I recently wrote a three-part series about the explosion of baseball cards in 1909. Headlined by the famous T206 set, that tobacco card era represented the first big boom in trading cards in the 20th century.
But it wasn’t the first time there was a decided focus on baseball cards. In the 1930s, tobacco cards were out and gum/candy cards were in. And if you’re looking for a year that defined the later candy/gum era, it’s certainly 1933 when a slew of issues was created. Most collectors tend to think of the 1933 Goudey set but that year included so many more releases.
This article will look at the most popular sets and a second story to follow will look at the more obscure issues.
The headliner for sets issued during this 12-month period is, without a doubt, the 1933 Goudey release.
The set is not only one of the most popular pre-war sets of all time, but one of the most significant baseball card releases across any era. This important issue features four Babe Ruth cards and two Lou Gehrig cards with several other players also having more than one card. Those, including a slew of other Hall of Famers, aren’t even the most important cards in the set. That distinction, of course, belongs to the rare short-printed Nap Lajoie No. 106 card that was not even printed until 1934 and was mailed to collectors looking for it in the 1933 packs.
The set is known for its excellent artwork, utilizing both portraits and full-size color pictures of players on the front with biographies of the subjects on the back. At 240 cards, it is one of the larger sets of the era, too.
The Lajoie is not affordable for many collectors and prices for Ruth and Gehrig cards have risen sharply in the past couple of years. Even in low-grade condition, Ruth cards almost always top $1,000. But most of the cards in the set are still affordable and collecting the rest of the set is attainable. Commons in lower to mid-grade condition start at around $20-$30.
1933 Goudey Sport Kings
In addition to their baseball offering in 1933, Goudey also created a multi-sport set of cards called Sport Kings.
Baseball is one of many sports featured and it’s hardly a baseball set. With only three baseball cards in the release, many collectors gloss over this set. That’s a shame, however, as it includes all kinds of interesting sports cards, including football, hockey, and what are considered the first professional basketball cards. Many collectors could surely use a few more baseball cards but the set is popular, in part, for its diversity.
Still, the headliners of the set are the baseball cards. In addition to Hall of Famer Carl Hubbell, others in the set include Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb — arguably the two biggest names in pre-war baseball cards.
With only 48 total cards, this set is much smaller than Goudey’s baseball set. But it packs a punch with even low-grade cards of Ruth easily topping $2,000.
1933 George C. Miller
When it comes to popularity, nothing touches the Goudey cards. But several other sets are fairly well known and pursued by vintage collectors. One of those is the George C. Miller Candy Company set.
This small 32-card set is much rarer than the Goudey release. The cards feature color pictures on the front and biographies on the back. But notably, these cards could be sent in for prizes. The cards were returned but not without defects to indicate they were already redeemed. That means finding them in good condition can be challenging as a large part of the surviving population was in fact redeemed. These cards are often found with the bottoms cut out, with holes in them, or with the word ‘canceled’ on them, for example.
The set does have numerous Hall of Famers, including Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, Lefty Grove, Mel Ott, Al Simmons, and others. However, its fatal flaw for some collectors is that there are no cards of Ruth nor Gehrig. The cards are much rarer than Goudeys and, as a result, much more expensive by comparison. Even low-grade commons typically start in the $50-$100 range.
The set also includes a rarity with a card of Ivy Andrews. His card was shortprinted to limit the number of prize redemptions. A low-grade Andrews card that was never redeemed recently sold for $9,000.
Another popular set from 1933 is the 24-card DeLong issue.
DeLong is an interesting case. Located in Boston, Mass., they were headed by a man named Harold DeLong. He actually served as Goudey’s treasurer prior to founding his own company in 1932.
DeLong decided to jump into the baseball card business but didn’t last long, issuing only this one set in 1933. The cards, though, are collector favorites today. Not only are the cards rare, but they have a distinctive look with more of a rectangular card and black and white images of players standing on top of a miniature, color baseball field. Lou Gehrig is the key card here but there’s no Ruth.
Similar to George C. Miller cards, these are somewhat tough to find and more expensive. It is difficult to find even low-grade commons for under $50.
1933 U.S. Caramel
Similar to the Goudey Sport Kings release, the 1933 U.S. Caramel set is a multi-sport release.
This set, though, is different from that one as it is largely a baseball issue. 27 of the 32 cards in it are baseball cards with a handful of boxers and golfers included.
Despite having only 32 cards, the set is absolutely packed with Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ty Cobb, and plenty of other Hall of Famers, including Rogers Hornsby, Mickey Cochrane, Paul Waner, Al Simmons, Jimmie Foxx, Lefty Grove, Lefty Gomez, and much more. Even the non-baseball cards are heavily desired. The card for golfer Bobby Jones is one of the most valuable in the set and the other four non-baseball athletes (golfer Gene Sarazen and boxers Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, and Jack Sharkey) were all inducted into the Hall of Fame in their respective sports. These cards also have a markedly different look with portraits of subjects against a solid red background.
Of note is that these cards are often listed as a 1932 issue, seemingly putting them out of place in this article. However, some of the cards have 1932 statistics on the back and the set is now considered to have a 1933 release date as opposed to 1932.
Mid-grade cards at the lower end of the spectrum from this set typically start in the $100-$150 range.