When collectors think about pre-war multi-sport sets, they might be inclined to first think of any number of issues. The 19th Century ‘Champions’ issues or the 1933 Goudey Sport Kings set are very popular, for example. But sandwiched in between those legendary sets are a slew of others and one of the more complex ones is the 1926 Spalding Champions set.
Here’s a closer look.
About the 1926 Spalding Champions Set
The 1926 Spalding Champions set gets its name from the ‘Champions’ print that runs across the tops of the cards. Spalding, of course, is one of the most significant sports equipment companies around. Established in the late 1800s, they are still in operation today. The Spalding name does not technically appear on the cards. Instead, the more generic name of, “Sports Company of America” is used.
This is a black and white issue with images of players displayed on the fronts inside of a white border. The layout of the cards is actually one of a picture frame of sorts. Athlete names and their sports are printed inside of a nameplate at the bottom. Old Cardboard notes that the cards were packaged inside of envelopes with coupons for Spalding products. The cards are also slightly miniaturized compared to today’s issues. These Spalding cards measure only about 1 1/2″ wide by 2 1/4″ tall.
In all, there are four different types of backs to these cards. The most common variety is probably the 1926 ‘Stat’ back, which is more like a biography that includes some statistics. The distinguishing characteristic here is a 1926 copyright date printed at the bottom. Rarer versions have a biography back with a 1927 copyright date, an advertising back for Spalding, or a blank back. Some have theorized that the blank backs may have only been offered as part of uncut sheets or promotional posters.
Another point of clarification is that, while the set is technically listed as 1926, that is not entirely correct. We know that because some of the cards have the aforementioned 1927 copyright date. A more proper dating should at least be 1926-27.
Finally, in addition to the cards, Spalding offered a special album for collectors to store them. The advertising back cards mention that an album could be purchased from them for fifty cents. The album included spaces for 200 cards, even though a few more than that are actually believed to exist in the set according to some checklists.
While baseball is the key sport in this set for most collectors, the release includes all kinds of athletes. Football players, for example, are prominently featured with some cards being the earliest known ones for some athletes. Boxing, golf, and tennis are also popular sports that are represented here. Others include track and field, automobile racing, ice skating, wrestling, and cycling. There are even more obscure sports, such as archery, horseshoe throwing, and balloon racing included.
Leading the way by a wide margin, though, are the 49 baseball cards found in the set. And at the top of the baseball list are names such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, and plenty of other Hall of Famers. Other notable players include Grover Alexander, Mickey Cochrane, Eddie Collins, Rogers Hornsby, Tony Lazzeri, Al Simmons, and plenty of others.
And as mentioned, big names from other sports are found in the set, too. Football players included the likes of early Hall of Famers such as Red Grange and Ernie Nevers. Boxers, for example, include greats such as Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and Georges Carpentier. Tennis greats, such as the legendary Bill Tilden and Gene Sarazen are there. And from the world of golf were stars, such as Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. Cards of others can be valuable as well. Noted swimmer Johnny Weismuller is one of those. He not only was an Olympic gold medalist but became famous for his acting, appearing in Tarzan.
Rarity and Prices
The cards are somewhat rare, which has increased their desirability. Only a little more than 1,100 cards have been graded to date by PSA and, given that there are a little more than 200 cards in the set, that’s an average of only a few per player. Collectors will not typically find many on eBay with listings limited to a few dozen at most.
Prices for decent commons will generally start around $25-$50. Pricing for stars varies greatly by player and condition. A Babe Ruth PSA 4 recently sold on eBay for just over $1,500.