PSA Set Registry
Collecting the 1948 Leaf Baseball Set
The First Color, Post-World War II Baseball Series
by Kevin Glew
If the 1948 Leaf Baseball set's color doesn't dazzle you, its player selection certainly will.
That seems like a fitting summary for the first color set to be issued after World War II. This alone has made it more desirable than its black-and-white Bowman rival, but it also houses nine Hall of Famer rookies and key cards of several other legends.
"There are only 98 cards, but this set has most of the superstars in there," said Mike Ryan, who owns the No. 5 Current Finest, 1948 Leaf Baseball set on the PSA Set Registry. "When you see Stan Musial, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Satchel Paige along with Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio all in the same set, well, that's something the Topps sets [released a few years later] don't even come close to."
Granted, the 1948 Leaf Baseball set also benefitted from being one of the first major baseball issues since the 1941 Play Ball set, but Leaf still had to select which players to highlight. And in hindsight, they did a remarkably good job.
Measuring 2-3/8" by 2-7/8" each, these cards are reminiscent of earlier Goudey and Play Ball issues. The white-bordered fronts showcase a colorized image of a player against a solid or two-toned color background. Their name is emblazoned in block, capital letters at the bottom.
Nine cards - Ted Kluszewski (#38), Johnny Vander Meer (#53), Bob McCall (#57), Andy Pafko (#125), Cliff Aberson (#136), Dick Sisler (#143), Henry Majeski (#149), Floyd Baker (#153), and Bob Scheffing (#160) - boast a horizontal orientation on their fronts, while the rest are vertical.
"I like the vibrant colors on the fronts," said Simy Solomon, who owns the Registry's No. 6 Current Finest Basic Set. "I like the fact that some of the cards have nice big headshots like the Jackie Robinson and the Babe Ruth cards."
The card backs present the card number, player name, team, and position at the top, followed by their vitals (e.g., Age, Bats, Height, Throws, etc.) and a bio. The biographical information is generally restricted to a description of the player's skills or their on-the-field accomplishments, but in a few cases, it offers insight into the player's life away from the diamond. For example, Lou Brissie's card (#31) hails him a "World War Hero" who "went through 23 leg operations."
The biographical information also familiarizes us with some of the jargon of the time. The back of Dom DiMaggio's card (#75), for instance, describes the Boston Red Sox outfielder as one of the "game's greatest defensive gardeners" and heralds him as "fast, smart and sure-death on fly balls."
The bottoms of the backs trumpet "All-Star Baseball Gum" and present one of three premium offers. One offer gave collectors the opportunity to submit 10 wrappers to the vendor they bought their cards from to receive a 5-1/2" by 7-1/2", black-and-white portrait of one of eight Hall of Fame legends (Grover Alexander, Mickey Cochrane, Lou Gehrig, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Babe Ruth, and Ed Walsh), while a second promotion encouraged them to mail five wrappers and 10 cents to Leaf to obtain a 12" by 6" pennant of their favorite big league team. And yet a third ad promoted an album that would hold up to 168 cards. To obtain this prize, they had to send in five wrappers and 25 cents.
These were all methods of generating excitement for the Chicago-based Leaf company's premier baseball issue. The cards were distributed in red, white, and blue packs, and though the copyright on the backs of some cards say 1948, there are hobby experts that vehemently contend that these cards were not released until 1949 (the copyright date on the backs of some other cards in the set).
Forty-nine cards - or half the cards - in this 98-card issue are short-prints and are much more elusive. The prevailing theory is that the 1948 Leaf Baseball set was released in two series and the first series was much more widely distributed than the second.
To the dismay of collectors, Leaf employed skip-numbering for this issue. Though the cards were numbered up to #168, there were only 98 cards. Some suggest that Leaf was deliberately deceitful and that this was an effort to get collectors to buy more packs to fill in holes in their sets. Still, others believe that Leaf had plans to produce another series that would have filled in the gaps, but they simply never completed it.
There's no set sequence to the cards in this offering. Not surprisingly, with Leaf being based in Chicago, the Cubs, even though they finished in last place in 1948, are featured on a set-high 11 cards. The 1948 World Champion Cleveland Indians and Detroit Tigers are spotlighted on nine each, while there are just two cards devoted to Brooklyn Dodgers players.
But even if collectors were frustrated by the skip-numbering, they still had to be excited at the prospect of opening 1948 Leaf packs, which offered them the chance to obtain cards of current superstars and past legends.
Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio is highlighted on the first card in the set, and being on top of collector piles, it was roughed up more than other cards in the stack. This card is also rarely found with perfect centering. There's just one PSA MINT 9 example (no PSA GEM-MT 10s).
