The Wayback Collector is a weekly look at important news in the hobby as it relates to pre-war and vintage collectibles. This week’s topic takes a brief look at the 1933 Goudey set’s popularity in the wake of two significant finds.
At some point, the baseball collecting world decided that the Big 3 in terms of collectible sets were T206, 1952 Topps, and 1933 Goudey. As far as opinions go, that sounds about right to me. These are, without a doubt, three of the most noteworthy sets of all time. That won’t be everyone’s list, of course. The N172 Old Judge set could be in the discussion. You can also make an argument for innovative recent sets, such as the groundbreaking 1989 Upper Deck issue. But in terms of collectability, that’s a pretty solid top three list in my book.
While all three sets have a card that can be viewed as unattainable for a great many collectors, the majority of the cards from them are relatively easy to find. All were printed in large quantities and, despite their age, are still fairly common.
Both Heritage and REA have been in the news this week, specifically with two significant 1933 Goudey finds. These raw and ungraded cards feature several Babe Ruths, Lou Gehrigs, and one prized shortprinted Nap Lajoie. Both consignments are headed for grading and will add to a somewhat already crowded registry. The cards are also significant in that most appear to present better than your average find. Now, I’m not sure the pop reports will add a bunch of 8s and 9s but in judging the pictures, the cards look to be in great condition.
This really got me to thinking more about the continued popularity of the ’33 Goudey set.
It was a 240 card release that led the way of the candy/gum era of the 1930s and is one of the last truly popular sets of the pre-war era. It was the first of many Goudey sets but frankly, none of the others comes close to comparing to it. The 1933 release remains wildly popular to this day, largely because of the glut of stars in it.
It’s not necessarily easy to assemble, mind you. There are four expensive Babe Ruth cards that have gotten more valuable in the last few years. Then there are two Lou Gehrigs for which to account. And for its ultimate, unquestioned completion, the shortprinted Nap Lajoie card is needed, even though that card wasn’t issued until 1934 and is generally a five-figure card. But collectors can assemble the other 233 cards with relative ease and decent commons can be found starting around $15-$20. If you go the low-grade road, the set is even more affordable.
Aside from finances, putting together the majority of the set isn’t too difficult and that’s because the cards are plentiful. To date, PSA, SGC, and Beckett have graded more than 100,000 of them and that, of course, does not even account for the many raw cards out there. How many of those exist is anybody’s guess, really. But while I assume that the majority of nicer looking cards are probably slabbed, there are sure plenty out there (such as the ones from these two discoveries), in addition to the many low-grade examples, that are not. And, with the exception of the Lajoie, you can generally find any of the other cards online 24/7 with thousands offered on eBay.
That availability, though, has done nothing to diminish prices or interest. In fact, much like T206 and 1952 Topps, the interest remains exceedingly high partially due to the ease in which they can be found. Prices for most have risen steadily over the years and, in the case of the Ruth cards, that rise has even been a bit sharp. Just a few years ago, low-grade Ruth cards started around $500. That price has almost doubled now with a premium being paid these days for the most elite pre-war stars.
The Ruth cards, like the others, are certainly not rare by comparison to other pre-war issues. One, his card with a full-body pose, was double printed, making it even easier to find. But as we’ve seen with the most popular sets, rarity is not always a significant factor in determining price. 1933 Goudey cards continue to be treasured, even in the wake of previously unaccounted for cards being infused into the hobby.