PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1932 U.S. Caramel Trading Card Set
From Bobby Jones to Babe Ruth, an Overshadowed, Vintage Multi-Sport Issue
by Kevin Glew
You could say that the 1932 U.S. Caramel set is as underappreciated and overshadowed as the career of the player featured on its “holy grail” card.
Freddie Lindstrom - whose extremely rare single (#16) lists his name as Charles (Lindy) - batted over .300 seven times during his 13-year big league career and was one of the best defensive third basemen of his era. Yet, he wasn’t elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame until 40 years after his playing career.
Lindstrom was overshadowed by contemporaries like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby, much like the 1932 U.S. Caramel set is overshadowed by its multi-sport rival, the 1933 Sport Kings set.
But why is this the case? Why does an issue that showcases Hall of Famers on 28 of its 32 cards have only 17 sets registered on the PSA Set Registry?
“I think it’s probably pricing, as well as attainability,” explained Allan Ghamar, who owns the No. 9 Current Finest, 1932 U.S. Caramel set on the PSA Set Registry. “The number of huge names in the set drives the price up and it just makes it very expensive to complete. It has the who’s who of the 1920s and 1930s baseball players. And when you throw in a couple of the greatest golfers and boxers, it makes it a tough and expensive challenge.”
Twenty-seven of the set’s 32 cards feature baseball players and 23 of those diamond stars have a plaque in Cooperstown. The remaining athletes - three boxers (Gene Tunney (#15), Jack Dempsey (#22) and Jack Sharkey (#25)) and two golfers (Bobby Jones (#3) and Gene Sarazen (#9)) - have also been inducted into their respective sports’ shrines.
Another possible reason the 1932 U.S. Caramel set is not more widely collected is that the cards were reportedly only distributed in limited quantities, primarily in the Boston area. This helps explain why approximately five times more 1933 Sport Kings singles have been submitted to PSA for grading.
Some also argue that the 1932 U.S. Caramel cards are not as attractive as the Sport Kings singles. The white bordered fronts of the 1932 U.S. Caramel cards present bust images of the athletes against a red background.
“I love the red background,” said Ghamar. “It reminds me of the 1914 and 1915 Cracker Jack sets.”
The Bill Dickey card (#6), which pictures him holding a bat, is the only card in the series to showcase any type of equipment. The golfers and boxers are pictured in formal attire.
The player’s name - including their nickname if applicable - is in capital white letters at the top of the red background.
“The cards just have a clean and classic design,” noted Paul Dubbeld, who owns the No. 6 Current Finest, 1932 U.S. Caramel set on the PSA Set Registry.
The vertical card backs present black text against a gray background. The top of the back exhibits the card number, athlete name and the team and position on the baseball player cards. Rather than a team and position, the golfers’ cards trumpet their status in the sport. For example, Bobby Jones (#3) is heralded as “The World’s Greatest Golfer” and Sarazen (#9) is touted as the “U.S. and British Golf Champion.” The backs of the boxers’ cards highlight the titles they’ve held or currently hold. The Tunney (#15) and Dempsey (#22) cards boast that they were the “Ex-Heavyweight World’s Champion,” while the Sharkey single (#25) shares that he’s the current “Heavyweight Champion of the World.”
The backs also offer biographical information. The bios generally start with the athlete’s vitals (e.g., Birthplace, Age, Height, Weight, etc.) and then highlight their skills and accomplishments. In some cases, the biographical information offers hints as to when these cards were released. The last sentence on the Rogers Hornsby single (#11), for example, states that he was traded to St. Louis in October 1932 (October 25, 1932, was the actual date). So from this, we can safely deduce that these cards were produced sometime after that transaction. Some hobby experts have made a solid case that this set was not released until 1933.
A promotional offer on the bottom of the backs encourages collectors to amass a full, 32-card set and send it in to the company to receive a baseball. If they collected three sets, they could redeem their sets for a fielder’s glove. The hitch, however, was that due to the rarity of Lindstrom card (#16), the set was all but impossible to complete. To date, there are less than five known examples of Lindstrom. In fact, it’s so rare that most hobbyists consider the 1932 U.S. Caramel set to be complete at 31 cards.
