Young baseball card collectors had some choices during the mid-1930s. Goudey Gum Company was producing them, although their sets weren’t nearly as comprehensive as their landmark 1933 issue. Massachusetts-based National Chicle was also trying to sell gum and during the years 1934-36, they came out with a couple of sets: the Diamond Stars issue which leaned heavily on color art deco designs and a unique set of die-cut cards kids could actually play with. For vintage baseball card collectors today, the National Chicle Batter Up set of 192 cards is one part attraction, one part frustration.
The yellow colored wax wrapper tried to impart what youngsters would get for their decision to part with a penny. Kids could create a lineup that would come to life by folding down the out of focus background, essentially making the photo of the player pop out. Some even tore the top half off completely. Of course, the result is a lot of low grade cards on the market today.
It’s a set that offers a strong look at the players of the era, but one glaring omission is Lou Gehrig, who doesn’t appear in the company’s Diamond Stars product either because of his signed contract with Goudey. Red Ruffing and KiKi Cuyler are also MIA. You will find Mel Ott, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Frankie Frisch, Charlie Gehringer, Carl Hubbell, Dizzy Dean, Hack Wilson, Rogers Hornsby, the spy-ballplayer Moe Berg, and others (in fact, Berg's own copy of his Batter Up card is currently being offered on eBay. Some players appear in both series, including several who changed teams during the era that the cards were issued.
Considering the relatively low number of higher grade cards available, some of these may be underpriced.
The black and white photos used in Batter Up cards were distributed in two groups, the more common low numbers (#1-80) in 1934 and the high numbers that were available in 1935 and ’36. The cards are numbered on the front. You’ll find players from all 16 teams represented in the set, with a bit of an emphasis on the American League. You won’t find any Chicago Cubs among cards 1-80.
The low numbers measure about 2 3/8” x 3 ¼” while the high numbers in the set are about a quarter inch smaller in height. Another difference is that the low numbers only feature the player’s last name.
To mix things up, National Chicle produced the cards in a variety of color tints. The lower numbers come in six different tint variations while there are four different high number tints. Modern era card collectors can understand the irritation that sometimes comes with such variety, but most collectors simply decide that having one of each player is enough.
There are three multi-player cards in the set, something Topps would later adopt as a standard of its sets.
How hard is it to find high grade Batter Up cards? Plenty. For example, PSA’s Population Report shows just 27 of the 6,098 cards graded by the company have been awarded 8.5 or 9. No 10 has ever been awarded. Many cards have no examples in the near mint (7) grade. Near mint and better Hall of Famers sell for $500 and up.
Still, a large portion of 1934-36 Batter Up cards are readily available in the 4-6 grade range, and their unique place among the pre-War sets means they have a lot of fans who are more concerned with completing the set than doing it with near mint or better examples.