It was definitely a departure from your traditional baseball card set. Using photos and some cartoon-like art, the 1938 Goudey set is unmistakable 78 years after the cards and gum could be found on store shelves.
The set wasn’t big on size but it was filled with stars. Despite being much smaller in number of cards than some of the first Goudey card sets, the 1938 issue wasn’t short on talented players.
1938 Goudey Basics
In the 1930s, Goudey issued both premium photos and also more traditional baseball cards. 1938 was a ‘bubble gum card year’ as the company produced a 48-card release.
The cards were the traditional Goudey size, shaped more closely resembling a square than the more distinct rectangular card shape of today’s issues.
The design of the cards was unique from past issues. Older cards utilized lithographs or color renderings of players and then evolved to feature actual black and white (and later, color) photographs. Goudey merged the two ideas, putting a real photograph of a player’s face onto a cartoon body. While the card look mostly ridiculous to adult collectors, when kept in the context that they were actually designed for kids, the unique look made much more sense.
The cards had full color fronts with a thin white border around the edges. Backs included the player’s name, card number, the traditional Goudey tag at the bottoms, and a player biography.
1938 Goudey Card Numbering
At first glance, collectors may be inclined to believe that this is a larger set than it actually is. The set has card numbers in the 200s and without background information, it’s easy to believe that this was a fairly large set by the standards of the 1930s. But that wasn’t the case as the set actually began with Card No. 241, picking up where the 1933 Goudey set left off.
It’s not entirely clear why the set started with No. 241. After all, following the 1933 set, Goudey created other sets from 1934 to 1938. All of those sets began with Card No. 1 and the 1938 set is the only one that picked up from a previous issue’s card numbers. In all, the set runs from Card No. 241 through Card No. 288.
Card No. 265 through No. 288 are considered high number issues and valued at slightly more than the earlier cards in the set. Those cards are the same images as Card No. 241-264, but also have small sketches surrounding the main player image.
Despite including only 48 cards, the 1938 Goudey set is packed with star power. One unique feature of the set is that while there are 48 cards, only 24 different players are included since each player has two cards.
Hall of Famers in the set include Charlie Gehringer, Ernie Lombardi, Jimmie Foxx (spelled Jimmy as in other releases), Joe DiMaggio, Hank Greenberg, Bobby Doerr, Ducky Medwick, and Bob Feller. Considering that each of those players has two cards, 1/3 of the entire set is comprised of Hall of Fame players.
Technically, there are even more star cards than those listed above. That’s because Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi actually has four different cards in the set if you can include his three variations of Card No. 246.
Lombardi’s No. 246 includes a Red Sox variation, a Reds variation, and a Reds variation with a black baseball. So why a black baseball? The Red Sox card was a blatant error since Lombardi never suited up for the club. Goudey used the baseball to cover up the ‘Sox’ on the card. And ironically, he was one of the game’s biggest stars at the time, being named the Most Valuable Player in 1938 when the set was released.
Of the three cards, the Red Sox error is the most scarce and easily the most valuable of the group.
1938 Goudey Prices
Even though the set includes only 48 cards, the 1938 Goudey issue isn’t an inexpensive pursuit. Decent mid-grade commons can be bought for as little as $50 or even less for lower mid-grade cards. However, there’s plenty of expense when it comes to the bigger names.
The two DiMaggio cards are the keys to the set and respectable lower mid-grade examples generally start around $2,000, varying depending on the specific condition. After DiMaggio, the next key card is that of Feller if you take out the Lombardi Red Sox variation, which is extremely scarce. Lower quality graded Feller cards can be had for under $300.
Full sets are very difficult to find because the resale value is generally higher if broken up. The fourth best set on PSA’s Registry sold for over $27,000 in February of 2014, carrying a 6.77 GPA.