter for the American League in the inaugural 1933 all-star game. Despite his tremendous speed and healthy .302 lifetime average, he was outcast by most people in the game for being a racist. Chapman verbally attacked Jews during his playing days and, as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1947, he led his team in racist slurs toward Jackie Robinson in their first game with the Dodgers that year. That display helped lead to Chapman losing his job.

Charlie Gehringer (card 222) was nicknamed "The Mechanical Man" for his flawless style in the field and at the plate. Gehringer, much like Lou Gehrig, was a quiet and reserved guy who would have probably been revered as a better ball player had he done any self promoting. Detroit manager Del Baker said Gehringer could spot a pitcher two strikes in every at-bat during the season and still hit .300.

When New York Giants manager John McGraw first saw the boy wonder, his scouts had found him in Louisiana; he thought someone was playing a joke. Sixteen year old Mel Ott (cards 127 & 207) entered the big leagues in 1926, standing five foot nine and weighing less than 170 pounds. All "Master Melvin" proceeded to do was hit 511 homeruns and provide some of the most clutch hitting in baseball history.

Mel was so beloved by fans that even the ultra wealthy New York elite would buy tickets in the right field bleachers so they could cheer for him. "Ottville", as those seats came to be known, almost always had something to cheer for as Mel would turn in great defensive plays in virtually every game. It has been said that his arm was so strong that he could throw a ball 400 feet in the air. Ott's life was cut short when he died in a car accident at the age of 49.

Jimmy Foxx (cards 29 & 154) might have been the best power hitter of the early 1930's. In 1934, coming off a Triple Crown season that saw him hit .356 with 48 homeruns and 163 RBI, Foxx held out for a new contract. He was awarded with a robust new deal worth $18,000 a season (less than 25% of what the Yankees were paying Ruth). Foxx would cut off the sleeves of his jerseys exposing his huge biceps to intimidate opposing pitchers. He died from choking on a piece of meat while eating dinner.

Where's #106?

It's not on sheet 6 where it should be! The 1933 Goudey card number 106 of Napoleon Lajoie is one of the most discussed sports collectibles of all time. Without a doubt, at least in this collector's humble opinion, Goudey purposely omitted card 106 during production to entice customers to keep buying in order to complete the series. Maybe Goudey got the idea from similar era producers who did the same thing like US Caramel and George C. Miller.

It's obvious today that enough people complained to the company about the missing card that they decided to do something about it at the risk of alienating loyal customers. So, in 1934, on the final production sheet of the company's issue that year, they printed the classic Lajoie image. The front of the Lajoie card presents like a 1934 card but the reverse is designed in accordance with the 1933 series and was numbered 106. Why Goudey chose to use a player that had been retired for almost 20 years is a mystery. Had they included a modern era "common" player, the card would still be in high demand. By giving the slot to one of the games all time greats, they created a Holy Grail for future collectors.

The Lajoie card was mailed to collectors who requested it and it was attached to a letter by paperclip. The paperclip damaged many of the cards, but the ones not affected were obviously cherished and cared for since a good number of near-mint or better examples exist today, relative to the overall population of the card.

Another interesting note is that a singular copy of Leo Durocher's card number 147 actually exists with the number 106 printed on the reverse. The card was originally owned by hobby pioneer Woody Gelman and subsequently Barry Halper. It was auctioned in the now famous 1999 Sotheby's sale of the Halper collection. The write-up in the auction suggested that Gelman obtained the card directly from a contact at Goudey and that it was most likely a production proof as it appeared to be hand-cut. All of this simply adds more intrigue and lore to a truly special collectible in our hobby.

Collecting the Set

One of the great things about collecting the 1933 Goudey set is the sheer availability of the cards. It's easy to see today that these cards were cherished by collectors and kids of the era based on the volume of cards currently available on the market. The set can be assembled in varying grades to suit your budget.

Why I Collect It

When I have the opportunity to speak with other collectors of the set, I am always intrigued to find out why they decided to try and assemble the issue. There are obviously no right or wrong answers but most just really like the eye appeal of the cards along with the pride of ownership that comes with a cornerstone set of the hobby.

I, too, cherish the artwork and beautiful colors of the set. I have collected 1933 Goudey cards for more than twenty years and my PSA Registry set has been a labor of love for more than six. My set is a dedication to my late grandfather who introduced me to both baseball and card collecting.

Growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs in the late 1970's, we scoured flea markets, yard sales, and anywhere else we thought we might have a chance to find some vintage cards. I would listen to my grandfather's stories about going to see the great Philadelphia players of his day like Jimmy Foxx, Mickey Cochrane, Lefty Grove, and Chuck Klein and how he still had not forgiven his mother for disposing of his Goudey cards when he left for WWII. It was a wonderful time to be a card collector.

In 1983, we attended our first major card show at the George Washington Motor Inn (now known as the Fort Washington show) and I was hooked. After cashing in my free Bobby Shantz autograph ticket, we went to walk the floor. There we found a complete run of the four 1933 Goudey Ruth cards for $200 and all the money I had saved from my part time job was gone in one shot!

Those Ruth cards and my grandfather have long since departed me. My mind tells me the cards were VG at best but my heart tells me that the cards, like my grandfather, would be GEM MINT 10's to me today.

In Closing

I hope you enjoyed reading this brief overview of the 1933 Goudey baseball set as much as I did writing it. I have taken the time to scan each and every card of my set into the PSA registry for my fellow collectors to enjoy and I welcome your comments and feedback.