“To me, it’s like the T206 set without the Wagner,” said Ghamar.
Little was known about the Lindstrom card until 1990. Up until that time most hobby publications had listed card #16 as “not issued.” But an example with holes punched in it surfaced in the early 1990s, providing evidence that at least one had been produced. Then in 1998, a collector came forward with another example that didn’t have holes punched in it. The collector reportedly discovered the card in a pack in 1932. This card is the sole example that PSA has graded and it was deemed a PSA VG 3. It fetched $79,876 in a SCP Auctions sale in 2001.
The Lindstrom card is so elusive that even the most deep-pocketed collectors have resigned themselves to the fact that they’ll probably never own one. But there are several other key cards in the 1932 U.S. Caramel set. Baseball legends Eddie Collins and Babe Ruth are featured on the first and last cards respectively. Both were subjected to additional wear and tear being at the top and bottom of collector piles. Of the 57 Collins cards submitted, there has been just one PSA MINT 9 and 12 PSA NM-MT 8s.
The Ruth card is one of the Bambino’s most difficult mainstream cards to obtain in top condition. There are two PSA 9s and 13 PSA 8s. One PSA 8 fetched $42,767 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2013.
“If Babe Ruth is in a set, he’s always a key card,” noted Dubbeld.
But Dubbeld points out that the Bobby Jones card (#3) might be the set’s most sought-after single. Both Dubbeld and Ghamar had trouble tracking one down for their registry sets.
“The Bobby Jones card was probably the toughest card for me to get,” said Ghamar.
Of the 55 evaluated, there have been just three PSA 9s, one PSA NM-MT+ 8.5 and 10 PSA 8s.
The Lou Gehrig single (#26) is also highly coveted. The eight PSA 8s represent the highest graded examples. One PSA 8 sold for $28,061.40 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2013.
“There aren’t many sets with both Gehrig and Ruth in them that precede this one,” noted Ghamar.
According to the PSA Population Report, the two toughest baseball cards in this series to find in mint grade are the Hornsby (#11) and Lefty Gomez (#31). Of the 56 Hornsby cards evaluated, there has been one PSA 8.5 and four PSA 8s. One PSA 8 garnered $16,975.30 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2013.
There are also just five PSA 8s (and nothing grading higher) of the Gomez single (#31). One PSA 8 fetched $13,212.60 in a Memory Lane auction in May 2013.
The most elusive non-baseball single in top grade is the Tunney card (#15). There are only six PSA 8s.
As noted earlier, just four of the baseball players in this set have not been elected to the Hall of Fame. A case could certainly be made that Lefty O’Doul (#24), a career .349 hitter, warrants a plaque in Cooperstown, while the other three, Wally Berger (#19), Ed Brandt (#28) and George Earnshaw (#29), also enjoyed noteworthy big league careers.
“There are no slouches in this set,” said Dubbeld. “They’re all well-established players.”
It has also proven to be very difficult to find a PSA GEM-MT 10 example of any card from this set. Toning on the borders and print defects in the red background are common flaws, and Dubbeld has seen some cards with an “oily substance” on them from the caramel. But Dubbeld adds that the cards generally stand up fairly well.
“They’re similar to the Goudey cards in that they have that thick stock, so you don’t see very many of them with creases,” he said.
The scarcity of the 1932 U.S. Caramel cards and the high price that some of the star singles command, makes this a very challenging set to assemble. But with over 85% of the athletes in the set being Hall of Famers, it’s surprising that more collectors aren’t pursuing this set.
An optimist might point out that it took Lindstrom, the subject of the set’s holy grail card, four decades to receive his plaque in Cooperstown, so perhaps, the 1932 U.S. Caramel set, now over eight decades old and counting, may yet emerge from the long shadow of the 1933 Sport Kings set.
“I definitely think it’s an underrated set,” said Dubbeld.
For more information on 1932 U.S. Caramel multi-sport card set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/Cardfacts/Set/213/1932-u-s-caramel-multi-sport.