When it comes to finding pre-war cards on a budget, few top the 1914 Polo Grounds game set. Here’s a closer look at this unique collectible that provides an exceptional value.
The 1914 Polo Grounds cards were part of a baseball game by the Card Baseball Game Company of Norfolk, VA. The cards have rounded corners (more on that later) like traditional playing cards. At 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″, they actually measure similarly to today’s cards.
The fronts feature a black and white photo of players with their names along the bottom. In two of the corners, a certain action (such as strike, ball, or hit) is printed, which participants use to play the game. Additional actions are printed down the sides – again for use in playing the game. The backs for all of the cards are the same with a picture of the famous Polo Grounds stadium. While the fronts are printed in black and white, green ink was used to print the reverse.
The box, too, is collectible but difficult to find on its own. Boxes were red with two players printed on the tops. The tops were inscribed, in part, “The Hit of the Season! All-Star Card Baseball – Exciting! Interesting! Thrilling!” Also printed on the top was the manufacturer’s name along with ‘Norfolk, VA’, presumably identifying where the company was located.
30 different players were included in the release but the full set actually contains 54 cards. 24 players were duplicated in order to provide additional game cards with different game play actions.
Overall the checklist is a strong one. The biggest names in the set include Hall of Famers Home Run Baker, Frank Chance, Ty Cobb, Eddie Collins, Joe Jackson, Hughie Jennings, Nap Lajoie, Rabbit Maranville, Rube Marquard, Christy Mathewson, John McGraw, Eddie Plank, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, and Ed Walsh. There’s also Smoky Joe Wood, who is popular with collectors. Considering that’s half the set, obviously there’s a star-studded lineup here.
The rest of the checklist includes Jimmy Archer, Larry Cheney, Larry Doyle, Art Fletcher, Claude Hendrix, Jimmy Lavender, Fritz Maisel, Stuffy McInnis, Chief Meyers, Red Murray, Nap Rucker, Reb Russell, Wildfire Schulte, and Jim Scott.
Because of those rounded corners and the fact that these were game cards, collectors will often find them in good condition. Many high-grade examples exist simply because the cards may have been rarely touched and stored safely in the original box for many years.
Thus far, PSA has about 1,000 in its registry and a little more than half are all in tremendous condition, grading at either a PSA 8, 9, or 10. A total of 46 have received Gem Mint 10 grades and no other card from 1914 (i.e. Cracker Jack, T222 Fatima, Baltimore News, etc.) have even a single perfect specimen. In other words, finding these in high grade condition isn’t all that difficult.
Because many collectors don’t consider these as traditional baseball cards, they aren’t always in high demand. That, in part, has helped keep prices low. Commons in mid-grade condition can often be had for around $50 and even in high-grade can be found for under $100. Want a Hall of Famer? No problem. Many of those in mid or even high-grade condition are relatively plentiful in the $100-$200 range, depending on the player. Bigger names, such as Cobb and Wagner, command a bit more.
Joe Jackson draws the most interest simply because of the overall lack of his cards due to a relatively early exit from baseball after the 1919 scandal. But even in his case, his cards aren’t outrageously priced. Consider that a few years ago, a gem mint PSA 10 sold for only a little over $5,000 at auction. When you compare that to a Jackson 1914 Cracker Jack PSA 8 that topped $100,000 last year, it’s easy to see the value in the Polo Grounds game cards.
Full sets are rare, but do come up for auction occasionally. A complete set sold at auction with the original game box several years ago for about $13,000. Another set in mostly raw condition went for about $5,000 and the prices will fluctuate depending on specific grading of the key cards.
You can see 1914 Polo Grounds cards on eBay here.