There are all sorts of pre-war international tobacco sets and a few of them include baseball and the legendary Babe Ruth. One of those is the 1932 Bulgaria Sport set, produced in Germany — let’s take a closer look at it.
Despite its name, the 1932 Bulgaria Sport is actually a German tobacco card set. Bulgaria Sport was the name of a cigarette brand and the formal name of this set is actually called Bulgaria Sport-Photos. It’s a German set and that would explain the large number of German athletes and teams featured.
Make no mistake, though. These are very much traditional sports cards and not photographs. They get their name from the real black and white photographs used to produce them. But they are printed on a light-gloss cardstock with white borders. The set dates to 1932 with references up to that year included on the backs of some cards. In particular, it focuses quite a bit on Olympic athletes, referencing Olympic Games from 1932 and earlier.
No names are produced on the front, which isn’t helpful because most of the athletes are not well known. But the backs include a short biography in German along with a card number (Bild Nr.) along with a brief advertisement at the bottom touting the Bulgaria Sport name along with an album that was available for the cards.
The cards are smaller but have a bit of an odd size for a tobacco card issue. At 1 9/16″ across, they are a touch wider than other tobacco issues. Their 2 3/8″ height is also a bit undersized by comparison. In general, they are a little shorter and wider than the tobacco cards seen in America in the earlier part of the century or even other international tobacco cards in the 1920s and 1930s.
The set is growing a bit in popularity. The biggest reason for that is the inclusion of a card featuring both Babe Ruth and boxing Hall of Famer Max Schmeling. Ruth is pictured in full uniform as the image was taken on the day of a Yankees game. Schmeling, meanwhile, is in a suit. The card, of course, has been known for some time. But with Ruth’s cards soaring in value, collectors are learning more about this set that includes of his cheaper cards. As I recently wrote, this is one of several international Ruth cards that is gaining steam in the hobby.
Like many international cards, these were seemingly treated in high regard by collectors. Most specimens seen are in mid-grade or even high-grade condition. Strange as it seems, it is actually rarer to see a card from this set in very low-grade condition than it is to find one in high-grade shape. Thus, the sort of premium for high-grade card in the set that you see in other pre-war cards from America does not really exist.
A Breakdown of the Set
This is hardly a baseball release and collectors looking for more cards in that sport will probably be disappointed. In fact, Ruth’s is the only baseball card in the set. And as I detail here, the card was likely made possible by a chance meeting where Ruth and Schmeling both happened to be in Cleveland at the same time. Schmeling is also featured on a second card along with his mother.
Beyond that pair, the set features a wide variety of athletes, including some well known ones from the pre-war era. While track and field (approximately 1/3 of the entire set) is heavily featured, there are plenty of other key subjects for collectors to focus on.
At the top of the list is probably Hall of Fame golfer Walter Hagen. Hagen is in a short golf card subset and his card is highly desired. Another American star is seen in the set in Tennis Hall of Famer Bill Tilden. Tilden joins other tennis Hall of Famers Henri Cochet and Bunny Austin. Surprisingly, tennis is one of the sports most heavily featured in the Bulgaria Sport set with about 15 such cards.
Major American sports that were featured also include ice hockey and football. A sole American football card is found in the set with an unnamed player shown kicking the ball away. The card calls the sport U.S.A. Rugby and explains the popularity of it here in America. A handful of hockey cards are also there, including one for Dr. Blake Watson. Watson was a famous Canadian hockey player an a member of the University of Manitoba Grads team that won a world hockey championship.
Other popular cards include famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, swimming champion/actor Johnny Weissmuller, and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Weissmuller’s card has dual interest generated from sports fans (due to his Olympic swimming career) and collectors of cards depicting movie stars, as he is best known for starring in films, including Tarzan. The cards of champion skater Sonja Henie are also quite popular and she is featured several times in the release. One of Henie’s cards also pictures her with a hockey player, Gustav Jaenecke.
The set is extremely inclusive, covering all sorts of sports. Other sports featured in the set include soccer, track and field, skiing, field hockey, equestrian sports, motorsports, and more.
Rarity and Prices
While these cards have made their way onto eBay a bit more, they are typically not seen to often at shows or for sale by American dealers, aside from the Babe Ruth card. Singles of Hagen and Tilden are becoming a bit more popular but others can be tough to find without splurging for an entire set. That can lead to asking prices of a few dollars or more for commons.
Hagen’s card typically starts around $25-$50 in decent condition. Ruth’s card is the clear prize of the set and has risen in value as most of his other cards. In decent condition, that card starts around $200-$250.
Complete sets are sometimes offered but, more often than not, they are pasted into the albums. Despite being affixed into an album, those full sets usually sell in the $250-$300 range. Full sets that have not been pasted into albums, of course, sell for a bit more.