There's no card #2 in this series, but card #3 is a tribute to Babe Ruth, who passed away in 1948. Of the 962 examples of the Bambino card evaluated, there have been five PSA 9s and 41 NM-MT PSA 8s.
Stan Musial (#4) - the first of nine Hall of Famer rookies in this offering - is featured on the card after Ruth, while the short-printed Satchel Paige (#8) rookie can be found just four cards later.
"The Paige is the ultimate card in this set," said Ryan. "That's the No. 1 card."
The five PSA 8 Paige cards represent the highest graded examples.
But you can't talk about the 1948 Leaf set without mentioning Jackie Robinson's rookie (#79). This card features a headshot of the trailblazer and is one of the most desirable baseball cards ever issued. Of the 1,035 sent in to PSA, there have been eight PSA 9s and 40 PSA 8s.
The other Hall of Famer rookies in this set are Phil Rizzuto (#11), Warren Spahn (#32), Ralph Kiner (#91), Hal Newhouser (#98), George Kell (#120), and Larry Doby (#138). The latter three are short prints and are difficult to track down in any condition; there has yet to be a PSA 9 or higher example of these three cards.
"The George Kell card is usually out of focus and he often has what looks like a mustache underneath his nose," explained Ryan.
Ryan adds that the Doby is also almost impossible to uncover in top grade.
"Most of the Doby cards have a red line going down the center of his forehead," noted Ryan. "It looks like a scar from being hit with a tomahawk or something."
There are six PSA 8 Doby cards.
Aside from the aforementioned DiMaggio, Ruth, and Williams cards, other Cooperstowners in this set include Johnny Mize (#46), Luke Appling (#59), Honus Wagner (#70), Bobby Doerr (#83), Bob Feller (#93), Lou Boudreau (#106), Joe Gordon (#117), and Enos Slaughter (#127).
Soloman points out that the Wagner card appears to show the Pirates legend putting a plug of tobacco in his mouth.
"If you hear stories about his T206 card, that's supposed to be why that card is worth so much. It's because Wagner was against chewing tobacco and he didn't give them permission to print the card and some of them leaked out," noted Soloman. "So this card [1948 Leaf Wagner] is interesting."
It's also interesting to note that because it's so hard to find high-grade examples of some of the short-prints, these often sell for more than some of the Hall of Famer rookies. The short-printed Tommy Holmes (#133) and Harry Brecheen (#158) cards, for instance, have yet to have an example grade higher than a PSA NM 7, while Dom DiMaggio (#75) and Kirby Higbe (#129) have just two and one PSA 8 each, respectively.
Soloman has a PSA EX 5 Brecheen with an MC qualifier and he has not been able to find a better example.
"There's a very limited supply of them - or people are holding on to them," he said.
The Phil Cavarretta (misspelled "Cavaretta" on the front), the last card in the set (#168), is also elusive in top grade. Both Ryan and Soloman are looking to upgrade their PSA VG-EX 4 copies.
The most common condition issue with the 1948 Leaf cards is poor registration on the images.
"A lot of them are not well registered," said Ryan. "When I find a nicely registered card, and if I have the money, I buy it."
There are also a number of other print issues with these cards.
"There are different color variations," said Soloman. "There are lines. There are print marks. I'm not sure if it's the card stock, but there's a lot of fraying. Many lack sharp corners."
There have also been cards uncovered with wrong backs, blank backs, and even overprinted backs.
To complete the Master Set on the Registry, collectors must track down three variations. The most well-known variation is on the Gene Hermanski card (#102), which, in some cases, has the final letter missing in his last name. This was corrected early in the print run, so this makes the error version quite scarce. The error commands a significant premium.
There are also two versions of the Cliff Aberson card (#136): one shows him with full blue sleeves while the other shows him with a short sleeve on his left arm. The short sleeve version is scarcer and generally sells for more.
There are also two versions of the Kent Peterson card (#42). In one incarnation, he's sporting a dark cap and in another, rarer version he dons a red cap.
These variations add intrigue to a set that's already highly sought after. With its colorful cards and strong selection of rookies and legends, this set is one of the most desirable of its era.
"I definitely think it's a good investment for the future," said Soloman. "Due to the fact that it's hard to find cards in good condition and that it contains a large number of Hall of Famers, this set is bound to go up in price."
For more information on the 1948 Leaf baseball set, please visit http://www.psacard.com/cardfacts/baseball-cards/1948-leaf/144.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of January 2017.